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Pompeo & Mnuchin Press Conference on Iran; Pelosi Says House Not Voting on Impeachment Managers Today; Trump Claims Without Offering Proof Iranian General Was Plotting to Blow Up U.S. Embassies. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2020 - 11:00   ET



MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Look, I served as CIA director for the first year and a half of this administration. I watched the president rely on the work that the Intelligence Community did for the entire time I served as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. I watched him rely on the capable men and women delivering exquisite information to the executive branch. I watched the president have confidence in that information.

We all challenge the work. We have to make sure we get it right. The Intelligence Community is not flawless. We get it wrong. In this case, the Intelligence Community got it fundamentally right.

Even the reflections we have seen after the strike on Qasem Soleimani has demonstrated we were quite right. There was an imminent act. There was active plotting. And we took an action that we thought was likely to create less risk for the American people and I'm confident that we did that.


POMPEO: In the back, in the back. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. This question is for Secretary Pompeo. There are reports that the Iraqi prime minister has asked you to start negotiating with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq immediately. Is that the case? Can you comment on that?

POMPEO: It didn't quite characterize the conversation correctly. But to the larger more important point, we are happy to continue the conversation with Iraqis about what the right structure is.

Our mission set is very clear. We've been there to perform a training mission to help the Iraqi security forces be successful and to continue the campaign against ISIS, continue the counter-Daesh campaign. We'll continue that mission.

As times change and we get to a place where we can deliver up on what I believe and the president believes it our right structure, with fewer resources dedicated to that mission, we will do so.

We also have today NATO team that is here at the State Department, working to develop a plan, which will get burden sharing right in the region as well so we can continue the important missions, to protect and defend and keep the American people safe, while reducing our cost, our resources and our burden, and the risk to our soldiers and sailors who are in the region.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Secretary Pompeo, if I can, here today, you said the imminent threat was a threat to U.S. embassies. Didn't know precisely when or where. Last night the president said threat to embassies including to our Baghdad embassy. Why can you say that here and the president can say that at a rally in Toledo, but nobody said it to lawmakers behind closed doors in a classified setting as multiple Senators have since said?

POMPEO: We did.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You're saying the Senators are lying when they say that --


POMPEO: We told them about the imminent threat, all the intelligence we briefed that you heard today, I assure you, in an unclassified setting, we provide in the classified setting as well.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To be clear, you told them that embassies were the source -- were to be targeted. That was the imminent threat?

POMPEO: I won't talk about the details of what we talked about in the classified setting. But make no mistake about it, those leaders, those members of Congress who want to access the same intelligence can see the same intelligence that will reflect what I said and what the president said last night.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the threat now gone with Soleimani gone?

POMPEO: Threats are never gone. A lot of danger in the world.


POMPEO: Always a lot of danger in the world throughout the region. Nobody believed that a single mission in any respect took down the risk of terror, terror from al Qaeda, terror from ISIS, terror from al Shabaab. No one believes that. The president doesn't.

Look at the list, look at the achievements in the administration. We took way the caliphate in its entirety. We took down Hamza bin Laden. We took down al Baghdadi. We took down Qasem Soleimani. This is a list that has reduced the capacity for terrorists around the world to perform the functions that put American men and women in the homeland at risk.

We're very proud of what we accomplished. We're going to stay the course.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Why don't we take one more over there?

Yes, thank you.


MNUCHIN: No, no. Next to you.

Right there, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On the trade deal, the Chinese side will be here next Wednesday to sign phase one part of the deal. China is also a big importer of Iranian oil and Iranian minerals and that's a big part of their economy as well. How do you balance -- are you concerned about the Iran issue coming up in either the signing of the phase one deal or the negotiation for the phase two deal?

MNUCHIN: Let me just comment, I had no idea you would ask that question.


MNUCHIN: But that's a good last question to end on.

So let me first say that we are looking forward to the Chinese delegation coming next week. Phase one is very significant. It includes very significant components of changes to technology issues and intellectual property issues and $50 billion of purchases for our farmers.

I would comment, I don't agree with your comment that China is a big buyer of oil. The China state companies are not buying oil from Iran. And I would say we are having conversations with China as well with any other counterparty on sanctions evasion.

So thank you very much. Thank you, everybody.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you for joining us.

We've been watching the secretary of state and the treasury secretary announcing new sanctions against Iran following the attacks this week.

Let me first go to CNN political correspondent, chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She joins me now.

Dana, quite a few headlines coming out.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The biggest were, first of all, Pompeo pushing back on the notion that these -- that the intelligence that led them to kill Soleimani didn't necessarily show that attacks were imminent.

He said flatly, in his words, full stop, there were attacks that were imminent and he insisted that does not -- it is not contradicted by the notion that they didn't know exactly where the attacks were planned for and against exactly whom. So that's number one headline.

Number two, is a big one, which is that what we have been reporting all morning, that they believe that it was Iran that shot down the commercial airliner that killed, you know, over 100 civilians, many of them Iran's own citizens.

This is the first time we have seen and heard an American senior official say that publicly. We had a lot of reporting from colleagues that that's what they believe behind closed doors. Standing at the White House podium, the secretary of state said that flatly that that's what they believe and that is a really big deal.

BOLDUAN: Sure is.

Let me bring in Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what did you hear?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, interesting to hear the secretary attempt to thread the needle on the intelligence that led to the Soleimani strike. He said it was specific and imminent and including U.S. embassies, as the president has said.

But he again said, as he said in interviews earlier, that they did not know where and when. Typically, when you talk about an imminent attack, it is credible and specific. It does not appear that they had that specificity there. Yet, he is saying that, from his perspective, and the president's perspective, it was imminent enough to order this killing.

Also interesting because he was pressed, as you heard there, Kate, on why a president, who has repeatedly dismissed intelligence, say, for instance, on Russian interference in the 2016 election, would also, going back a couple of years, on the fact that Iran was complying with the nuclear deal, that's what U.S. intelligence showed, the president denied that in public.

Why, when, in the past, he ignored or dismissed the intelligence, in this case he listened? And Secretary Pompeo said, in this case, the Intelligence Community got it right. Little bit convenient, perhaps. But that's his argument.

The final thing I would take note of, there has been this back and forth as to whether Iranians intended to target U.S. forces with their missile retaliation. He says, in his view, they had the full intent to kill U.S. forces there.

Is that the definitive answer from the administration? I don't know. There's some contradiction. The secretary of state saying that's the Iranians intent.

BOLDUAN: Let's go to the briefing room. Kaitlan Collins was there asking questions.

Kaitlan, what did you think?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's still a lot of questions about exactly this attack on the U.S. embassy and explicitly whether or not how imminent these attacks were that you heard then, the threats that the administration has been talking about.

And the reason that these were the main questions here, in the briefing room today, had a lot to do with what the secretary of state said last night during an interview on FOX News when he said he couldn't say precisely when or where these attacks were going to happen.

So I asked him to define his definition of the word "imminent" since that's the word that Secretary Pompeo primarily has been using. You heard the sound from the president, some from the vice president as well, but not as much from the Department of Defense. Mainly from the secretary of state and he said simply just that this was going to happen.

Of course, the question is, of course, the question is whether or not that's going to satisfy lawmakers who say they have not gotten enough information about how imminent the threat was.

The reason that plays a factor is because they argue this has been a threat coming from this top Iranian commander, so they want to know why this administration made this decision now and, of course what the long-term effects of that are going to be.

Now, of course, they walked in here at the beginning, they announced the new sanctions. The president had previewed the other day in his addressing that is how he's going to respond to the attacks by Iran, not militarily. Instead, he's going to focus with an economic response. And they are talking about these eight Iranian senior officials they said they're going to sanction.

We're still waiting to see what the details of that are going to be when we get the text from Treasury, something we have not gotten yet. Haven't checked my inbox in the last few minutes.

And, of course, really the overarching question, and what is going to remain, are the questions about U.S. intelligence here. That is what you heard from lawmakers, even some lawmakers who are typically allies of this administration, Republicans, who want to know questions.

So far, we have seen shifting explanations for whether or not they were trying to hit U.S. troops during those attacks, whether or not there was a bomb plot attack on the U.S. embassy, or any U.S. embassies, plural, and whether or not this attack was imminent or not.

Those are been the big questions. We're waiting to hear more from that. You hear different things when you ask different people in this administration about that.



COLLINS: But, yes, they did announce they are going to be sanctioning these Iranian officials, going after the Iranian economy even further.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, real quick, on the explanation of the imminence, Pompeo said something that you -- tell me if you heard any administration official say the same that it wasn't just an imminent attack. He said they're plotting a broad large-scale attack against American interests and those attacks were imminent and it was embassies and beyond. I feel like he's gone further than I've heard.

COLLINS: And that could be because the president went further than what we heard yesterday, saying they were plotting to blow up a U.S. embassy. Last night, he said it was plural, embassies.

The big question about that is, that Peter Alexander was asking Secretary Pompeo, were members of Congress told about these plots to go after U.S. embassies with explosives. He signaled that, yes, they were. He wouldn't say it outright, yes, they were. You heard from people like Val Demings, say, no, we were not. We were paying attention in those briefings. We did not hear about that. I believe Tim Kaine said similar.

That has been the big question. People want to know more about what it is that was this widespread plot that they have been alluding to time and time again.

And of course, there are potentially reasons for not saying that publicly here from the podium. But there's a difference when members of Congress in closed-door sessions, who have security clearances, are not getting more details on what the plots were.

BOLDUAN: We have one of those members coming up later in the show. I'll ask about this latest coming from Pompeo.

Kaitlan, thank you so much.

Let's get to the State Department. Kylie Atwood is there.

Kylie, the sanctions, what you heard from Pompeo, what does this mean for diplomatic efforts going forward?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: The message the Trump administration is sending, with these sanctions coming just days after this Iranian missile strike that happened on those Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were based, is the fact that the U.S. knows who these people are.

Now, Secretary Pompeo said they're going to be eight Iranian senior officials who are going to be targeted with these sanctions. So the U.S. is coming out and symbolically saying we know who you are.

That's really, really important here because the economic impact may not be as obvious. These folks likely do not do business with American companies. But the fact that the U.S. knows who they are is important.

The U.S. is also going to be sanctioning additional Iranian manufacturers, having to do with medals and other sectors. So they are continuing to use sanctions as the primary tool in their maximum- pressure campaign against Iran here.

As you have been discussing, the Trump administration is also using the platform at the White House to defend this decision to strike Soleimani. And Secretary Pompeo said that the Intelligence Community fundamentally got it right. So, again, you know, coming out and backing up their decision.

Now, of course, Secretary Pompeo, however, would not say any he specific name of any specific embassy that was targeted. Even though we heard President Trump say that there was a plan to attack, to bomb U.S. embassies, and he mentioned Baghdad, Secretary Pompeo said that embassies were involved, U.S. facilities were targeted, but didn't specifically put a point on anyone -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Kylie, thank you so much.

Let's get to Iran now for reaction. Fred Pleitgen is there.

Fred, how is all of this likely to be received?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, you were just asking Kylie about the potential impact on any diplomatic efforts between the U.S. and Iran. I think that's going to be the fundamental impact the sanctions are going to have.

One thing that the Iranians have been telling us, again and again, even after this latest flare-up of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, they're saying that the fundamental problem that is preventing diplomacy between these two nations is the fact that you have this maximum-pressure sanctions campaign.

The Iranians are saying that is basically the root cause of why these sanctions continue, why the tensions continue. And why these tensions keep flaring up.

The Iranians have said, from the very beginning, and continue to say that they are not going to budge as long as these sanctions are in place, not going to sit down with the U.S.

In fact, I spoke to Iran's foreign minister a couple of days ago and then there were other Iranian politicians who came out as well and said, look, if the U.S. really wants to talk, they should get back to the nuclear agreement, they should drop the sanctions and they might be able to talk about the nuclear agreement.

Of course, they are under a lot of pressure. There's no doubt that the maximum-pressure campaign that the sanctions have done a great deal to harm this country's economy. Unemployment very high, and the currency in a tailspin, jobs very hard to get by. It is a very difficult economic situation.


And certainly you have indeed seen over the past couple of months protests erupt, they're cash strapped at the moment. That doesn't, however, mean that the administration has endeared itself to Iranians. The opposite is the case.

There's a lot of anger toward the Trump administration among Iranians and also, of course, among Iranian politicians and Iranian leaders. And right now it seems like the sanctions are moving any sort of chance of diplomacy further away than bringing it closer -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fred, thank you so much.

Leading to the question that has hung over all of this, what is next. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, still, President Trump, he was impeached by the House three weeks ago and, so far, Speaker Pelosi is not budging, not buckling to the pressure from Republicans and some in other own party to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate. So what is her time frame? What is soon? The latest, next.



BOLDUAN: There's news on impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling reporters a short time ago no votes today on naming the impeachment managers in the House. Those are the House Democrats who would be kind of the prosecutors of the case in the Senate, which is a key step, a vote on it, in getting the Senate trial started.

So what signal is she sending in the weeks-long standoff with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell?

Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill, Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

Manu, we'll start with you.

What is Pelosi saying here?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She's making it very clear that there's not going to be a move today that would transmit those articles of impeachment over to the Senate that would begin the trial.

The House members have just left town for the weekend. They would have to have the vote to name those impeachment managers who would prosecute the case before the articles would be transmitted. And the articles are the ones that would prompt the Senate trial to begin.

What Pelosi has been demanding is that Mitch McConnell detail the Senate procedures by unveiling the actual Senate resolution that would be approved, that would set the trial in motion.

But Mitch McConnell told me last night, he's absolutely not going to do that. He said, she knows full well what the impeachment trial would look like and that she needs to send over the articles. So the staring contest continues.

The question is, will she be able to keep her own caucus in line and if she will see more defections in the ranks.

I caught up with some members, including a freshman Democrat, including a one-time critic of Nancy Pelosi, and at the moment, they are on her side.


REP. MAX ROSE (D-NY): It is what it is at this point. It should go soon. Ask me again in a week or two. But I think we all agree it should be going soon.

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): I think she's being smart in holding them up to make sure we get a fair trial. Mitch McConnell has shown no interest in fulfilling his constitutional duty to have a fair trial. And if this is what we need to do to get that to happen, then she's right on the money and she's right on the Constitution.


RAJU: So most of the Democrats are in line. You heard some raise concerns. One Democrat from Utah, freshman, in a tough race, Ben McAdams, told me yesterday it is time to send those articles over. But another Democrat in a tough race, Joe Cunningham, a South Carolina freshman, just told me he's going to let the speaker deal with this issue, he's focused on other issues, he casts his vote to impeach and he's ready to move on.

It is clear, at the moment, Kate, she has her caucus in line, but we'll see if pressure grows as this impasse does as well -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Oh, what a difference a day makes. We'll see.

Thanks so much.

Let's get to the White House.

Jeremy, are you hearing anything from there yet about this?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is a White House that is largely in wait-and-see mode at the moment, Kate. It has been for several weeks now, waiting to see whether and when the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will transmit those articles of impeachment over to the Senate. And waiting to see, as well, what the trial rules will be from Senate Republicans, from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This White House -- the White House counsel's office has been busy already crafting that legal strategy for the president. But even much of that legal strategy will be dependent on how the format of this trial will be and who the House Democrats will appoint as the impeachment managers to go make the case against the president in the Senate.

And one of the debates raging among the president's inner circle is whether or not he should bring in the more-fiery House conservative lawmakers to come in and help the president make his case in the Senate, join the president's legal team. That is something that the president has really been going back and forth on here.

And we also know that the president has really wanted to see witnesses in this trial, despite the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to convince him against it. The president seems to be leaving it up to him. But even as recently as yesterday, the president was calling for witnesses.

So, again, all of this still very much dependent on the trial structure that comes ahead. So waiting to see that from the White House perspective.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you so much.

Manu, thank you.

Man, I love that chase camera when all the members are running down the stairs, heading out to their districts.

Thank you, Manu. Good to see you, man. Thank you.


Coming up, we just heard a short time go from Secretary of State Pompeo that the threat posed by Qasem Soleimani was a threat to U.S. embassies. So that is also what President Trump said last night. Is that what lawmakers were told in their briefings? We're going to ask a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, next.



TRUMP: Soleimani was actively planning new attacks. And he was looking very seriously at our embassies and not just the embassy in Baghdad. But we stopped him and we stopped him quickly and we stopped him cold.


BOLDUAN: That was the president last night. Is that the imminent threat the president said convinced him to order the strike to kill Iran's Qasem Soleimani? I ask because last night as well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they did not know when and where the attacks were coming.


Asked about that apparent inconsistency, just now at the White House, Mike Pompeo said this.