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NEW DAY SATURDAY

Iran Admits Its Military Accidentally Shot Down Ukrainian Passenger Plane, Killing All 176 People On Board; President Trump Claims Iranian General Qasem Soleimani Planned To Blow Up Four U.S. Embassies; President Trump Says He Would Invoke Executive Privilege To Block John Bolton From Testifying In Impeachment Hearing; Trump Suggests He's OK With Pulling U.S. Troops Out Of Iraq; CNN Poll Shows Tight Race In Final Weeks Before Democratic Caucuses. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired January 11, 2020 - 06:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iranian leaders now admit the Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed on Wednesday was targeted and shot down unintentionally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're putting their hand up and saying yes, it was them and they're putting their hand up and saying that yes, they made a giant and fatal error.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really hits close to home when it's such a tight-knit community. There are no words. I think most of the community is still in shock and disbelief.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: When it comes to Bolton, President Trump has just made it clear he wants him nowhere near the witness stand.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, but especially --

LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, FOX NEWS: Are you going to invoke executive privilege?

TRUMP: Well, I think you have to for the sake of the office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's more likely that what's driving this is that John Bolton has something to say that's going to be harmful to Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is part of the president's ongoing desire to stonewall first the impeachment inquiry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY WEEKEND with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Want to say good morning to you. Always grateful to have you here. You know, the President of Iran says it was a terrible catastrophe, that they're deeply sorry. We want to wish you a good morning not only here in the United States, but around the world.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: The leader of Iran now admits its military accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board. That flight was headed from Tehran to Kiev and this morning, Ukraine's president is demanding a full and open investigation.

PAUL: And we have new video showing the moment that plane went down. Several people are now questioning why the Iranian government allowed that flight to take off in the first place.

BLACKWELL: Our reporters are covering all angles of this story around the globe. Let's start with CNN's Frederik Pleitgen. He's in Tehran. What is Iran saying about why the plane was hit?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor. It's actually quite remarkable because after days of denying that this aircraft was shot down by one of its missiles, the Iranians are now coming out and admitting it and they're literally coming out with a flurry of information as to what led to this and how this could happen. They say that after the strikes that they conducted on those bases in Iraq with U.S. forces on them, they were fearing that the U.S. would strike back.

They then say that they picked up a lot of signals on their radars and apparently had some information that possibly there were cruise missiles flying towards Iran. Now, that's key because this Ukrainian Airlines plane took off and the Iranians say that it made a turn towards what they call a sensitive Revolutionary Guard. That's the most elite unit of Iran's military towards that base and they said at some point, it was at a flight level, so at an altitude, and flying in a direction that it was mistaken for a cruise missile and that's, in effect, why it was mistakenly shot down.

Quite interesting because just now, the head of the Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Defense Forces, so the commander in charge of their surface-to-air missiles, he came out and he said that the Ukraine -- that the plane was misinterpreted for being a cruise missile. He said the operator of that surface-to-air missile battery tried to get in touch with his commanders, but couldn't reach them, only had 10 seconds whether or not -- to decide whether or not to shoot the object down, obviously decided catastrophicly to do so and then it turned out that that object was a plane. It was a commercial airliner.

The Revolutionary Guard says that it informed authorities on Wednesday already that it had fired at something in the air. However, the thing that happened first then was that the Iranian military started conducted its own operation and they say that the civil authorities simply didn't know that that plane had really been shot down by a missile at that point in time and that's what then led to that turn of events.

So the Iranians now coming out with a lot of information and you guys are absolutely right, also Iranian politicians, the supreme leader coming out with a statement. Iran's president calling this an unjustifiable mistake, which is a sort of criticism of that era that you wouldn't normally hear here in Iran, criticizing the military for how this has been handled or how this was handled on that night.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, also coming out with a statement, apologizing to the Iranian nation, apologizing also to the other countries that lost citizens and of course to the relatives and loved ones of those who perished on that flight, Victor and Christi.

PAUL: All right. Frederik Pleitgen, so appreciate the report there. Thank you so much. Scott McLean is in Kiev.

BLACKWELL: Scott, Ukraine's president, who is in a very difficult position here, a position between the Iranians and the Americans, he issued this sharp statement about the crash. What is he saying?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Victor, I'm just going to let you go because we're actually starting a press conference between the CEO of the airline.

[06:05:00] PAUL: OK.

BLACKWELL: All right. So we're going to get back to Scott as soon as he gets the highlights of this news conference. Of course we'll bring those to you. We've got CNN's Richard Quest standing by. He's in Beirut.

PAUL: Yes. Richard, so we've learned that the flight data recorders from this flight are going to be downloaded in France. What do you know about that?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, the Iranians had said that they had the technology to do so, but they don't have the technology if the thing is damaged and it is damaged. There can't be a voice recorder we know shows that their power grid's (ph) cut off and it's just like it just stops and I would expect you're going to see exactly the same thing from the flight data recorder when the French authorities, the BEA, read that out and my guess is that the information will literally just stop when the missile hits the plane.

But we now know what happened and the Iranians have come up with a full-throated apology of what happened, but you've got to ask yourself now how much are they going to tell us in the investigation? Because we're seeing wreckage this morning, essentially it would have been very easy for any international investigator to have guessed what took place. The moment you see the fuselage, it becomes obvious there was military activity.

And from the international aviation point of view, the question is what the airlines answering now, where Scott McLean is, why did they let that plane fly? Other airlines had canceled flights. We've seen before with MH17 over Ukraine the dangers that happen. So there are lots of questions to be answered still. Now we know from Iran that they did shoot it down.

BLACKWELL: Richard, we've got a little extra time here because we didn't get Scott in because of that news conference.

QUEST: Sure.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you does this seem like it comes down to, as the Iranians are saying, the inability of one person to get in contact with another or is this a systematic failure that led to this potentially? A systemic failure I should say.

QUEST: It's both because -- yes, it's both because the systemic failure enabled the human failure to take place. I'm not at all surprised by the explanation. It sounds exceptionally credible that somebody saw something, had to make a -- look, the USS Vincennes was in exactly the same situation in 1988 when an Iran airplane was on descent into Iran and it had to make a decision what to do.

Now, the Iranian investigation will need to focus and we will need to know the results because other air forces, other militaries around the world, nobody comes to this table with clean hands, are in exactly the same situation and potentially could have made the same mistake. So civil aviation, military aviation, civil defense, they all need to learn the lessons of the mistake that took place in Tehran.

BLACKWELL: Richard Quest for us there in Beirut. Richard, thank you.

PAUL: Thank you, Richard. So in a new interview, President Trump is defending the U.S. drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani. CNN's Kristen Holmes following the very latest for us and Kristen, we know the president is revealing what he claims the Iranian General was targeting.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christi, and we just kind of want to back up here. This is all about the justification for launching this air strike that killed Soleimani. Was there sufficient evidence to essentially launch drones that killed the second most powerful man in Iran? And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are really pressuring the administration to see some of this evidence.

Now, the big question here is was there an attack, was there an imminent attack? And it really depends on who you ask. We have heard from numerous national security administration officials who have really contradicted each other. They've said anywhere from days do there was an imminent attack to really an unknown timeline and when it comes to justification, we've also heard multiple different story lines from President Trump himself.

Earlier on Thursday, he said that it was an attack to blow up the embassy in Baghdad. Then later on Thursday, he said that Soleimani was planning attacks on numerous embassies, including outside of Baghdad and then in an interview last night, take a listen to what he said.

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INGRAHAM: Don't the American people have a right to know what specifically was targeted without revealing methods and sources?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't think so, but we will tell you that probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad. But ...

INGRAHAM: Did they have large-scale attacks planned for other embassies and if those were planned, why can't we reveal that to the American people? Wouldn't that help your case?

TRUMP: Well, I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: OK. So this is the first time that we are hearing about these four embassies and I do want to note that there was a briefing on Capitol Hill, lawmakers briefed. Again, both sides of the aisle, they came out saying they hadn't really learned any information and after President Trump came out with this clip from this interview, we heard from several of these lawmakers who said that if this was the justification, they never heard about it from any intelligence briefing, any official, to-date.

[06:10:07]

BLACKWELL: He was also asked why he did not tell members of Congress before launching the strike to kill Soleimani. Tell us what he said.

HOLMES: Yes, Victor. I kind of want to jump right into what he said. I just want to note, he was basically mocking the idea that he would need congressional approval to launch such a strike. Take a listen to what he said.

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TRUMP: Can you imagine? They want us to call up and speak to crooked, corrupt politician Adam Schiff. Oh, Adam, we have somebody that we've been trying to get for a long time. We have a shot at him right now. Could we meet so that we can get your approval, Adam Schiff? And he'd say, well, let's do it in a couple of days. Oh, OK, let's meet in a couple -- it doesn't work that way, number one. Number two, they leak. Anything we give will be leaked immediately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: So you hear President Trump there saying that it doesn't work that way. Well, in the past, it has worked in that way. We know that at least the Gang of Eight has been notified when they take these kind of measures and we want to note here that it's not just because you have to let Congress know. It's because you're bringing a nation into a potential war situation.

That is why all of these levels are in place, but it just gives you another example here of President Trump doing things his own way. The people he let know were essentially his allies, his friends within Congress there, not done in the traditional path. And again, he mentions leaking, possibility that that could happen, but that is not really why we have these steps in place. We have these in place to protect the president, to protect the administration, to protect the people within our country. PAUL: All right. Kristen Holmes, thank you so much. Grateful for the update.

BLACKWELL: Well, President Trump does not want John Bolton to testify in the Senate impeachment trial. You'll find out why he's willing -- or what, rather, he's willing to do to keep his former national security adviser off the stand.

PAUL: And Jill Biden, Joe Biden's wife of course, addresses the president's attack on her family. We caught up with her as she makes her pitch to voters in New Hampshire just weeks before the Democratic caucuses.

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JILL BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN'S WIFE: We knew Donald Trump was going to be a difficult opponent, that he was never going to play fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: And millions are facing a triple storm threat today. Allison, more than just snow and rain coming with this storm.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. That's right. We're also talking the potential for debilitating ice and even tornadoes. We'll break down when and where coming up.

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[06:15:00]

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BLACKWELL: President Trump says he will likely invoke executive privilege to stop former national security adviser John Bolton from testifying in the Senate impeachment trial.

PAUL: The president preemptively defended his decision on "Fox News" last night by saying he'd be doing it to protect future presidents.

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INGRAHAM: Why not call Bolton? Why not allow him to testify? This thing is bogus. Why not allow Bolton to testify?

TRUMP: I would have no problem other than one thing. You can't be in the White House as president -- future, I'm talking about future, many future presidents -- and have a security adviser, anybody having to do with security and legal and other things, but especially ...

INGRAHAM: Are you going to invoke executive privilege?

TRUMP: Well, I think you have to for the sake of the office.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: For the sake of the office. Remember, Monday, Bolton said that he would cooperate if he was subpoenaed. Former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Shan Wu with us. Good morning, Shan.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, Christi.

PAUL: Want to get your reaction to that, first of all, the president's saying it is for other presidents sake, but he would -- he would practice executive privilege if he had to, he would invoke it. Is there significant reasoning, however, to prove it's necessity that he should not?

WU: Well, I think most presidents and their staffs would probably agree with the sentiment that they don't like the idea of anyone in that position testifying. That's going to be something shared universally. It's a little bit hard to swallow that President Trump's that concerned with the integrity and future of the office, but the sentiment has been there and other administrations have fought this idea of aids being subpoenaed to testify or wanting to come forward to testify.

In this case, though, there are significant differences, one of them being that Bolton's no longer working at the White House. Effectively, I don't see that Trump has any way to prevent him from testifying, even if he does assert the executive privilege.

PAUL: And we don't really know what he's going to say. There are some people who think he's going to get up there and he's going to reveal some incredible information about President Trump. At the same time, he's known to be a very loyal man. He could get up there and support him.

WU: That's exactly right and his position of course and what we've already heard from other testimony, evidence indicates that he can shed a lot of light on what happened and generally speaking, the president's defenders don't want any more light shed on this circumstance because they seem to think, and I think correctly, that it's all going to be negative.

One of the big problems here though is that there's not any real legal precedent for how you enforce the executive privilege except through the courts. Bolton can't be disciplined as an employee because he's not and honestly, for him, he faces kind of a balancing test which is where is he more likely to be hurt? It's more likely he's going to be held in contempt for not complying with a Senate subpoena. That's something obvious. The other one's pretty muddy right now, what can Trump really do to him?

PAUL: You know, Speaker Pelosi has said she believes that there has been a benefit to Democrats for her withholding the articles of impeachment up to this point, one of which is the fact that John Bolton came out and said I will testify if I'm subpoenaed. Beyond that, has the decision to withhold these articles favor the Democrats in any way?

WU: I think it has. Usually if we make the analogy to a criminal trial, the delay helps the defendant, but I think here it's really helped the prosecutors, the Democrats up. Besides the fact that the mere passage of time allowed Bolton to make this decision, there are other issues too.

[06:20:02]

That passage of time also allowed a court case which involved Bolton's deputy Kupperman to end up being dismissed, not on substantive grounds, but because the judge felt it was no longer relevant. That deprived Bolton of any excuse and gave him some cover to say, hey, it might be safe to come out now and testify.

Not only that, the overall pressure and time and new evidence that can come out every day allows the possibility that some Republican senators, and we're hearing a little bit of talk about that, might decide to vote in favor of allowing witnesses. So generally, I think it's been a win-win situation and it overall makes McConnell look a little bit weaker in this game.

PAUL: I want to ask real quickly about what we saw from President Trump with Laura Ingraham as well. He kind of doubled down on his idea that he does want this to go to trial, to a Senate trial. Let's listen.

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INGRAHAM: You want one.

TRUMP: So I'd like a trial and I'd love to have sleepy Joe Biden. I'd love to have his son. I call him Where's Hunter? I've changed his first name to Where. Where's Hunter? I'd love to have the whistleblower who wrote a fake report. The whistleblower is a person that is -- you know, you know who the whistleblower is. By the way, everybody knows who the whistleblower is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: So the president's basically saying he wants his chance to make his case at the end of the day, which really he could do at any time, but is this his way of detouring the conversation or are there legitimate questions that need to be answered about the Bidens and Ukraine?

WU: From the evidence we've seen, it really does not seem like there's any legitimate question about the Bidens behavior in the Ukraine. We have a saying in criminal trials, you don't want to promise what you can't deliver. The president is promising an awful lot. If anyone were to testified, this notion of the whistleblower report's fake, et cetera, that's all going to be completely shown as being false. So if I were his legal team, I would be really hoping that his plans don't come to fruition and that nobody testifies. Their best strategy really is to have no witnesses and I think they'll stick to that.

PAUL: All righty. Shan Wu, thank you for getting up so early to be with us. We always appreciate having you here.

WU: Good to see you.

PAUL: You too.

BLACKWELL: Now, the breaking news out of Iran admitting that they shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, there's a news conference happening right now. Ukrainian officials in Kiev are giving the latest information. We'll get you more from that news conference and from the Iranians.

PAUL: And we have an exclusive look inside the al Asad airbase in Iraq that was attacked by more than a dozen Iranian missiles. We'll give you that straight ahead.

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[06:25:00]

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PAUL: Breaking news for you this morning. Iran is admitting now that it did shoot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, that they did so by mistake and they blame human error.

BLACKWELL: Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 crashed Wednesday. All 176 people on board were killed. The crash happened as Iran launched the missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. Now, the military says the Ukrainian jet took a turn that brought it near a military base. Iran's president says those responsible will be prosecuted.

Joining me now is CNN Political and National Security Analyst, David Sanger. David, welcome back. Let's start there. President Rouhani says that those responsible will be prosecuted, but what will be or potentially could be the consequences for Iran from the rest of the world?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, I'm not sure there will be many consequences for Iran. Obviously first it starts that it's a great tragedy, but the second thing that you learn from this is that this is part of the unintended consequences of when you start up military action. The Iranians were I'm sure on high alert that the United States would be coming after them in retaliation for the attack on the bases. It's understandable why they were. They probably had poorly trained troops.

They didn't spend time thinking about enough about how you were going to identify commercial aircraft from military aircraft and, you know, they should have stopped all flights coming out of that airport, a moment that they wanted to actually see if they were going to be attacked by the U.S.. They failed to do that. That's a much bigger mistake than just somebody identifying the aircraft incorrectly.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Let's turn now to this conversation the president had, this interview. Pretty wide-ranging. I want to talk first about what the president has revealed, what he believed to be the imminent threat ahead of ordering the Soleimani strike. Watch.

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INGRAHAM: Don't the American people have a right to know what specifically was targeted without revealing methods and sources?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't think so, but we will tell you that probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad. But ...

INGRAHAM: Did they have large-scale attacks planned for other embassies and if those were planned, why can't we reveal that to the American people? Wouldn't that help your case?

TRUMP: Well, I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So David, it was a question from Laura Ingraham asking what can be revealed and the president just happens to reveal that he believes there were four embassies. It's been more than a week since the strike. Why has this message been so muddled from the administration?

SANGER: You know, I think it's been muddled in part because they used the word imminence at the -- at the beginning of the process. They said that there were imminent attacks planned.

[06:30:00]

That is more than just a casual phrase because an imminent attack then gives you the right to invoke international law in self-defense. And that's fundamentally their argument for why they were going after Soleimani. In the absence of imminence, what you have is what Soleimani was doing and many other times, all of which was horrible.

Obviously, he was planning many attacks on Americans and others at various times. But for a variety of reasons, the president and his predecessors had determined that taking out the senior military leader in Iran could lead to more troubles than it would actually solve. And in the absence of imminence, you then have to ask a question, why did the president now conclude that this was the moment to go do it. And they had --

BLACKWELL: Yes --

SANGER: Simply failed to answer that question. Not only to us, but to those in Congress, including Republicans who consider the briefing they got to be insufficient.

BLACKWELL: Yes, let's quickly go to the U.S.' future in Iraq, the Iraqi Prime Minister is now asking for the U.S. to provide options on troop withdrawals. The State Department says that the U.S. does not want to withdraw. Here's what the president said about the potential of pulling U.S. troops out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: You ran on pulling out --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes --

INGRAHAM: Of the Middle East --

TRUMP: I don't --

INGRAHAM: Why not use this opportunity to say --

TRUMP: I'm OK --

INGRAHAM: We're done.

TRUMP: I'm OK with it. By the way --

INGRAHAM: You're OK with removing our troops from Iraq --

TRUMP: That's what they say -- listen, just so you understand. That's what they say publicly, they don't say that privately because if we leave, that means they're not going to be able to --

INGRAHAM: But why not leave?

TRUMP: I'm not so bad with it.

Well, I think it's the worst thing that could happen to Iraq. If we leave, that would mean that Iran would have a much bigger foothold and the people of Iraq do not want to see Iran run the company -- the country. That I can tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So, last night he said -- he's not so bad with it, his phrasing. Wednesday, he said that Iran would rush in. How good or bad would it be for U.S. interest, for the U.S. to pull troops out of Iraq? And what do you make of the 48-hour flip from the president?

SANGER: Well, it would be bad for the same reasons that it was bad when the United States pulled a small number of troops out of Syria and left that part of Syria in the hands of Russia and Iran. In the case of Iraq, the president has often said that he is eager to pull American forces out of Iraq. And so now, he's caught between his instinct for withdrawal and his other instinct which is a recognition that having confronted Iran with the Soleimani killing, he's now sort of dedicated the United States to putting more forces into the region.

And you saw him sort of playing that out in the course of his two-part answer in the interview. So, the president right now has -- is facing the reality that the United States has always said it is in Iraq --

BLACKWELL: Yes --

SANGER: At the invitation of the Iraqi government. And guess what? The invitation is going away. BLACKWELL: All right, we'll see if -- what the next step is, and if

those options are offered. David Sanger, always good to have your insight.

SANGER: Thank you very much, appreciate it.

PAUL: Inside the al Asad Airbase in Iraq, the one that was hit by more than a dozen ballistic missiles, we have a CNN exclusive for you.

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[06:35:00]

PAUL: Let's look at the calendar this morning. One month away from New Hampshire, three weeks away from Iowa, three days until the final debate before voting in the Democratic caucuses. And Americans still divided between four top candidates.

BLACKWELL: Yes, let's look at the new CNN-"Des Moines Register" poll, it's out of Iowa. It finds that Senator Bernie Sanders has some momentum here, 20 percent of voters' support, followed by Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts, 17 percent. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 16 percent, and former Vice President Joe Biden at 15 percent.

PAUL: Now, I want to make it clear, Sanders' support has increased 5 points since November. Buttigieg, Mayor Buttigieg, Mayor Pete appears to be headed in the opposite direction right now, lost 9 points between now and November. Both Biden and Warren have remained relatively even since last month. And Jill Biden is hitting the campaign trail now, making her pitch to voters to help her husband Joe win the Democratic nomination, of course.

BLACKWELL: Now, former Vice President says her presence draws energy to the trial. CNN's Arlette Saenz caught up with her in New Hampshire this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My name is Joe Biden and I am Jill Biden's husband.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jill Biden is married to a 2020 frontrunner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome Dr. Biden.

SAENZ: She's quickly becoming a campaign headliner of her own.

JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: If the election were held today, who would you want to step in to clean up this mess?

SAENZ: Former second lady crisscrossing the early states. Here in New Hampshire this week with young voters, meeting with volunteers and making her pitch at intimate house parties.

(on camera): How do you see your role in this campaign?

BIDEN: I see it as a -- as a partner. This is a critical time for me to support him because, you know, I want change. I mean, I want a new president.

SAENZ (voice-over): Like her husband, Biden is frustrated with the current occupant of the White House.

[06:40:00]

Biden watched as her husband and son Hunter have become targets of President Trump.

BIDEN: We knew Donald Trump was going to be a difficult opponent that he was never going to play fair. I think we were ready for whatever was going to come our way. But I think it's important that you move forward in a positive way.

SAENZ: Joe Biden has faced criticism from his Democratic rivals. Bernie Sanders saying he has too much baggage and can't excite voters to beat Trump.

BIDEN: I say that's ridiculous. I don't like it that Democrats attack other Democrats. We're in this race against Donald Trump.

SAENZ (on camera): Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she said that Democrats can be too big of attempts. Is she right?

BIDEN: No, she's not right. Democrats can't win without independent support. A lot of people come up to me, Arlette, and a lot of people say, you know, I voted for Trump last time, but I'm sorry I did it. And they said, I want to vote for someone who is pragmatic, who's a moderate, who's reasonable, who can achieve things. And that's my husband.

SAENZ (voice-over): Off the campaign trail, Biden's devoted her life to teaching, even working at a community college as second lady. But this semester, she's taking a break from the classroom to help her husband to win the nomination.

BIDEN: I just took a leave of absence. But if we get to the White House, I mean, I think there would be no better message for teachers to say, hey, look who we are.

SAENZ: As she jumps from stop to stop, Biden says she draws energy from life on the trial.

BIDEN: You know, it's invigorating. Look at those women I just met. I mean, they were so much fun. I meet really interesting people all over the country and hear their stories.

SAENZ: Arlette Saenz, CNN, Concord, New Hampshire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: And CNN is the place to be for the next Democratic presidential debate. The debate is in partnership with the "Des Moines Register", it's on Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

PAUL: Listen, stay with us, an exclusive live look inside the airbase in Iraq that was attacked by more than a dozen Iranian missiles. Our Arwa Damon is going to be on the scene for us here. Stay close.

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[06:45:00]

BLACKWELL: This forecast is intense because we've got the possibility of flooding and ice and tornadoes maybe. Millions of people across the country are facing the severe weather threat today. A powerful storm system is moving across a lot of the country.

PAUL: And meteorologist, Allison Chinchar is tracking it for us. So, tornadoes in January?

CHINCHAR: You know, it's actually not as rare as you would think it would be especially in the south. Now, yes, rare for a place like Minnesota to get tornadoes in January. But they're actually going to be on the colder side of this. The main threat for tornadoes is actually going to be on the southern side.

This is a look at the storm system. Notice, it stretches from Michigan all the way back towards Texas. Some of the worst of it just now starting to arrive in the cities like Memphis and even places like Jackson and Mississippi. You have tornado warnings, severe thunderstorm warnings up and down that stretch. As I mentioned, from Memphis all the way back down through Baton Rouge.

And that system is going to continue to slide through the east throughout the day today, taking with it the potential for severe storms. So, cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, even New Orleans, all looking at the potential for damaging winds, some very large hail, in excess of golf ball size.

And yes, even some tornadoes. Four reported tornadoes as of yesterday. That number likely to go up. And you can see that line as it continues to push off to the east, even across portions of the Mid-Atlantic and into the northeast tomorrow. But there is another side to this particular storm, not just tornadoes.

We're also talking winter weather. Yes, there's going to be snow. Yes, there's going to be sleet, but ice is going to be one of the biggest concerns, especially in a state like Michigan where you could end up getting half an inch, three-quarters of an inch, maybe even as much as one inch of ice. That is a tremendous amount of ice.

That's really debilitating in terms of not only travel, guys, but also the potential to have widespread power outages. But look, even smaller amounts of ice stretch all the way back south into places like Oklahoma and even, yes, into areas of Texas. Snow will also be heavy across portions of Illinois, Wisconsin, and especially into Michigan, that during, Christi, where they could get 8, 10, if not even as much as 12 inches of snow before the system finally exits.

PAUL: An inch of ice. How long would that take to melt?

BLACKWELL: Yes --

PAUL: I mean -- I don't even -- I don't even know.

BLACKWELL: The power outages --

CHINCHAR: Days --

PAUL: Yes --

BLACKWELL: Alone.

PAUL: Wow, Allison, thank you so much.

CHINCHAR: Thanks.

PAUL: So, do stay with us because we're going to take you to al Asad Airbase in Iraq for a CNN exclusive.

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[06:50:00]

PAUL: So, the future of U.S. troops in Iraq is in question this morning after the Iraqi Prime Minister has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to start the process of withdrawal.

BLACKWELL: Now, hours after the State Department dismissed the request by saying that troops are crucial for the fight against ISIS, the president told "Fox News" that he'd be OK with pulling out of Iraq. Now, U.S. troops are stationed at the al Asad Airbase that was hit with more than a dozen ballistic missiles.

The missiles hit areas of the base that were not occupied by troops. And CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon was the first journalist to gain access to that air base.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): These used to be living quarters. This is where the troops would sleep, at least one of the areas. There is almost nothing left. Nothing that was salvageable, we were told. The crater itself impacted over here, and it was one of 10 impacts that happened. Being here, it's truly extraordinary how anyone managed to survive.

That there were no casualties when you look at the destruction, and then hearing all of the stories of the close calls, of the heroics. What we are now learning is that there was advanced warning to a certain degree. They knew something was going to happen. They just didn't know what.

[06:55:00]

And about 11:00 p.m. at night, those that were able to go to the bunkers went to the bunkers. But there were still troops that were out manning posts. That because of the security situation, they had to stay at. So people were beginning to take shelter at around 11:00 p.m., and then at 1:34, that's when the first impact happened.

A lot of those who we are talking to are saying that it was unlike anything they had ever imagined. Of course, on the one hand, the training does kick in. But at the end of the day, this is a terrifying experience, a terrifying situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Arwa Damon joins us now from Baghdad with more of her exclusive reporting. To be transparent here, there was more of that report, but because of the difficulties of getting that signal from al Asad there in Baghdad to us, it kind of broke up. So, we want to continue with the conversation here.

And there's a portion which you talk about it being a miracle that there were no casualties. Talk more about why you say that and what you saw there, Arwa?

DAMON (via telephone): Yes, first of all, we're still actually at al Asad airbase. It is very difficult to transmit from here for a number of reasons. But when you actually arrive here and begin talking to the troops that lived just through this, you realize just how dangerous of a situation it was. And on the one hand, the U.S. military readiness really played a significant role in the fact that no U.S. troops were injured or worse.

And also, the fact that they had advanced warning. We don't know exactly what kind, what the intelligence was. That's obviously sensitive information. But they knew a few hours beforehand that something was coming. So at 11:00 p.m., like you heard in that report, people began to take shelter in bunkers. Some of them actually sheltering in Saddam-era bunkers that were built by that former regime.

But there were still troops that were out manning positions that they couldn't abandon because, remember, there was also the potential threat of some sort of a ground assault. The first strikes happened at 1:34 in the morning. There were four volleys happening over the course of about two hours. Those who we're talking to here say, it was unlike anything they have ever experienced.

Just remember, these are, you know, troops that are used to mortars coming in. Many of them have seen combat, some are on multiple tours to Iraq. This everyone says was like nothing they had ever experienced. We're hearing all sorts of stories of very close calls. Of a missile impacting just a few feet away from where people were sheltering inside a bunker.

And because a key wall fell over, they think that that's why those lives were saved. Other stories of how one soldier was jumping out of a guard tower just as missiles were landing around. So, you do really get the sense that there were a number of factors at play that night for those who were here at the al Asad Airbase. There was the fact that precautions were taken, that they had this

advanced warning from their intelligence. But also that they were able to continue to operate to a certain degree, do rounds, try to move people out of harm's way as this was all unfolding. Very dramatic scenes here.

BLACKWELL: Arwa Damon for us. The first western journalist to get access to al Asad Airbase where those missiles struck last Thursday. Arwa, thank you for that exclusive reporting. We've got more of the breaking news -- Iran accepting responsibility for shooting down that Ukrainian jet, 176 people on board. That continues at the top of the hour.

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