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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Official Says Iran Believed to Have Shot Down Ukrainian Plane; CNN Obtains Video that Appears to Show Missile Strike; Trump: Iran was "Looking to Blow Up Our Embassy"; Interview with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA); Source: Pelosi Privately Signaled She's Planning to Move on Impeachment Articles Soon; House to Vote on Limiting Trump's Military Action Against Iran Without Congressional Approval; Interview with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX); U.S. Officials "Fully Expect" Terror Attacks as Iranian Commander Vows "Harsher Revenge". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:08]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room" and we're following breaking news in the crisis with Iran. CNN has just obtained video that appears to show a missile striking the Ukrainian jet liner that crashed into Iran only hours after Iran's missile strikes.

According to a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence, it's believed Iran downed the plane with two Russian made surface-to-air missiles killing all 176 people on board.

Also happening now, the House of Representatives about to vote on a war powers resolution aimed at restraining President Trump's ability to use military action against Iran without congressional approval. We'll talk about that and more with Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She's a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto, he's here in the situation room with us.

So Jim, so tell us what appears to be such dramatic video showing the downing of this Boeing 737.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is primarily a horrible human tragedy, but also just a gross error, it appears, by Iranian military. This video here capturing what the U.S. military says were two Russian made surface-to-air missiles striking this passenger jet just a couple of minutes after takeoff from Tehran's main international airport.

U.S. intelligence showed that that missile system, which is a mobile surface-to-air missile system is, locked on to or painted as the military said, the jetliner as if it were a target before those two missiles launched. And then that video there you see them striking. And all those lives lost.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, CNN has learned that the U.S. believes Iran is responsible for the Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed Wednesday killing all 176 people on board. Mostly Iranian and Canadian citizens.

This afternoon Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this is Canada's view as well.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence, the evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface- to-air missile. This may well have been unintentional.

SCIUTTO: A U.S. official familiar with the intelligence tells CNN the jetliner was shot down by Russian-made surface-to-air missiles.

Multiple U.S. officials tells CNN the theory is that Iran shot the plane down by mistake. This is based on U.S. intelligence collected from satellite and radar data.

Earlier President Trump expressed what he said were his own suspicions about the cause of the crash.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a tragic thing when I see that. It's a tragic thing. But somebody could have made a mistake on the other side. Could have made a mistake.

SCIUTTO: The Ukrainian international airlines flight bound for Kiev fell a mere minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital Tehran. It was 6:15 a.m. local time. Just four hours earlier, Iran had launched missile strikes on U.S. troops in Iraq. And with tensions between the two nations heightened to such a degree, Iran may have made a deadly mistake.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST (RET.): Iranian air defense forces are obviously on very high alert right now. That heightened alert may have made people misread what they were seeing on their radar scopes.

SCIUTTO: Earlier Ukrainian officials had announced they were meeting with Iranian authorities to study various potential causes of the crash. Including terrorism, engine failure or a missile strike.

Iranian authorities say they will conduct their own investigation with a team from Ukraine assisting. The head of the Iranian Civil Aviation authority told CNN he does not believe a missile strike is to blame based on the flight data, which he says shows the plane attempted to return to the airport adding it would have simply fallen from the sky immediately if a missile had caused the crash.

The degree on the ground charred and still smoldering will offer investigators other clues as to what happened.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Well, this has enormous implications for the Iranian government. Most of the passengers on board were Iranians. There were many Canadians on board as well. But this is suppose Iran killing Iranians here.

Wolf, you already have a senior official in the Iranian Aviation Authority telling CNN, casting doubt on this saying that, well, if it was a missile strike, how did the plane manage to attempt to turn back towards the airport. But as I said, the U.S. is very confidence in this intelligence here that this were Iranian missiles perhaps as a mistake thinking this might have been a U.S. attacking aircraft or missile, but Iranian have shot down this passenger plane.

[17:05:00]

BLITZER: Yes. Awful situation.

And we're going to go live to Tehran shortly. We're going to get some more on who was on board that plane. All right standby Jim Sciutto.

We're going to have more on this. All of this coming in the wake of the President's decision to take out Iran's top general.

We want to go to our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, the President offered a new the wake of the President's decision to take out Iran's top the wake of the President's decision to take out Iran's top general. We want to go to jim acosta. The President offered a new defense for that move today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. After a day of deescalation, President Trump is back to saber rattling and hyping the case for taking out Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The President claimed that the Iranians were preparing to blow up the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, but administration officials are doing some cleanup saying the President was not talking about a new plot to attack the embassy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With questions still swirling about the U.S. justification for killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, President Trump claimed without presenting any evidence that Tehran was preparing to attack the American embassy in Baghdad.

TRUMP: We caught a total monster and we took him out. And that should have happened a long time ago. We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy. We also did it for other reasons that were obvious. And we had a shot at him. And I took it. And that shot was pinpoint accurate. And hat was the end of a monster.

ACOSTA: But administration officials told CNN the President was only referring to the storming of the U.S. embassy in the Iraqi capital last month. Vice President Mike Pence is defending the intelligence behind Mr. Trump's decision to take out the general.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of the most compelling evidence that Qassem Soleimani was preparing an imminent attack against American forces and American personnel also represent some of the most sensitive intelligence that we have. It could compromise those sources and methods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I find that absolutely insane.

ACOSTA: But Democrats are saving hold on. Pointing out even some Senate Republicans aren't buying it.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The bottom line is we did not hear that there was any imminent attack being planned against the United States.

ACOSTA: The President is complaining this is no time for an impeachment trial to move forward in the Senate. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is indicating she may be ready to hand over the articles of impeachment she's withheld over concerns that Senate republicans would quickly acquit Mr. Trump without witnesses.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No, I'm not holding it indefinitely. I'll send them over when I'm ready. And that will probably be soon.

ACOSTA: Pelosi is feeling pressure as well with the growing number of Democrats including Congressman Adam Smith saying it's time to move forward.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Yes, I think it's time to send the impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial. He ultimately is.

ACOSTA: Smith walked that back, tweeting, "I misspoke this morning. If the Speaker believes holding on to the articles for a longer time will help force a fair trial in the Senate, then I wholeheartedly support that decision."

A big risk for Mr. Trump in a Senate trial, the potential for testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton. The President sounded open to it, but with limitations.

TRUMP: I would have to ask the lawyers because we do have to meet for the future. We have to protect presidential privilege. When we start allowing national security advisers to just go up and say whatever they want to say, we can't do that.

ACOSTA: On a different crisis, the threat posed by climate change, the President changed his tone. Mr. Trump claimed he no longer sees global warming as a hoax. A comment he made as his administration was rolling back environmental regulations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your position on global warming? Do you it's a hoax?

TRUMP: No, not at all. Nothing is a hoax. Nothing is a hoax about that. It's a very serious subject. I want clean air. I want clean water.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now the White House and Senate Republicans including the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are continuing to coordinate as the President's impeachment trial draws closer. The President and his top aids are still discussing the subject with GOP senators. The same senators who are supposed to act as jurors at Mr. Trump's upcoming trial.

And Wolf, the President is on his way to Ohio for a political rally tonight. The people are wondering whether the President will escalate or deescalate his rhetoric on Iran. That rally, be a good guy. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks so much Jim Acosta at the White House.

The Iran crisis is now taking center stage along with impeachment up on Capitol Hill. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us.

Manu, the House will vote soon on limiting the President's power to strike Iran. What's the latest on that?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, within minutes, the House is going to take its most aggressive action yet to confront the President in his handling with Iran. Calling to approve a resolution, calling on the President to limit his authority if he were to move forward on the military engagement with Iran saying that if he does not come to Congress and ask for specific authorization, then those -- that any military action should essentially be ceased until Congress ultimately approves that without that specific authorization. Now, this came to ahead behind closed doors in briefings of House and the Senate yesterday.

[17:10:05]

Democrats in particular contended that there needed to be a specific authorization going forward. Administration officials, however, pushed back. They now suggest that they can do that. And even suggested that the existing authorization in 2002 that improved use of military force in Iraq was sufficient. And that cause some concern also from Republican senators, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, who push pushed back on that as well.

Now this vote is going to be approved in a matter of minutes. It's mostly going to be approved along party lines.

One Democrat, a freshman Democrat, Max Rose. Max Rose of New York has announced that he would oppose this measure. The Democrats do expect to pick up perhaps one Republican. So mostly along party lines. But it will get approved.

And then in the Senate side, the Senate is pushing it's own measure, pushed by Tim Kaine of Virginia. And he is close to getting a majority of support in his -- in the Senate. So, Wolf, you're seeing Democrats and on both chambers moving to confront the President on this issue even if the White House is strongly oppose this measure as is the Republican leaders. Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Manu. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you. Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California is joining us. She's a member of both the Armed Services and Intelligence committees. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

And I want to start with this plane crash. Have you been briefed on it? Because it certainly sounds like it was a mistake by the Iranians. Do you think they assumed this was some sort of U.S. military plane?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Well, I have been briefed on it, Wolf, and the Intelligence Committee. So I'm not really at liberty to say. But if what is being projected is true, this is yet another example of collateral damage from the actions that have been taken in a provocative way by the President of the United States.

BLITZER: Well, is this type of miscalculation, let's say, on the part of the Iranians more likely now to result in even heightened tensions?

SPEIER: I would say that the continued saber -- excuse me, the continued saber rattling by the President doesn't help us. I also feel strongly that by taking out General Soleimani, that that did not somehow rid us of any of the planning that the Iranians would be doing or that the Shia militia that is throughout the region is also engaged in doing. And we also have the leader of the Shia militia who was assassinated as well. That may be the subject of some efforts to seek revenge.

This needs to be deescalated. The President needs to stop saber rattling. He needs to find a way to use our allies, to find a means by not just tamping this down, but getting Iran to the table where we can renegotiate a joint agreement on the use of nuclear weapons and move forward in a manner that is not as bellicose as the President has been as he addresses Iran.

Iran has been a bad actor. Soleimani was a bad actor. But there are many people in that region and around the world that are bad actors. We have to find a way to live together and attempt to move towards peace.

BLITZER: Very quickly, because I know you've been briefed and I wonder if you can tell us. We know that the U.S., the President deliberately ordered the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian general. But he was with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas, the top pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militia leader, was the U.S. deliberately trying to kill him as well?

SPEIER: I can't speak to that. But, we do know they are both dead now as a result of U.S. action. And it is more than provocative. And we have seen what the Iranians did in terms of attempting to bomb our bases in Iraq with no casualties, which is really just very lucky.

We have about 65,000 service members and diplomats in that region right now who are all potentially at risk. And this is not the time to continue to try and wave a red flag in front of the Iranians or the Shia militia that clearly were disturbed by the fact that they lost 50 of their service members and others when we bombed them late in December.

BLITZER: Well, do you think the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias are going to seek revenge for the killing of their leader?

SPEIER: I can't say that I have any evidence of that. But if prior history continues, there will be an effort to get their revenge. And to get the eye for an eye. We have to stop this increased hostility that has been promoted by the administration.

[17:15:06]

BLITZER: Let me quickly turn to impeachment. We're hearing that Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House may delivery those articles of impeachment in the Senate very, very soon. What are you hearing?

SPEIER: Well, I think she will do it in due course. She knows exactly what she's doing. And because she has withheld the delivery of those articles of impeachment, we have more information now. We know that Mr. Bolton is willing to speak to the Senate. We also know that the center for integrity and -- has received e-mails that were highly redacted, and then subsequently found out that they were, in fact, very significant as it relates to the impeachment issue.

Again, we're seeing a gross cover up by the administration. We can't allow that to continue.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, we appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

SPEIER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stay with us, we're going to have more on the breaking news including a U.S. official now telling CNN it's believed that Iran shot down that Ukraine-bound plane. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:29]

BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. A U.S. official tells CNN that it's now believed Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane killing all 176 people on board. CNN has just obtained video that a appears to show a missile striking the plane hours after Iran struck basis in Iraq housing U.S. forces.

Let's go to our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is joining us live from Tehran right now.

So, Fred, what are you picking up over there?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Iranians had originally said that they would not allow black boxes to be seen by Boeing, the manufacturer because it's an American company. And now it seems that the Iranians are doing somewhat of an about face there, now saying that they are inviting Boeing to be part of the investigation.

It's interesting because just a couple of minutes ago, Wolf, I got a new tweet from the spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry. And in that tweet, he says Ukraine and Boeing have been invited as the owner and manufacturer to take part in the investigation. They also say, we appreciate any country who can provide info to the committee in charge.

Again, this comes after the Iranians earlier tonight said that they now are allowing the U.S., as they put it, as the manufacturer of Boeing, whereas the country where Boeing is situated to take part in the investigation. An Iranian news network also allegedly saying that Boeing had apparently are the designated represented to come here, but there might be issues because of the sanctions that he might or she might need permission to actually come here. Again, we haven't heard from Boeing on that issue yet.

I was also, Wolf, able to get in touch with the head of Iran's Civilian Aviation Authority. And he said, he didn't flat out deny that the plane could have been shot down by an Iranian missile, but he says he still has its doubts. He says it's because the plane took off, was flying, and then tried to make move to get back to the airport. He says by his estimation, if it was hit by a missile, it would have gone down immediately. Again, those are the words of the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Authority.

The Iranians themselves are telling us, Wolf, that there is a team of Ukrainian investigators also on the ground here, and that tomorrow the Iranians and the Ukrainians are going to try to read the black boxes of the plane together. However, the Iranians are saying one of those black boxes is badly damaged. They are going to try and do it anyway. They say if they can't get information out of the black boxes, they might ask Canada or France for help, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, tell us more about the 176 passengers and crew members on that plane.

PLEITGEN: Yes. You know, that's one of the other big tragedies about this. It was obviously a Ukrainian plane. It was packed with passengers. A lot of those passengers, the vast majority of those passengers were Iranians. And just looking at the passenger list, it doesn't really give you a real sense of how many Iranians were actually affected by all of this.

There's 82 Iranian officials in the plane, 63 Canadians. However, a lot of those Canadians on the plane seem to be dual citizens. Again, the Iranian authorities for their parsing that over 140 of the passengers were Iranians. That shows a lot of them must have been dual nationals because the Iranians only recognized Iranian citizenship.

So a lot of those people were coming back from holidays, we're coming back from visiting relatives here. And, of course, some of those people had folks in Canada actually waiting for them. There was one moment -- one gentleman who said he was waiting for his wife to come back. She apparently had a premonition that something bad was going on, also because of all the tensions in this region right now. So a lot of people are grieving.

On top of the many dual citizens on the many Iranians who were on the plane, also 11 Ukrainians for instance were on the plane as well. Nine of those were crew members. And from what we're hearing, at least three of them were actually pilots who had vast experience flying these planes. So this is really an international tragedy, but also very much first and foremost a tragedy for Iran and Canada. I think that's something that Justin Trudeau when he spoke, talked about as well, how this tragedy really links these two countries together because so many of them were dual nationals, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're told there were a lot of students on that plane as well leaving Tehran. All right, thanks very much, Fred Pleitgen, in Tehran. We're going to have much more ahead on all the breaking news including Republicans debating who should defend President Trump during a Senate impeachment trial.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:41]

BLITZER: All right, breaking news, a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence tell CNN, it's believed the Ukrainian plane that crashed near Tehran killing all 176 people aboard was shot down by two Russian-made surface-to-air missiles fired by Iran.

Let's bring in our correspondents and analysts. We'll talk about the implications. Philip Mudd take us a little behind the scenes, U.S. US national security officials. What are they do -- using to determine the cause of this plane takedown?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYT: Well, I'll tell, one thing that intel is really good at is looking at sensors that's -- that follow missiles. I mean, we've been doing this for decades at the -- at the defense intelligence agencies, CIA, the National Security Agency. What they're looking at, partly, is to see whether sensors have picked up what was shot, when it was shot, what the timestamp is, whether there are missions off that sensor to say what kind of weapon it was.

One thing I'd add, if you look at the statements by the Canadians and the Americans, they're not talking generally. They're saying that there were two Russian surface-to-air missiles launched. That tells me that they have some data to support it. They're not just making guesses about we think, we hope, or we understand. They're looking at sensor data to make conclusions.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're totally right.

Bianna, how does this affect the diplomatic situation right now between the U.S. and Iran?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it puts a real human toll and a human face to it. And obviously, the loss of life is extremely tragic. According to fresh reporting and some other reporting from the "New

York Times" as well, it does look like Iran is trying to de-escalate this, in the sense that they are now inviting Boeing as well as reaching out to the NTSB and inviting them to participate in this investigation.

Remember, the majority of passengers on board were Iranians. So in addition to this being now an international story, they're having to face internal responses. And they need to respond to Iranians who would be outraged that their own people would be killed if, in fact, this was Iran shooting down Iranians by accident, I would assume.

There are already a lot of tensions and internal turmoil within the country, so this is something they really want to address sooner rather than later. The only optimism I would say, as far as tensions not escalating, is that the U.S. officials and Boeing officials seem to be invited, something that they weren't just yesterday.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting. The House, Gloria, is about to vote -- they're the voting now, but they're about to finish the roll call -- on this resolution to limit the President's authority to take military action against Iran.

You write in a new column on cnn.com this. You write, the most audacious part of this is that a White House that routinely misinforms and lies would expect trust or -- even short of that -- the benefit of the doubt from anyone, even the usual GOP suspects. Tell us more.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, you know, we saw the outburst from Senator Mike Lee yesterday, who had been briefed, and he thought it was a terrible briefing.

And worse than that, he came out and said that the Republican leadership there, the administration, seemed to believe that -- that Republicans should just shut up about it. That they should not voice their disagreements in public. That they should just go away.

And he said -- he said they're in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public, which is, of course, what their constitutional duty is. And that's what you're hearing on the debate right now on the floor about the War Powers Resolution.

And in the Senate, you will have someone like Mike Lee, someone like Rand Paul. You just said that Mike -- that Congressman Gaetz has said he is going to vote for the War Powers Resolution.

They believe in the constitutional separation of powers, and this is a perfect example of why they believe it. And that's one of the reasons that the Senator was so apoplectic yesterday because he felt that not only was he disrespected but the Senate was being disrespected.

BLITZER: Yes, and Rand Paul --

BORGER: Of course, another Republican --

BLITZER: Rand Paul, also.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: He was here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He said exactly the same thing as Mike Lee.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: And Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, a strong supporter of the President, he has just announced that he is going to vote for this War Powers Resolution. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I support the President, killing Soleimani was the right decision. But engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision, and that's why I'm voting for this resolution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he tweeted, I represent more troops than any other member of this body. I buried one of them earlier today at Arlington. If our service members have the courage to fight and die in these wars, Congress ought to have the courage to vote for or against them. I'm voting for this resolution.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: And it's certainly significant because, as you pointed out, Matt Gaetz is is one of the President's closest allies on Capitol Hill. He's been an ardent supporter of President Trump. But, so far, there is still not a critical mass among Republicans in terms of defections.

And so, at a minimum, you have some Republicans sending a message to the President that it's not just Democrats, some members of the President's own party have concerns about this escalation with Iran. They do not want to enter another military entanglement in the Middle East. But even then, the majority of Republicans are fairly in lockstep with the White House.

[17:35:06]

It's also worth noting Mike Lee, who was so intense in his criticism of the President and that briefing -- or the President's decision in that briefing yesterday, he's now given an exclusive interview to Breitbart --

BORGER: Of course.

SIDDIQUI: -- a far-right conservative Web site that is a vocal or a prominent booster of the President's, doing some degree of damage control, saying that he fully backs the legal and moral justification the administration provided for killing Soleimani.

He still intends to support this War Powers Resolution. He'd like to see Congress oversee the authority to go to war but sort of doing a wink-wink, nod-nod to the President's supporters, which really tells you everything you need to know. Even those Republicans who are willing to challenge the President, they still feel the need to do damage control with this appearance (ph).

BLITZER: Phil, what do you think?

MUDD: I don't get it. I mean, first, they don't have a great case. One quick drone strike and not a big response from the Iranians.

And then, second and finally, what the heck are they going to do about it? This has been debated for decades. If the President wants to take the shot, he's going to take a shot. They can have the debate; they should. I don't see what the bottom line here is in terms of changing presidential behavior.

BLITZER: Everybody, standby. There's a lot more news we're following.

A quick note though, join me and my colleague, Abby Phillip from CNN, and Brianne Pfannenstiel of "The Des Moines Register" as we moderate the final Democratic presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses.

The "CNN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE DES MOINES REGISTER," Tuesday -- this coming Tuesday -- 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. Much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:01]

BLITZER: Happening now, the House of Representatives is voting on a Democratic-sponsored resolution aimed at limiting President Trump's use of military force against Iran unless he gets approval from Congress.

My next guest led the Republican opposition during this debate. He's joining us now just off the House floor. Representative Mike McCaul of Texas is the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right, so you voted against the resolution. But lawmakers who support reigning in the President's powers, including some key Republicans in the Senate, for example, Rand Paul and Mike Lee, they say they're re-asserting congressional authority. That's their responsibility.

And just moments ago, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, a strong supporter of the President, said this -- I represent more troops than any other member of this body. I buried one of them earlier today at Arlington. If our service members have the courage to fight and die in these wars, Congress ought to have the courage to vote for or against them. I'm voting for this resolution.

Tell us why you disagree with Matt Gaetz.

MCCAUL: Well, you know, I think the premise is flawed for the whole resolution. We are not engaged in active hostilities in Iran. I think if the President had responded, say, to the ballistic missile strike from Iran into Iraq and hit inside of Iran, clearly, that would require an authorized use of military force. I would fully support that. I'm not saying -- Article 1, we clearly have a role as members of Congress to declare war and authorize use of military forces.

I will say, Jeh Johnson, who's a good friend, former secretary of Homeland, DOD legal counsel, who used to authorize these airstrikes, said that this was a completely lawful military objective and that no authorization was needed from Congress.

I agree with a Democrat, Secretary Jeh Johnson, that, in this case, we're not there. It's premature. And in fact, the President is trying to de-escalate this, being clear doesn't want war. He wants -- he wants peace in the matter.

And I think the last point is usually this go through the Foreign Affairs Committee. We have hearings. We mark it up. It goes on the floor.

The interesting thing about this is it's a non-binding resolution that will never go to the President's desk. So it's a bit of a charade because it will never have the force and effect of law. And I don't understand, if they're that serious about it, why they wouldn't do a resolution that would go to the President.

BLITZER: Well, if the Senate passes a resolution -- and they got some different language. Senator Tim Kaine got some different language, but Rand Paul supports it right now. Mike Lee of Utah supports it. Let's say it passes the Senate then comes become to the House --

MCCAUL: Yes.

BLITZER: -- and passes the House. Then, presumably, it would go to the President for his signature.

MCCAUL: And I think that's absolutely correct. I think that's probably the more likely scenario, is that Kaine's resolution comes to the House. And then, it will go to the President; he'll veto it. I think the veto will be sustained.

I think you -- look, this is a very fascinating debate, Wolf. I don't know if you got to see it. We had a lot of veterans speak on the floor about what Soleimani did. He killed 600 Americans, wounded thousands of Americans on the battlefield, the Gold Star mothers.

And a lot of these members of Congress now -- we have a veteran generation coming in from the Iraq War -- spoke about their personal experiences. And you know, we took out a designated terrorist under the Obama administration with an authorized strike, both by Article 2 of the Constitution and also the 202 Authorization in Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you -- let me ask you this, Congressman. Let's say this crisis does escalate, that the Iranians continue to attack various U.S. targets inside Iraq, and then the President decides to retaliate by going after some of those bases inside Iran. Inside Iran. Would that require a new resolution authorization for the use of military force by Congress before he would be allowed to do so?

[17:44:58]

MCCAUL: Absolutely, and I actually stated that on the House floor. In the event that happens, or had he retaliated against this surface- to-air missile sites in Iran, I -- there's no authorization for the President to go into Iran, and Congress does have a role in terms of declaring war. And I would argue that the President would have to come to the Congress to get that authorization.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Representative Mike McCaul, thanks so much for joining us.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, coming up, Iran's missile strikes may be just the beginning. We have new details of potential terror attacks by Iran's allies. That's coming up next.

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BLITZER: U.S. officials say Iran's missile strikes on bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq are likely not the end of Iran's retaliation for the U.S. killing of the country's top general.

Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us. Brian, we're also hearing this from Iran itself.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're hearing it tonight, Wolf, from at least two top commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. They are vowing revenge. And the people who've tracked Iran and its terrorist proxies for decades say the pronouncements from President Trump, Mike Pence, and others that Iran is standing down are, at the very least, misleading.

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TODD (voice-over): Tonight, a top commander in Iran's notorious Revolutionary Guards vowing Iran will exact, quote, harsher revenge on the United States following the missile attacks on American positions in Iraq. Another Iranian general saying Iran's covert war against America is nowhere near over.

GEN. AMIR ALI HAJIZADEH, ISLAMIC REVOLUTIONARY GUARD CORPS OF IRAN (through translator): This, indeed, was the beginning of the big operation, an action that, God willing, will continue.

TODD (voice-over): America's top military commander has sounded the alarm himself, warning of further retribution for the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I and those of us in uniform and those in theater fully expect Shia militia groups to conduct terrorist operations against U.S. forces and coalition forces in Iraq and perhaps even elsewhere.

TODD (voice-over): From the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, similar warnings about the capabilities of Iran and its lethal proxy forces, like Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based organization designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and several other Western nations.

MATTHEW LEVITT, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Hezbollah has operatives in -- both in the United States and in Canada. And South America, as well. And they have the capability to do surveillance, and they have the capability to carry out attacks.

TODD (voice-over): In a new bulletin, FBI and Homeland Security officials say there's no specific threat at the moment, but that operatives accused of working for Iran and Hezbollah have been arrested in recent years inside the U.S. conducting surveillance of military and law enforcement facilities, critical infrastructure, public landmarks, and Jewish centers.

Hezbollah has been supported financially and logistically by Iran and specifically by Qasem Soleimani for decades. But analysts say the group also operates like a mafia family.

LEVITT: Hezbollah also has a much larger logistical, financial, criminal network around the world, including in the United States. The majority of their operatives here will be involved in credit card fraud, in mortgage fraud, all kinds of different criminal schemes to raise funds.

TODD (voice-over): And Hezbollah is adept at revenge attacks. After the killing of one of its top commanders, it was believed to have bombed Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, killing nearly 30 people. An attack two years later at a Jewish community center in the same city killed 85 people.

And U.S. officials accused Hezbollah of acting on behalf of Iran in the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marine compound in Beirut, killing 241 American service members. Iran denied involvement, but terrorism experts say the attack benefited the regime in Tehran.

PAUL BERGEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMP AND HIS GENERALS": We, the United States, did not really respond to that, other than just a withdrawal from Lebanon. So it was a huge success as far as Iran and Hezbollah were concerned, they got us out.

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TODD: Analysts point out that Iran and its proxies are not invisible in carrying out plots against the U.S. Some of their recent operations on U.S. soil have either been foiled or simply failed.

And the Joint Chiefs Chairman says with Qasem Soleimani no longer around, some of the training, the weapons, and other support for those proxies could be compromised. But experts believe those groups do still have enough capability and, now, certainly a strong motive to hit the U.S. somehow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And if some of Iran's proxies want to hit the United States on their own, Brian, it's not clear that Iran could actually rein them?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. You know, one U.S. Defense official tells CNN some of the commanders of Iranian-backed militias are really not very disciplined.

In fact, the source tells us that Qasem Soleimani himself kept having to circulate among those proxy forces to keep them in line, maybe in some cases even keep them from attacking U.S. positions. So it's not clear if Soleimani's successor is going to be able to keep those proxy militias under control.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

Breaking news next, new video allegedly showing a Ukrainian airliner being struck by a missile as a U.S. official tells CNN it's believed Iran was responsible.

And we're also watching the ongoing House vote on limiting President Trump's war powers.

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BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news.

The United States and key allies now seem convinced that Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board. New video obtained by CNN purportedly shows the moment of impact.

We're told U.S. intelligence analysts detected Iranian radar lock onto the jet just before it apparently was downed by two Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Officials suspect the plane was mistakenly targeted.

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