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House Votes on Limiting Trump's War Powers; Did Iran Shoot Down Ukrainian Plane?; Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL); Interview With Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE); U.S. Official Says Iran Believed To Have Shot Down Jet As New Video Appears To Show Missile Strike; Trump Admin Wants to Keep Cost of Secret Service Protection During Travel Service Until After Election. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Officials suspect the plane was mistakenly targeted.

This comes as the House of Representatives is voting right now on limiting President Trump's war powers in the U.S. conflict with Iran.

Also up on Capitol Hill, CNN has now learned that the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is privately signaling that she will move towards sending the impeachment articles to the Senate soon.

I will get reaction from key members of Congress, including Democratic Senator Chris Coons. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's bring in our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, 176 people are dead, and U.S. officials believe Iran is responsible.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's not just U.S. officials, Wolf. It's the United Kingdom and Canada as well.

In fact, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says there is now a body of information that this flight was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system. And U.S. officials are telling CNN, after analyzing satellite and radar data, that it was a Russian-made system.

Both those countries, U.S. and U.K., adding that this could have been a mistake by Iran. Of course, this comes at a very tense time, when the Iranians are still disputing that they brought down this plane.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): In the wake of the Ukrainian plane crash in Iran, U.S. and allied officials tell CNN Iran is believed to have shot it down with Russian-made surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 people on board. Most of the victims were from Iran, Ukraine and Canada.

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.

MARQUARDT: Wednesday's crash came just hours after the Iranian regime launched over a dozen missiles at U.S. forces inside Iraq. And multiple U.S. officials believe that Iran possibly shot the plane down by mistake.

This new video allegedly showing the moment the plane was struck. CNN has not verified the authenticity of the video.

President Trump today agreeing it was unlikely that the Boeing 737 was brought down due to a mechanical failure.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood, and somebody could have made a mistake. Some people say it was mechanical. I personally don't think that's even a question.

MARQUARDT: Eyewitness video shows a fireball believed to be the plane going down, a huge blast as it hits the ground. A U.S. official familiar with the intelligence told CNN the U.S. saw Iranian radar signals lock onto the jetliner before it was shot down.

Iranian officials deny the flight was shot down, saying, minutes after taking off early Wednesday morning, the plane had turned back to the Tehran Airport, but never made it. So far, Iran has refused to hand over the plane's black boxes.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This kind of thing can happen even with the most sophisticated air defense systems, but the Iranians are not at the same level as the U.S.

MARQUARDT: Today, mourners gathered at the airport in Ukraine's capital, where the plane was due to land, a row of portraits of the dead and a flood of tears.

The Ukrainian mother of a pilot crying: "He was my only son. Now I'm all by myself."


MARQUARDT: Ukraine has sent a team to Tehran to carry out an investigation. They have also asked the British and Canadians to help them, and have thanked the Iranians for access and for their cooperation.

Now, as for the black boxes, the head of Iran's civil aviation authority says they have been damaged,but that they will give the Ukrainians access to the boxes to decode that data -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Alex Marquardt, reporting for us. Now to the White House, where President Trump is offering a surprising new defense of his order to kill Iran's top general.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president claimed the Iranians were, what, plotting to blow up the United States Embassy in Baghdad?


And we have some new information coming in, indicating it appears President Trump earlier today revealed new details about the case for taking out Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The president claimed today that the Iranians were preparing to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

A senior defense official just told reporters that Soleimani was plotting to attack that embassy with explosives. We're just finding out about this in the last several minutes. Now, that contradicts what administration officials were saying to us earlier in the day.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With questions still swirling about the U.S. justification for killing Iranian General Qasem 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 very obvious. And we had a shot at him, and I think took it, and that shot was pinpoint accurate, and that was the end of a monster.


ACOSTA: At first, administration officials told CNN the president was only referring to the storming of the U.S. Embassy in the Iraqi capital last month. Then, later in the day, a senior defense official told reporters that there was a plot that Soleimani was working on to attack the embassy with explosives.

The official provided no details about the intelligence.

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 Qasem Soleimani was preparing an imminent attack against American forces and American personnel also represents some of the most sensitive intelligence that we have. It could compromise those sources and methods.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): I find that absolutely insane.

ACOSTA: But Democrats are saying, hold on, pointing out even some Senate Republicans aren't buying it.

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

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 them indefinitely. I will 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 is 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 that holding onto 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'd have to ask the lawyers, because we do have -- to me, 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 tune. Mr. Trump claimed he no longer sees global warming as a hoax, a comment he made as his administration was rolling back environmental regulations.

QUESTION: What is your position global warming? Do you think it's a hoax?


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


ACOSTA: And the White House and Senate Republicans, including the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, are continuing to coordinate as the president's impeachment trial draws closer.

We should point out, as the president was departing the White House for a political rally in Ohio, he was meeting with his White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, also his outside attorney, Jay Sekulow.

But, Wolf, going back to the headline, I think, that hangs over everything at this hour when it comes to this intelligence with respect to the president's call to take out Qasem Soleimani, a senior defense official telling CNN, telling other reporters over the Pentagon in the last hour that, yes, that there was intelligence that the U.S. had that Soleimani was plotting to attack that U.S. Embassy in Baghdad with explosives.

That contradicts what White House officials, administration officials were telling CNN earlier in the day, that the president, when he made those remarks here at the White House earlier in the day, that he was referring to that storming of the embassy late last year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, let's not forget, there are hundreds, hundreds of American diplomats, military personnel, civilian contractors who work not just at the embassy, but in that Green Zone surrounding the embassy.

So there are a lot of targets, potentially, for these guys.

ACOSTA: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very, very much.

The House of Representatives now has just approved a rebuke of President Trump's military action against Iran, voting to limit his war powers.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He is up on Capitol Hill.

So the House just voted. What's the latest?


And you really need to review this resolution that they just voted on, just passed, as kind of a political messaging effort trying to reshape public policy. This isn't on its face necessarily going to restrict what President Trump can or can't do related to his own authority or efforts to strike against Iran, if he believes that the opportunity presents itself.

But what it does do is send a very clear message, a message that you have heard repeatedly from Democrats over the course of the last couple of days, especially in the wake of those classified briefings from administration officials yesterday that they believe there wasn't necessarily sufficient justification for the strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, but, perhaps more importantly, that the explanations have not been fulsome.

Whether or not the attack was imminent has not been explained, and what the administration's next steps forward have also not been laid out in full.


And kind of demonstrating the crosscurrents as it comes to national security and Iran specifically, Wolf, eight Democrats voted against this resolution, and three Republicans voted for it.

One of those Republicans, one of the president's closest allies on Capitol Hill, Matt Gaetz, who gave a fiery speech on the House floor and also tweeted 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."

And, Wolf, this is a debate that obviously has been kind of percolating over the course of the last couple of years. The tension between the executive branch and the legislative branch over the expansive powers the executive branch has claimed the last couple of decades, as it pertains to military action.

And it's not just going to stop here. Obviously, this resolution will go over to the Senate, but the Senate -- Senator Tim Kaine, specifically, a Democrat from Virginia, is drafting his own resolution. Some Republicans have already come out yesterday -- we talked about it yesterday -- Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, saying they will support that resolution as well.

So, clearly something happening on Capitol Hill, won't necessarily directly affect the president's power, but sending a clear message to the administration when it comes to how they deal with Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: An important point, indeed.

Meanwhile, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is signaling she may soon end her standoff with the Senate over those two articles of impeachment. What are you learning?

MATTINGLY: Yes, Wolf, soon being the key phrase that no one is exactly sure what that means yet, speculation really the coin of the realm here on Capitol Hill right now.

There is an expectation here that the articles will be sent over by the end of this week. But the best rule of thumb I have heard up to this point is, if you haven't heard from Speaker Pelosi when she is sending over the articles, you don't know. Just a lot of people wondering, assuming, thinking something's coming, but nothing is guaranteed until the speaker announces it herself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Joining us now, Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat. He serves on the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

So, let's talk a little bit about all the news that's unfolding. Three House Republicans voted for this resolution to restrict the president's military response to Iran.

How many Republican votes do you think you will have in the Senate when similar legislation comes up?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Wolf, following yesterday's profoundly disappointing classified briefing of the entire Senate by the president senior national security team, two Republican senators came out and publicly said that they would support a similar war powers resolution.

That's Senators Paul and Lee. And I expect there are several others who will join them.

The core issue here, Wolf, is making sure that, before President Trump takes us into a war with Iran, that he recognizes he must come to Congress to get authorization.

That would give us an opportunity to slow down any rush to war and to demand a clear strategy on how we're going to deal with the costs and the consequences of such a conflict, something that we have not so far seen or heard from this administration.

BLITZER: All right, let's turn to the other breaking news we're following, the deadly plane crash in Iran.

U.S. officials believe Iran is responsible for the downing of that Ukrainian Boeing 737 passenger plane with 176 people on board.

If that's true, do you think they ought to -- that they thought, the Iranian military thought this was an American plane and then launched these surface-to-air missiles?

COONS: Well, that would be the most reasonable explanation, Wolf.

This is clearly a tragedy, where 176 civilians lost their lives. And I would call on the Iranians to open up this investigation and welcome in the FAA and the Canadians and other international resources that might help get to the bottom of this quickly.

I haven't been briefed on it in detail. What I know is what I have heard from press reports, but it certainly so far, Wolf, sounds as if this was a tragic accident, where the Iranian military mistook this civilian plane for a military target.

BLITZER: Do you think this is going to impact the current situation, which is clearly very tense already, in the aftermath on the strike against Soleimani?

COONS: I would hope that it would lead the Iranians to be more cautious and more careful.

I don't yet know and I'm not sure any of us have reached a clear conclusion in the Senate about whether the Iranian missile attack on an Iraqi base, where there were hundreds of Americans, as well as coalition forces, missed intentionally or by accident. Certainly, it was an aggressive act, an act that could easily have led

to dozens of casualties. And I am glad that, today, we are not waking up to a world where there were significant American casualties.

I think the killing of Qasem Soleimani rid the world of a terrible person who had cost the lives of hundreds of Americans and thousands of civilians over his very long service as the head of the Iranian Quds Force.


But I also think we need to expect of the Trump administration that they will have a clear strategy and a plan for how to deal with the contingencies. Having escalated the conflict with Iran, we now have an opportunity, a breather.

And it is my expectation, my hope, at least, that, on a bipartisan basis in the Senate, we will be pushing for a diplomatic surge, for an attempt to resolve our longstanding challenges with Iran diplomatically, rather than by renewing conflict.

BLITZER: President Trump today expanded on his rationale for killing General Qasem Soleimani, suggesting that Soleimani was actually planning to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Did the Trump administration provide you and your colleagues any hard evidence of that in your briefings?


BLITZER: Well, what do you think?

COONS: Well, Wolf, it's striking that that additional specific detail is now being offered up by President Trump.

When 100 U.S. senators were gathered yesterday in a classified briefing and repeatedly demanding more specifics, more details, for that to be released today in a public setting, and not to have been shared with, at least in the setting that I was in yesterday for an hour-and-a-half, with virtually all of the Senate is pretty striking.

The larger point here, really, is that many of us in the Senate are asking on what basis the president would be proceeding to take any additional aggressive action towards Iran, and how we can make sure that there is a responsible strategy in place to deal with the predictable blowback.

I don't think we are done with Iran's response to the killing of General Soleimani. I expect that, after this initial missile attack on an Iraqi base where they were Americans, they will take other actions, either covert or overt, in the future.

And we need to be well-prepared.

BLITZER: And I'm sure that Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq are not yet done either. Senator Chris Coons, thanks so much for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, why did Iran apparently shoot down that Ukrainian passenger plane with 176 people on board? Was it a mistake? Was it intentional?

Also, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, may finally be ready to send those two articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate. We will talk about what happens next.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.

U.S. officials now believe Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, making it responsible for the deaths of 176 people.

We're joined now by Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, also an Iraq War veteran.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Yes, you bet, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: So, as you know, the working theory right now is that Iran shot down the passenger plane with surface-to-air missiles, carrying 176 people, that it was done by accident.

What do you think happened?

KINZINGER: Yes, I mean, I think accident. It would be especially sick if it wasn't.

But, look, you probably had folks work on a surface-to-surface site, probably on heightened tensions, given the fact that they had just escalated against the United States' response to their repeated escalations, and either misidentified or did something.

So it's a real tragic thing. And it's interesting. If you look at Iran's response, everybody's breathless out here. They fired missiles, a quarter of which failed. They killed no Americans, thankfully.

And then they took down an airliner that had no Americans on it and mostly Iranian civilians. It was a completely failed response by Iran. They have gotten no P.R. victory from this, except, I guess, internally, and here on the floor of the House of Representatives today, because they passed a resolution basically condemning the president for killing Soleimani, in essence

BLITZER: Well, do you think it's possible that Iran thought this Ukrainian plane was actually a U.S. military aircraft, because it was taking place only, what, four or five hours after the Iranians launched those ballistic missile strikes against those facilities where a lot of Americans are based?

KINZINGER: Yes, it's certainly possible, if it -- if that's what it was. They thought it was a U.S. plane. Obviously, their air defense system is much worse than we thought, because it originated from Tehran.

It climbed in Tehranian -- Iranian airspace, and then ended up being shot down. Or it was an accidental firing. Anything, it's a terrible, tragic decision. It's a terrible, tragic thing to have happened.

And bottom line is, look, it's the Iranian regime that did this.

Representative Speier was on your show earlier, and she basically said this was a result of the president of the United States' escalatory actions.

BLITZER: All right, hold on for one moment, Congressman.

I'm going to play that clip, because you reacted angrily. You were clearly watching THE SITUATION ROOM, and you heard what Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat from California, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said.

I will play the clip, and then you will respond.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): 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: All right, you responded on Twitter, saying: "This is sick. Once again, Iran is the victim."

But I want you to elaborate what you mean.

KINZINGER: So, I mean, what that is saying is, 176 people were killed as a result, is what she's saying, of President Trump.

Now, look at this. This is an Iranian shoot-down. It's not an American missile. To put this on the president, I have -- and you know because I have done it on your show, so check the tapes, everybody.

When President Obama did military action, I either opposed or supported him without regard for what political party he was, because I still believe that politics, at the end of the water's edge, should be about America first.


And I will tell you what. To see what has transpired on the floor of the House of Representatives, to see what's transpired with people who questioned whether the president has the authority, every legal scholar generally says, of course, he had the authority to go after them.

And then it transitions into a -- into a process argument. The only P.R. victory that the Iranians have gotten as a result of their response has been here on the floor of the House of Representatives, because they are playing it through the halls.

And they now think the president's going to be scared to death to respond.

The Iranian people, by the way, are not united behind the government. I'm hearing them say that we have united the Iranian people behind the government.

And all of this started because people in Iraq, people in Lebanon, people in Iran were standing up against that regime.

BLITZER: Your colleague Congressman Doug Collins said that Democrats, in his words, are in love with terrorists.

Listen to this.


REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): Nancy Pelosi does it again, and her Democrats fall right in line.

One, they're in love with terrorists. We see that. They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families, who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That's a problem.


BLITZER: All right, so tell us how you react to that point, because we keep hearing it from individuals, Republicans, some of your colleagues, that Democrats in Congress, what, love terrorists more than they love the United States.


Look, the rhetoric on all sides of this is too much. And that statement by Mr. Collins was wrong, and it should be retracted. And it was too much.

Democrats don't love terrorists. We have a strong disagreement out here. And I'm actually pretty fired up especially with how this has gone down, because my sense is, they -- before they even had the intel briefing, which I actually thought was really good -- somehow, they didn't -- they were already opposed to the president's action, before they even knew anything, one of the worst terrorists ever.

But I will not say that Democrats are in love with terrorists. And Democrats should stop calling us warmongers or people that are just committed to do anything that Trump wants. Let's have real debates. That's fine. People can all be about bringing the boys home and nonintervention. It's a legal, legitimate position, one I disagree with.

But this name-calling that has escalated, and blaming the president for the Iranian airliner shoot-down?

We are broken as a country if this is the level of our debate going forward. And we have to -- we have to move on from it and be adult again.

BLITZER: Just in fairness to Congresswoman Jackie Speier, she said it was collateral damage that was started by the president. As a result, the Iranians were clearly nervous and launched those surface-to-air missiles against that Ukrainian plane.

She used the phrase collateral damage. Does that mean anything to you?


I mean, collateral damage is the 176 dead people that Iran shot down that -- and, by the way, why was Iran's air defenses up? Because it had nothing to do with killing Soleimani. It was because they just struck Americans and an American base, and they were expecting a legitimate response from the U.S., which the president held back on.

He held back multiple times when a drone that cost over $200 million, the value of 10 F-16s was shot down, when Saudi oil fields were attacked, when tankers were seized in the Gulf, when American embassies were attacked.

The president did nothing. Their heightened was because they shot missiles at Americans, and intended to kill them, I believe.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks so much for joining us.

KINZINGER: You bet, Wolf. See you.

BLITZER: All right, we appreciate it.

Much more ahead.

How soon could a Senate impeachment trial actually begin, if Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, is indeed closer to sending over those articles of impeachment?



BLITZER: We have breaking news tonight. New video appears to show a missile strike over Tehran as the U.S. and key allies now believe that Iran shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane. All 176 on board were killed.

Peter Bergen, was this a mistake on the part of the Iranians? PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's what it appears to be. It reminds me slightly of 1988 at the time of heightened of U.S.- Iran tensions, when the U.S. has been saying they brought down an Iranian passenger plane, thinking it was a military plane killing all 390 people on board.

Now, the United States eventually apologized to that, they paid the Iranian government and the victims some money. The difference here is the Iran government is denying that this was a mistake and an accident despite the visual evidence we've already seen and the fact that multiple governments, Canadians, British and Americans were all saying the same thing.

BLITZER: It happened only a few hours after the Iranians launched those ballistic missiles into Iraq, aimed at U.S. forces. So, presumably, the Iranians could have thought maybe this was a U.S. military aircraft.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. And it is significant that we're seeing not just President Trump but also the Canadians and European officials coming out and saying they believe this was a case of mistake. This was not intentional. What they're trying to do is avoid this inadvertently ramping up a cycle of escalation that they feel compelled to respond to.

It's significant that the Intelligence Community is saying they have high confidence that this was an Iranian missile, despite the Iranian government continuing to say this was some sort of mechanical failure. That's sort of the Intelligence Community speak for saying we are pretty much positive. We have very, very strong evidence. And, indeed, we're already seeing at least magnanimous reports and news accounts of a lot of specificity, the type of missile that was used, the precise radar systems in play, and so that's a good indication that the United States is really, really confident.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure the U.S. and other allies know a lot more than they're saying right now.

On impeachment, David Swerdlick, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is sort of signaling privately she's ready to start sending over those two articles of impeachment to the Senate soon.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Soon, but we don't exactly know when that is. I think that her decision is going to rest on when she feels it's going to be the maximum leverage for her caucus, for Democrats in Congress generally to pressure the Senate.


But I don't think she's going to feel pressured by the chatter that's coming out on both sides of the aisle and in both Houses. People like Senator Feinstein saying, hey, if you're going to send them over, go ahead and send them over.

Speaker Pelosi wants the Democrats to be well-positioned as a group but she's not going to be rattled by individual members. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think it was a very smart strategy to delay. It really forced the Republicans to spend two weeks answering questions about why they won't allow witnesses. However, I do think the diminishing returns have set in in terms of this delay strategy. And I think she's right that the sooner the better, the action turns over

to the Senate.

BLITZER: You think the Democrats have lost some momentum following the impeachment of the House?

TOOBIN: Not really. I don't think that -- I mean, most of the time the pass was over the holidays. And I do think that they have brought the issue of witnesses to the floor.

Now, the Senate has done what the Senate has always does, if they can, which is kick the can down the road. There will be a vote on witnesses midway through the trial. That is going to be a very tough vote for a lot of the Republican senators.

But For the moment, it seems clear that there will be no witnesses at least guaranteed as the trial begins.

SWERDLICK: I think Jeffrey is right. I would just say for additional reasons that we have all the news around Iran and the General Soleimani strike, I this think the high drama that was at play over the holidays, some of the air came out of that.

HENNESSEY: Look, keep in mind that in this two-week trade, additional revelations came out, including John Bolton's sort of game changing statement that he is willing to testify. And so I do think that, ultimately, Pelosi has been vindicated in this agree. Though I agree, it's diminishing returns --

BLITZER: He's willing to testify if he's subpoenaed. But even if he's subpoenaed and he says he's willing to testify, there could be court challenges on the part of the White House.

HENNESSEY: That's possible but --

BLITZER: This could drag on for a long time.

HENNESSEY: Absolutely. There's also nothing that would prevent John Bolton for telling his story in a different form, for example, in his upcoming book or in press interviews.

BLITZER: Or right here in The Situation Room.

HENNESSEY: Or right here in The Situation Room.

BLITZER: We would welcome him and we would give him one hour or two hours, whatever he wants. He's more than welcome to join us.

HENNESSEY: And, certainly, that has to be weighing on Mitch McConnell's mind. Maybe he can prevent the immediate testimony. But in the long run, the story is getting out. TOOBIN: Mitch McConnell worries about The Situation Room all the time. And I think that's part of --

BLITZER: All right, everybody stand by. We're going to have much more on the conflict with Iran, President Trump's efforts to blame the nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration. I'll speak live with the former Obama administration energy secretary. There you see him, Ernest Moniz. He'll join us right after this.



BLITZER: Multiple countries, including the United States, now say they have evidence Iran likely shot down the Ukrainian passenger jet. This comes as Iran and the Trump administration have been trying to step back from a potential war.

We're joined by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. He was one of the key architects of the Iran nuclear deal that was struck during the Obama administration. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us.


BLITZER: How important are diplomatic channels between the United States and Iran at a moment like this?

MONIZ: Absolutely critical. And, unfortunately, those channels are pretty much closed. In fact, I would remind you that with the negotiations with Iran, particularly in that case through the channel of Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif, the issue of some of the Navy sailors who were taken into custody by Iran was resolved in a very, very short order. That happened because of communication channels being open, of relationships being established.

And, frankly, right now, with all the tension we have and indeed this presumably accidental shooting down of the civilian airliner in Iran, it just shows you that when you're in a very, very tense situation with military dimensions, mistakes happen and crisis management based upon relationships is absolutely central.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts, Mr. Secretary, on the Iran nuclear deal, which you were one of the architects in working out. I want your reaction, first, to what President Trump said today about you and the Obama administration. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the problems of which there was many, $150 billion, $1.8 billion in cash, all of that money and then that money was used for terror. Because if you look at Iran, it wasn't so bad until they got all that money. They used that money for terror.


BLITZER: Was it a mistake to unfreeze that Iranian money and make it available to Iran as part of the Iran nuclear deal?

MONIZ: Well, first of all, I think it's important to understand that the president's numbers are not really quite accurate.

BLITZER: What are the accurate numbers?

MONIZ: Well, certainly, Secretary Jack Lew Of the treasury administration felt that the real number was still substantial, but in the 50s of billions of dollars.

BLITZER: Well, let's say it's $50 billion, was it wise to make available $50 billion -- now, remember this is Iranian money that was frozen around the time that the Iranians took 52 American diplomats hostage in 1979. Was it wise to make that money available without any context, they could use that money for anything they wanted?


MONIZ: Yes, but in fact every evidence is that the use of the money went pretty much as -- as we expected. Namely, they had a lot of debts to pay. They had social, internal debts to pay as well as external debts to pay.

They had infrastructure to rebuild. They had to rebuild their oil fields in order to, in fact, get that export stream running again, to bring in -- to bring in foreign exchange. And, of course, we always knew, as with any country, some fraction of it would go into their defense establishment, in our language. In their language, the Revolutionary Guard.

But, clearly, the major ramp-up in the area, especially with the proxy forces and the like, has really come subsequent to our withdrawal from the agreement as Iran, frankly, pushes back on the extreme hardships that they are, in fact, experiencing from the sanctions regime.

BLITZER: Very quickly, how close is Iran right now without this nuclear deal to having a nuclear bomb?

MONIZ: Still quite far away, and in particular what I want to emphasize, something I think I've emphasized with you in the past, that since 2015, we have always said the number one strength of the agreement was the extraordinary verification regime, the international inspectors having access 24/7 to both declared and undeclared sites. That continues today. That is our major bulwark against Iran reconstituting a weapons program.

Now, clearly, the so-called one-year breakout time has been eroded by the steps they've taken. It's still a question of they may have now 500 kilograms of enriched uranium, not the more than 10 tons they had in 2015.

BLITZER: Let's --

MONIZ: But, clearly, if we don't get back -- back to a discussion, they will start rebuilding that large stockpile.

BLITZER: That's a very dangerous situation.

Ernest Moniz, Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

MONIZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, is the Trump administration trying to hide the cost of protecting the president and his family while they travel?



BLITZER: More questions tonight about the Trump administration's lack of transparency. The treasury secretary is balking at revealing how much the Secret Service spends to protect the president and his family while they travel.

Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trips by the president to his resorts in Florida, Virginia, and New Jersey, trips by the first lady, his children, and more in his circle. All of it requires Secret Service protection and now, congressional Democrats want routine reporting about how much that costs taxpayers.

But hold on, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is negotiating to have the public price tag kept private until after the election this fall. His office says it's part of legislative negotiations to return the Secret Service from Homeland Security to Treasury.

TRUMP: Secret Service is fantastic. These are fantastic people.

FOREMAN: Still, the secret numbers could be big. "The Washington post" cites documents showing the government spent about $96 million on travel by Obama over eight years. While with the current large first family, Trump's travel cost $13.6 million in just one month in 2017.

My CNN's count, Trump has spent nearly one-third of his presidency away from the White House. While he vowed he would never golf as much as his predecessor --

TRUMP: He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods.

I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to play golf.

FOREMAN: -- the president has spent 257 days at a Trump golf club, often without disclosing whether he played golf or who he played with.

And as for his pledge to always be open about what he was doing and where and why --

TRUMP: I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far.

FOREMAN: -- Trump has still not released his tax returns. There have been no regular White House briefings in almost a year, and of course numerous administration figures have been ordered not to talk to Congress about the impeachment probe, just some of the items that are fueling Democratic demands, or at least a better accounting of Trump's travels.

(on camera): Still, the Treasury Department is bristling, saying the timeline Democrats want for public disclosure of these Secret Service costs is purely political, an unfair attempt to hang a hefty price tag around the president's neck right before the big vote.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: And we'll have more news just ahead.



BLITZER: Tonight, as President Trump deals with Iran, I'm reminded he shared his concerns about the region exploding with various interviews with me including one back in 2007.


BLITZER: How does the United States get out of this situation? Is there -- is there a way out of it?

TRUMP: How do they get out? They get out. That's how they get out. Declare victory and leave.

Because I'll tell you, this country is just going to get further bogged down. They're in a civil war over there, Wolf. There's nothing we're going to be able to do with a civil war.

They are in a major civil war. And it's going to go to Iran and it's going to go to other countries. They are in the midst of a major civil war, and there's nothing -- and by the way, we're keeping the lid on a little bit. But the day we leave anyway, it's all going to blow up.

This is a total catastrophe and you might as well get out now because you're just wasting time and lives.


BLITZER: I suspect he feels the same today even as he's taking steps that dramatically escalate tensions in the region.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.