Return to Transcripts main page
U.S. Increasingly Believes Iran Show Down Flight By Accident; Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) Talks On House Debating The War Powers Resolution That Would Limit The President's Ability To Take New Military Action Against Iran Without The OK From Congress; Rising Pressure On House Speaker Nancy Pelosi To Send Over Those Articles Of Impeachment To The Senate. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 9, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin, good to be with you. We begin with this breaking story. We're now learning that U.S. officials increasingly believe that that Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran was mistakenly shot down by Iranian anti-aircraft missiles.
One U.S. official says U.S. satellites detected the launch of two missiles shortly before that plane went down, killing all 176 people on board. There was also evidence of an explosion. We will show you the video here showing the plane as it's going down. I know, it's tough to see. This is as it's going down before crashing just minutes after takeoff.
We have CNN's Richard Quest live for us in Beirut, and CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen there for us in Tehran.
And so, Fred, let me begin with you in Iran. We know that this crash happened in the flurry of those missile strikes right from Iran, straight toward those us bases in Iraq. How is Tehran responding to this?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You are absolutely right, Brooke. It was several hours after those missile strikes by the Iranians against U.S. targets in Iraq took place that we learned that there was an airliner that crashed at Imam Khomeini Airport, which is actually only about, let's say about 30 to 40 miles from where I am right now in the south of Tehran.
We actually managed to get in touch with the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Authority, I would say about an hour ago, and he did not downright dispute that the plane may have been shot down by a missile. However, he did say that he doubted that that would be the case. And the reason for that is he says that the plane took off, it flew for several minutes. It then tried to apparently turn back to Imam Khomeini Airport before it then went down.
He says he believes if that plane had been hit by a missile that its forward progress would have stopped immediately, and it immediately would have fallen to the ground. So that's what he is saying. Apparently, there's also some investigators on the ground who are
quoted in Iranian media as saying they have not found any missile debris on the ground so far now.
Now, they state that what's happened since then, Brooke, is that Ukrainian investigators -- this was a Ukrainian airliner has since come here to Iran, invited by the Iranian government to work with the Iranians on this issue.
And the Iranians are saying that they have the capabilities to read the black boxes of this plane. Remember that the Iranians so far are refusing to give those black boxes to Boeing, saying they're in charge of the investigation.
However, they say that those black boxes are damaged. They want to try tomorrow to read the data from those black boxes with the Ukrainians, but they say because of the damage that might not be possible. And if it's not possible, they might ask friends or Canada for help.
So they are saying that there's an investigation going on. They're saying they want to be as transparent as possible in that investigation. But again, the head of the Civil Aviation Authority not ruling out that a missile strike could have taken place by accident -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: OK, Fred, thank you so much for those details from Iran. Let's go to Richard in Beirut, and you've heard what the Iranians are saying, you know, how could it have been one of our missiles when, you know, it would have just fallen versus tried to turn back.
You know, as we're talking about precision missiles, how possible is it that a passenger plane could be shot down accidentally?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Oh, it's very possible. And first of all, I wouldn't assume necessarily this was some highly sophisticated precision missile -- a guided missile or the like. It might have been something completely rudimentary.
Secondly, this turn back that people are talking about, that could be the plane falling out of the sky. That could be because the Iranians have also said -- the Iranians have also said in their report, which I got a copy of it here. There's a contradictory statement if you'll bear with me, Brooke. There's a contradictory statement.
On the one hand, they say no radio communication indicating unusual conditions was received from the pilot. OK, no communications. Two paragraphs later, they say the plane turned right following a technical problem.
Well, how did they know there was a technical problem if there had been no communications from the pilot? The data from the ACAS shows that the plane just stopped. All the data came to an end, it just ended, which is highly consistent with some sort of missile attack, bringing it down.
Finally, on the ground are the Ukrainians and the Iranians, but the Americans are not there, obviously. The N.T.S.B., which is amongst the most experienced, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, they have been notified -- notified -- but not invited to participate.
Now, finally, the best hope in all of this is the Canadians because, unfortunately, several dozen -- more than 60 Canadians perished on this flight, and the Canadians will insist on being there looking at the wreckage, seeing the autopsy results and making sure it's above board.
BALDWIN: I want to expand upon so many of our points with my next guest. Richard Quest, thank you very much.
One more detail before we have another conversation and that is this. This has emerged today from this tragedy. One of the passengers on board that doomed flight from Teheran to Kiev reportedly had a premonition of impending doom.
Sheyda Shadkhoo called her husband about 20 minutes before that plane took off, and then minutes later, as we've been reporting, it crashed in flames.
And so her husband said that his wife was on the plane, expressed fear about the tensions between Iran and the U.S., fear about a possible war breaking out. And he had told her not to worry, told her nothing bad was going to happen. And that was their final conversation.
And then after he got word that his wife's plane in fact crashed, that she died, he shared his wife's last Instagram post with reporters in Toronto.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HASSAN SHADKHOO, CRASH VICTIM'S HUSBAND: She wrote, "I'm leaving, but behind me, there is worries. Behind me there are worries. I'm scared for the people who are behind."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Awful. Awful. Michael Bociurkiw is with me. He was one of the first international monitors to reach the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 when it was shot out of the sky in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.
We talked so much then and here we are now. And I mean -- I mean, when you hear what the Iranians are telling Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, and then the great points that Richard Quest brought up, what do you think? What's credible?
MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, ONE OF THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL MONITORS TO REACH THE WRECKAGE OF MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT MH-17: Good to be with you. Well, two things strike me right away. Number one, what on earth was Ukraine International Airlines doing operating that flight when the warning signals were already there. Some airlines as early as Friday already canceled flights. And you know, it really saddens me, Brooke. Haven't we learned any
lessons from MH-17, when there is a conflict zone, stop civilian aviation. That plane would have been here today if they would have followed that.
And then the second thing, of course, is that we're talking about another missile. And I think investigators will be able to determine fairly soon, whether indeed it was a missile. I remember from MH-17, when we first landed on the site, there was signature kind of signs on the fuselage, these holes that really you never see anywhere else in a crash. And there was quickly determined that there was a missile that went up, too.
But who would have thought that you and I would be sitting here again today, talking about a tragedy like this?
BALDWIN: Going back to the telltale signs, because ultimately, they will figure this out. Right? And the points about Iran saying, well, if this was a missile, you know, it would have just fallen out of the sky, which essentially was the quote from, you know, Tehran and Richard's point saying, no, it could have been some rudimentary missile and the plane could have just gone down. I mean, what do you make of that?
BOCIURKIW: I fly a lot. I've flown Ukrainian international a lot, and no, the telltale signs are there. There was a very sudden catastrophic event that brought down that airplane, and I looked at the images of the debris on the ground. It was very widely scattered over two hectares. So that tells us something as well.
It was very different from those two 737 MAX that basically plowed into the ocean in Indonesia, and in the ground in Ethiopia. So we know from what we find on the ground, and also what happened in the air.
But, you know, I think the really important thing right here is the repatriation of the bodies.
BALDWIN: For the families.
BOCIURKIW: These poor families that are grieving, these countries that are grieving including my own country, Canada, where we didn't only lose the 63 Canadian nationals, but also a lot more people who were actually transiting through Canada. It's one of the worst aviation disasters for Canada as well.
So what has to happen, repatriation in a very dignified manner.
BOCIURKIW: And then also, Iran for its own sake, has to open the investigation.
BALDWIN: The U.S. has to be able to see those black boxes.
BOCIURKIW: The U.S. Boeing, the manufacturer of the engine. There's a lot of Prime Minister Trudeau said yesterday, Canada has a lot of experience in terms of accident investigation, especially analyzing up the black boxes.
BALDWIN: With all your expertise. Thank you so much, Michael Bociurkiw. Nice to have you back on. We have much more than that developing story ahead.
Also happening right now, the House is debating the War Powers Resolution that would limit the President's ability to take new military action against Iran without the OK from Congress. We will tell you where that stands.
And rising pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send over those Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. But Speaker Pelosi is standing firm. She said today that she will send them when she is ready.
We'll talk to the Democratic senator and get his take on all of this coming up live.
And new reporting into CNN on the Royal exit. How Prince Harry and Meghan Markle defied the Queen. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Moments ago, the House took the first steps toward formerly limiting President Trump's military efforts and Iran debating the rules for a War Powers Resolution vote that is set for just a couple hours from now.
Speaker Pelosi says her goal is to protect both American lives and values; something she says President Trump did not do when he ordered the killing of Iran's top general one week ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I do not believe in terms of what is in the public domain, that they have made the country safer by what they did. And that is what our responsibility is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Now over in the Senate, Utah Republican Mike Lee, a Trump ally is blasting the White House after a classified briefing about the Soleimani strike.
BALDWIN: Senator Lee was furious that officials wouldn't commit to seeking congressional approval for any future Iran military action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate; to come in and tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran.
It's un-American. It's unconstitutional and it's wrong. That was insulting. That was demeaning to the process ordained by the Constitution. And I find it completely unacceptable.
I walked into the briefing undecided. I walked out, decided specifically because of what happened in that briefing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Senator Lee announcing that he will now support the Senate version of a War Powers Resolution. As for President Trump, here is what he thinks of all of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: To take further military action against Iran, would you seek congressional approval?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would all depend on the circumstance. I don't have to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So Senator Cardin, a pleasure, sir. Welcome.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Thank you, Brooke. It's good to be with you.
BALDWIN: We have heard all kinds of descriptions, Senator, from both sides of the aisle about that briefing yesterday. What adjectives would you use to describe it?
CARDIN: Well, I think it was certainly not convincing as far as the authority of the President to use military force against Iran without congressional authorization.
I think what Senator Lee was saying, that's an area that needs to be debated in a democratic society in the Congress of the United States. We have the constitutional power to declare war, to authorize our military operations, and clearly the President does not have authorization to use force against Iran.
So it is absolutely the right process for this administration or any administration to come to Congress that they seek to use force.
BALDWIN: So I hear you on not being convinced, but based upon what you heard, was the strike justified legally?
CARDIN: Well, I'll tell you, we still don't -- I don't have enough information to make that judgment. The imminent threat was very unclear in the briefing we heard yesterday, and that's the authority that I think most of us believe is the only way the President has legal authority to conduct that attack. The President is also making the point that the existing
authorizations for the use of military force, give him the authority to use this against the attack that he made.
So one could argue -- that to me just makes no sense, but the President is also using that as justification.
BALDWIN: OK. Let me ask you about some of the news that Vice President Mike Pence made this morning. He defended withholding information. I hear you saying you weren't entirely sure what that, you know, imminent threat was so he defended withholding Intel to you and members of Congress. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to protect sources and methods, and so there's only a certain amount that we can share with every Member of Congress. But those of us who have seen all the evidence know that there was a compelling case of an imminent threat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Does that, Senator, does that justification makes sense to you?
CARDIN: No, it does not. We obviously always protect our sources. No one asked for how they got the information, but they should be able to at least share the information, the specific information with us, and that certainly was lacking.
BALDWIN: And also this from Pence, because we know from our reporting that Trump administration officials said that they knew by Tuesday afternoon that Iranians intended to attack American bases in Iraq.
We also know from administration sources that Iran missed on purpose, but then the Vice President this morning maintains that Iran was trying to kill Americans. And my question to you, Senator Cardin is what do you believe? Which was it?
CARDIN: Well, when they send missiles into our military facilities, we have to recognize there is a real risk of loss of American lives. There's no question about that. The Iranians are not that precise, where they can plan where missiles will land that it won't cause casualties.
I want to just have a shout out to the people at Fort Meade, the National Security Agency, because it was the early detection system that gave warning to our troops in Iraq about what the Iranians were doing. And I think that saved lives.
BALDWIN: Yes, I second your shout out, Senator, I appreciate you saying that. Let me turn the page and ask you about impeachment. You know, your colleague, Senator Dianne Feinstein told POLITICO, quote -- she said, "The longer it goes on, the less urgent it becomes. So if it's serious and urgent, send them over. If it isn't, don't send it over." Do you think Speaker Pelosi needs to get those Articles over to you guys like ASAP?
CARDIN: I think Speaker Pelosi should make her own judgment on this. I understand her reason for delay.
CARDIN: Before she appoints the manager, she wants to know what the ground rules are going to be in the United States Senate. And quite frankly, as a Senator, I want the Majority Leader to work with the Democratic Leader so that we have bipartisan process for a fair trial in the Senate, where we can hear from those witnesses who had the direct knowledge of the President's participation in the conversations with Ukraine and the potential cover up, they were not permitted to testify in the House.
So I think we need to have that information. Do we want to do this quickly and get it over here quickly? Absolutely. But we also need to know the process before the Articles are sent over.
BALDWIN: Sure. Senator Cardin, a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Speaking of the House Speaker, she is showing no signs that she is about to bow to any pressure to finally send over those Articles to the Senate.
I remember the House passed this historic vote 22 days ago now, but she has delayed sending them over out of concern the Senate will not hold an impartial trial and here the Speaker was today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: You keep asking me the same question, I keep giving you the same answer. As I said, right from the start, we need to see that the arena in which we are sending our managers, is that too much to ask?
At some point, we would hope that we would see from them what the terms of engagement will be.
I'll send them over when I'm ready. And that will probably be soon.
I think we should move smartly and strategically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Now, make no mistake, pressure is mounting. Several Democratic senators have urged Speaker Pelosi to move forward joining the Republican call. As we mentioned, Senator Feinstein says quote, "The longer it goes on, the less urgent it becomes."
Senator Joe Manchin said quote, "I think it's time to turn the Articles over."
What's more here, Democrats from Speaker Pelosi's chamber want her to end this impasse, and that included at one point, one of her House Chairmen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): I think it is time to send the impeachment to the Senate, and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial. He ultimately is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: But Congressman Smith's opposition did not last long. This morning, he walked that back saying that he misspoke, adding the Democrats, quote, "should do everything we can to force the Senate to have a fair trial."
Still, Congressman Smith is not the only House Member wanting to move on. Manu Raju caught up with one Democrat from a swing district.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sir, do you think it's time the Speaker sent the Articles to the Senate?
REP. BEN MCADAMS (D-UT): I think it's time.
RAJU: You do?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: I couldn't -- it was so quick. I didn't hear it. Dana Bash, is CNN's chief political correspondent. You speak, you know, Members of Congress flying past you. I mean --
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So yes, he said, do you want them to go? He said yes.
BASH: Yes. He is on the same page as the Senate Democrats.
BALDWIN: What are you hearing? What is Speaker Pelosi going to do?
BASH: Well, I love that you played that kind of mash up of what she said this morning because she very clearly wants to signal you know, don't push me.
On the other hand, the pressure is there. It's there in a real way. And those two colliding sentiments was -- they were so clear with what happened with Adam Smith. He was on this very network with our John Berman.
You know, it's time to do it and then walked it back. It wasn't just because he had an epiphany. There's no question. We don't know exactly how it went down. But he is a smart guy and a serious guy for him to have to do that. It's Exhibit A, B and C of how the House Speaker doesn't want to be pushed publicly.
BALDWIN: Even Senator Cardin, you know, he's like Nancy Pelosi is Nancy Pelosi and Nancy Pelosi is going to do --
BASH: She is a creature of the House. Exactly.
BASH: He knows -- he knows what he is talking about there. Having said that, I'm told that the Speaker is signaling internally, don't go far. Stay close. Not saying anything more than that. She -- as Manu and Phil have been reporting, she holds her cards very close to her vest, even among her nearest and dearest.
But she is saying, you know, she is signaling, we're almost there.
BALDWIN: As in maybe the next 24 hours.
BASH: Maybe the next 24 hours. What she is hoping and she said this publicly and I'm told privately as well, that Mitch McConnell who has said, OK, fine, I'll send you over what we're planning for the Senate trial, but he actually does it.
The hope is that that happens and that is the catalyst for her finally saying, OK, you've got it. I'm going to appoint that managers who are going to be the effective prosecutors, and I'm going to send over the Articles of Impeachment so the Senate trial can start, but you might not be able to wait that long.
I'm also told that she understands that there are a lot of members, those members like the one Manu talked to who are out on a limb politically back home, the so-called front liners who are in Trump districts, and to go home one more time, even for a weekend without saying, yes, yes, it's going over there.
BALDWIN: It's going to be very tough.
BASH: It's going to be very, very tough and she understand that.
BALDWIN: There's also more reporting I want to ask you about. This is also coming from Phil and Sarah Westwood about how President Trump is getting this conflicting information on whether to bring conservative House members onto his defense team for the impeachment trial. Does he want theatrics or no?
BASH: Well, it's theatrics, but it's also the people he thinks defend him the best, and the answer to who he thinks defend him the best are, you know, some of the most prominent players in the conservative side of the House Republican conference -- Jim Jordan -- people we saw all during the impeachment.
BALDWIN: Jim Jordan.
BASH: Jim Jordan, Ratcliffe -- those figures, he loved watching that show, to have them from his perspective and he is being encouraged to push for people like them to work alongside of his own lawyers, his own legal team in the Senate trial. Others are, our colleagues, Phil and Sarah and others are reporting
that Mitch McConnell, who actually is the Majority Leader of the Senate went to the President yesterday and said that's a bad idea, because it won't help your case.
Because in the Senate, the people they are trying to influence are the moderate Republicans on any given witness. The question is, how are they going about on any given witness and having a conservative trying to shove it down their throat may not help.
BALDWIN: Wow. Dana Bash. Thank you very much.
BASH: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: None of us will go too far to find out what's happening with Speaker Pelosi and those articles.
Meantime, CNN's inside look in how the Trump administration learned Iran's missile strike and why the President ultimately decided against retaliating.
Plus the Royals. We've got to talk about it. Stunning new details in to CNN about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's decision to step back from the Royal Family.
Hear how Prince Harry defied the Queen, his grandmother -- ahead.