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House to Vote on War Powers Resolution to Limit Trump; Iranian Commander Warns of 'Harsher Revenge' Against U.S. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the cusp of war with Iran, President Trump stepped back.

[05:59:33]

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lawmakers slammed classified briefing on the White House decision to take out Iran's top military commander.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was extraordinary to hear the administration tell Congress that we can't debate war and peace.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): They have justified the killing of an Iranian general as being something that Congress gave them permission to do in 2002. That is absurd. That's an insult.

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ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, January 9, 6 a.m. here in New York. And we begin with House Democrats moving to limit President Trump's military power if he tries to take action against Iran again.

9th, 6:00 in New York. 9th, 6:00 in New York. We begin with House Democrats moving to limit President Trump's military power if he tries to take action against Iran again.

Today, the House is expected to vote on a war powers resolution to limit further military action. Tensions do appear to have cooled between the U.S. and Iran, but Democrats fear a lack of strategy and discipline in the White House could escalate the crisis again.

Now, lawmakers were briefed on the intelligence that led to that decision to kill Iran's top general, but that briefing left Senate Democrats and two key Republican senators fuming about the lack of evidence they were shown and the White House's decision to bypass Congress.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning CNN has brand-new details about what went on behind the scenes during the Iranian missile attack. A senator who spoke to the president claims the president was prepared to target Iranian facilities if there was even one American death. There was not. And so the president opted, we are told, for a more subdued response.

But the question this morning is what's next and where do things go from here?

Let's begin with CNN's Athena Jones, live on Capitol Hill, where a lively debate is expected today -- Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

That's right. Lawmakers' responses to those back-to-back Iran briefings in the House and Senate mostly broke down along party lines, with Democrats saying they did not see sufficient evidence or convincing evidence that Qasem Soleimani was an imminent threat to Americans and Republicans saying the briefers proved their case, and they're confident the administration made the right move in taking Soleimani out.

But not everything broke down along party lines. What we heard from Republican Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul was more in line with Democrats. Both were visibly angered by the briefing, with Senator Lee saying it's the worst briefing on a military issue he's heard in his nine years as a senator. And like Democrats, they weren't convinced that Soleimani was an imminent threat.

Here's some of what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: 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: The Constitution said the power to declare a war was to be given to Congress. They specifically did not give that power to the president.

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Lee and Paul said they now support Democrats' war powers resolution, which would limit the president's ability to wage war with Iran without congressional approval.

Now, the Senate version of that resolution is still in the works, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that the House plans to vote on their version of the resolution today -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Athena, please keep us posted throughout the morning.

Meanwhile, breaking overnight, a commander with Iran's Revolutionary Guard is warning of, quote, "harsher revenge" against the United States. This after the tension between the two countries appeared to be cooling down.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen live in Tehran with more. This is not the foreign minister or the president, Fred, but this is an interesting message to hear. What do you make of it?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is an interesting message to hear. You do hear some tough talk, John, from some of these Iranian commanders, on the one hand saying that there could be an even more crushing response.

And another, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander also coming out earlier today and saying what the Iranians did showcased the capability of their ballistic missile program. Obviously, the Iranians saying that they've been a very tough, that they had a tough response and that they could do even worse if these tensions flare up again.

I want to read you one headline, which I thought was really interesting, from an Iranian news network. It says, "Trump's big retreat from the threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran missile strike." Obviously saying that it was the president who pulled back.

There are some other voices as well, though, John. We had an interview earlier today with the spokesman for the Iranian government, and he said the Iranians were watching President Trump's speech very closely, saying they saw some rationality in his arguments. Especially the fact, obviously, that President Trump decided not to retaliate against Iran.

However, big criticism, obviously, here among the Iranians about those new sanctions that were issued by the Trump administration. The Iranians believe that that tough sanctions program is really at the heart of the tensions between Iran and the Trump administration, John.

BERMAN: So, Fred, also potentially major breaking news in the investigation into that passenger jet that crashed yesterday just outside Tehran --

PLEITGEN: Yes.

BERMAN: -- killing all 176 people on board. What are you learning there?

PLEITGEN: You know what? A lot of mystery surrounding that plane crash, and that really continues.

One of the interesting things that happened overnight, John, is that a team of Ukrainian experts landed here in Iran to help with the investigation and, obviously, to investigate a little bit on their own, as well.

Then the head of Iran -- Ukraine's national security council came out -- it was, of course, a Ukrainian airliner -- and he said that the Ukrainians are investigating several possible causes of this plane crash, including a possible missile strike, as he put it. And he also said a missile strike, possibly by a TOR anti-aircraft system.

[06:05:16]

Just for our viewers, the TOR anti-aircraft system is a short-range, low-altitude anti-aircraft system that the U.S. actually calls the SA- 15. Basically, a tank with a radar and some missiles on it. And that, obviously, would be used to hit low-flying aircraft. Of course, we know that aircraft went down about two minutes after it took off.

However, that's only one of the theories that, apparently, these Ukrainians are exploring. There's also a possible strike with a foreign object. Maybe a bird strike or something like that. They're also exploring whether it was a major engine malfunction, as well. And then possibly, also, whether a bomb was placed on board. That's what the Ukrainians are saying.

The Iranians, for their part, say that they have a preliminary report out now, and they say that the plane caught fire while it was in the air and then, after that malfunction happened, tried to return back to the airport. There is, of course, video that seems to show the plane on fire in the sky.

The interesting thing about all this, John, is that the Iranians have announced that they have the black boxes of the plane, but they are not going to give them to the Boeing company. They say that's because they don't want to give it to Boeing or America. The Iranians are saying that, according to international civil aviation laws, it is the country where the air crash happened that is in charge of the investigation of what happened. Again, they are saying they're not going to let Boeing in on their investigation, not going to hand over those black boxes, John.

BERMAN: Yes. There could be answers on those black boxes, and it could be that the world never knows what those answers are.

Frederik Pleitgen for us in Tehran, you've been doing terrific reporting there. Thanks so much for being with us.

CAMEROTA: We need to know why a 737 fell out of the sky. I mean, there were Canadians. There were students on that plane, so we need those answers.

Meanwhile, Republican senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul were so angry after yesterday's Iran briefing that they say they will vote with Democrats on that resolution to curb President Trump's war powers. Could more Republicans follow suit?

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[06:11:24] BERMAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House will vote today on a war powers resolution aimed at limiting President Trump's military actions against Iran going forward. This comes after a contentious intelligence briefing that angered Democrats and at least a few Republicans.

Joining us now, CNN political commentator and former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent; and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon.

This really angered a couple Republicans: Rand Paul and Senator Mike Lee. Mike Lee said that the briefing from the administration, he said it wasn't just bad --

CAMEROTA: It was the worst ever.

BERMAN: -- he said it was the worst. Listen to this. Please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

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BERMAN: What's he upset about, John?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He's upset because the briefing wasn't just thin, but the briefers allegedly, according to him, said to debate the issue would be itself empowering to Iran and un-American.

And look, this is a very conservative guy. I give -- I give Lee and Paul a lot of credit. In this particular political environment, when anyone sticks up to their principles against partisan pressure, that's an honorable action. And I think this is a matter of real principle, and they're calling it out.

What's really scary is the extent to which Republicans have fallen in line by the president, and people who stray out of that line get called traitors. I mean, look, professional sycophant, Trump sycophant Lou Dobbs called Mike Lee a Benedict Arnold, the O.G. traitor of the American Revolution, literally a traitor, for making that statement last night.

And I think that's -- that's the environment we're living in, but they're standing up for their principles, because they were told that to even question or debate would be un-American. And that itself is un-American.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, what do you hear in senators Lee and Paul speaking out?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what I heard from the senator is what I said all the time when I was in. I sat through so many classified briefings. I walked out very upset usually, because I felt like I didn't learn anything that I hadn't already read in the newspaper or through some open source. That happened again.

But I think the bigger point was the one that the -- that John just made and that Senator Lee made, which is the fact that they're debating this is somehow un-American. That would be particularly offensive to me as a member of Congress.

You know, frankly, when it comes to a lot of these foreign policy issues, it is not members of Congress who have been irresponsibly running their mouths. That really is the president. You know, he's the one who talked about bombing cultural sites and other things like that. But so I think members of Congress have been reasonably -- most of them have been reasonably restrained. And so I think that was particularly offensive. And I would be out of my mind, too, if I were those senators, had the briefers told us not to debate this -- this policy issue.

BERMAN: Nevertheless, Congressman, do you think you would support this war powers resolution, were you in Congress?

DENT: Well, I always felt that we needed to update the authorization to use military force. No question about it.

But this is a lot easier said than done, John. I'll tell you why. You know, the Democrats over the years always wanted to have a very restrictive AUMF and put even more limitations on executive power. Republicans wanted to give the president a bit more authority. So yes, they need to have this debate.

But they have to be very careful about how they write this, and it's not easy to get a majority. This would have been done a long time ago had it been easy. I mean, we talked about this after the Anwar Al- Awlaki raid, doing this. And of course, with respect to Soleimani, this guy was a high-value target. The administration had a shot; they took it. I'm glad the guy's gone.

[06:15:05]

But let's be careful. You know, they're going to debate this, and I don't think they're going to come to a quick resolution between the two chambers.

CAMEROTA: John, what I think is interesting, what some other Republicans are saying, basically, is Soleimani was a bad guy. The earth is better off without him. OK.

AVLON: Right.

CAMEROTA: But that doesn't address are you comfortable being fed false pretenses? Are you comfortable being -- having trumped-up intelligence? It's two separate things.

AVLON: That's right. CAMEROTA: Just because the outcome is something that you agree with, are they saying they're comfortable with having been fed something that may not have been true in terms of an imminent attack?

AVLON: They might not want to admit that, but that's where they're at. And they should be honest with themselves.

Look, we've heard or days now we heard enough explanations come out publicly. There is classified intelligence. Apparently, it's not terribly convincing, according to Mike Lee and Rand Paul, at least.

But from Pompeo's statements, from the president's statements, let's be honest about where it seems we're at. There was not a specific imminent threat they were reacting to, as much as a general existential threat by Soleimani's existence and the job he did. So his -- the job he did with his Quds Force, is the argument, seems to be created a continual threat against American interests. And therefore, that's the justification. An imminent specific threat? We haven't seen any example.

CAMEROTA: All right. But had they said, we took him out because he's a bad guy, Republicans would have gone along with that. Why use this false pretense?

AVLON: Because of the language of the AUMF.

BERMAN: Yes.

AVLON: That's the key. They had to thread that needle. The same reason that, you know, Mike Pence invoked 9/11.

BERMAN: It's a legal thing. Either -- either he was -- the 2002 AUMF was the Iraq War. Either he's in cahoots with Saddam Hussein, who's dead --

CAMEROTA: Right.

BERMAN: -- and for a long time. And so there's that problem, or a specific imminent threat.

CAMEROTA: OK.

BERMAN: You've got to pick one.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: That's the issue there.

CAMEROTA: Makes sense.

BERMAN: John, Charlie, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: So the U.S. and Iran appear to be backing away from the brink of war. But overnight Iran issued this new threat. We have a live report from the scene of where one of the ballistic missiles hit in Iraq. That's next.

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[06:21:23]

CAMEROTA: Breaking overnight, a commander with Iran's Revolutionary Guard warning of, quote, "harsher revenge" against the United States after President Trump announced that he would not retaliate militarily to Iran firing those ballistic missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq. So has the conflict been contained or not?

Joining us now, we have CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks; and CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. Clarissa has just reached the scene of where one of those missile strikes happened in northern Iraq.

So Spider, this Iran Revolutionary Guard commander threatening of harsher revenge to come. Should we put any stock in that?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Sure, absolutely. In fact, I think what we -- what we probably saw was just the first strike in an -- in an ongoing relationship that I think has been defined over years.

I think the Iranians wanted to do two things. One is do something that would have some flash and some bang. They could get attribution for going back at the United States. And that was done yesterday. And that was for internal consumption in Iran. And also, is a limited strike. We can talk about that in a little bit.

But secondarily, I think they reserve the right, and they have always done the right as defined by themselves. They have routinely conducted asymmetric actions against the United States and others in the region through proxies and out of the region through proxies, through cyber- attack. I mean, there are other ways, activities in the Persian Gulf.

So I think what we saw was step one. We certainly should anticipate step two.

BERMAN: Clarissa, you just got to the scene, or close to the scene where one of these missile attacks hit. Your signal's been coming in and out. We have you right now. Please tell us what you're seeing and what you're learning.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right. So John, I'm going to try not to move very much. Because when you move a lot in situations where the signal is bad, it creates distortion.

But basically, I am standing here right at the site of one of those missile hits. This is the crater, the damage that was caused by the impact of that strike. You can see it's not a huge amount of damage, but the ground is very soft here. You can also see it's been raining very hard. There's a lot of shrapnel here on the ground from that impact.

But the question is what exactly were the Iranians targeting here? Local security officials telling us there's simply nothing here. There's a refugee camp just under a mile away in that direction, but no U.S. presence, no U.S. military presence, particularly.

This may have been, for the Iranians, less about showing power and precision, John, than it was about showing reach. That missile will have traveled hundreds of miles. This is one of the furthest points that those missiles reach.

Obviously, none of this is much comfort for people who live in this area. We went to see a shepherd nearby whose home, part of the ceiling came in. His windows were also blown in. But people here tend to accept that war has become part of life in Iraq, John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: Can we please talk about how amazing it is that Clarissa is literally standing in the crater from where one of these missiles hit just two nights ago?

CAMEROTA: She never ceases to amaze me. Clarissa makes her way to exactly where the action is to show it to us.

So Spider, I mean, is now the moment for negotiating? Despite this commander's bellicose rhetoric that there's more to come, isn't this the moment, given that there's this strategic pause as we've talked about. Can we assume that there's now maybe back-channel negotiations happening between the U.S. and President Trump and Iran for whatever the ultimate goal is here?

[06:25:08]

MARKS: Yes. I think so.

First of all, Clarissa did what -- what we call crater analysis. She did a great job. You know, we pay folks in the military to do that. So you're exactly right. I mean, she's doing some heavy lifting for -- for the network.

It is an opportunity for the United States and Iran to take a step back, kind of breathe a little more deeply about what these next steps need to look like.

I think the attack that we saw from the Iranians yesterday clearly was limited in scope. I think the Iranian leadership was concerned that the United States, that the president might specifically follow through on his threat, which was, I'm going to come after you if you kill any American citizens, soldiers, anybody on the ground. We're going to -- we're going to take the -- you know, we're going to raise the level of our engagement here.

So it is an opportunity to de-escalate. That, I think, is incredibly important at this point. And I think there is some real progress that can be made.

I want to flip the narrative a little bit. This is also an opportunity for the United States to get its relationship with Iraq squared away, which we really need to do. If we can solidify that, now we've got the unified picture going back to Tehran, saying, Let's try to work through a relationship, if we can make Tehran's influence in Baghdad de minimis. It's to our both advantage.

BERMAN: Which brings me to my question to Clarissa, if we still have the shot up from inside the crater. Clarissa, you are in northern Iraq. I don't know if you've had a chance to speak with many Iraqis. What is their view of where the situation is today, and what do they want to see happening going forward?

WARD: Well, John, it's interesting. You know, as I was mentioning before when we talked to this shepherd, there is a sense here that life is kind of full of conflict, that war is just part of their daily existence. And there's a resignation to that.

At the same time, nobody wants to see this escalate any further. I think there's been some reassurance given by the fact that both sides seem to be sort of stepping back from the brink and trying to de- escalate. There was obviously concern, as well, last night with those two rockets hitting the Green Zone. Concern, potentially, that some of these Shia militias that are loyal to Iran but not necessarily under their direct control might have a tough time reining in the passions of young followers who don't feel that adequate revenge has been sought for the killing of Qasem Soleimani.

But for -- for the most part, the attitude here is kind of "anan shallah (ph)." Let's hope it gets better. Let's continue to watch it closely, and we'll see what the future brings.

BERMAN: God willing, as they say. Clarissa Ward, remarkable reporting from you in Erbil in the crater from where one of those missiles hit.

Spider, great to have you with us. Your analysis is so helpful. Really appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Thank you both.

MARKS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. Now to this story that's getting so much attention. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, their surprise decision to break from the royal family. We have new details about how the royals are reacting, who was left in the dark about this, and what's next for them.

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