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Scene Where Missile Hit in Iraq; Ukraine Investigating Crash; Senators Slam Briefing on Iran; Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) is Interviewed About Iran Strike. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 07:00   ET

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


[07:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They gave us the most general conclusions about threats to the United States. But when it came to any specificity, it just wasn't there.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some tough questions that need to be answered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

The United States and Iran seem to be backing off from the brink of war, but the conflict between the two countries by no means over. Tensions, meanwhile, have boiled over in Washington after Trump administration officials briefed Congress on the intelligence behind the U.S. drone strike that killed Iran's top general.

I want you to listen to Senator Mike Lee, Republican Senator Mike Lee, on how he felt the briefing went.

(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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Republican Senator Rand Paul agrees that the evidence provided at the briefing was non-specific and less convincing. ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The House is preparing to vote today on a

war powers resolution to limit the president's authority to take further military action against Iran. The senate is expected to take up a similar measure, but even if it passes, it will likely be vetoed by President Trump. A senator who spoke with the president tells CNN, he appeared ready to strike Iran -- Iranian facilities had there been even one American casualty from Iran's missile attack.

And, this morning, Iran is warning, or at least a commander there, is warning that there is, quote, harsher revenge to come.

Joining us now to talk about all of this, we have CNN senior political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN's senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga, and CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is live at the site of where some of those Iranian missiles hit in Iraq.

Clarissa, we know that it -- your shot can go in and out, so let's start with you. Just tell us what you're seeing there.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So as you can see probably, Alisyn, we're basically in the middle of nowhere here. We've been talking to local security officials. They say there's no American presence here. There's no military camp here. And yet this is, right here, these sort of craters around me, the exact area where one of those Iranian missiles hit. And you can see all around there's fragments of shrapnel from the impact of that missile attack.

But the question becomes, what exactly was the target here? It's very difficult to get a sense from looking around. There's a refugee camp just under a mile away. But, obviously, that would not make a likely target. So it may have been, some officials are saying to us, possible that this was less about showing precision and power than it was about the Iranians showing that they have reach. This is one of the furthest points that Iranian missiles hit. The message being, perhaps, that it doesn't matter where you are in the country of Iraq, our missiles can reach you.

Whatever the purported target was, though, one thing is clear, for people living in this area, it was very frightening. A loud bang. Flames. They were woken up in the middle of the night. Children crying. But as one local shepherd who we interviewed said, listen, we're Iraqis, we're used to it. War has become part of daily life here.

BERMAN: Clarissa, I'm going to ask you another question because I'm concerned we're going to lose your shot.

What do you make of the comments we heard from a commander in Iranian's Revolutionary Guard, that there will be even harsher revenge coming from Iran beyond those missile strikes? And, again, you're standing in one of the craters from those right now.

WARD: I think that's the anticipation of a lot of people, that the Iranians have given their official, proportional, military, direct Iranian response. But the fear, of course, is you can expect Iran is going to play the long game here. That there will be more attacks potentially from proxies.

Just last night, John, we saw two missiles -- two rockets, I should say, hitting the green zone. That's the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad that's home to the U.S. embassy. Not an unusual occurrence for rockets to hit the green zone, but in the context of everything that's been going on over the last 36 hours, it's certainly fair to say that tensions are running high, that the fear is that even if cooler heads may be prevailing on higher levels, there are militias here, young followers of these militias who are incensed and angry and bitter about the death of Qasem Soleimani, who don't feel potentially that revenge has been served to them in the way that they would like to see it and who are willing to play the long game to keep attacking the U.S. where it hurts, which, in this case, is here in Iraq.

[07:05:07]

CAMEROTA: So from Iraq to Washington, Dana, there were these briefings of Congress yesterday. And as you know, Senators Lee -- Mike Lee and Rand Paul were not satisfied. They felt the evidence was scant.

Are the other senators comfortable that they weren't fed false pretenses? That the predicate for this wasn't based on shoddy intelligence?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we only know what they're willing to say publicly at this point. Obviously questions privately, are other Republicans are little bit more skeptical? A little bit, yes.

What I thought was so noteworthy was the reminder of how different the Republican Party has become in the last ten years from what we knew and saw then when Rand Paul and Mike Lee were the norm. They were part of the Tea Party revolution, and on a domestic front, but also when it comes to international policy. And they are the sole Republicans willing to stand up and say what so many more Republicans said back then. Again, it wasn't that long ago, which is, wait a second, this is -- this is our country. We need to know more.

Look what happened with the Iraq War where there was, you know, a preemptive strike and a war based on bad intelligence. And it's just -- they -- they stick out in such a remarkable way. Particularly somebody like Rand Paul, who, in so many other areas, is in lock step with the president, not here. And it also shows how the president himself is a little bit kind of out of the wheelhouse that we're used to seeing him in and a lot of his supporters are used to seeing him in when it comes to international affairs.

BERMAN: We heard from Mike Lee. Let's hear from Senator Rand Paul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): There was no specific information given to us of a specific attack. Generality, stuff you read in the newspaper 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I wasn't surprised that Senator Paul took that position, or even necessarily Senator Lee. But Mike Lee was pissed, Bianna. He was really mad about something. And it appears to have been the way that he was talked to.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Right.

BERMAN: He felt the senators were talked to and they felt that the administration was saying to them, don't question us, don't even have this discussion. To have this discussion undermines us.

GOLODRYGA: It reminds me of what Steven Miller said in one -- in an interview he gave a couple years ago when he came out and emphatically said the president shall not be questioned. And it seemed that this was the tone that these senators were addressed with by the intelligence community. One might think maybe Mike Pompeo, who's played an important and lead role in all of this, was one of the people saying this.

And it raises the question of, given how unconventional this president in particular has been, why not come forward with more intelligence? Why not have the president come out and say, without revealing too much, here is what we know about what could have happened, as opposed to, now you're seeing administration officials sort of walk back the imminence of an attack and basically just say this was a really bad guy and turn this into a, well, if you don't think he should be dead, then you don't think he was a bad guy.

No, the question is, what is the day after strategy? There is reporting that Gina Haspel apparently told the president that it would be more advantageous to have removed Soleimani than to keep him in power. That works to the president's benefit. But that having been said, when you see angry senators like this who are Republican doesn't bode well.

BASH: But I think that you hit a really important point. It's not -- look, I can't tell you how many classified briefings I have stood outside of, of the full house and the full Senate and I've talked to dissatisfied members because they didn't get any more information than they see in the newspapers or see on CNN. And in fairness to the briefers of both parties, members of Congress leak. And that's just the way it is. But the fact that Mike Lee felt that he was talked to so poorly and that it was -- that they had an arrogance about them that Congress doesn't matter, that is the big issue.

I will also say, there is a contrast between the all senators, all House member's briefings and the reaction out of that. And the tight lip out of the Gang of Eight. The eight members of Congress in both parties, on both sides of the aisle, who got a much more detailed intel briefing. It doesn't mean that they were satisfied with it, but they clearly got a lot more information, as it should be.

GOLODRYGA: There's also a common theme in response that you're getting, not only from certain senators here who say that they were not given more information and a heads up. But, obviously, our allies abroad and in Europe who have similar responses. They were blindsided by this. They say they weren't given a heads up.

[07:10:03]

And it does beg the question, if, in fact, this is something that in particular Mike Pompeo has been pushing for, why wasn't there more of a strategy, or at least laid out as to what the day after, what the next few months are going to look like, because just increasing sanctions on Iran doesn't seem to be a likely scenario that will simmer tensions, at least in the near term. What does this mean now that Soleimani is gone vis-a-vis de-escalating tensions and vis-a-vis, and importantly, more importantly, making sure that Iran does not develop a nuclear bomb?

CAMEROTA: Clarissa, let's pose that question to you. I mean I think that there is a sigh of relief here in the U.S. There's a feeling that the countries have stepped back from the brink of war. But what is your impression having studied this region so closely of what happens next?

WARD: Well, I think there is definitely a profound sense of relief, as you said, Alisyn, that cooler heads seem to be prevailing, that they're stepping back from the brink, that there is some form of de- escalation. But the fear, as I mentioned before, is that, you know, this is something that you can go on and on for years, if not decade, where you have crisis and then calm and then crisis and then calm and then crisis and then calm.

And you've already sort of let the genie out of the bottle at this point with a move so profound as killing Qasem Soleimani, who, as we all know by now, is a towering figure in Iran. Iran's sort of Chegavara (ph), if you will. hat is not something that is going to be forgotten overnight simply because a couple dozen ballistic missiles slammed into Iraq and really basically caused minimal damage.

People have a long memory. And the fear is that you're going to see more tit for tat. It may not be claimed officially by the Iranians, but the fear is very much that the violence will continue and that you get trapped in this kind of endless cycle, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Clarissa, thank you very much for all of that insight.

Bianna, Dana, thank you for your reporting and insight as well.

Now to this. There's breaking news because authorities in Ukraine are investigating whether it was a missile or a bomb that perhaps brought down this passenger plane. So we have a live report on this growing mystery, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:16:21]

BERMAN: Breaking overnight, Ukraine says it is investigating multiple potential causes of the crash of that passenger plane in Tehran that killed all 176 people on board. They're looking into the possibility that it was a missile or a bomb that brought it down.

CNN international correspondent Scott McLean is at the airport in Kiev, where there is a memorial for the victims.

Scott, what are you hearing?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John.

So that information that you mentioned is from the head of Ukraine's national security and defense council, who said that they are considering this wide range of possibilities, including that the plane may have hit a drone, there may have been an engine explosion, there may have been a terror attack from inside the plane. Or this plane could have been hit by an anti-aircraft missile fired from the ground.

Now, all of these are just possibilities. One isn't necessarily more likely than another. According to the Iranians, they say their initial investigation shows that the pilot banked hard to try to return to the airport after detecting some kind of problem. They also say that the aircraft was on fire before it actually crashed with the ground.

Now, Ukraine has sent a team of 45 investigators to Iran to investigate. It's likely that the Canadians and the Swedes will also take part. But the Iranians say they will not turn over those black boxes to the American manufacturer, which is Boeing.

In terms of the victims, the vast majority of people on this flight were headed to Canada. Many of them were Ph.D. or graduate students. Because there are no direct flights from Tehran to Toronto or any other Canadian city, Kiev is a popular connection point and fairly reasonably priced as well.

This morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he dropped off flowers to add to this really growing pile that they have here and this growing memorial here at the airport. Eleven of the victims were Ukrainian, nine of them were crew members.

The three pilots had a combined 31,000 hours of flight time. That's the equivalent of three and a half years of consistent flying, or continuous flying, which is why the airline is reluctant to consider pilot error here.

We've seen a steady stream of people coming to pay their respects. And I want to point out one woman that I spoke to in particular who said that she remembers two of the flight attendants from a flight that she took last year. That might not be memorable for a lot of people, but for her she said that their kindness and professionalism really left a lasting impression on her.

Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Scott, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

Now to this, was the U.S. drone strike that killed Iran's top general legal? The Trump administration says it was justified under the Authorization For Use of Military Force, the AUMF, which was passed in 2001 and 2002.

Joining us now is one of the people involved in drafting those laws who has strong opinions about this, John Bellinger. He's the former legal adviser to the National Security Council and State Department in the George W. Bush administration.

Mr. Bellinger, great to have you.

Let's just start with the intelligence because there obviously are parallels between what happened with Iraq and what's happening now.

As you know, Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul find the underlying intelligence that they've been presented wholly unconvincing. They do not believe that there was an imminent attack that Soleimani was planning on the U.S. or U.S. interests.

Does that mean that the action in your eyes was illegal somehow?

JOHN BELLINGER, FORMER LEGAL ADVISER TO NSC AND STATE DEPARTMENT: No. The imminent standard really is a standard that we use under international law. Under international law, the United States may not use force in another country unless it's in self-defense in response to an imminent threat.

[07:20:03]

And there really has not been a showing yet that there was an imminent threat. So that imminent standard would suggest that the U.S. drone strike may not be compliant with international law. But under domestic law, under the Constitution, the president does have broad authority as commander in chief and chief executive to use force if he determines that it's in the national interest.

So it may not be wise, but as a matter of U.S. domestic law, the president did have broad authority under the Constitution.

CAMEROTA: OK, but if it's illegal under international law, what are the repercussions?

BELLINGER: Well, that's going to be different. It's going to be more complaints from other countries in an example that we set for other countries. Other countries don't care quite so much whether we have complied with our own Constitution and statutes. And our members of Congress tend to care less, unfortunately, about whether we've complied with international law. But it does, at this point, based on what the information the administration has put out, there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence that Soleimani was posing an imminent threat. And so the United States has not showed that the action of self-defense was necessary under international law.

CAMEROTA: In 2016, you wrote a really interesting letter about then candidate Donald Trump. You and 49 other Republicans, all national security officials of some sort, wrote a warning about what you thought Donald Trump could do in terms of being a danger to national security. I'll read a portion of that. You say he is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehoods. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

So, as you watched things unfolding with Iran this weekend, did you feel as though you were prescient in that?

BELLINGER: Alisyn, I'm afraid that everything that we said in that letter in 2016 has, in fact, turned out to be true and more. I do believe, having watched what happened this past weekend, even if the action was lawful under the president's constitutional authorities, I don't think it was wise. I do think that it was reckless. It does not appear that the president and his advisers spent a lot of time thinking about the repercussions.

CAMEROTA: But you say unwise, but it was effective. I mean there are all sorts of people today who are congratulating, I think, the president on having rid the world of General Soleimani.

Here is, let me play for you, what one of his biggest supporters, Senator Lindsey Graham, says about the president's -- he believes it was a decisive move. So listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The president made a very bold decision today to allow things to calm down. This speech will be talked about long after his second term. This is on par with tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev. This is resetting the relationship between the world and Iran, just not the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: What do you say to that perspective?

BELLINGER: Well, I think we'll have to see how this all plays out. Fortunately, yesterday, both countries took a step back from the brink. But we'll have to see what happens. We'll have to see if the Iranians do stage additional attacks, cyberattacks, attacks their -- through their militias, terrorist attacks elsewhere.

This is a big step, obviously, to take out a major Iranian leader, not just in Iran, but actually visiting inside Iraq. We may get kicked out of Iraq. Certainly Soleimani was a bad guy and I agree with everyone who has said that the world is better off without him. But it's a pretty big step to have taken him out at the airport in Baghdad. And it's not clear that the administration and the president in particular thought all of that through.

So with respect to our letter, these are, in fact, exactly the concerns that those of us who wrote the letter had, that the president would, in fact, act impetuously and would act recklessly and could, in fact, get us embroiled quickly in a war.

Fortunately, the last 24 hours looked like everybody's taking a deep breath. But we'll have to see what happens. I, frankly, think the Iranians, in addition to their own attacks in the last 48 hours, are not going to let this lie here and they may retaliate in some other way, in some other place around the world.

CAMEROTA: John Bellinger, former legal adviser to the State Department, thank you very much for your perspective.

BELLINGER: Nice to be with you.

CAMEROTA: You too.

[07:25:00]

BERMAN: You were just talking about the question of imminence, which has legal implications. And also it's an open political question now. Democrats and a couple Republicans asking just how imminent the threat from Iran really was, even after being briefed by Trump administration officials. We'll speak to the chairman of the Armed Services Committee about all of this, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Breaking moments ago, Vice President Mike Pence, in an interview, says that he believes, and U.S. intelligence believes, that the Iranian missile strike on those bases housing U.S. troops, that those strikes were meant to inflict casualties on Americans.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The ballistic missiles fired at American bases, Al-Assad and Erbil, we believe were intended to kill Americans. We have intelligence to support that that was the intention of the Iranians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, joining me now is Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. He is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for being with us.

Obviously there were no U.S. casualties, no Iraqi casualties either. What evidence have you heard to date to support the claim that the Iranians did or did not intend to kill Americans in this strike?

[07:30:06]

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): We have not seen any evidence of that. I have heard other administration officials