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Iran Admits It Shot Down Passenger Plane By Mistake; Trump Claims Iranian General Planned To Blow Up U.S. Embassies; Bolton Was Mentioned By Many House Impeachment Witnesses; Pelosi To Send Articles To Senate Next Week; Trump Suggests He's "OK" With Pulling U.S. Troops Out Of Iraq; Iowa Voters Divided Over Dem Candidates Weeks Before Caucuses; Future Of Royal Couple Uncertain As Meghan Returns To Canada. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired January 11, 2020 - 07:00   ET





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 say: 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 and 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 HOST: When it comes to Bolton, President Trump has just made it clear he wants him nowhere near the witness stand.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: He's provoking executive privilege?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think you have to, for the sake of the office.

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

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): This is part of the President's ongoing desire to stonewall the -- first the impeachment inquiry.


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

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: The president of Iran says it was a terrible catastrophe and they're deeply sorry. Good morning. We have the latest on the breaking news. The Leader of Iran now admits its military accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane and killed all 176 people on board.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: That flight was headed from Tehran to Kiev. And this morning, Ukraine's president is demanding a full and open investigation.

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

PAUL: Our reporters are covering all angles of this story from around the globe. We have all of them for you.

BLACKWELL: Let's start with CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Tehran. Fred, we learned that the commander of the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the aerospace force told authorities on Wednesday that a missile shut down that that passenger plane. Why we're just hearing about this now?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he says that essentially what happened was that the military apparently opened an internal investigation before then putting out the information to the, the actual civil authorities. That's why we're just hearing of this now.

But I actually have a flurry of new information because that was a press conference that the head of the Aerospace Forces of the Revolutionary Guard gave, and it gives a lot of detail actually, after, you know, the Iranians have been saying for a couple of days now that they didn't shoot down that airline and not putting out much info.

Now, he's coming out with a flurry of information on what exactly happened and how that plane shot down. He says, that at that time, the Iranians were fearing that the U.S. might strike back after the Iranian shot ballistic missiles at those bases, one of which Arwa was actually just that in the last hour in Iraq with U.S. troops on them. And they said that they believed or they seem to indicate that there might be cruise missiles flying towards Iranian territory.

So, obviously, their forces, they say we're on the highest status of alert. They were on a war footing at that point in time. And he says that this plane, the Ukrainian Airlines plane took off, and then at some point was at a trajectory, was at an altitude and was going in a direction where they believed that it might be a cruise missile going towards a sensitive Revolutionary Guard base.

He said that the commander of that surface to air missile battery that eventually shot that plane down, identified the plane or misidentified the plane as a cruise missile. He wasn't sure, though, he tried to check back with his command, couldn't get through. They say that he had 10 seconds to decide whether or not to fire the missile, and then in effect, obviously did fire that missile mistakenly shot that plane down.

The Iranians are saying there's going to be a full investigation going on that the folks behind this or that that are responsible for this are going to be held to account and they obviously are now saying that there is going to be a transparent investigation as well. But, Victor, the one of the things that you said before is also something that was addressed by this commander.

The question why the airspace wasn't closed off at that point in time, and he claims -- this is the commander of Iran's Aerospace Forces, so this is a guy who's really high up in the hierarchy. He said that after the ballistic missile strike on those U.S. installations, or Iraqi installations with U.S. forces on, he asked for the airspace to be closed.

But he says that the chain of command fails to relay that request to the civilian authorities, and also to the, to the air authorities here in here in Iran as well. And that is why the airspace was not closed off. So, it seems as though there was a breakdown there in the chain of communication that then caused the airspace to still be open and for planes to still be allowed to fly in and out of the Imam Khomeini Airport from where that Ukrainian Airlines flight took off.

The Iranians, I just want to want to say real quick, Iran's president has come out, Iran's Foreign Minister have come out. Iran's president calling this an unjustifiable, both also apologizing for the shooting down of this plane, offering their condolences, obviously to their own citizens. This is obviously a huge thing because most of them were either Iranian or a dual national and then obviously to all those who lost loved ones in that, in that incident, guys.


BLACKWELL: 176 people lost their lives. Fred Pleitgen for us there in Tehran. Thank you.

PAUL: I want to go to CNN's Richard Quest now who's in Beirut. Because Richard, we've learned the flight data recorders from that flight are going to be downloaded in France. What can you tell us?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, the French are going to be doing it because the damage -- the data recorder is damaged and they want to obviously get the best. And the French have the experience here and I don't expect the recorders will tell us much. They probably both stopped recording through a total loss of power after the missile struck. That's what we saw with MH-17.

It's the -- it is the debris and the wreckage that's going to show us and the pictures, we are seeing already are very clear. You can see the external protrusions where the force will have come through, and you can see the missile parts that will have gone into the aircraft. I think Fred is making a very good point for civil aviation and for people who are traveling and this is the question of why the Iranian systems did not close down the space.

Why was there confusion? Related to that, of course, and I know you'll be talking to Scott up in Kiev in a second or three, why Ukrainian airlines flew that flight anyway? This is an issue, guys, that goes to the heart of civil aviation.

It's a real, everyday problem for international airlines who have to fly over these war zones, or where there's military activity: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen. These are all places where if you're going to traverse the globe, you have to sometimes work out how to go across, round or avoid.

And what we're seeing here is two questions: one, why did the airline fly? They said they have no evidence. They have no comments. Why should they not? Two, why didn't Iran close the airspace? And a third, I'll throw one in, why the international agencies didn't also ask for the space to be closed?

BLACKWELL: All important questions. Let's go now to Scott McLean. He's in Kiev.

PAUL: Scott, good morning.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey guys, sorry about that. You're right. We just got on a press conference with the CEO and the Vice President of Ukraine International Airlines where they came prepared to answer that very question that Richard had posed, why did that plane take off to begin with? And they actually gave us a slideshow presentation really taking pains to explain that this flight did everything right.

It took the proper flight path when it took off, it was at the right altitude, it had taken the same path as other flights on the same day, both before and after. The only thing that was out of the ordinary that day is that the flight was delayed because they had to take some baggage off of the plane in order to make it lighter so that they could take off. They spin the blame squarely on the Iranians, to Richard's point, for not closing the airspace.

And obviously, the, the mistake that they made in in firing this missile, they say, that that Iran needs to take responsibility for this without reservation. And the -- sorry, they also talked about how not that the Iranians or the Ukrainians warned, warned them about what was potential danger out there.

My point or my question was given the fact that the authorities the Iranians, and the international authorities failed in any official way to warn them that there could have been danger, why they should trust them in the first or in the future? And whether or not the airline had some responsibility then to follow the media reports.

If you hadn't been checking the media, even hours before that, you would have known that Iran had fired missiles into Iraq at U.S. targets creating a pretty volatile situation. In response, the company's vice president made clear that look, they're not going to be flying to Iran anymore. But he didn't address my question when I asked about whether or not the airline has any, any responsibility to be checking other sources other than the official notifications in the future. PAUL: All right, Scott McLean for us there in Kiev. Thank you, Scott.

BLACKWELL: Now, there's a new interview in which President Trump defends the U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani and CNN Kristen Holmes is following the latest. Kristen, the President is talking about what he claims the Iranian general was targeting. And it's the first time we're hearing this, what did he say?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Victor. And I kind of want to take a step back here, just to really pinpoint the pressure that the administration is feeling right now on the justification of that U.S. drone strike, was there sufficient evidence to essentially take out the second most powerful man in Iran? And there's two big questions: one was, how imminent was the threat that Soleimani posed and what exactly was the threat? So, let's talk about first that timeline, the imminence there.


National security officials can't really seem to get it straight. We have heard conflicting remarks over and over again where people have said something from a happening immediately to really unknown timeline that they just know that Soleimani was a bad guy and he had bad plans, which of course, nobody negates everyone thinks that Soleimani was a bad man.

Now, when it comes to what exactly that threat was. President Trump has offered a series of justifications. He started on Thursday by saying that Soleimani wanted to blow up the embassy in Baghdad, then later that evening. He shifted to attacks were plotted by Soleimani against multiple embassies, including outside of Baghdad. And then, in this interview last night, here's what he said.


TRUMP: I can reveal that I believe it would have been for embassies, and I think that probably Baghdad already started. They were really amazed that we came in with that kind of a force. We came in with very powerful force and drove them out, you know, that ended almost immediately. But Baghdad certainly would have been deleted. But I think it would have been for embassy, could have been military bases could have been a lot of other things, too. But it was eminent and then all of a sudden, he was gone.


HOLMES: So, the reason why there's a big question mark over this is the fact that top U.S. officials, defense officials, administration officials went up to Capitol Hill earlier this week to brief lawmakers, senators, as well as congressman tell them what exactly the threat was. Those senators have since said that they never heard that there was an imminent plot to attack these four embassies. So, a lot of questions surrounding when exactly this came out and why? If this is true, that these lawmakers were not notified.

PAUL: Did the President talked to that at all, though, about why that Congress -- why the lawmakers were not told in advance?

HOLMES: Well, he did talk about this in the interview last night and just to give a little context, this comes after know from sources that President Trump was furious that a vote was passed in the House that essentially limited his military capability in Iran without going through Congress. And here's what he said about getting congressional approval.


TRUMP: Can you imagine they want us to call up and speak to a 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 -- it doesn't work that way, number one. Number two, they leak. Anything we get will be leaked immediately.


HOLMES: So, you hear the President there really mocking the system, mocking the idea of getting congressional approval. And we should note that in the past, usually, presidents do at least inform Congress ahead of time, they talked to the Gang of Eight, that something like this is going to happen.

However, President Trump instead seems to have only consulted his closest allies in Congress, including Senator Graham. We know that Matt Gaetz was consulted as well talk to because he was up at Mar-a- Lago. So, really showing here how President Trump is at stepping out saying that this is not how he wants to do things, but it also shows the anger that we know from sources and obviously from that interview that he feels about that resolution being passed in the House.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kristen Holmes for us there at the White House. Thank you also to Richard quest in Beirut, Scott McLean there in Kiev, and Fred Pleitgen reporting from Tehran.

PAUL: So, President Trump doesn't want John Bolton testifying in the Senate impeachment trial. Find out what he's willing to do, he says, now to keep his former National Security Adviser off the stand.

BLACKWELL: Plus, Iowa voters are divided over which Democratic candidate they think can be President Trump in November. We talked to some folks about that and a whole lot more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The number one goal of the Democratic Party is to beat Trump and that's my number one goal. So, if this isn't the election for Bernie, it's not.


PAUL: And the Royal Family trying to decipher how to handle Duchess Meghan and Prince Harry's decision to distance themselves from the palace because it may not be as simple as some people think.



BLACKWELL: President Trump says that he will likely invoke executive privilege to stop former National Security Advisor John Bolton from testifying in the senate impeachment trial.

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


INGRAHAM: Why not call Bolton? Why not allow him to testify? This thing is bogus. I'd like to have 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 advisor. Anybody having to do with security and legal and other things.

INGRAHAM: You're going to invoke executive privilege.

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


PAUL: Now, Monday, remember, Bolton said he will cooperate if he's subpoenaed.

BLACKWELL: With us now a congressional reporter for The Washington Post and CNN Political Analyst, Karoun Demirjian. Karoun, welcome back.


BLACKWELL: So, how does this potential invoking of executive privilege impact this ongoing argument between the Democrats and Republicans now moving over to the Senate of calling witnesses, the president says he's going to take Bolton off the table?

DEMIRJIAN: It's a new legal hurdle, basically. If John Bolton wants to go forward, and he wants to talk about discussions that he had directly with the president, and the president books, executive privilege over those, it's going to take quite the legal fight to be able to get Bolton to be able to do that freely. If one wants to go and talk about other things, though, the president does not have a blanket executive privilege that covers every conversation that's happened in a ministration.

So that other than the up to John Bolton to try and decide if he wants to cross the president. And in, the past when it was the House's process, he decided he didn't want to, even though there was no actual executive privilege invoked at that time. So, this is something that throws a monkey wrench into things and it would potentially delay and elongate the process of getting Bolton in front of the Senate to testify if the Senate can actually build up the votes to subpoena him in the first place.

BLACKWELL: House Democrats weren't willing to fight in court for our Senate Democrats.

DEMIRJIAN: It appears that they are but the question isn't really what are Senate Democrats are willing to fight for it? It's whether there are enough Republicans to join them because you need 51 votes to compel any of those subpoenas. And while these questions are privileged there, you know, it is possible for the Democrats to try to make the campaign and make the case and push for that vote.

They can't necessarily force for Republicans to cross the aisle. If they can, they're in a fairly powerful position because they'll be able to work down their list of potential witnesses that they hope actually do come before the Senate who did not participate in the House's process. And that right now has been kind of a central issue as we've been waiting for Nancy Pelosi to pass these Articles of Impeachment over.

Democrats want to see a fair trial that includes these witnesses. And they have limited leverage, though. I mean, they have the Articles of Impeachment in this last few weeks. But now the question is, can they pull the Republicans over because they need the numbers to be able to make this happen.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about Speaker Pelosi telling her colleagues and the rest of us now that next week, there's going to be this vote on naming managers and sending the Articles of Impeachment over to the Senate. I want to remind people, this is Democratic whip, James Clyburn of South Carolina in an exchange with John Berman, about the strategy of holding the articles, what they want for them, and how long at least he was willing to do that? Let's watch.


REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): And until we can get some assurances from the majority leader, that he is going to allow for a fair and impartial trial to take place. We would be crazy to walk in there, knowing he's set up a kangaroo court.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: How long are you willing to wait?

CLYBURN: As long as it takes cage, even if the if he doesn't come around to commit into a fair trial, keep those articles here.


BLACKWELL: So, there had been no assurances, no concessions. And Speaker Pelosi says the vote comes next week, why is she ending this standoff now?

DEMIRJIAN: Because this is not happening in a vacuum. Like there's intense political pressure on her to actually do this. And the question of how much leverage she had in the first place was kind of borne out by this time that's past. You saw a little bit more evidence come out, a few more e-mails. John Bolton said that he would testify under subpoena, but at the same time, you had Senate Republicans basically closing ranks and saying, no, we are -- we have the votes. Everybody's on board with the proceeding.

At least with proceedings to open up the trial and do it the way that there's various debates about what the Clinton precedent is, but to get going with the trial. And once you've lost the votes in the Senate -- this effectively is accounting game, right? And Nancy Pelosi is very good at counting. She doesn't usually count Senate votes; she counts house votes.

But in this case, the question underlying everything is the same. If you don't have the votes, you can stay in the standoff forever, and then that starts to cut away at this argument that the House Democrats had for the longest time, which is that this is an urgent thing, they had to investigate the president, they had to build an impeachment.

They want him to be convicted in the Senate, because they thought that he poses a threat to the next election. You can't talk about urgency for months and months, and then completely indefinitely, not passing over those articles. And I think that you started to see as much as the Democrats are making statements like Clyburn, a few weeks ago.

In the last few days, you've seen more and more Democrats say, I don't know why this is continuing to be a standoff. We really can't keep doing this. And then, of course, quickly retracting those statements because it follows he wasn't quite ready to move yet. But it appears that the, the political, the political time has come and Pelosi has recognize it as such to get this moving to the Senate which has the right to set its own rules of how it's going to go forward if it has the votes to do it.


BLACKWELL: Is that the end of Leader Schumer's leverage then, in these talks that have been going on and then stalled for a while, in coming up with the rules with, with Leader McConnell?

DEMIRJIAN: Not necessarily. It's a question of how well he reads the GOP and the moderates and the GOP who might be willing to -- who could be appeal to. And so, that's his now his challenge right now is just to speak across the aisle and get fined for Republicans who are willing to say, on principle, they would like to hear from the witnesses and they're willing to vote as such.

BLACKWELL: Karoun Demirjian, always good to have you.

DEMIRJIAN: Good to see you too.

PAUL: Well, still to come, Iran is promising a thorough investigation after admitting that it shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet. How a lack of communication could have contributed to that deadly missile strike?

BLACKWELL: Plus, the new CNN Iowa poll shows a type four-way race among the Democratic presidential front runners in the final weeks before the Democratic caucuses who is gaining momentum and who was not, that's a hit.



PAUL: Good morning to you. This morning, an Iranian commander says he told authorities about the missile that downed a Ukrainian passenger plane.

BLACKWELL: Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crashed Wednesday, all 176 people on board were killed. That was happening as Iran was launching missile strikes on Iraqi bases that were housing U.S. troops. The military says the jet took a turn that brought it near a military base, but the President of that airline says there were no advisories about possible threats to civilian aircraft at the time of takeoff.

PAUL: CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst and Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby with us, as well as David Andelman, a Foreign Correspondent for The New York Times and Contributor. Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.



PAUL: We should point out David has a book coming out as well: "Red Line in the Sand." So, wish you a good morning. Congratulations on the book, sir.

ANDELMAN: Thank you.

PAUL: I want to first start off with what is happening here with Iran this morning, in their admission that they shot down this Ukrainian plane, unintentionally. They, they called it an unjustified mistake.

With that, David, where does Iran go with this?

ANDELMAN: Well, where Iran goes with this is it -- they've made an apology. And this is -- we have to get back to how this all started. Remember, it all started with a strike on a senior Iranian general, and there's no question about that.

Of course, it all started well before that as well, Iran helping terrorists and terrorist organizations. But what we really need to do is go back to what the core mission of the United States is over there, to begin with, and we've forgotten about all of that as well, and that is to go after these very terrorist groups.

And I think what we need to do is really get back to that issue. What is our core mission? Our core mission in the Middle East, in Iraq, and Syria is to fight these terrorists, and we're getting away from all this.

Certainly, this plane should not have been flying in the air. The Iranians probably should not have allowed it to take off. Probably, there's enough blame to go around Ukraine, probably should not have allowed that plane to take a route like that. All other airlines have now basically, avoiding that entire airspace. And that's correct.

But the whole question then is, we can't lose sight of this really core mission of the United States in that area.

PAUL: So, we know that it was miscommunication is part of the reasoning for that plane being in the air at the time on the course that it was. We know that much, but Admiral, I'm wondering how much will -- how much will Iran have to -- have to reveal about the investigation? Because there are questions about that being in their territory?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Right. I -- obviously, we all hope that they are as transparent as possible here with international investigators and as cooperative as they can be. We'll have to see, this is not a regime that has been given to transparency and accountability. But they're saying the right things right now. And let's hope -- let's hope they follow up with action going forward.

I mean, I think to some degree, this investigation could expose fissures inside the Iranian government itself. I mean, the Revolutionary Guard is sort of a separate and distinct organization from the actual conventional military of Iran. And the Revolutionary Guard doesn't report the elected government the way the traditional forces do.

And so, the command and control structure of that group should be really closely focused on here. It's very clear to me just reading from Iranian statements that it was command in control. The flow of information and the interpretation and analysis of that information in real-time that fell apart here. And so I think they're really going to have to answer for that going forward.

PAUL: I -- David, you wrote in a recent article that by killing Soleimani, President Trump has provoked a power that has powerful friends and little to lose. How confident are you that -- as you were just talking about, the goal, what the goal, the end goal is here at the -- at the moment. How convinced are you or how comfortable are you with the U.S. moving forward and really having its sights set there?

ADELMAN: Well, I'm not telling that country that's the problem that does seem to be conflicting issues, for instance, about whether the United States troops should stay in Iraq or can stay in Iraq. We have got to find a way for them to stay there. There is no question about that, because that is Iraq and Syria, are the two core -- the really core locations of terrorist activity.

We also have to understand that we don't really need to take on Iran at this moment. And Iran is a very, very -- it's a powerful country, it's not like an Iran -- the Iran that was 20 or 30 years ago.

This has say -- they have a powerful and sophisticated military. The admiral was quite rightly pointing out the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij forces that have been really a powerhouse in the Middle East, and a very difficult powerhouse to deal with in the Middle East.

And they can summon a half a million soldiers were willing to go into battle carrying their own shrouds for committing what -- for being murdered and taken out. And this is a -- this is a terrible -- a terrible enemy that we have taken on if we do take them on. They are not our enemy. Our enemy is, in fact, a terrorist who we need to really root out and make sure that they do not have an ability to come back.

PAUL: Let's listen to President Trump last night when he was asked by Laura Ingraham about the troop withdrawal from Iraq, as you just mentioned. Here is what -- how -- here's how the president answered.


INGRAHAM: Notified Mike Pompeo about potential plans -- drawing up plans for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq period. You ran on pulling out of the Middle East.


TRUMP: I don't --

INGRAHAM: Why not use this opportunity to say we're done.

TRUMP: I'm OK, we're -- I'm OK with it. By the way, that's what they say.


INGRAHAM: You're OK with removing our troops in Iraq?

TRUMP: Listen, just so you understand. That's what they say publicly, they don't say that privately.


PAUL: Admiral Kirby, your reaction to withdrawing troops from Iraq.


KIRBY: Well, so, I think the president does have a point there. I mean, you have to -- if you look very closely at the statements that were issued by the Iraqi government the last few days, they talked about U.S. sending a delegation over there to discuss a mechanism for future withdrawal.

A mechanism, in other words, it's a step to a step, to a step. And there is division inside the Iraqi government about the presence of American forces on their soil. Obviously, there are -- there are many that those that are supported by Iran and the Shiite majority there that, that want troops out of -- out of the country.

And these -- the strike on Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport has also caused tensions in other blocks of the Iraqi parliament about American presence on the ground. But it's not clear that they want an immediate withdrawal, because the Iraqi government understands that the fight against ISIS is still ongoing, and they need American support, advice, and assistance. Some additional capabilities to continue to go after that.

Plus, there's a lot of tension in the Iraqi government about the pressure that they're getting from Iran, they will need a healthy relationship with their -- with their next-door neighbor, but they don't want to be dominated by Iranian politics and Iranian ideology.

So, they do want some sort of presence to, for the United States going forward. And I think, so the president, I think, was kind of alluding to that, like, yes, we know, they have to say some of these things for domestic purposes, but we also are getting indications that they don't necessarily want us out of there.


KIRBY: We need to try to manage this going forward in such a way that we don't force the Iraqis to have to choose because, because David's right, the fight against the terrorism is still ongoing. And I think our American forces can still continue to perform a valuable service over there.

PAUL: Real quickly, Russia and Iran. The Russia had -- Russia had a Navy spy vessel that was riding the bumper of a U.S. ship in the Arabian Sea. Maybe saying it got it's close to 100 -- is 150 feet to the -- to the U.S. ship as you can see there.

Admiral, where does this leave Russia? It -- I mean, especially now that Russia and Iran, both have come out rejecting intelligence from the US and allies that Iran had fired that missile and brought down the plane. And then we have this situation in the Arabian Sea, with Iran's acknowledgment this morning, where's Russia?

KIRBY: Well, so there's a couple of things, Russia and Iran, obviously have a close relationship and are -- and are mutually reinforcing one another in the region. Certainly, they have a shared interest of kicking United States out and undermining our national security interest in the region.

But this issue in the Arabian Sea is, I think, less have to do about Russia and Iran as it is to do with Russia. They're bellicosity and Putin's intention to reinforce a strong Russia on the world stage. To show that they are, in fact, a world power and equal to the task all over the world.

And he has been more aggressively using his naval forces to that end, not just in the black seas, we've seen over the last couple of years, but in the Mediterranean, and now, in the Middle Eastern waters as well.

This was a dangerous display here by the Russian naval commander, the CEO of that ship. That 150 feet is incredibly close. And you can see from the wake of those ships how fast they were moving, that's a lot of metal hurdling at one another. I suspect that the United States will demarche the Russians on this and make it clear that that's unacceptable. But this has been a recurring pattern of behavior for the Russian Navy now for a long time.

PAUL: Yes.

KIRBY: And it's very, very dangerous.

PAUL: All right, David Andelman, Admiral John Kirby, we appreciate both of you so much. Thank you.

KIRBY: Thank you.

ANDELMAN: You bet.

BLACKWELL: Democrats in Iowa are torn between candidates just a couple of weeks ahead of the caucuses there. And the situation with Iran is making it even harder for them to choose. We head to Iowa next.



BLACKWELL: Final stretch now before the Democratic caucuses exactly one month from the New Hampshire primaries. Three weeks away or so from Iowa. Three days until the final debate before voting, and yet, Americans are still divided. At least, the Democrats between the four top -- for four top candidates, I should say.

PAUL: Yes, there's a new CNN, Des Moines Register Poll out of Iowa. Here is what it finds. Bernie Sanders on the rise, holds 20 percent of voters support, followed by Senator Elizabeth Warren at 17 percent. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 16 percent. And former Vice President Joe Biden at 15 percent.

Now, here is the thing, Sanders supporters' increased five points since November. Mayor Pete appears to be headed in the opposite direction, dropped nine points since November.

Both Biden and Warren have essentially remained even. So, as the clock ticks down toward the Democratic caucuses, we went to Iowa to see which candidates are resonating with voters really.

BLACKWELL: And we found the escalating tension with Iran is making it harder for them to choose. CNN senior national correspondent Kyung Lah, reports.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi, Victor. Three weeks and counting to the Iowa caucuses. And a new CNN poll shows a tight four-way race at the top.

Bernie Sanders slightly ahead of Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden. So, why is this so tight at the top? And we spent a good bit of time in Iowa's coffee shops, at candidate forums, and talk to voters, and they say there are just still so many choices. Many of them are still undecided say they could change their minds. And they say the week's news makes it even tougher.




LAH: Because of all the news with Iran.


LAH: And the impeachment trial looming.


LAH: Is all of this converging to make it more difficult for you to choose?

SWANSON: It is. And it's not -- as I said earlier, it's not -- the struggle isn't necessarily which candidate stands for what I need to hear or want to hear. I need to hear from all of my potential candidates.

You know, there's five or six that I'm still trying to decide where do they stand on all the all -- where do all of them stand on these issues?

KURT WEAKLAND, UNDECIDED DEMOCRAT VOTER IN IOWA: I'm undecided right now. At first, I was -- I was leaning Pete, and may still go there.

MAYA SIMS, SUPPORTER FOR BERNIE SANDERS, IOWA: I think it's the number one goal of the Democratic Party is to beat Trump. And that's my number one goal. So, if this isn't the election for Bernie, it's not.


So, when are these undecided voters thinking about finally making a decision? Some of them say they won't decide until February 3rd, the day of the Iowa caucuses. Christi, Victor.

PAUL: Also CNN is the place to be for the next Democratic presidential debate. The debate is in partnership with the Des Moines Register. It's Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

BLACKWELL: Well, as the British Royal family struggles to stick together, President Trump is sticking up for the queen. What he's saying about the rift in the royal family?



BLACKWELL: Well, President Trump is now weighing in on this week's announcement that Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan are distancing themselves from the royal family. PAUL: He is not directly criticizing the couple's decision on mine due, but in an interview with Fox News, he did say he feels badly for the queen.


TRUMP: I think it's sad. I do, I think it's sad. She's a great woman. She was blindsided by this whole situation, and I think it's too bad. But, you know, she is been -- the queen has to be an all-time record. From the time she's like 25 and now she's 94, she's never made a mistake. If you look, I mean, she's had like a flawless time.


PAUL: I do think she's 93, just to clarify. But despite all those years on the throne, the queen isn't some uncharted territory here. She was, as the president said, apparently blindsided by Harry's moved to defy her. Wishes and announced the couple's decision to step back from the royal family.

And now, she, Prince Charles, and Prince William are reportedly trying to decipher a "workable solution" with the couple as they all try to navigate what happens next.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Anna Stewart joins us now from London with more.

So, you heard President Trump there signing with the queen. What might be a workable solution for the family?

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's an interesting one. Because there has to be some sort of solution that doesn't break apart the royal family that actually bonds them together. Clearly, there been some rifts there.

Also, it has to protect the royal family as an institution. It doesn't want to draw a criticism from the public if it's handled badly. And thirdly, and this is really crucial actually, this is not just a solution for Harry and Meghan, this is a solution that has to work for the royals further down the line.

Already there were discussions about slimming down the royal family particularly in the like to Prince Andrew and the scandal surrounding him, he's had to step back. Suggesting perhaps that these royals that are in direct line to the throne should perhaps take a different roles.

So, whatever solution is found here, that's having to be found very quickly now. We'll probably apply to Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis in years to come.

Now, it's interesting that we have so much focus here with the queen. I want to show you some of the tabloids we have this morning. Because here we have the queen on every single one. Here, we have the Daily Mail; Poll: Fury Over Harry and Meghan. The Sun's running with The Frown. We have the Queen's Bravery here in the Daily Mirror. And this is the focus because while this discussion is going on, people are talking about whether or not they support the decision for the couple to take a step back. But almost everyone seems united on the -- on the idea that there seems to be a problem here between the royal family and the couple.

And the discussions and the way it's been handled has been bad, it's been confusing, it's been very unlike the royal family in that sense. So, a lot of needs to be considered. Public opinion seems to be very split. #Meghexit is trending across social media.

And I would say it does share with #Brexit. That idea that it is incredibly divisive. Everyone you speak to has a different opinion. It'll be fascinating to see what solution they do come up with. We're expecting to hear some news of that sometime next week.

PAUL: So, Anna, what are people saying, though, about what they want to see from the royal family in terms of some sort of workable solution, as they're calling it, trying to come up with that? When as we understand it, the queen wasn't even notified in advance.

I mean, what does that tell you about what's going on behind closed doors?

STEWART: It speaks to a much larger problem for the royal family itself. And I think the royal family had a very difficult year, many ups and downs. Prince Andrew, we mentioned -- the media attention over Harry and Meghan in 2020 doesn't look that to be much easier for Her Majesty, the Queen, they all going to had to find a solution.

It's going to be tricky balancing the fact that everyone has a different opinion. Some people don't want any taxpayer money going to this couple if they take a step back. Some people want to see them thrive and think, you know what? They can make their own decision.

So, any solution is going to be very hard to please all of the U.K. and the Commonwealth. Back to you guys.


PAUL: Anna Stewart, thank you so much. Appreciate it. We'll be right back.



PAUL: Well, new details emerging about the Ukrainian passenger jet that was shot down as we also learn more about those who are onboard the flight.

BLACKWELL: Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper sat down with a man who knew seven of those passengers. Here's part of their conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAYMAN PARSEYAN, FORMER PRESIDENT, IRANIAN HERITAGE SOCIETY EDMONTON: The husband and wife, both professors in engineering department to local university. They had two young beautiful daughters, nine and 14, just bright, really curious kids.

The husband and I would often go to the gym together. He was always laughing, such a friendly guy. The other three that I knew, the mother, she was obstetrician-gynecologist. Very, very well-known in our community, always wanting to help wherever she could. Her to university-aged daughters, extremely bright futures. I think one was pursuing a medical degree and the other, clinical psychology. So, these are the kind of people that we had in our city, bright like minds.