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Pompeo Won't Define Imminent On Threat From Iranian General; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Plans To Send Impeachment Articles To Senate Next Week. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 10, 2020 - 13:00   ET



JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The Democratic base is very upset about what they see as a possible rush to war. So Bernie does have an in on this issue as well.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: They debate next week. Hope to you see Sunday morning as well, 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

Brianna Keilar starts "Right Now." Have a great weekend.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, it's not over. The U.S. taking new action against Iran after Tehran's revenge strikes as the Trump administration can't seem to get its story straight on the intelligence that led them to kill a top Iranian leader.

And Nancy Pelosi gets ready to make her move as the president's impeachment moves to the jury.

Plus, stunning video of another close encounter with the Russian military as one of their warships gets aggressive with a U.S. Navy destroyer.

And the United States Justice Department says no to locking her up, how another Trump conspiracy theory implodes.

And we begin with the U.S. doubling down on its claim that it had to take out General Qasem Soleimani because he represented an imminent threat to American lives. In a briefing today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the president's unfounded claim that Soleimani was plotting to attack American embassies. This is actually a reversal from what he said during a taped interview on Fox News when Pompeo said the U.S. didn't know when or where an attack might occur, something that he was pressed on by reporters today.


REPORTER: You were mistaken when you said you didn't know precisely when and you didn't know precisely where?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: No, completely true, those are completely consistent dots. I don't know exactly which minute. We don't exactly which day it would have been executed, but it was very clear. Qasem Soleimani himself was plotting broad, large scale attack against American interests and those attacks were imminent.

REPORTER: Against what?

POMPEO: Against American facilities, including American embassies, military base, American Military facilities throughout the region.


KEILAR: Now, it's important to point out here that several lawmakers have said they were never presented with any intel that Soleimani was plotting to attack the U.S. embassy when they were briefed by Trump administration officials, including Mike Pompeo, who is really leading those briefings on Capitol Hill.

Let's go to Kylie Atwood. She is at the State Department. And, Kylie, the secretary said he had specific information on a threat, in his words, period, full stop.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, that's right. So, essentially, what he was saying here is that there was an imminent threat, and he did say that that imminent threat included attacks on U.S. embassies. Now, he used the word, embassy, in the plural there. He is not specifically talking about one embassy or another.

And this comes after yesterday President Trump, for the first time, was the one in the administration who said that Soleimani was planning was plotting an attack against a U.S. embassy. And last night at a rally, he went even further. And he said it wasn't just the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, it was also other embassies.

It is important, however, Brianna, that Secretary Pompeo Didn't say Baghdad, he didn't say any one embassy. And we have asked the State Department if they knew about any of this intelligence that was indicating that there was an imminent threat against U.S. embassies, and they have not gotten back to us.

Now, as you also said in the open there, there is some contention between the administration and members of Congress right now. Members of Congress after their closed-door classified briefing yesterday never said that they were told that there was a planning of attack against U.S. embassies abroad. They are saying it's news to them when President Trump said it for the first time, and Secretary Pompeo combated that and said they did tell them about those attacks but wouldn't really get into the specifics.

The bottom line here is that the interpretation of the intelligence seems to be different, and we are not getting one explicit answer from the Trump administration with regard to how they are describing what an imminent threat is and what it was and why the U.S. made that decision so quickly to strike Soleimani. Brianna?

KEILAR: Kylie, thank you so much for that report from the State Department. And let's discuss more on this now with Caitlin Talmadge. She is an Associate Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University.

And I wonder what you make of this that we're hearing all of these different messages and Pompeo who really led these briefings of members of Congress along with other top administration officials that told us he was really the one in charge. He says he told them about embassies as targets, and they're telling us, no, he didn't.

CAITLIN TALMADGE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SECURITY STUDIES, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, it does point to a concern that people have had throughout this entire crisis with the Soleimani strike, which is that it's not obvious that administration actually conducted a clear process of weighing the potential pros and cons, the benefits and longer term risks that may have resulted from the strike, and we're seeing some of the blowback from that now.

It is good this morning that we're hearing the administration talk more about sanctions and finding some of those off-ramps from the recent crisis.


But it's sort of a situation where the administration has been both the fireman and the arsonist. They're working themselves out of a crisis but it's a crisis that never had to happen. And it's not obvious the sanctions that their discussion are really going to have a very big impact, especially since we haven't seen any evidence of our allies, our coalition partners or of other major powers like Russia and China wanting to go along.

KEILAR: Do you have a sense of Congress might not have the full story? Because we've heard the vice president say they would agree with this basically if they had seen everything I had seen.

TALMADGE: It's possible. I mean, we know that there are a number of skeptics in Congress including, ones from the Republican party, the president's own party, where we would normally expect to see support who are really wondering what was the rationale here? And not only what was the immediate operational or tactical rationale in terms of were there strikes or not, what was Soleimani actually doing, but the broader strategic picture, why is it in the United States' interest to go after Soleimani and to conduct these strikes when we know, for instance, that the Bush administration and the Obama administration had similar opportunities, and they saw the calculation in a different way, that, in fact, conducting this sort of drone strike, especially on the territory of our Iraqi allies without their foreknowledge really could have some blowback for the United States.

KEILAR: Can you tell us a little bit about how these sanctions are going to work long-term? Because with the U.S. pulling out of the Iran deal and imposing sanctions on Iran, that's when we started to see a lot of this terrible behavior on the part of Iran, whether it be with tankers attacking tankers or Saudi oil facilities. Is this going to bring more of that? Where does this go? TALMADGE: Well, we don't really know fully yet exactly what the administration is envisioning. But the reality is there isn't that much left in the Iranian economy to be sanctioned. And you're right, I mean, Iranian behavior has actually gotten worse since sanctions were implemented and the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal negotiated under the Obama administration, which, in fact, Iran had been complying with.

Now, it's important not to paint the Iranians as angels. They have been conducting malign and violent regional activities throughout this entire period. There are very valid concerns about the Iranian ballistic missile program, whose accuracy advances. We actually saw more evidence of this week in their response to the strike on Soleimani. So there are some very valid concerns about Iran's behavior post-nuclear deal.

The question is has the administration's policy gotten us any closer to what U.S. strategic objectives should be. Are we any closer to containing Iranian advances on the bomb? No. Actually, we have taken step backwards on that over the past year. And it's not clear that with these marginal additional sanctions, there's suddenly going to be a massive change in Iranian behavior.

We know the president likes to try to come up with deals. Sometimes he likes to repackage things thathis predecessors have done and brand them with the Trump name and claim success. That's kind of what he did with NAFTA. We know that he likes to try to pursue deals. That's what he tried to do with Kim Jong-un. I worry that this is a case where, as with Kim Jong-un, he sends these love letters and they've kind of blown up at his face. Are we going to see that with Iran, where he tries to pursue a deal when we already had one that was working and we end up with nothing. That's the real concern.

KEILAR: It seems like no love letters lost here, right, when it comes to Iran, I will say. Thank you so much, Professor Talmadge, we really appreciate your insight.

And I do want to get to the Pentagon. We're following some breaking news just now. I want to bring in CNN Pentagon Reporter Ryan Browne. What's this about, Ryan?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Brianna, we're learning now that the U.S. military attempted to target another Iranian official the same day they killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The U.S. had actually attempted to target another top Iranian official, this time in Yemen.

Now, the operation was unsuccessful. Officials are telling my colleague, Barbara Starr. So we're not getting much detail. The Pentagon has not officially commented on this operation yet, but the story was first reported in The Washington Post, but officials telling Barbara Starr that this operation was unsuccessful.

Now, the U.S. military is in Yemen where it mostly targets the local Al Qaeda affiliate, conducts drone strikes and some limited on the ground operations. But the U.S. has long accused Iran and particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of arming rebels in Yemen, particularly the Houthi rebel group who have targeted Saudi Arabia with missile strikes and drone strikes.

The U.S. has had a presence there for some time. They keep a close watch on the situation. So it would have had pretty good intelligence on operations in Yemen, and particularly Iranian-linked ones, but it's unclear why this operation was unsuccessful.

But it appears the U.S., as part of its retaliation against the killing of an American contractor and against these threats that the administration have said Iran posed to U.S. interests in the region, the U.S. they tried to take out another top Iranian official, but this time, it was unsuccessful.

KEILAR: Even targeted, the fact that this was something they were trying to achieve is so significant, Ryan, what does this say to how U.S. strategy has changed or U.S. approaches to targeted killings has changed?


BROWNE: Well, it's a pretty major shift, right? I mean, the targeting of General Soleimani alone was a significant development. The U.S. had not killed a senior member of a government outside of war time, not by the U.S. military had not even done that even in war times since World War II. So that was a major development to begin with.

And the U.S. says he's a designated leader of a foreign terrorist group, but he's also a senior member of a government, and saying to the fact that they were willing to target a second official as part of this effort to stop a series of alleged terrorist plots and as well as retaliation for those earlier rocket attacks on U.S. bases really does show that the U.S. was really attempting to send a very strong message in the hopes of restoring some kind of deterrence to prevent Iran from taking this kind of action, but, again, a very significant revelation that the U.S. was willing to target a second official, albeit unsuccessfully. Brianna?

KEILAR: It is big news. Ryan Browne, thank you for catching us up.

And in the meantime, it looks like President Trump's impeachment trial could be just around the corner. In a letter to Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she plans to hold a vote to appoint impeachment managers sometime next week.

Pelosi has been facing mounting pressure from members in her own party for her decision to hold those articles, withhold those articles from the Senate for this long. But some Democrats claim that it's been worth it.


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): We want a fair trial, and we've been talking about this all week. And we believe that since we voted on the articles, while urgent to hold this president accountable, it's just as important not to send these articles to a rigged-out Congress. So since we've held on to them, John Bolton has come forward. We've gotten new information from Just Security and the documents that have been produced. And I think the public sentiment has shifted against Mitch McConnell in their demands for a fair trial over in the Senate.


KEILAR: And joining me now to discuss all things impeachment is former House GOP Investigative Counsel Sophia Nelson and CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

So we know, Gloria, that there were Democrats who were getting frustrated with the speaker's approach here. Even one of her chairman, Adam Smith, said he thought she should send them over, only about-face just a few hours after.

So I wonder then, is it that she was just sort of -- was this like a predetermined amount of time she was waiting it out or -- and then she tells Smith just pipe down because I'm going to send them over soon anyways, or was this her capitulating to her caucus?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think Nancy Pelosi ever capitulates to anyone. Look, this was an epic battle between Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell. And she wanted him to give her something, which was an outline of the rules and how the trial was going to go, and he said, it's just not going to happen.

And I think at a certain point, Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats understand that they need to get this going. There is a presidential campaign going on. A bunch of senators will be stuck in the Senate during this trial. So I think what you just heard from the congressman is what Nancy Pelosi said in her letter today, which was, look at how much more we learned while I held this.

And, you know, she learned about the emails about Ukraine, and John Bolton now wants to testify if he's subpoenaed, and so they can make their political argument, which is, we wanted everything to get out there, we were pushing for a fair trial, and now we have a better case for witnesses than we had before, so I'll send it over.

KEILAR: What do you think, Sophia?

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: My grandmother used to say, crazy like a fox. That's Nancy Pelosi. She's very smart. And I have been a big supporter of her holding the articles.

First of all, let me make clear legally and constitutionally, there is nothing that governed, when they have to go over, the House has the sole power to impeach, the Senate to try. The founders didn't put in language that it has to be done within 30 days or ten days. So she's been on safe ground legally and constitutionally since then.

KEILAR: The question is politically.

NELSON: Right, so I was getting to that. 72 percent in the latest poll of the public believes there should be witnesses. 72 percent, I don't know if that's a CNN poll or what network, but I saw it this morning, and it's important because I think there has been a shift where people say, well, any trial I know of, there are witnesses. And there have been, in no impeachments the Senate has ever conducted, they have not had witnesses.

So I think Mitch McConnell, like I said before, I think they will get witnesses, but they'll do what they did in the Clinton trial, they'll start. And I think the argument will be made and I think they'll have to hear from witnesses. I want Bolton, as we all do, but it will be interesting to see.

BORGER: You need four Republicans though.

NELSON: Right. And if you can't get four Republicans to believe fundamentally fairness of having witnesses, the party is in deeper trouble than I thought.

KEILAR: What do you think? That there is a chance of of convincing four Republicans?

BORGER: It's hard to know.


This is such a dynamic story. It seems to change every day. I mean, Bolton announces this week that he's willing to be subpoenaed, that's a pretty big deal. Because if Republicans are complaining that the Democrats only have hearsay testimony and this case is based entirely on hearsay, well, here's someone who is at the epicenter of everything and who is actually in the room with the president.

KEILAR: Yes. But let me ask you this, Sophia, because, clearly, he could claim privilege on his conversations with the president, some of them. But a lot of the conversations in question weren't with the president. They were with Fiona Hill or Ambassador Sondland or Rudy Giuliani. What do you think we could learn?

NELSON: Let's not forget that Bolton called this a drug deal. Obviously, he didn't mean a literal drug deal, but he was using a metaphor for what Trump and Giuliani were, quote, cooking up. That's a pretty powerful statement. And I don't think he can claim privilege on everything. I agree, as the national security adviser, he had conversations with people that have testified. He's tweeting. He's shopping a book deal. So if you ask me (ph), he's waving some of his privileges because he's out there talking about it.

KEILAR: Sophia, Gloria, thank you both.

And first on CNN, some stunning video of another dangerous encounter with the Russian military as one of their ships approaches a U.S. destroyer.

Plus, a Republican congressman now apologizing after saying Democrats love terrorists.


KEILAR: Congressman Doug Collins is walking back a comment he made earlier this week aimed at Democrats after President Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general. In a series of tweets today, Collins says, he does not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists.

But earlier this week, this is what he said on Fox News.


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 were the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That's a problem.


KEILAR: Yesterday, I spoke to Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, a combat veteran who lost both of her legs in an attack in Iraq, and she took personal offense Collins' remarks.


SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): I'm not going to dignify that with a response. I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists. I don't need to justify myself to anyone.


KEILAR: Joining us now CNN Congressional Reporter Lauren Fox.

Lauren, what do you make of this step-back moment by the congressman and just look farther ahead for us what this means for Doug Collins?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, you know, Brianna, this is a rare moment in Washington where someone says something that they regret and then they apologize. In a series of tweets, Collins wrote, quote, let me be clear. I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists and I apologize for what I said earlier this week. The comment I made on Wednesday evening was in response to a question about the War Powers resolution being introduced in the House and House Democrats' attempt to limit the president's authority.

As someone who served in Iraq in 2008, I witnessed firsthand the brutal death of countless soldiers who were torn to shreds by this vicious terrorist. Soleimani was nothing less than an evil mastermind who killed and wounded thousands of Americans. These images will live with me for the rest of my life. But that does not excuse my response on Wednesday evening.

Now, I talked with a Collins aide who told me that this was really a moment where Collins just thought about what he had said, he saw how it affected some of his Democratic colleagues, and he thought he needed to set the record straight.

Of course, we should say that some Republicans did vote for that War Powers resolution yesterday. In fact, three of them did. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he told lawmakers about Soleimani's alleged plot targeting a U.S. embassy, but several lawmakers say that never happened in the briefing that they got from Pompeo and other administration officials. So which is it? I'll ask a senator who was in that briefing about that, next.



KEILAR: A short time ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doubled down on his assertion that the targeted killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was the result of an imminent threat. Pompeo was visibly annoyed with all of the questions that he was getting, especially when one reporter asked this.


REPORTER: Here today at the podium, you said that the imminent threat was a threat to U.S. embassies, you didn't know precisely when and where. Last night, the president said it was threat embassies, including to our Baghdad embassy. Why couldn't you say that here when the president could say it at a rally in Toledo, but no one said it to lawmakers behind closed doors in a classified setting as multiple senators have since then?

POMPEO: We did. We told them about the imminent threat. All of the intelligence that we've briefed that you've heard today, I assure you, in an unclassified setting, we have provided in the classified setting as well.

REPORTER: To be clear, you told them the embassies were to be targeted. That was the imminent threat.

POMPEO: I'm not going to talk about the details of what we shared in the classified setting.


KEILAR: I'm joined now by Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He serves on the Appropriations Committee and the Budget Committee. And you were in that briefing, sir. So thank you so much for joining us so that we can try to get to the bottom of this.

Did he say that in the briefing, Secretary Pompeo or any of the other administration officials, that U.S. embassies were going to be targeted?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): So, Brianna, it's good to be with you. The answer is that no one at that briefing said what President Trump said publicly the other day, that they were going to bomb the embassy in Baghdad. And I want to be very clear. It's not only the case that they did not present evidence to show there was an imminent threat. The reality is that the facts they presented indicated, in my mind and anybody who understands what imminent threat means, that there was not an imminent threat.