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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Discusses Anti-Government Protests In Iran; Royal Family Holds Summit To Discuss Prince Harry & Meghan; Newlywed Couple Among 176 Killed In Iran Plane Shootdown. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 13, 2020 - 07:30   ET



SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Use of force in a way that probably or could have does not. And so far, the administration has really failed to provide specific evidence of any imminent threat, which has angered not only many of us on the Democratic side but also my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, too.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Why does it matter so much if the president came out and said oh, I saw evidence or was given intelligence that four embassies were being targeted? Why does it matter if he says that and the facts don't back it up?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, first of all, these shifting muddled stories reflect a lack of strategy. Why now and what's next with respect to the Soleimani killing? No one should mourn Soleimani. He was a killer with American blood on his hands.

But the lack of strategy is deeply concerning because the president brought us to the brink of war, literally, and we are probably less safe now than we were before the killing. The region is less stable, our allies are more divided from us. Iraq wants us out of their country. And most important, John, the ISIS forces are possibly -- likely resurging in that country.

BERMAN: Administration officials will suggest Soleimani was a bad guy and whether he was planning an imminent attack was certainly desirous of killing Americans long-term. And the United States took him out and the Iranian response was meek -- shooting missiles into the stand. This is the argument they make.

So given if you believe all that is true, then why does any of that matter?

BLUMENTHAL: Because we are, in effect, still vulnerable in that part of the world. We have accomplished none of our objectives. At most, we've disrupted -- that's the word that they've used -- a potential threat that probably was sometime on the horizon. The Secretary of State has said we don't know where, we don't know when it might have been.

But the point is that Iran is still a threat through its proxies and militia there. There was an attack just yesterday on a base north of Baghdad. And in the domain of cyber, we are vulnerable.

BERMAN: Talking about things we've seen just yesterday, for the last three days we've seen demonstrations on the streets of Iran against the Iranian regime. This is because Iran lied about shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner and people in Iran are upset about that.

What happens here? How do you think the U.S. administration should handle this?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, the administration should be acknowledging, as Iran has acknowledged, that a horrific mistake was made. The commander of the Revolutionary Guard has apologized and said he wished he were one of the dead and has taken full responsibility for it, and the Iranians deserve that responsibility and blame.

BERMAN: Nancy Pelosi has said she will soon send over the articles of impeachment to the Senate. When do you think the Senate trial will begin?

BLUMENTHAL: I would bet that it will begin this week in some form. We will be sworn in -- we should be. There's no reason to delay it further. And I believe also that we should, by the way, reach the resolution on the War Powers Act relating to Iran as soon as possible.

But, right now, we are entering a historic time. We have to put country above party and put aside partisanship.

There's overwhelming evidence, in my view, of the president's corrupt abuse of power to his personal benefit. If I were the prosecutor here -- and I was a prosecutor for quite a while -- I would say I could rest my case. But witnesses and documents are really necessary here to corroborate that evidence that we have already.

BERMAN: Republican Susan Collins says she is talking to Republicans, trying to gather the numbers to vote during the trial to hear witnesses.

Susan Collins says she wants witnesses, Lisa Murkowski has said she is open to it, Mitt Romney pretty explicitly says he wants to hear from John Bolton. That's three -- they need four. Can you name a fourth Republican senator that you think would vote to hear witnesses?

BLUMENTHAL: There are certainly senators who have expressed misgivings about a trial that becomes a sham or a charade because the president dictates the rules of his own trial, which is what Mitch McConnell wants. But here is the point about witnesses John that is critical. They have direct firsthand knowledge.

Mick Mulvaney met with the president to implement his orders to withhold aid from Ukraine in return for a political investigation to his own benefit. John Bolton tried to talk the president out of this corrupt abuse of power and Duffey carried out that -- those orders. So these witnesses are really important.

BERMAN: John Bolton says he would be willing to testify. The president now has indicated he will likely exert executive privilege. [07:35:05]

What happens then? What happens if John Bolton is asked to testify at the Senate trial but the president says he wants to exert executive privilege? Is there anything to keep John Bolton from answering questions?

BLUMENTHAL: If John Bolton really wants to answer questions he can do it. He's writing a book. He's going to be disclosing a lot of this information for a lot of money.

And, John Bolton should be willing to testify voluntarily. But certainly, the courts should resolve any claim of executive privilege just as they did when Richard Nixon did it.

BERMAN: I keep hearing about John Bolton's book. It would be a problem if John Bolton's book somehow is in the way of the American people finding out if the courts would deem that legal.

BLUMENTHAL: The critical question, John, really is the one you raised before. Will my Republican colleagues do more talking or will they really act? Will they vote or will they become complicit in a cover- up, in effect.

BERMAN: If you had to bet right now, yes or no, what do you think the answer would be?

BLUMENTHAL: There's a reason that my Republican colleagues are talking the way they are in their hometowns because they're hearing from their constituents in those hometowns. And I believe that the pressure of American public opinion should sway them to do the right thing.

BERMAN: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, thanks for being with us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BERMAN: Happy New Year.


BERMAN: Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John, now to this story.

Prince Harry summoned to a face-to-face meeting with the queen after abruptly announcing plans to scale back his royal duties, but Meghan Markle will not be there in person. We have a live report for you.

And, Australian wildlife getting some help from above in the face of devastating fires. We'll tell you about that, next.


[07:40:57] CAMEROTA: There is an awkward family dynamic on display in the U.K. today. Queen Elizabeth is holding an emergency summit with Prince Charles and Princes William and Harry because of Harry's bombshell announcement that he and Meghan Markle want to step back from their royal duties.

CNN's Max Foster is live at the queen's estate where the meeting will be happening this morning. So, what are they hoping to accomplish today, Max?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've been given a set of different scenarios, if you like -- different roles that the Sussexes could carry out in the future. And that's been put together by private secretaries -- the teams from the various palaces -- but also with governments.

So, the U.K. government and presumably, the Canadian government because this idea of having a split role between North America and the U.K., between pulling out of some royal duties and having some private income, very, very complex as you start digging into it.

And I think on the non-Sussex side to this, I think perhaps the Sussexes haven't thought this through properly. So all of those possible scenarios will be presented to them and then presumably, they'll try to pick one of them to move forward with.

What we do know is that the Sussexes are moving away from their senior royals, so it's how far they move out of the system.

What was interesting this morning is that a source close to the couple were speaking to "The Times" today, talking about how the duchess actually wants out, whereas Harry wants to try to work out a way of staying in to some extent.

But this was the really incendiary bit where the source added that the couple regarding themselves as having been pushed away by what they call the bullying attitude of the Duke of Cambridge, effectively accusing Prince William of bullying Prince Harry, which both Prince Harry's and Prince William's offices have actually denied today because they say they are very big on mental health and that's actually the last thing that Prince William would be doing.

But there's so much speculation, so much of a frenzy around this story. I think that's why the queen really wants to get it done. She says she wants this done at pace, so I think some pressure on the family as they sit around the table today.

CAMEROTA: I would say so.

And, Max, there's also some reporting here in the U.S. that Meghan Markle may already be trying to line up some outside jobs -- some financial -- some income. And so, what all needs to be hammered out today?

FOSTER: Well, that's complicated. She's currently in Canada. She'll be dialing into the meeting today. We don't know who is going to be around her.

We don't know who has been advising her, actually, either. There's lots of speculation that she's being advised by U.S. agents and PRs and there is a lot of speculation about how they're going to create this independent income in the future.

So what will that involve? They're going to have to get jobs somehow. There's speculation that she may go, to some extent, into acting or have some sort of Hollywood role.

But that's going to be a big debate here around the table. I'll tell you why because it seems quite distasteful. How do you have that without having conflicts of interest?

But more to the point, the royal brand is one of the most valuable brands in the world. It's been built up over 1,000 years. Does the duchess have the right to just cash in on that brand when other members of the family can't do that? So that's become very controversial here, although lots of young people actually people saying good on her.

CAMEROTA: This is history whichever way it goes -- whatever happens today.

Max, we will check back with you. Thank you for all the developments -- John.

BERMAN: All right. It will be really interesting to see what kind of statement comes out of the palace after all this.

In the meantime, authorities in the Philippines are urging nearly half a million people to evacuate after a volcano spewed ash nine miles into the air. The eruption produced -- check that out -- just incredible volcanic lightning as well. Seismologists believe another explosive eruption could be imminent.

CNN's new international correspondent Blake Essig is tracking developments for us from Hong Kong. Blake, what do you know?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the Philippines, at this point, is bracing for another volcanic eruption from one of the smallest volcanoes in the world. Now, at this point, the Taal volcano, as it's known, is located in a lake and it's located about 37 miles south Manila.


Now, it started erupting on Sunday afternoon local time. And the images that we've seen, as you just showed, have just been incredible ever since, including an image of a bride and a groom actually getting married with a -- the plume of smoke behind them -- and there it is. That plume of smoke reached nine miles up in the sky and actually stretched all the way over to the outskirts of the capital city of Manila.

Now, so far, 25,000 people have entered evacuation shelters with another half-million ordered to evacuate. Now, those half-million people live within about a 10-mile radius of the volcano.

At this point, Filipino officials have raised the alert level of this volcano to a four out of five and what that means is that another massive hazardous eruption is imminent. Now, that could mean that the eruption has -- or comes in about a couple of days or a couple of hours. But this volcano has proven deadly in the past and so at this point, it's all about getting people out of that eruption zone as quickly as possible -- John.

BERMAN: Every reason to be careful.

Blake, great to have you with us on NEW DAY. I really appreciate it.

The Australian government is trying to help some of the millions of animals affected by the devastating bushfires. They dropped more than a ton of sweet potatoes and carrots to feed the starving wildlife that have survived this fire so far.

This weekend, the Sydney Opera House lit up its iconic sails with images of firefighters as a way to say thank you. Overnight, fire officials say they have finally contained a large blaze that had been threatening the city for weeks.

CAMEROTA: That's good news.

Well, 176 people were killed when their plane was shot out of the sky by Iran. Among them, a newlywed couple who had just traveled to Iran to celebrate their wedding with loved ones. The victim's sister tells us their story, next.



BERMAN: So, remember that big investigation that President Trump wouldn't stop talking about into Hillary Clinton? He even invented a nickname for her. Well, that investigation just wrapped up and John Avlon here to tell you what it found out in our reality check -- John.


Look, another politically-motivated investigation into the president's political rivals has been looked at by Trump's own Justice Department who found there's not enough evidence to even recommend a criminal investigation.

I'm talking, of course, about Hillary Clinton and the Uranium One and Clinton Foundation conspiracy theories peddled by the president and his supporters in Congress, as well as conservative media. Now, this has been a constant Trump (ph) since the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no greater threat to democracy than when a public official puts their office up for sale. Look at what she did with Russian uranium. She put the country, and I mean the entire country at risk in order to

cover up her pay-for-play scandals as Secretary of State. It's all about hiding criminal enterprise.


AVLON: It's all about hiding criminal enterprise, and this was a standard part of his stump speech in '16.

Now, all of this has been found to be bogus and baseless. But it did help shape public opinion in the election with a Washington Post-ABC news poll in September of '16 finding that quote, "Six in 10 Americans thought that Hillary Clinton's State Department did special favors for Clinton Foundation donors."

Now, this is a dictionary definition of whatboutism. It's change the topic, muddy the water, and accuse your opponent of what you've been credibly accused of.

Of course, Trump didn't stop when he became president. He kept on calling it the real Russia story, worse than Watergate. And tweeted, "Why isn't the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill and Hillary deal that allowed big uranium to go to Russia," which then- House Intelligence Committee head Devin Nunes did to deflect the Mueller investigation.

And the narrative was reinforced constantly.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW": The single-most damning connection between the Clintons and Russia. In other words, the rarely-covered scandal.


AVLON: And here's Newt Gingrich on C-SPAN, for example.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The uranium and the Russians and the scale of bribery involved with the Clinton Foundation.


AVLON: It was a regular drumbeat. And to calm the conservagencia, then-A.G. Jeff Sessions asked U.S. Attorney John Huber to look into it in November of '17.

Now, two years later, we're finding out that quote, "Current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything." That's because it was bogus from the beginning. A pumped-up hyperpartisan narrative that "The Washington Post," for example, gave four Pinocchio's back in 2017. And all this comes just three months after a Trump State Department investigation cleared Hillary Clinton on the e-mail server scandal, writing that quote, "There was no persuasive evidence of systemic deliberate mishandling of classified information."

But despite these exonerations from within Trump's own administration, there will be those who ignore the results or dismiss them as the work of the deep state or immediately hope that another investigation will vindicate their claims, while some folks just want to keep repeating "lock her up" like this guy last week.


TRUMP: You should lock her up, I'll tell you.


AVLON: But facts matter and it matters that these investigations were pursued because of hyperpartisan pressure.

But, Professor Maya Wiley told "The Washington Post" quote, "Targeting power of the state on a person you hate or just simply to distract is absolutely abuse of power and a danger to democracy."

And for all the airtime these conspiracy theories got, for all the people who were usefully duped and embraced the deflect and project, remember this. It was the Trump's foundation that was forced to dissolve after New York's A.G. found them illegally misusing charitable funds. As part of a settlement the president paid, 19 admissions of the misuse of funds.

New York's A.G. saying quote, "The president has been forced to pay $2 million for misusing charitable funds for his own political gain." Pot, meet kettle.


And that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: John, thank you very much for wrapping all of that up for people who may have missed that.

Now to this story. One hundred seventy-six people, as you know, died onboard that passenger plane that was mistakenly shot down by Iran after take-off last week.

Among the victims, a newlywed couple who had traveled to Iran to celebrate their wedding with family and friends. The family says Niloofar Ebrahim and Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi were looking forward to starting their life together.

And joining us now is Niloofar's sister, Navaz Ebrahim. Navaz, thank you so much for being here. We're so sorry for your loss in this horrible, horrific way. And thank you for sharing those beautiful pictures of us with --


CAMEROTA: -- of your sister and at her wedding.

What can you tell us about the couple?

EBRAHIM: Niloofar was the sweetest, loveliest sister and friend I could ever ask for. She was so much joy. You know, we're going to miss her so much.

She had so much talent to offer to this world. She was such a beautiful person, you know, and she had just graduated from school.

Niloofar and Saeed, they really loved each other. They were -- they couldn't wait to start their life together. They had so many dreams.

They wanted to have children. They couldn't -- just they couldn't come back to London and start all those dreams together and they had so much to offer to this world.

Saeed was very smart. He was a sweetheart. He was the type of person that if you need any help you ask him. He would go out of his way to just help you and find the answer and just to help you achieve what you want.

CAMEROTA: And they do -- I mean, in these photos, they looked so happy that they have found each other and that they've just gotten married.

And I know that from on the plane they called you, and can you tell us about --


CAMEROTA: -- that conversation?

EBRAHIM: Yes. They called me and my husband, Nima, right before their departure. Just a normal conversation saying love you, we're right about to depart and we're going to let you know when we get there, and that was it.

CAMEROTA: And then -- and then how did you hear that there had been a plane crash?

EBRAHIM: I was just checking my Facebook and I saw the news about a Ukrainian airplane that has crashed in Iran and it was departing Tehran. And I got a little worried but I did not know which airline Saeed and Niloofar were traveling with so I didn't take it seriously the first maybe half an hour.

But the level of stress, you know, just hit me and then I started Googling for the departure time, the flight number. And then, I think the news updated that everybody died, so obviously, I was very anxious, very nervous.

And I called my mom in Iran. I think it was 8:30 in the morning. I woke her up. And the first thing I asked her was that mom, can you tell me which airline they were flying with? And obviously, she got worried immediately and she was like what happened, what happened? And I asked my question again and I was like just tell me -- just tell me which airline. And as soon as she said the Ukrainian Airline, I started shaking.

And she asked again, what happened? And I was saying to her -- I was telling her that the Ukrainian Airline has crashed and please check the flight number for me. And she was so nervous it took her, I think -- I don't know, maybe 30 seconds just to find the flight number, and she said 752.

And we were all screaming and screaming. That was a -- that was a tragic night -- a tragic night.

CAMEROTA: And now that we know more information about what happened -- this was obviously no ordinary plane crash if there is such a thing -- and that Iran had accidentally shot a missile and that's what brought down this plane, how do you process that?

EBRAHIM: I feel that at least we have some closure now. We know what happened.