Return to Transcripts main page

CNN RIGHT NOW

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) Discusses Impeachment Stalemate; Against Queen's Wishes, Harry & Meghan Announce Stepping Back from Roles as Senior Royals; How Iran's Retaliation Unfolded Behind the Scenes in U.S. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:30:00]

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): And, Brianna, to listen to the president say, oh, sure, I'll allow these people to testify but I'm concerned about privileges. He released the call record which, if he was really concerned about any executive privilege, he would have said, I'm not going to release this call record. He thought it actually helped him. It didn't.

He's showing no interest in executive privilege. This is about protecting Donald Trump.

I think what we've gotten out of this so far that we've held back before assurances by Senator McConnell, is John Bolton is now willing to testify, Just Security has been able to produce more documents. I think public sentiment has risen to the level where people expect a fair trial.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Why doesn't the House subpoena John Bolton?

SWALWELL: The Senate is in the position right now, ready to receive these articles, to say, we will call him as a witness. I don't think that's been ruled out.

But I think right now it makes most sense for Leader McConnell to say, OK, you're a relevant witness, we're going to bring you in. That seems to make more sense than going back, at least at this point, to our investigation.

KEILAR: Well, I mean --

SWALWELL: The Senate has the opportunity to say that.

KEILAR: It makes more sense in that that's what you want, but it's Mitch McConnell -- and it doesn't seem like that's what he's going to do. You do have the ability to hear from John Bolton. Why not? What's stopping you?

SWALWELL: Again, I think we vote, we put together an investigation without John Bolton coming forward. I think we have enough evidence right now to remove the president or to make the case to remove him.

If Mitch McConnell and others have questions about our case, they now have a witness who wasn't willing before who is now willing to come forward.

I think just stop playing games and tell the American people you're going to allow a relevant witness to come in.

KEILAR: Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said this morning, here on CNN's "NEW DAY," that it's time to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. And just a few hours later, it was a stark 180. He said, I misspoke this morning, I think we should do everything we can to have the Senate have a fair trial.

Are you all feeling pressure not to speak your minds on this? I wonder if part of that is because these are going over to the Senate soon.

SWALWELL: I know this case very well-being, on the Judiciary and the Intelligence Committee. If Speaker Pelosi was not leading the charge on this, I and others would be recommending this. I fully support holding back until we have assurances of a fair trial.

Yes, there's an imminent threat to our democracy but an even greater threat would be if the speaker just sent these articles over into a rigged ambush, which right now looks like is awaiting us with Mitch McConnell.

KEILAR: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

SWALWELL: Thanks. Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Still ahead, it is a royal shocker. Prince Harry defying the queen by announcing his stepping back from royal duties.

And new CNN reporting what's happening behind the scenes as Iran launched strikes on the U.S.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:37:36]

KEILAR: Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle are stepping back from their roles as senior members of the British royal family. This is all in an effort to become financially independent, among other things.

And this decision, which was announced by the couple on Instagram, reportedly went against the queen's request to not issue the statement.

Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster now. He's joining us live now from London.

Max, this announcement was sort of earth-shattering in a way, but also defying the queen. Tell us, what else do you know?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, your role as a senior royal, or any royal, really, is to support the queen. That is your job.

This is not a normal family, obviously. It is part of the national network and the national institution.

So if you want to change your role -- you have to remember that Meghan and Harry weren't asking to leave the royal family. They weren't resigning from the royal family. They were trying to redefine their role, cherry pick the parts they like and get rid of the bits they don't like.

If you want to do that, you need to have clearance from the head of state, the queen.

It sounds as though Prince Harry did approach the queen about his new plan, but it was all written up already. She said, don't go with this, do not publish it, and he went ahead with it, anyway.

Jaws dropping not just behind palace walls but across the U.K. She's a revered figure, anyway. But this isn't the way you do it and it's not going to get you what you want.

Following all this, this afternoon, I saw a senior palace member, if I can call them that, walking down the road towards the palace. Had a chat with him. He told me there had just been a crisis meeting between the households of Prince William, Prince Charles and the queen, and they are now working, quick time, to try to resolve this with the duke and duchess of Sussex.

The duke and duchess of Sussex had written a manifesto defining their future and put it on a Web site. The world has seen it. We all reported on it. But clearly, the others aren't happy with it, so they need some kind of compromise.

What if they do find a compromise? That's fine. If they don't find a compromise? The Web site will have to change. The duke and duchess of Sussex will have to fall back on what they said before.

[13:40:03]

Will they do it? Will they not do it? They're showing they defy most rules within the household. And if they don't budge, they're either going to have to leave the royal family or they'll have to get kicked out.

Extraordinary.

KEILAR: It is incredibly extraordinary.

Max, thank you for breaking all that down for us, live at Buckingham Palace.

Now there are new details about how the Iran strike unfolded in the Situation Room at the White House and what it would have taken for the president to hit back.

And more on our breaking news. Reaction coming in right now to the -- now to this news that U.S. officials have increasingly come to believe that Iran accidently shot down a passenger jet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:45:21]

KEILAR: Facebook is defying calls to crack down on false and misleading political ads heading into the 2020 election. The new rules mean politicians or those acting on their behalf can pay to spread ads that contain lies across the media platform.

Facebook has faced widespread criticism for not taking a more active approach to control the spread of fake news. Instead, the company says it's rolling out controls that will allow users to limit how advertisers can target them and more transparency over who is behind the ads.

The day that Iran launched a missile attack against American troops in Iraq, America's top diplomat on Iran was only a few minutes into his speech when he was handed an urgent note. Brian Hook had already arrived an hour late into his speech and now he had to leave.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN HOOK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR IRAN: The people of Iraq and Lebanon, sorry, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran, they want their country back. They are tired of Iran being unable to stay within its own borders.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is your biggest worry?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: You can see there, Hook abruptly closed his speech and walked off the stage.

This was just the beginning of behind-the-scenes activity that led up to President Trump's decision not to strike Iran.

All the reporting came from this CNN team, here right now, chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, national security reporter, Zachary Cohen, and Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Jim, take it from there. What happens next?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of this obviously unfolded on the night that Iran struck those military bases in Iraq.

And from what we understand -- and Pamela Brown and Barbara Starr and Zach Cohen, they can all elaborate on this as well -- the president met with his advisers in the Situation Room here at the White House, and they were waiting to find out whether or not there would be casualties on the ground.

I was told by one senior White House official that had there been any casualties involved in this that the president wanted to strike back and there was serious consideration given to striking back throughout the evening, but they eventually held up, ultimately, they held up because there were no casualties as a result of all this.

As we were talking about yesterday, there was all this speculation that perhaps the Iranians had intentionally missed because they wanted to send the signal that they were just trying to send a message on all of this. But of course, military commanders -- and Barbara Starr can elaborate on this -- were saying late yesterday, no, that was not the case in their view.

KEILAR: Pamela, tell us what kind of communication, if anything, what kind of messages, direct or indirect, was the U.S. receiving from Iran at this point?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Within hours of the strike, Brianna, on Tuesday night, messages began coming into the White House from Iran through intermediaries. I'm told there are at least three backchannels the Iranians were using, including the switch.

The messages were all the same. Iran was trying to convey to the White House, look, we're done. We've done our retaliatory attack of Qasem Soleimani, this is all we're going to do. Now essentially the ball is in your court. We're waiting to see what the U.S. will do.

I'm told the U.S. responded saying, you say, we're done, but we know you can still make attacks through proxies. Apparently, they tried to squeak out of it saying, hey, we're not responsible for what the proxies do, only Hezbollah, but the U.S. made clear they're not buying that.

KEILAR: That's right. And we saw your reporting yesterday.

Barbara, at the Pentagon, what's happening at this point?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They had the messages from Iranians but the U.S. military has its own plans when they were under attack, and that's what they believed they were under, regardless of what the Iranians said.

So U.S. satellites had been keeping watch on these ballistic missile sites, anyway. They saw the first heat signatures very quickly of those missiles being launched.

Using those heat signatures and other radar and electronic intelligence, they were able to put together a very quick picture of what they thought the kinds of missiles were, their ranges, how far they could fly, what a potential trajectory would be, and what U.S. targets might be in their path.

And with that information, they were able to warn commanders and U.S. troops both at the Al-Assad and Erbil bases in Iraq, were able to move troops to safe locations when the missiles hit.

I think commanders will tell you that was the biggest contributor that they had to making sure that there were no U.S. casualties.

KEILAR: And, Zach, how were lawmakers looped in?

[13:50:01]

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: We know that key lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, were informed about the attack within the first hour.

Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer were both called by the vice president directly and briefed but GOP leaders, several key lawmakers were called by the president himself.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Esper also were calling Democrats and Republicans on both sides to tell them about what happened.

KEILAR: In the Situation Room after the strike, what was happening, Pamela?

BROWN: There were top national security advisers surrounding the president, of course, in the Situation Room. What I'm told is there was this initial reaction as the intelligence was coming in, Brianna, of surprise, actually, that Iran didn't launch more missiles out of its arsenal of thousands of ballistic missiles. So there was this sense of surprise.

Our reporting at that time was that it struck non-populated areas that had -- non-populated areas with U.S. persons so that was a big factor, as Jim Acosta said, because they were trying to figure out, were there any U.S. casualties. Early indications were there were not.

And so that fed this sense of restraint in the room. As Jim pointed out, there was a consideration to perhaps strike back. But the consensus was, look, let's just stay calm, let's exercise some restraint here, wait for the final battle damage assessment, that came in at 1:00 a.m. Eastern standard time, and just confirm there are no U.S. casualties there.

So there was surprise, calmness, restraint, and also some natural tension because of the high stakes.

KEILAR: And throughout this evening, Zach, lawmakers being informed continually. Tell us about that?

COHEN: They are. Especially Republicans. Key Republicans were getting updates throughout the night from the White House, from the defense secretary and other members of the administration that were in the Situation Room.

But really, the sense of relief or calm didn't really set in until about 9:00 p.m., when the president started making calls directly to lawmakers to tell them what had played out, what the status was, and there likely wouldn't be a direct response last night.

KEILAR: And so, Jim, White House officials, it was really interesting, they expressed some regret that the president didn't address the nation right after the strike on Soleimani. He waited. Why?

ACOSTA: Yes, I think -- Brianna, I think they were trying to operate with some caution and some restraint for all of the president's bluster.

I talked to a senior White House official who said, at one point on Tuesday night, this is a time for patience and restraint. I said, wait a minute, is this the Trump White House.

I think it goes to show you, Brianna, this was a different kind of environment that the president was plunged into over that 48 to 72- hour period. The president was standing on the edge of war.

You know, if any of those missile strikes had taken out any U.S. servicemembers, I think the great likelihood is that the U.S. would have counter attacked. And the last 48 hours would just have been a very different kind of scenario, that, you know, obviously, would have major implications for days and weeks, perhaps months to come. The nation would essentially be at war.

I think, at that moment, they decided, you know what, let's not talk about this. Let's not put the president in front of the cameras until we have better information from what's happening down on the ground, and ultimately, that's what they decided to do.

Obviously, that gave the president the chance to de-escalate tensions yesterday. But as you saw, just a short while ago, here at the White House, when he was talking to reporters, he is once again escalating those tensions with Iran. We may be back where we were a couple of days ago in due order.

KEILAR: And, Barbara, I'm curious, you have institutional knowledge of following moments where the U.S. is on the brink. Did anything feel different as you looked back and learned all these internal machinations that were going on?

STARR: I think there's one thing, indeed. We've talked a bit here about they were trying to determine if there were no casualties. So in this instant information age, I think one thing to reflect on perhaps are the military families who knew that their loved ones were serving in this area. And all night long, they are not getting official word from the Pentagon or the White House about any potential of casualties.

Even in the middle of the night, once they had a really good idea that there were none, nobody came out on camera and said no casualties. We have no reports even of casualties.

I can only imagine it was a long night for so many military families waiting for that word.

KEILAR: Barbara, I can't tell you how much I appreciate, as a member of a military family, you saying that because it's -- it's easy to forget that for a very small fraction of our country, this is not an academic conversation. This is about what matters most in their life to them, their loved ones. Barbara Starr, great reporting.

You guys, Zach Cohen, Pamela Brown, Jim Acosta, thank you all.

And let's get back now to our breaking news. U.S. officials becoming increasingly convinced that Iran shot down a Ukraine airline jet killing everyone on board. What we're learning about that.

[13:54:00]

Plus, Congress moving to limit the president's military action against Iran without congressional approval. That war powers vote is set to happen this afternoon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We will take it from here. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Good to be with you.

[14:00:02]

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 antiaircraft missiles.