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Struggle to Explain Intel; Sanders Goes after Warren; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is Interviewed on Iran. Aired 7:00-7:30a ET

Aired January 13, 2020 - 07:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Top national security officials struggle to explain President Trump's latest claim.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe it would have been four embassies.

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: What the president said is what I believe as well.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Justifying acts that might bring us into warfare, that's a dangerous thing.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I think he's hiding something. And that's why he's so afraid of witnesses and documents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can tell you what the Senate is not going to do. We're not going to let Nancy Pelosi dictate to us.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We need to have witnesses and documentation. If we don't, that is a cover-up.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

Developing at thus hour, anti-government protesters on the streets of Tehran. The demonstrations turning violent overnight. This after the Iranian government admitted to accidentally shooting down a passenger plane killing all 176 people on board. In this video you can hear gunfire. The video was posted on social media by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. They say Iranian security forces are using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protesters.


BERMAN: There you can see and hear the chaos there.

Overnight, President Trump warned Iran not to kill protesters. This does come as administration officials would not confirm and, in

some cases, seemed to flat out contradict the president's claims that the Iranian general killed by a U.S. drone was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to turn over the articles of impeachment to the Senate this week. The exact timing is 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 for the trial, including putting off any decision about witnesses until after opening arguments.

Overnight, the president wrote that the Senate should dismiss the case against him outright.

This is sure to come up at CNN's Democratic debate tomorrow night.

Joining us now to talk about all of this, we have CNN host and political commentator Michael Smerconish, CNN political analyst David Gregory, and CNN political commentator Jen Psaki. She is a former Obama White House communications director.

Great to have all of you.

So, Michael, I'll start with you.

The president and his military advisers have not been able to present any evidence to the public and to many in Congress that there was any imminent attack -- or attack planned.

So, here are the polls. Here are the latest poll numbers and to see if this is having an impact on people. President Trump's handling of the current situation with Iran, 43 percent approve, 56 percent disapprove. And then this next interesting one, in terms of the U.S. air strike that killed General Soleimani, 52 percent of Americans say they feel less safe as a result of it, rather than the 25 percent who say they feel more safe.

So do you think there's some political price for them not being able to get their stories straight about this?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think some of the polling data on the surface is seemingly contradictory. "USA Today" had a survey they released at the end of last week that said the plurality of Americans are supportive of having taken out Soleimani, and at the same time they feel less safe. And you initially say, well, how can both be true. But when you think about it, I think the conclusion is probably, he was a bad guy, it's a good thing that he's gone, but, at the same time, we're nervous as to what this may unleash.

BERMAN: It might be that Americans are unsettled by all of this. And what is unsettling? Well, it can be unsettling when you can't get a straight story from the Trump administration about why this took place. And we all heard that interview on Friday where the president claimed that he believed that four U.S. embassies are being targeted by General Soleimani in imminent attacks. Well, it's alarming when you hear the secretary of defense, who, frankly, hears the same intelligence that the president does, come out on TV and deny that that intelligence exists or say that he never saw it.

Listen to all the different sound from administration officials trying to explain the president's words.


MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: He said that 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 said is he probably -- he believed there could have been --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you saying there wasn't one?

ESPER: I didn't see one with regard to four embassies.

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We had exquisite intelligence. And the intelligence showed that they were looking at U.S. facilities throughout the region and that they wanted to inflict casualties on American soldiers and sailors, airmen, marines, as well as diplomats. The threat was imminent. I saw the intelligence.


BERMAN: The key words there from Secretary of Defense Esper, I didn't see one, a claim that there was an imminent attack on four embassies there, Jen. And, again, he would have had the president seen them, correct?


JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's exactly right, John. I mean the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the president, they all attend the PDB, the presidential daily briefing. They have access to the same intelligence. So if it existed, he would have seen it.

That certainly should be alarming to people watching.

Also, you know, the administration -- this is perhaps a lesser concern, but they went out and had five or six different messages about an issue like war and peace. And that shows they're not coordinated. We know that already. But that's especially problematic at times related to national security.

CAMEROTA: David, your thoughts on all this?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what we're seeing here is the dynamic that unfortunately has become so familiar watching the Trump administration where you have the president overstating the case. And then those around him effectively saying, you know, without using these words, well, yes, it's not really that, what the president said, but it looks like this.

And in this case, you know, whether there was an imminent attack is separate from that there was intelligence suggesting that they wanted to hit U.S. embassies. Was that conflated into the idea that there were four embassies about to be hit? That's how the president distilled it all.

I think what's true, what the evidence seems to suggest, is there was evidence to suggest attacks were planned and that there was the specter of embassies being under siege, Benghazi style, that this administration wanted to avoid.

You asked the question about the political impact. I don't think we're going to know for a while. But I can't imagine there's going to be an immediate impact and that people are going to parse out whether it was a good idea or not a good idea to take him out. It's destabilizing for sure in the sense that people are rightly worried about the United States heading into conflict in the Middle East without an obvious strategy here, which I think is the case.

BERMAN: And, Michael, I just want to put up on screen so people can see the pictures that we played moments ago coming out of Iran, demonstrations which have been going on for three days now. And last night we saw these pictures at least that purport to show tear gas being fired, live ammunition perhaps being fired at these protesters. What they're doing is protesting the Iranian government and the fact the Iranian government lied about shooting down that Ukrainian jetliner.

What are the implications of all this and how is the U.S. administration handling it, do you think?

SMERCONISH: Well, I thought it was interesting that the president, who is so adept at using his Twitter account for domestic political purposes, was actually tweeting in Farsi over the weekend and trying to affect some outcome with regard to the Iranian protests. Where it leads, I really don't know at this stage.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what's happening back here in Washington, Jen.

So seems like this week is going to be a big week in terms of Nancy Pelosi handing over the articles of impeachment. She would say that she did get something out of her gambit and that that was that John Bolton came forward and said that he would testify. But doesn't -- we don't know if the president is going to let him in terms of executive privilege or if Mitch McConnell is going to call on him.

PSAKI: That's all true. And I think what Nancy Pelosi said yesterday, and Adam Schiff also echoed, sent a clear message in my reading or watching that they're open to issue a subpoena to have John Bolton testify in the House. You know, they have no choice, I think. I think they're being pressured from the caucus. We'll see what happens. There's obviously this sort of gamble, which I think is a little funny, that Susan Collins is leading, to try to get witnesses. But, you know, it could certainly go back to the House, which adds another element to this and perhaps continues their engagement.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the Susan Collins gamble, which Jen Psaki just deemed as phony, David.

Let's play it so we can get a sense of what she's saying.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I am working with a group of Republican senators and our lead 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.


BERMAN: So we know Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney have all said they want witnesses. And it would take four Republicans to demand witnesses mid-trial.

Do you think they'll get there? How significant is this from Susan Collins?

GREGORY: Well, I mean, I think it's the one unpredictable piece of the impeachment process. whether they're going to force a vote and whether they would prevail in calling witnesses. I think there's no question that John Bolton's testimony would be fascinating to hear and could be very important. I don't think it's going to change the outcome and I think Nancy Pelosi -- I still don't -- if she -- if she was trying to smoke out Mitch McConnell, I don't know that that was worthwhile. I think what she was trying to do was create space for Republicans like Susan Collins to say, yes, we ought to have some witnesses here.


And the White House is playing a strange role too because I think perhaps against his better judgment, the president would like to call some witnesses. And I think Mitch McConnell is trying to tell the White House, look, let's streamline this. You don't rock the boat. You're going to get, you know, acquitted in the Senate. Let's do this as quickly as we can.

CAMEROTA: Michael, what if there are no witnesses? Then what does this look like?

SMERCONISH: I think it looks like it was a rush to judgment, although I don't think that Speaker Pelosi benefitted from this delay. And it occurs to me that, you know, if the decision made several weeks ago, frankly a couple of months ago, not to try to compel the testimony of Bolton, Mulvaney, and Giuliani, if they'd gone a different route and had litigated that question, by now there would have been resolution. So, you know, if you back up the process and if it had gone a different way, by now perhaps we'd know that testimony.

And one last point, just to something David just said, that's really the issue with regard to Bolton. How do you limit witnesses to just John Bolton? Because you know that the White House response will be to say, fine, you want witnesses, we'd like Joe Biden, we'd like Hunter Biden, we have a whole slew of individuals we'd like to hear from.

CAMEROTA: And, you know, I mean, I just don't know that we would have had resolution through the courts. Our legal experts and analysts at the time were saying that it would just be indefinitely, you know, sort of working, chugging its way through the courts. And they were saying it could take months, it could take up to a year or so.

I like your scenario that by now we'd have a resolution, but I just don't know if the calendar agrees with that.

BERMAN: Nor does the White House, by the way, because the White House just said that it intends -- or the president says he thinks he will exert executive privilege on John Bolton's testimony. And, boy, will that be interesting.

You know, David, if you want to weigh in on that because I don't know what happens then. It's not crystal clear what happens. Because if John Bolton really wants to testify, he can answer whatever question he wants. There aren't executive privilege police, as I've noted, who can go in and stop him or arrest him mid-trial.

GREGORY: Also, how do you -- how do you claim executive privilege on information that others around him have already testified to, who could also claim executive privilege?

But it is interesting why Bolton all of a sudden emerged to want to testify -- he does have a book coming out -- at a time when it looked increasingly unlikely that he could testify. That's why the specter of a House subpoena is interesting because, again, I think we're in a political game here where we know the outcome and we've known the outcome for a while and Democrats, if nothing else, would like to see additional information put out into the public domain. I think that's all we're really debating at this point.

CAMEROTA: I haven't seen this level of book promotion since John Berman holds up "Amada Wakes Up" every time that I -- anytime he can.

BERMAN: "Amanda Wakes Up," now available in paperback.

CAMEROTA: I mean -- thank you.

BERMAN: No executive privilege necessary to read this.

CAMEROTA: I mean this is the level that John Bolton is now getting.

BERMAN: Just NC-17, I will warn you. Parental guidance is advised.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much. Great to talk to all of you.

Senator Bernie Sanders going on the attack ahead of tomorrow night's debate. Who is he taking aim at and why? That's next.


CAMEROTA: We are reportedly 21 days away from the Iowa caucuses, regardless of what John Berman says.

BERMAN: It's 21 days. It's three weeks from today --

CAMEROTA: Show me a calendar.

BERMAN: Which is very soon.

CAMEROTA: Tensions are rising, however, between two of the leading progressive candidates. Senator Elizabeth Warren is criticizing Senator Bernie Sanders over a memo reportedly sent to his volunteers encouraging them to cast her as a candidate who is only attractive to the elite.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me. He knows who I am, where I come from, what I have worked on and fought for.

I hope Bernie reconsiders and turns his campaign in a different direction.


CAMEROTA: All right, joining us now, CNN political director David Chalian.

Good morning, David.


CAMEROTA: What happened to when the pundits would all tell us, oh, no, these two are really good friends, this will never happen?

CHALIAN: Remember, they themselves had discussed before the campaign launched how they were going to sort of both be running in this progressive lane and how to do it in a way where they didn't attack each other to undermine the progressive movement.

I will note, you played Elizabeth Warren's comments there. Her campaign followed up with a fundraising appeal based on this.

And, as you know, Senator Sanders distanced himself from this action from campaign operatives saying he had so many people who work for his campaign and that he really likes Warren.

What I think is amazing here is what you see here is that Bernie Sanders is a brawler, right? I mean this is -- he -- politics ain't bean bag is the expression, right? And Bernie Sanders subscribes to that. And it seems to me, in the last ten days or so, certainly trying to seize a debate with Joe Biden in a foreign policy context with all the Iran news and, yes, he's distancing himself from his campaign, but his campaign was set up in a way to make this sharp contrast while knocking on doors with Elizabeth Warren. Bernie Sanders is not shying away from this fight. Three weeks out from the caucuses, I think he's leaning into it.

BERMAN: That's right. And this memo went out, according to "Politico." That has to do with Elizabeth Warren.

Nina Turner, who works for Bernie Sanders, they have -- she has an op- ed in South Carolina criticizing Joe Biden on race. The Sanders campaign is clearly starting to take on its rivals head on.

What I found most interesting, David, was Elizabeth Warren's response. Not what we played right there, but she seemed to allude, pretty directly, to 2016, when people in the Sanders campaign were going after people in the Clinton campaign.


And there's still bad blood in Clinton world over that. It seems like Elizabeth Warren wants to tap into some of that bad blood.

CHALIAN: Well, I think that's certainly true. Elizabeth Warren clearly trying to turn this to her advantage, obviously. Sanders' campaign sort of has this line that is a negative frame on her, and she is seizing the moment to try and turn this to some political advantage.

And I would say it's broader than just sort of Clinton world, John. I mean this was -- this is one of the things that Bernie Sanders has been asked about in town halls, CNN town halls, that he's done where voters -- Democratic voters say, hey, did -- there was a lot of bitterness in that 2016 aftermath of the primary. Sanders always claims he did as much as he could and anything asked of him to try and help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump in the general.

But there are many Democratic voters had questions about whether or not the way in which he held out after the primary season and had some of his supporters still at the convention making some hey against Hillary Clinton, if that indeed did damage her. And, you're right, I think Warren is clearly trying to remind voters of that because it is a question that Democrats have around Bernie Sanders.

CAMEROTA: David, I want to ask you about Michael Bloomberg, obviously running for president. He has an interesting op-ed on in which he makes the point that while Democrats are spending all of this sweat equity in New Hampshire and Iowa, President Trump is being more strategic in the states that he's hitting. Michael Bloomberg writes, we are in danger of repeating 2016 in large part because as Democrats focus on Iowa and New Hampshire, Trump is operating at full speed in the battleground states. Tuesday, while Democrats are on the stage in Des Moines, he'll be speaking to thousands of supporters in Wisconsin, a state Democrats need to rebuild the blue wall.

I mean he's basically suggesting that people rethink these early voting states and the priority that we put on them. CHALIAN: Yes. I mean, listen, as you know, Alisyn, the calendar, the

way the nomination process is set up is set up by each national party. There's not a very competitive contest on the Republican side this time with the president up for re-election, but the DNC sort of sets its own rules and nominating calendar.

I mean Michael Bloomberg goes as far as calling the process undemocratic in that CNN op-ed. I'd be curious to hear what DNC Chairman Perez has to say about that. But I -- but I do think the overall point that Bloomberg is making, which, of course, is one that fits into the strategic decision he's made to skip the four early states, so there's that, is that Donald -- it's reminding Democratic voters who say defeating Donald Trump is priority number one, that Donald Trump is already running a general election and that Democrats can't start behind the eight ball if they have any hope of defeating the president for re-election.

And so, of course, since he is skipping the four early states, he's trying to make the argument that it's a smarter play. But I think, you know, while you're wooing Democratic voters to say, hey, Democratic voters, your party's process is undemocratic, there's a little dissidence there that may not be received well on the ears of all Democrats.

BERMAN: He's sweeting (ph) it a little bit by suggesting or hinting he'd spend a billion dollars no matter who the Democratic nominee is. So Michael Bloomberg's clearly trying to signal he'll do whatever it takes to defeat Donald Trump, which also helps, I understand, his own personal electoral argument, yes, David?

CHALIAN: No doubt about that, John. That is sort of been a strategic thing Bloomberg's been doing all throughout. How he spends his money on major Democratic political priorities, whether it's on climate change, or on gun safety, in terms of issue areas that he's donated a lot to, or whether it's sort of infusing a lot of money into a place like Virginia to help flip the state legislature there to the Democrats, he is putting his money on major Democratic priorities and now is saying, there is no more important priority than defeating Donald Trump. And that's where he's putting his money now.

I will also note, he makes the diversity argument, saying Iowa and New Hampshire are so homogenous, overwhelmingly white states, that it doesn't reflect the diversity of the party. And we know that's been a conversation inside this Democratic nomination fight as well.

BERMAN: That's just true. It's -- that happens to just be true. You can just look at the facts of that.


BERMAN: David Chalian, great to have you with us.

Of course, tomorrow night, the CNN Democratic debate with "The Des Moines Register" in Iowa. Six candidates on that stage. It will be fascinating to see.

CAMEROTA: That part I believe in terms of the calendar.

BERMAN: Oh, that's true.

CAMEROTA: I believe you there.

BERMAN: All right, so after nearly a month delay, the Senate is expected to begin the impeachment trial, perhaps as soon as this week. Will we see witnesses, that man, John Bolton, ever? We'll talk to one of the Senate jurors, next.



BERMAN: Administration officials are struggling to provide any evidence to support President Trump's claim that Iran's top general was planning to attack four U.S. embassies. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he did not see any specific threat against four embassies as the president seems to have claimed.


MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: What 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.


BERMAN: Yes, but then he was asked specifically whether he saw specific evidence, any report that indicated that General Soleimani was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies, and Esper responded, I did not see one.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He serves on the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.

Senator, thank you so much for being with us.


BERMAN: So Secretary Esper says he didn't see any one report that said four U.S. embassies were targeted. What did you see?

BLUMENTHAL: The administration so far has provided no specific evidence, not a shred of information that there was an imminent threat. And that's important, John, because imminent threats justify the use of force in a way that probably or could have does not.


And so far the administration has really failed to provide specific