Return to Transcripts main page


Lawmakers Criticize Iran Briefing; U.S., Iran Step Back from the Brink; Trump Asks NATO to Get Involved in Middle East; Prince Harry and Meghan Step Back from Royal Roles; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 04:00   ET




SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Probably the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Because I didn't learn anything in the hearing that I hadn't seen in a newspaper already.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: A contentious briefing on the strike that took out a top Iranian general. Today, a House vote that could handcuff the president's future new moves on Iran.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We will not accede our authority to try this impeachment. The House Democrats' turn is over.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Mitch McConnell wants to get moving on the Senate impeachment trial. Now it looks like some Democrats agree.

JARRETT: And a star in the U.K. Harry and Meghan are stepping back from the royal duties. The palace caught so off-guard even the Queen was surprised.

CNN is live this morning in Tehran, Riyadh, Baghdad, Beirut and London. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: And in London they're calling it Mexit on the front pages of the tabloid newspapers. That's a big story.

JARRETT: It's the biggest story.

ROMANS: I know. I'm Christine Romans. We'll get to that in a moment. It's Thursday, January 9th, 4:00 a.m. in New York. 25 days until the Iowa caucuses. But we begin with the U.S. and Iran seeming to be backing away from

armed conflict. Today House lawmakers will take steps to ensure they are involved next time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi setting a vote on a war powers resolution that will limit the president's military actions against Iran. Pelosi has criticized the president for not consulting Congress before the drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

JARRETT: Wednesday a contentious classified briefing on Iran infuriated some lawmakers. Two key Republican senators, allies of the president, joined Democrats charging the administration failed to prove Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on U.S. interests.


LEE: 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.

PAUL: There was no specific information given to us of a specific attack. Generality, stuff you read in the newspapers was given to us. I didn't learn anything in the hearing that I hadn't seen in a newspaper already. And none of it was overwhelming that X was going to happen.


JARRETT: One of the briefers, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, defended it.


MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Most members of Congress do not have access to the intelligence that I think was the most compelling. That's just simply the nature of the intelligence and it's restricted to the Gang of Eight, if you will.


JARRETT: Esper and another briefer, Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley, now say they believe Iran's missiles targeting U.S. bases were intended to kill American personnel. That of course is a sharp contrast with the view floated by other administration officials that the Iranians missed on purpose.

ROMANS: CNN has new details this morning from inside the White House as the Iranian missile strikes on U.S. bases unfolded. A senator who spoke with President Trump tells CNN the president seemed ready to attack Iranian facilities if there had been even one American casualty. Fortunately there were none.

The president, with a show of military force and unity standing behind him walked back from the brink.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world. The fact that we have this great -- we do not want to use it.


ROMANS: The president promised punishing new sanctions against Iran but said nothing about further military strikes.

For the latest let's turn to CNN's Fred Pleitgen live in Tehran. And for the moment, Fred, it seems as though there has been a pause button pressed on this conflict.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think you're absolutely right, Christine. I think pause button is probably the best way to put it. It's quite interesting because we had some new reporting today on the ground here in Tehran. Our crew just did an interview with the government spokesman who said that the Iranians believed that there was a degree of rationality, as they put it, in President Trump's speech last night and the spokesman urging President Trump, as he put it, to come back to as they say international law and to the nuclear agreement that was signed by the past administration.

Now obviously listening to President Trump speak there yesterday in his speech it didn't seem as though that was something that was necessarily in the cards. He of course was blasting the nuclear deal at every turn of that speech that he was giving.

A little bit of different view coming from the U.N. ambassador from Iran who this morning said that President Trump's plea to say that the U.S. and Iran should cooperate on areas of mutual agreement like for instance in the fight against ISIS was not believable.


The U.N. ambassador for Iran said, that he said especially since President Trump is hitting Iran with those new sanctions once again, obviously that's something that didn't go down very well at all with Iran, said the Iranians believe that these sanctions really are at the core of why this protracted disagreement and this protracted tensions between the U.S. and Iran are continuing.

At the same time we have some great new reporting from our colleagues in Washington, D.C. who after speaking with multiple sources are saying that inside the situation room as it was clear that this counter attack by the Iranians was happening, that there was a degree of surprise, that the Iranians only fired so few missiles at those American bases. Of course there was some tension in the air, according to the reporting, but those tensions were somewhat eased because the officials seemed to understand that the Iranians were more bent on sending a message rather than killing Americans.

So some great reporting there from our colleagues in Washington, D.C. It really does seem as though right now, Christine, this whole region

has pressed the pause button, if you will.


PLEITGEN: However, the main tensions between the U.S. and Iran still very much continuing -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yes. All right. Thanks for that. Fred Pleitgen for us this morning in Tehran.

JARRETT: Well, during his address to the nation President Trump offered up this surprise.


TRUMP: I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process.


JARRETT: After railing against NATO for years the president is now seeking help from the alliance.

Let's go live to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and bring in CNN's Nic Robertson.

Nic, you know, NATO allies are pulling out of Iraq. The president wants help, but do they have the appetite for this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They certainly seem to have the appetite to keep the NATO alliance going and a lot of that is dependent on keeping President Trump sweet. Jens Stoltenberg, the U.N. secretary general, has gone out of his way to try to make sure that NATO bends to the will of President Trump. Certainly Stoltenberg was on the phone with the Iraqi prime minister on Tuesday talking about how that NATO training mission of Iraqi troops can continue going forward.

So, you know, there is an appetite to continue an international military presence inside Iraq to help train the Iraqis but also to make sure that ISIS doesn't reemerge, so there will be some understanding and support potentially there, but we haven't heard from President Trump what that really means, that NATO will be inclined to help. But for the United States allies in the region like Saudi Arabia they will be wondering, does this mean that President Trump intends to draw down U.S. forces significantly? Will the United States allies be left depending more on Europeans for their strategic strength in the region? That would be a concern.

And of course the other thing as we stand right now, is how is Iran going to respond to these more sanctions President Trump has applied? In the past they've used military violence. Have they accepted that a game change has now happened with the killing of Qasem Soleimani? So for Saudis, for others in this region here, they'll wonder what the next move from the Iranians will be. Will it be to use their proxies again, and indirectly or directly target Saudi and others as they have in the past? So it's far from game over. The NATO question, though, is a very big one for the United States allies in this region.

JARRETT: Nick, thanks so much for all of that reporting there in Riyadh.

ROMANS: All right. So investors around the world are feeling calmer about tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Oil prices actually fell once the threat of conflict with Iran seemed to ease and the president, President Trump, said this.


TRUMP: America's achieved energy independence. We are now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. We are independent, and we do not need Middle East oil.


ROMANS: Well, the president is overstating America's energy independence. It is not that simple. Yes, the U.S. is the world's leading oil producer. It's one reason why the recent supply disruptions haven't had a more dramatic impact on oil prices, but the U.S. is still dependent on the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, because oil is a globally traded commodity. That means a supply disruption somewhere like the Strait of Hormuz would cause a response everywhere, higher prices everywhere.

Now the U.S. refinery system was built decade ago and it runs most efficiently with heavy oil. U.S. shale oil, that oil that makes us energy independent and the world's leading oil producer, it's light oil. That's why the U.S. imports heavy oil from overseas including the Middle East. The largest refinery in the U.S., by the way, in Port Arthur, Texas, is owned by Saudi Arabia.

JARRETT: Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump met at the White House and discussed the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. Sources tell CNN they discussed format and other issues. McConnell's interactions with Trump are sure to fuel accusations from Democrats the Senate majority leader is improperly coordinating the trial with the White House.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Democrats continue to wait and see what the terms are for that trial. McConnell is also not budging, calling Pelosi's refusal to turn over those articles of impeachment shameless game playing.


MCCONNELL: There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure. We will not accede our authority to try this impeachment. The House Democrats' turn is over.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: And now in a twist, several Democrats look like they're siding with McConnell saying the articles should be handed over. Many of them are concerned the stalemate could affect Democratic presidential primaries. Five senators would have to leave the campaign trail for trial. And, you know, Iowa caucuses, next month.

ROMANS: That's right.

All right. His great escape made headlines around the world. How did Carlos Ghosn do it, and would he ever face a trial? What he told CNN next.


JARRETT: Well, a major shakeup in the British royal family.


Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, say they will be stepping back from their royals as senior members of the British royal family. The announcement coming as a surprise to everyone even Queen Elizabeth.

CNN's Anna Stewart live at Buckingham Palace. Good morning, Anna. So what is the latest there? Quite the uproar.

ANNA STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, such a shocked statement from the couple. But also you could feel the shock in the statement that we actually got from Buckingham Palace from the Queen. We'll bring it up for you. It says, "Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."

And I want to show you some of the headlines because it is front and center of pretty much every newspaper in the U.K. "Queen's Dismay as Harry and Meghan Step Back from Royal Life" in the "Express." In the "Daily Mail," "Queen's Fury as Harry and Meghan Say We Quit." And the "Daily Mirror," "They Didn't Even Tell the Queen." And that seems to be the big story here that it's not just the shock that the couple are going to step back from senior roles. Perhaps that's not such a big surprise. They've had a very challenging year of 2019 with the press.

But the idea that the royal family weren't aware, and as we understood it that statement went out without any of the royal family knowing about it.

JARRETT: It's just incredible that Harry and Meghan were able to keep this under wraps there.

All right. Thanks so much. We'll see you soon, Anna.

ROMANS: All right, 16 minutes past the hour. To Australia now, 27 lives lost to the wildfires there. A state of disaster has been extended through midnight Saturday in Victoria. The U.S. is now advising against traveling to Australia because of these fires. There are brush fires in every state. New South Wales and Victoria, home to Sydney and Melbourne, have been hit the hardest. Nearly 18 million acres have burned. That's larger than Denmark and Belgium combined.

Hundreds of dead animals lying along the side of the road in New South Wales. Across Australia, millions of animals have perished. Countless more are struggling to survive. Right now more than 110 army reservists are working to keep injured -- to help injured wildlife on Kangaroo Island.

Also lending a hand Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forest and his wife. They have pledged the equivalent $48 million U.S. dollars to fire relief and recovery.

JARRETT: Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn blasting Japan's legal system from Lebanon where he fled prosecution. Ghosn spoke to CNN in his first major public appearance since pulling off a stunning escape from Japan where he was out on bail for financial wrongdoing. He tells our Richard Quest he feels bad about those detained by Turkey for aiding in his escape. He declined to comment on the various reports about how he broke out of japan. "The Wall Street journal" and some Turkish media reporting Ghosn hid in a container.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm just going to go for this and hope that you'll give me an answer. What was it like in the packing case?

CARLOS GHOSN, NISSAN EX-CEO, FLED TRIAL IN JAPAN: No comment. Look, freedom, freedom, no matter the way it happens is always sweet.


JARRETT: Asked if he'll ever face trial Ghosn said it would have to be in a country, quote, "where the rules are right and the defense would be respected."

ROMANS: And he, in this very long public press conference yesterday, he said he was a hostage. He doesn't consider himself a fugitive from justice. He considers himself a hostage to the Japanese judicial system. So really, really shining a light on what he says are -- it's like a 99.5 percent conviction rate in Japan.

JARRETT: This was all part of his Hollywood pitch, right?

ROMANS: That's right. Absolutely.

All right. Did Jussie Smollett fake an attack on himself or not? 12 months of Google data could provide the answer.



ROMANS: Attorneys for Harvey Weinstein want a judge in his sexual assault case to recuse himself. Judge James Burke threatened to jail Weinstein Tuesday for texting in the courtroom. Lawyers claim his comments were prejudicial and inflammatory. The judge is expected to address the issue when court resumes this morning. The disgraced producer is on trial for allegedly raping a woman and sexually assaulting another. At least 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. He says all interactions were consensual.

JARRETT: An Illinois a judge ordering Google to hand over 12 months' worth of Jussie Smollett's personal electronic data to a special prosecutor. That includes the former "Empire" actor's search history, photographs, files and geolocation information. Police claimed Smollett orchestrated a fake racist and homophobic attack against himself last January. The actor faces a civil suit from the city of Chicago for reimbursement of the cost of investigating that attack. Smollett filed a counter suit in November. Google is not commenting.

ROMANS: California wireless carriers would have to back up power for their cell towers in case of wildfire power shutoffs. Under a bill by two California state senators the measure would require cell transmitters to keep working for at least 72 hours during a public safety power shutoff like the ones conducted by PG&E last October.

The FCC says Marin County lost power to more than a half its cell sites during the shutoff. Another bill would require utilities to provide backup batteries or generators to hospitals and vulnerable individuals like the disabled.

JARRETT: Some good news, bad news on the health front. A new study finds alcohol related deaths more than doubled in the U.S. over the past two decades. From nearly 36,000 in 1999 to almost 73,000 in 2017. About half of the deaths are from liver disease or an overdose of alcohol or alcohol mixed with drugs. The largest annual increase was among non-Hispanic white women.


ROMANS: On the flip side cancer deaths in the U.S. saw the largest single year decline ever. Between 2016 and 2017 cancer deaths plunged 2.2 percent. An American Cancer Society report says the increased survival rate mainly due to advances in the treatment of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death.

JARRETT: For a second straight year the Oscars will go without a traditional host. ABC's Entertainment president making the announcement Wednesday. Last year's ceremony was the first hosted-free Oscars since 1989. The show was a critical success and the ratings jumped 12 percent. Up from an all-time low viewership in 2018. The 92nd Academy Awards will air February 9th on ABC. Oscar nominations will be unveiled on Monday.

ROMANS: The Oscars always remind me that I have so many movies I didn't see, you know? Like this is always my --


JARRETT: I have an excuse. I have a baby. I haven't seen any movies.

ROMANS: I know.

JARRETT: Well, today the House votes on a measure that could limit future military action against Iran. A briefing on the strike that took out a top Iranian general was not well received.