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Did Mike Pompeo Convince Trump to Kill Iranian General?; Did Iran Shoot Down Ukrainian Plane?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: In all, 176 people were killed.

An official with Iran's civil air organization dismisses the theory as an illogical rumor, saying it is -- quote -- "scientifically impossible" that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Correspondent Scott McLean is in Kiev.

And so we will start with Scott.

And so, Scott, President Zelensky has declared a day of mourning. We know that a total of 11 Ukrainians were killed in the crash. What's the word from Kiev?


As you have just said there, American sources, they are increasingly certain that this plane was shot out of the sky by an Iranian surface- to-air missile. The Iranians deny that. The Ukrainians are saying, let's just wait and see what the evidence shows.

They're asking European partners like the United States to avoid speculation, and if they have hard evidence to go ahead and share it.

Separate from all this, though, let's not forget, Brooke, that there are 176 families who simply want answers. Today, the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was among the first to drop flowers on this growing pile. His flowers are probably bury buried somewhere deep under there.

There were friends. There were colleagues. There were family members who came. It was really quite a steady stream of people. Most people wouldn't remember who their flight attendant was yesterday. We spoke to a woman today who remembered two of these flight attendants of the nine who were killed on -- or the nine crew members, I should say, who were killed on board.

She said that their kindness really left an unforgettable mark. We also saw the mother of one of those pilots who came to share her grief. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They thanked me for raising a good son. We just celebrated his 50th birthday. He was my only son. Now I'm all by myself.


MCLEAN: Yes, so she went on wailing like that in Ukrainian for probably 15, 20 minutes. She was saying over and over again at many points, my son, why did you leave me?

But, truthfully, Brooke, you do not need to understand the language to understand that woman's pain.

BALDWIN: I'm sure one of the questions she has and so many of the families -- and before I even ask this, of course, some of the blame, maybe much of the blame, will end up on Iran.

But this was a Ukrainian airliner. How is a Ukrainian airliner green- lit to fly in the middle of a potential war zone? Have you gotten any answers to that?

MCLEAN: I think that's a question for a lot of different airlines, and I think people who were in Iran at that time were in a bit of a tricky spot.

Do you stay in the country that could potentially be under attack at any moment in response to those Iranian missile strikes on U.S. air bases in Iraq, or do you try to get out on the first flight, like these people did, in order to avoid any potential retaliation?

Obviously, in this case, there was no real right answer, but I think you raise a valid point as to why any airliners were going into that country.

I should point out quickly, Brooke, if you ask people here, they will have the normal complaints about Ukrainian International Airlines that we have about all the airlines. Sometimes, they're late. Sometimes, the service isn't so good.

But, all in all, you would be hard-pressed to find people who had serious concerns about the safety level. The staff members that we talked to today said they had no worries at all.

BALDWIN: Scott McLean in Ukraine, Scott, thank you.

Let's get some analysis on all of this.

Aviation maritime attorney Dan Rose is with me. He's also a former Navy pilot.

When you're hearing all this, my question about why would the airline, you know, green-light the flight in the first place after all these missiles had been flying, right, towards U.S. bases in Iraq, but the other question is, how credible are these reports that it could have been a missile that accidentally took this plane down? What do you think?

DAN ROSE, AVIATION ATTORNEY: Yes, you know, there are layers of responsibility here for not putting a plane up in the middle of a war zone.

I mean, the airline should not have put it up there. The Iranians certainly should not have let it up there. You know, it just kind of baffles, you know, logic that that plane was allowed to be sent up in the air when missiles were flying.

BALDWIN: In terms of the investigation, how will they be able to determine? Are there telltale signs of, A, some sort of missile hitting a plane? Like, what will they be looking for, investigators?

ROSE: Sure.

I mean, you can already see just on the rough information that's out on the Internet that the plane was continuing to fly and continuing to accelerate, so that really doesn't suggest that it was a mechanical failure, at least related to the engine.

Obviously, you could have a complete explosion, which we have seen on other aircraft, like TWA 800. But there's going to be a lot of data. Obviously, the black boxes, if there's no indication of mechanical failure on the black boxes, the logical conclusion is something else.

BALDWIN: And I want to come back to the black box point in just a second. Hold tight.


I'm being told let's go to the Pentagon to our correspondent there, Barbara Starr, and she has some news.

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, a U.S. official, I want to say, not in the Pentagon, somewhere else in the U.S. government, tells me that they now are certain that it was two Russian-made SA-17 surface-to-air missiles that the Iranians fired against the Ukrainian commercial airliner.

This official tells me that they had some certainty of this Wednesday morning, the morning after the airliner went down, but they were taking some time to try and verify this intelligence, including that the Iran -- an Iranian radar element on the ground had painted, if you will, the airliner, meaning that the Iranians had electronically locked onto the airliner.

So now they believe not only that the intelligence they saw the morning after this airliner went down was valid. They have taken the time to verify it and make sure of what they are looking at.

Now, this goes to motive. We have reported earlier in the day that the U.S. believes the Iranian most likely, the working theory is that they accidentally brought down the airliner, that somewhere on the ground this Iranian crew did not realize perhaps this was a civilian airliner.

This is a working theory that goes to motive. But what we know now is that the U.S. government has the intelligence to -- the electronic intelligence, if you will, to back this up.

They have -- let me explain a bit further.


STARR: The U.S. operates satellites, airborne-intelligence-gathering systems that scoop up radar and electronic signals in the environment.

And, obviously, with everything going on, these kinds of intelligence assets, satellites, aircraft, had been watching over Iranian airspace almost continuously because of the concern about Iran, as we know, firing these ballistic missiles against the U.S. in Iraq.

So you had the assets up there. It's very much like when the U.S. keeps watch on North Korea. The U.S. military, the U.S. intelligence community has significant classified abilities to see, hear, scoop up essentially these electronic signals in the environment.

So they see this electronically happening, and when they get these radar signals, they are able to determine what kind of missile it is, the trajectory, and what it might be headed towards.

This is, if nothing else, for self-defense of the U.S. military and self-defense of U.S. assets in any region. In this case, they saw it, the intelligence, they analyzed it the morning after the plane was brought down, but it was until today that they were really able with some certainty to say, this is what they believe happened.

Two Russian made SA-15s, owned and operated by the Iranians. Motive, they believe probably accidental, but that's motive. That doesn't go to the question of exactly technically what happened that brought this civilian airliner down.

I will say also I think a number of aviation experts are saying that it is the debris of the plane that is going to have to be analyzed for explosive residue, you know, to see what exactly was there because, if there is explosive residue on the plane debris, it would be a unique type of explosive residue to a missile, rather than just aviation fuel from a crash.

BALDWIN: OK. So it was Russian surface-to-air missiles shot from Iran that...

STARR: Russian-made. Russian-made.

BALDWIN: Russian-made.

STARR: Purchased -- you know, purchased, operated, whatever you want to call it, by the Iranian military.


Barbara Starr, it's a huge, huge piece of news.

Let me just pivot back over to Dan.

You know, so if that is what the U.S. has now concluded happened, what is the recourse? I mean, I'm thinking of all these families, right? What's the recourse for this?

ROSE: Well, that's a whole other question, and it's a difficult one, because if -- the recourse in terms of legally is probably limited against Iran.


ROSE: They're not going to be too cooperative. They haven't -- I mean, we're still getting judgments against them for 9/11 that they're not showing up on.

BALDWIN: That there may not be any...

ROSE: Right.

BALDWIN: What about your point about the black boxes?

And, you know, Iran is saying they're not going to let the U.S. get their hands on them. And, again, this was a Boeing plane. This was an American plane. How does the U.S. get in on this? Don't they have to?

ROSE: Well, I think there's going to be a lot of other information, as Barbara pointed out.


ROSE: You're going to have signatures from the launching, probably. You're going to have electronic information about what happened. You're going to see the wreckage in certain way that's either indicative of shrapnel or the way the plane broke off.


So I think there will be a lot of information that would support the shoot-down theory, so you don't need the black boxes. But those would be definitive, because if there's nothing else on the black box, then there's no other explanation.


All right, Dan, thank you.

ROSE: Sure.

BALDWIN: Dan Rose.

Moments from now, the House is expected to vote on limiting the president's war powers against Iran, as we learn new details about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's critical role in orchestrating this attack on Qasem Soleimani. Also, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting pressure from members

within her own party to deliver those articles of impeachment over to the Senate. I will talk to a Democratic congressman to get his take on the holdup.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We will be right back.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Today, President Trump claimed he doesn't have to seek Congress' approval for future military action in Iraq. Some Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, though, they strongly disagree.

We will flash some live pictures there on the House floor, where soon lawmakers will vote on a resolution that would limit the president's war powers in Iran. And a similar resolution has also been introduced in the Senate.

And that vote comes just a day after administration officials briefed both chambers on the strike that killed former Iran General Qasem Soleimani.

For Utah Senator and Trump ally Mike Lee, that briefing left a lot to be desired, especially when Senator Lee said White House officials refused to commit to consulting with Congress on Iran going forward.


SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I have 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.


BALDWIN: And just last hour, I talked to Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, who agreed with Senator Lee on the need for the president to make his case directly to lawmakers.


SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): 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.


BALDWIN: Phillip Carter is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy. He's also a former Iraq War veteran.

So, Phillip, thank you so much for joining me.


BALDWIN: The president says he doesn't have to ask Congress' approval on future military action in Iran. Obviously, Democrats and Republicans say, yes, he does. Who's right?

CARTER: So, like all legal questions, the answer is, it depends.

If we're talking about a single strike, something like the Soleimani strike that was intended to be in self-defense or preemptive self- defense, the history suggests the answer is, no, the president can do that for an imminent issue.

But if he's talking about a sustained air campaign, something that will go on, something that may expose the U.S. to counterattacks or put hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk, then history suggests the president does have to go to Congress and seek approval.

BALDWIN: You point out that previous presidents have ordered bombings without congressional approval. You look at former President Reagan on Libya, both George H.W. Bush and Clinton on Iraq.

But how does that differ, if at all, with what President Trump did in ordering the Soleimani strike?

CARTER: So, maybe sadly, as a lawyer, the provisions of the Constitution on this are sometimes observed in the breach.

And those past incidents often reflect, in the Libya case or the Sudan case or Afghanistan case with Reagan and Clinton, a desire to immediately hit Gadhafi in the first instance and then al Qaeda in the second in a very imminent scenario.

The president then went back to Congress and reported it to try to respect the rules, but that's not necessarily the template going forward, and those cases all raise questions.

President Trump is really forging a new path, though, between his Syria strike in 2017 and then his actions more recently, and the justifications have yet to emerge fully and in a coherent way from what he sees are his legal obligations in these cases.

BALDWIN: All right, and then just with regard to what's happening right now with the House, we know that they will likely pass this resolution, but the president is just as likely to veto it, Phillip.

So, if there is an escalation with Iran in the future, what options does Congress have to ensure this president works within the guidelines of the Constitution?

CARTER: So, Congress has sort of an escalating series of things it can do, beginning with hearings, beginning with holds on nominations, moving up until funding actions, and ultimately passing veto-proof legislation that restricts the president's war powers.

That doesn't often happen. It did towards the end -- the Vietnam War, and it has happened at a few other moments in American history, but if Congress feels that it is being disrespected enough, it may choose to act that way.

BALDWIN: All right, Phillip Carter, thank you for your expertise.

Although the president has assured Americans that Iran is standing down from any further retaliation, two Revolutionary Guard commanders told Iranian media that Tehran will exact -- quote -- "harsher revenge" on the United States and that this week's missile attacks on two military basis were a display of Iran's weapons capability.


CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward visited one of the damage sites in Northern Iraq.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So this is one of the sites where Iranian missiles hit the other night.

And, as you can see, it's a rural area. There is nothing much to see here. The nearest thing, local tells us, is a refugee camp just under a mile in that direction.

Local security officials also saying that there are no Americans here. There are no American bases here, but, nonetheless, this is where one of the missiles hit. And you can see this area of impact.

And if you go through some of these small craters, you can also find some shrapnel from where the missile hit. But the question really is, what exactly were the Iranians trying to target here? Were they even trying to target something specific at all, or were they just trying to show that their missiles have a far reach?

More broadly speaking, of course, this is a strategically important area for the Americans. Northern Iraq has essentially been the base of operations, particularly Special Forces operations, in the fight against ISIS.

For locals in this area -- and there aren't that many of them, but they did say it was frightening to hear the blast. Windows were blown out.

And, of course, there's real concern. Nobody wants to see tensions escalate any further between the U.S. and Iran. People in areas like this thought that this conflict had nothing to do with them, but the Iranians showing with this missile hit that their attacks can go anywhere.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Bardarash, Iraq.


BALDWIN: Clarissa, thank you.

And as members of Congress on both sides express their dissatisfaction with the intelligence provided to them on why Soleimani was killed, CNN has new reporting about the driving force behind the president's decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The one, the woman with all the information here, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel.

And, Jamie, you have been reporting that really throughout Secretary Pompeo's career he has believed that Iran is the root of Middle East problems. Tell me what you know.


It goes back a decade, and he thinks Iran is the root of the problems, and he thought that one man, Soleimani, was the terrorist mastermind behind it.

He has been, according to his friends and colleagues, on a mission. He's a former military man, and he would tell friends and colleagues -- I want to read the quote -- "I will not retire from public service until Soleimani is off the battlefield."

So this is something that goes way back. Let's remember, he went to West Point. A lot of his colleagues have been stationed in Iraq. Some of them are still there. So many U.S. soldiers have been hurt by IEDs, the kinds of bombs that we think that Soleimani is responsible for.

BALDWIN: Soleimani.

GANGEL: Even when Pompeo was a congressman in 2016 -- there's some publicity about this -- he asked for a visa to go to Iran, and he told friends that he wanted to confront Soleimani personally.

So this is -- this was Mike Pompeo's plan. This is something he's been lobbying about.

BALDWIN: So it was personal. He was on this mission.

And so when he and I'm sure other, you know, top military brass presented the options to President Trump, you in your reporting describe Secretary Pompeo as the Trump whisperer.

GANGEL: Right.

Well, we know that we have seen a lot of people come and go from the Trump administration.

BALDWIN: Yes. Pompeo has not. He's stayed. GANGEL: He has not. He has figured out the code.

But this was something he had lobbied Trump about before, when the drone was -- when our drone was hit by Iran. Trump said no.

And we know that President Trump has actually not wanted to have military action. But this was something he'd been talking to him about for a long time. What was the difference here?

I'm told that the difference was that the contractor was killed, but also those pictures of the protests at the embassy, that Pompeo emphasized that with Trump, and that it wasn't just about the memory of Benghazi in the Obama administration, that it went back to 1979, when our U.S. Embassy was overtaken, Americans were held hostage for 444 days, and that that made the difference with Trump.

But, at the end of the day, I think it's important to know, whatever happens with this policy, we don't know yet what's going to go back and forth, that this was really Mike Pompeo's mission.


BALDWIN: To know that he wanted a visa to go to Iran when he was back in Kansas as a member of Congress, that's quite a nugget.

Jamie, thank you very much for all of that.

Coming up next, a member of the House Intelligence Committee joins me live, and we will talk to him about whether it's time for Speaker Pelosi to send on over those articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Plus, one of President Trump's biggest backers, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, claims the president's speech on Iran was akin to President Reagan's tear down the wall moment.