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House to Send Impeachment Articles to Senate This Week; Anti- Government Protestors Shot at by Iranian Police; Officials Fail to Provide Evidence to Support Trump's Claims about Soleimani. Aired 6- 6:30a ET
Aired January 13, 2020 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Angry blowback for the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet gathering momentum in Tehran.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is remarkable to see people pouring back out on the streets, knowing that they may risk their lives.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Top national security officials struggle to explain President Trump's latest claim.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe it would have been four embassies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The threat was imminent. I saw the intelligence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: facts they presented indicated that there was not an imminent threat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any second thoughts about holding on for three weeks?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No, no, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all about hurting Donald Trump in the election.
PELOSI: This is impeachable, and this president is impeached for life.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, January 13, 6 a.m. here in New York. And developing at this hour, anti-government protestors are back on the streets in Tehran for a third day. The demonstrations turning violent after the Iranian government admitted to accidentally shooting down that passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board.
Gunfire can be heard in a new video posted on social media by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. They say that Iranian security forces are using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protesters.
You can see the chaos there on the streets. President Trump is warning Iran not to kill protesters.
And the Trump administration is still struggling to explain the intelligence that justified the killing of Iran's top general and brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of a major conflict. Top officials did not provide any evidence to support the president's claim that the general was planning imminent attacks on four U.S. embassies.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is expected to turn over the articles of impeachment to the Senate this week. The timing's still unclear, but a full Democratic caucus meeting is set for tomorrow morning. The Senate is then likely to adopt a Republican resolution setting the rules of the trial, included putting off any decision about witnesses until after opening arguments.
Overnight, the president wrote that the Senate should dismiss the case against him outright.
Now, all this as the Iowa caucuses are exactly three weeks away, which is essentially tomorrow. Polls show a four-way tie for first. And a new development, as "The Washington Post" puts it. The campaign for Bernie Sanders has, quote, "suddenly gone on the attack." Why and on whom? That is all ahead.
We have a lot going on this morning. Let's begin with CNN's Athena Jones, live on Capitol Hill with the very latest -- Athena.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
We're kicking off a big week here on Capitol Hill. It's been nearly a month since the House voted to impeach President Trump; and the next and last phase of the impeachment process is set to begin soon with Speaker Pelosi expected to finally send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate this week.
JONES (voice-over): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaling the wait is almost over, saying she's ready to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate this week.
PELOSI: I'd always said I would send them over, so there's -- there shouldn't be mystery to that. We have confidence in our case that it is impeachable, and this president is impeached for life.
JONES: Pelosi relaying a strong warning to her Republican colleagues, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has backed a motion to dismiss the charges against the president. PELOSI: Dismissing is a cover-up. If they want to go that route again,
the senators who are thinking now about voting for witnesses or not, they will have to be accountable for not having a fair trial.
JONES: President Trump firing off a warning, too, tweeting, "Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat witch hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have. I agree!"
The White House has been prepared to start the Senate trial since before Christmas, one official says. CNN has learned White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump's outside counsel, Jay Sekulow, will likely represent the president.
Senator Susan Collins has indicated she is working with some of her Republican colleagues to see if they can reach an agreement on calling witnesses in the Senate trial.
Meanwhile, members of Trump's team struggling to defend why he says they decided to order a strike killing Iran's top military leader.
TRUMP: I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.
JONES: Defense Secretary Mark Esper even directly contradicting the president.
MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: He didn't cite a specific piece of evidence. What he says, he probably -- he believes --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you saying there wasn't one?
ESPER: I didn't see one with regard to four embassies.
JONES: Later, Esper seemingly changing his story to CNN's Jake Tapper.
ESPER: The president said, with regard to the four embassies, is what I believe, as well. He said he believed that they probably -- that they could have been targeting the embassies in the region.
JONES: National security advisor Robert O'Brien saying there was a threat without being too specific.
ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Everything the president said is consistent with and his interpretation is very consistent with the intelligence which showed that Soleimani was plotting to kill Americans: soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, and our diplomats. And so you know, we feel -- we feel very good about it.
JONES: The Trump administration's mixed messaging alarming both Democrats and Republicans who say officials did not cite any imminent danger to embassies in last week's Iran briefings -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Athena on Capitol Hill. Please keep us posted. The White House touts the operations against Iran as a success. But
how does the American public feel? The answer and new poll numbers might surprise you. That's next.
CAMEROTA: And later this hour, we have an exclusive look at that Iraqi air base that was attacked by missiles. Arwa Damon shows us where U.S. troops were.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our bunk was right in the corner right there. And this is my neighbor up here. Everything's obviously gone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: OK. We'll find out what the U.S. soldiers did to survive.
CAMEROTA: Overnight, antigovernment protesters had -- are taking to the streets again in Iran for the third day in a row. This is after Iran admitted to downing a Ukrainian airliner last week, killing all 176 people on board.
This comes as the Trump administration struggles to prove its claims that it killed Iran's top general because he was planning imminent attacks on four U.S. embassies.
Joining us now to talk about this, we have CNN political commentators, former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent and Joe Lockhart. He was President Clinton's press secretary during that impeachment. Great to see both of you. Happy Monday.
So neither the president nor his top military advisors seem to be able to show any evidence that there were imminent attacks on four embassies, though that's what the president has said in the interview.
Here is Mark Esper and Robert O'Brien over the weekend. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ESPER: He said he believed that they probably, that they could have been targeting the embassies in the region.
He didn't cite a specific piece of evidence. What he says, he probably -- he believed --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you saying there wasn't one?
ESPER: I didn't see one with regard to four embassies. O'BRIEN: We had exquisite intelligence. The intelligence showed that
they were looking at U.S. facilities throughout the region and that they wanted to inflict casualties on American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, as well as diplomats. The threat was imminent. I saw the intelligence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Joe, why can't they get their stories straight?
JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because they're not telling the truth or at least the whole truth. They're now trying to backfill and create a string of intelligence to support a decision they made, I think, based on some political considerations. And national security considerations.
I'm not saying that this wasn't a legitimate target. But we see from a lot of the reporting now that this is something they've been talking about for a long time.
And the idea that somehow there was an imminent, as most people define imminent is very clear is not true. I mean, the Esper line when he talked about, I didn't see that intelligence. He sees the same intelligence as the president. It means the president on the spot made it up, because -- and the president does this a lot. He makes things up to make the case he's making in the moment.
But the danger here is this is the kind of activity that got us into the Iraq war in the first place in 2003. Shifting explanations, manipulating intelligence. So this is really dangerous.
BERMAN: Look, if you listen to the secretary of defense, it's pretty clear the president is making stuff up. When the president says he thinks or was told it was four embassies, he's making stuff up. Because if it had been true, the secretary of defense would have seen it.
So Charlie, the question is what does this mean? To what end? Why does this matter? And if you look at the polls, which came out this weekend from ABC News and IPSOS, you get a sense of perhaps why it matters. Because the American people, even in an operation that successfully took out Soleimani and there has been no war as a result, at least not yet. The American people don't like what they see: 56 percent say they disapprove of the president's handling of the current situation with Iran; 52 percent say all this makes them feel less safe.
And this is even after an operation where the administration thinks they have had some success. It does seem that all of this has unsettled the American people. And the honesty or lack thereof might be part of it.
CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, John, I would agree with that. The people are concerned about the president's lack of honesty. I mean, he misspeaks, he misleads all the time. There's nothing new here. Having said that, I mean, I think it's clear to me that there must
have been some intelligence that facilities, as O'Brien said, were threatened.
The answer that the administration should be giving is that Soleimani was a high-value target. There's a long evidentiary record of this guy misbehaving and his malign activities. They had a clean shot, and they took it, not dissimilar to what happened to Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was operating out of Yemen. And the Obama administration had a clean shot and they took it. He was criticized -- Obama was criticized at the time, but I thought he did the right thing.
In this case, I thought the administration was justified in making the attack. But because of their inability to deal properly with the truth, that causes doubt among many people in America.
CAMEROTA: I mean, I think -- not to get too far into the weeds, Joe, but they -- it had to be an imminent attack for it to be legal in international law. Just saying, he was a bad guy, so he took him out. I don't know if that washes. So that's kind of why they are reverse engineering this, I think.
LOCKHART: Well, again, you can justify a lot of things under -- under the way. And I think Congressman Dent is right that Barack Obama used the idea of a threat to take out, you know, an American citizen, and that was controversial.
But, you know, the timing of this is really suspect. You have a president who's struggling politically, who's been considering this for a while.
And that's why you've got to -- you've got to, like, tell the truth all the time on these things, because the public has to have confidence that you're doing it. And they're -- they just seem incapable. And they're also just not very good at telling a story. They don't coordinate. You had four different people out there with four different set of talking points. And it does nothing to breed confidence, even as -- And we can argue about whether this was the right time, whether it was the right target, whether this destabilized or strengthened our national security. But you can't argue about the president dissembling about it in public.
BERMAN: Look, telling the truth should not be a high bar. Telling the truth should not be something that administrations only strive to achieve. That should be the bare minimum coming from our government.
Charlie, the images coming out of Iran now, where you have people on the streets demonstrating. We saw dramatic pictures from overnight. This has to do with Iran finally admitting, after lying about it, shooting down that Ukrainian passenger jet.
Where does this fit now? How does the Trump administration need to respond to this? DENT: Well, I think the Iranians, you know, got themselves in a heap
of trouble now because of this unintentional taking down of the jetliner.
I think the Trump administration owes the government a much -- a much more coherent Iran strategy, which we have not had.
Look, they made a tactical decision here to take out Soleimani. I think that was a proper thing to do. That said, we need to see what they really want to do in the Middle East.
On the one hand, this president at times acts like a neo-isolationist by the way he pulls out of Syria, empowering Iran. And the next step, you know, he takes out Soleimani, which one could argue, you know, might incite -- or might see as an escalatory maneuver.
So some call him a neocon on Iran and a neo-isolationist on Syria. We need to know the strategy on Iran, particularly in the aftermath of this attack.
BERMAN: Congressman Dent, Joe Lockhart, thank you very much.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expected to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate soon, within days. So what happens then? And where the next area of conflict might be?
BERMAN: The president could face a trial in the Senate as soon as this week. This thing is just about to start. This is nearly one month after the House impeached President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled that she will soon send the impeachment articles over to the Senate.
Joe Lockhart is back with us. Also joining us is CNN political analyst Rachael Bade. She's a congressional reporter for "The Washington Post."
And Rachael, I want to look forward here, because we've been talking about when those articles will go over? What does it all mean? What did Nancy Pelosi get out of the delay. That's by and large done. So the question is what's next.
And Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, is now saying she is trying to work out some deal with some group of Republicans that would mean there would be witnesses. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I am working with a group of Republican senators and our leaders to see if we can come to an agreement on some language that would be in the initial resolution, setting out the parameters of the trial in the Senate, that would include an opportunity for the House to call witnesses and the president's counsel to also call witnesses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So it would take just three of her friends to go along with her, Rachael. How real is this from Susan Collins? What's the significance?
RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, you just -- you made the point right there. The question is how big is that small group she's talking about? Is it three Republicans? Is it four?
I mean, we've already heard from Mitt Romney. He wants to hear from John Bolton in the Senate. And I mean, the question is just how far is that? How far and wide is that notion spread amongst Senate Republicans?
At this point, we only know of about three people who might be interested: Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, and Lisa Murkowski. That fourth one, there's no sign yet they have someone like that. So again, how big is that group of senators she's talking to?
We know that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, he doesn't want to call witnesses. And the Republicans are really hoping to get this whole thing done before the State of the Union, so that when Trump goes over to the House to give his address, he can say, I'm an acquitted president. And that's going to mean no witnesses if they can keep their colleagues in line.
CAMEROTA: John Bolton really gave Nancy Pelosi a Christmas gift. Because it makes it seem as though the gambit that she -- since President Trump was impeached a month ago, that what she's been doing did have a dividend -- it did pay a dividend in that John Bolton came forward. And so what happened? Now President Trump has been forced to say that he would enforce executive privilege if John Bolton really were to testify. Is that -- does John Bolton have to pay attention to that? What happens next?
BOLTON: Well, I don't think John Bolton will have to negotiate this. There will be a lot of lawyers in the room, but John Bolton does have -- he will have a story to tell. He can't assert executive privilege over his entire story. Just over some -- probably some narrow parts of it and also documents that support it.
I think the most interesting thing to happen over the weekend was Trump's tweet that said he wants this dismissed. Remember, he wanted to put on a trial that vindicated himself, that showed that Hunter Biden is the bad guy here, not Donald Trump. His tweet indicates now that he's aligned with Mitch McConnell as let's get rid of this as quickly as we can.
And I think the motion to dismiss, you know, will have support.
You know, I look at Susan Collins' comments, and what it reminds me of is the Kavanaugh debate; where Republicans didn't necessarily want an investigation of Dr. Ford's and others; they just wanted the appearance of one. And I'll tell you that coming out after Mitch McConnell has made clear that he's got the votes to move this resolution without a guarantee of witnesses, and saying you're working with a group does not really ring true or relevant, because he's got the votes. And he'll take the -- he'll take that vote, and there will not be the guarantee of witnesses when they open, when the chief justice opens this.
BERMAN: All right, Rachael, reality check. This idea of a motion to dismiss, how realistic is that?
And then a second question. John Bolton, what happens if the White House does exert executive privilege here? There's not like it's executive privilege police who are going to go in and stop him from answering questions. It doesn't exist. If he wants to answer a question and he's sitting there, he can.
BADE: To the first question, I'm glad you asked it. I feel like context is everything when we're talking about a motion to dismiss right now.
Yes, the president was talking about it on Twitter. That was his initial sort of suggestion to Senate Republicans when impeachment first became real in the fall. And keep in mind that it was Mitch McConnell who actually got in his ear and said, Look, Mr. President, we're not going to be able to have the votes for a motion to dismiss. I've got moderates who have got to give this -- they have to be seen back home in sort of swing districts as sort of letting this trial play out and being a fair juror. So we can't do that.
I know that Senator McConnell has signed onto this sort of motion to dismiss resolution, but you have to sort of separate that in his personal capacity as a Republican running again in 2020, clearly trying to turn out his base. He's got some primary challengers.
With McConnell the leader, who is not -- actually does not want to have that motion to dismiss right away. He wants to have the trial first and then will bring that up.
In terms of Bolton, you know, it's -- it's a good question. I -- the president has already said he's going to assert executive privilege. Remember that Bolton also has a book coming out. And I don't know that Bolton shared a copy of that with the White House. So clearly, at some point, we're going to hear some juicy stuff from Bolton. It's just a question of when.
And if the White House does assert executive privilege, if they subpoena him, we're back at the first place we started, where you know, this is just going to go to the courts or just get stalled up in Congress. And we won't hear his voice for a while.
CAMEROTA: How can we forget John Bolton has a book coming out?
BERMAN: I mean, I'm glad the republic hinges on John Bolton's book sales. I'm really glad that these book sales are driving things like the truth. LOCKHART: But for -- just to add to what Rachael said, I think the
motion to dismiss is not something at the outset. I think the motion of dismiss, the choice will be after the initial witnesses or dismiss. And that's where I think the signals, they were floating now that we'll go through four or five days of this and then just say we're done. Good-bye.
BERMAN: Well, that's where McConnell might lean on his caucus. And that's where Nancy Pelosi will start talking about the idea of this wasn't a fair trial. Dana Bash reporting that the idea of a fair trial is something the Democrats are going to lean into heavily over the next few weeks.
Rachael, great to have you on.
Joe, thank you.
CAMEROTA: All right. There will be an awkward and historic royal summit today for the British royal family. We have a live report from the estate where the royals are meeting with the queen to figure out what to do about Harry and Meghan.
BERMAN: This would be the most awkward conference call ever.
CAMEROTA: I think so.