Return to Transcripts main page


State Department Officials Unaware Of "Imminent" Embassy Threats; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) Discusses Contradictions In Soleimani Targeting & Impeachment; Democratic Candidates Prepare For Final Debate Before Iowa Caucuses; Russia GRU Hacked Burisma. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 14, 2020 - 11:30   ET



KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: They sent a worldwide security warning, security threat warning. That was before the Qasem Soleimani strike.

And then they followed that up, and they made phone calls to U.S. embassies in the GCC, to the regional security officers there, telling them if they needed more security, they could call the State Department.

But the bottom line here, Kate, is that the State Department was not operating under the assumption or based on any intelligence that indicated there were four U.S. embassies facing an imminent threat.

So this further undermines President Trump's assertions and also begs more questions as to where he came up with this statement. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, as things move on, these core questions remain.

Kylie, thank you very much. Great reporting.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thank you for coming in.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: In addition to Kylie's reporting and what she's talking about there, we now have Mike Pompeo saying yesterday that the killing of Soleimani was part of a larger strategy of deterrence against Iran. His word, "deterrence."

What do you do with all of this as deterrence is different from an imminent threat?

GARAMENDI: Well, with regard to the legal justification, it is becoming increasingly clear that it did not -- that the attack did not meet any legal justification that exists in law today. And so the president and Pompeo and others are simply screwing around trying to find some reason or justification.

This is one more example of the chaos of this administration. There's no secondary plan here.

BOLDUAN: Do you think --

GARAMENDI: You take Soleimani out, and then what do you do?

BOLDUAN: Do you think the administration is lying about why they took him out?

GARAMENDI: Well, if you take a look at the president's record of lies, half-truths, fabrications, over 15,000 identified in the three-plus years he's been in office. So there's a very good track record that, yes, he's just trying -- he's making it up as we goes.

He saw an opportunity, probably more to do with impeachment than anything else, to take Soleimani out. And in doing so, now he's got to find out some justification for having done so. And searching for something that would stick. Literally throwing it up on the wall and seeing if it will stick.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, let me push on that. Because that's a serious charge, saying -- I heard you allude to that in another interview. That the attack to take out Soleimani was more to distract and distract and had more to do with distracting and moving away from impeachment than anything else.

Do you really think that they moved to attack the second-most-powerful person in Iran just to distract from the impeachment trial?

GARAMENDI: Well, we know this from Trump's own word in 2011 that he was accusing Obama of doing that in the run-up to the 2012 election. So certainly, historically, such a thing has been on Trump's mind dating back, what, eight years. So, yes --


BOLDUAN: But you have a suggestion of that. Have you seen a suggestion of that? That is -- I mean, that would be, from a layman's perspective, completely an utterly ridiculous reason to go to strike -- the top general in Iran.

GARAMENDI: You haven't spent much time on the streets or in the bars of America, have you? It is talked about all the time. It is common discussion, at least out in places that I've been around where: Do you suppose he did this because of the impeachment? Is he wagging the dog? It is a common discussion out there.

BOLDUAN: Common, maybe from Joe and Kate on the street, but from you, a member of Congress, who gets these classified -- that gets this classified briefing, do you truly believe that is the reason behind this?

GARAMENDI: Well, let's say we have not seen any real justification as to the timing. Certainly, the issue of imminent has been discussed now for 10 days or so and no clarity whatsoever.

The issue of the embassies now under discussion, and the president's words being batted down by his own State Department and Department of Defense. So why did he do it now?


GARAMENDI: That's a good question, isn't it?

BOLDUAN: Well, that's a question that I --


GARAMENDI: Yes, that you just asked me.

BOLDUAN: -- that we have been asking, that's for sure.

GARAMENDI: Sure. Sure.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, another huge moment, I need to ask you about, to change gears, sorry, is impeachment. Nancy Pelosi meeting with all of you just this morning.

Other than laying out that you'll be voting tomorrow to move forward with the House managers on impeachment, what did the speaker tell you? What was the message you took?

GARAMENDI: The message is that the House of Representatives has taken the necessary steps to honor the Constitution, for the people of America, putting forth an impeachment -- two impeachment resolutions that deal specifically with the president's actions where he took it upon himself to help his re-election, rather than helping national security and, thereby, putting aside his oath of office.

That's what we did. Now it is up to the Senate to take it up.


And we firmly believe, on this side -- and I think the 70 percent or so of the American public -- firmly believe that a fair trial requires witnesses and documents. We'll see what happens. We'll see what the Senators do.

Each one in my view has a constitutional -- a responsibility, a personal responsibility to carry out their oath of office and to make sure that the trial thoroughly investigates and has the witnesses and the documents before them as they deliberate these extraordinary charges that the House has brought against the president.

BOLDUAN: When do you think the House managers will be announced? Today? And how?

GARAMENDI: My understanding is that, tomorrow, the speaker will put forth a resolution that will move the impeachment documents to the Senate along with the managers. All that will be done tomorrow in a resolution. I understand there will be very little debate about it. It is a

procedural process that will take place tomorrow, probably near midday.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you so much for coming in.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, right now, the Democratic candidates are making their final preparations before squaring off, facing off in tonight's final debate before the Iowa caucuses. We're going to talk to two people who have been behind the scenes in these rooms in prepping candidates for what to expect tonight.



BOLDUAN: Tonight is the night. It is not just another Democratic primary debate. It is the last one before the first vote of the Democratic primary season. Six candidates taking the stage for two hours of going head to head.

And even though it is only been a month since the last one, it is -- there has been a sea charge for the country and the race since then. The country stood on the precipice of war with Iran. Multiple candidates have dropped out of the running. And the final step in the impeachment of President Trump is now getting under way.

So behind the scenes, how are the candidates preparing for tonight?

Joining me now are two people who know, Ian Sams. He was the national press secretary for Kamala Harris' campaign. And Sabrina Singh. She was the national press secretary for Cory Booker's campaign, who just ended his bid yesterday.

Thank you for being here.



Sabrina, as we were joking in the break, she's now getting sleep or maybe not yet, but what does the last debate before the Iowa caucuses mean for these campaigns on the stage?

SINGH: I think the January debate stage was always going to be so important no matter what. I think for Cory missing that debate we knew that was huge.

And this is the big opportunity for millions of people tuning in, in the early states and across the country to see where the candidates are, what the issues that -- where they stand on. And I think it does matter before Iowa what candidates stay on that

stage, because that will inform voters where they are on the issues and what they do and don't like about each candidate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

And, Ian, if you had to choose -- and I'm going to force you to -- is tonight about taking it to another candidate, you need to overcome, you need to make gains on, or is it about making your closing argument, defining yourself to the voters in the room and the voters watching from home?

SAMS: I think the two biggest dynamics that we see tonight are, one, we have seen polls over the last week or the last few days that have shown that it is tightly clustered at the top.

You have four candidates essentially in Iowa who competing to win, they're all within the margin of error and it is anybody's guess who is leading.

So a debate like tonight is an opportunity to distinguish yourself. That may come with attacks.

It may come with extending an argument that you had on the trail, whether it's Senator Sanders and Senator Biden, or whether it's Senator Sanders and Senator Warren, or Senator Warren and Mayor Buttigieg, extending the arguments to try to distinguish yourself, to eke out an edge to try to give you the -- a few more voters that you need to be successful.

But then the second big thing about tonight's debate is we're about to enter into two to three weeks of an intense media environment around the impeachment trial in the Senate.


SAMS: It is really the last opportunity that some of these candidates have to breakthrough in the national media environment and ecosystem to set themselves apart before we go into an obsession with what is going on in Washington, D.C.

So I think the stakes are pretty high tonight.

BOLDUAN: Wait. Did you pick door A or pick door B? Did you pick fight it out or did you pick play nice and present my case?

SAMS: I certainly think, at this stage of the campaign, distinctions and contrasts are more important. We see now that, again, these four candidates at the top of the field are all bunched up with each other.

And voters are looking for anything to distinguish them from one another in order to make their choice for who to caucus for or, if you're in New Hampshire, who to vote for in the primary there the next week.

The temptation to kind of draw those contrasts out more visibly and publicly is there. And I think we'll see some of that tonight.

BOLDUAN: So, Sabrina, one thing that cannot be missed when you look at the debate stage is this is a debate stage that is even -- that we're seeing even less diversity.

SINGH: That's right.

BOLDUAN: This is the first time with the six candidates on the stage that the entire debate stage is white.

Working with and for a candidate of color, who did not make the debate stage more than once, and who didn't make inroads with nonwhite voters, what do you take from that?


SINGH: You know, I think that is something we're all reckoning with and I think Ian knows this well. Not having a voice like Kamala and Cory on the stage is a real detriment to the party.

We saw the 2018 House flip because of a diversity -- the need for diversity with all of our candidates. Whether it is at the top of the ticket to state legislative races, we saw that diversity win.

And so, you know, not having Cory's perspective, not having Kamala's perspective, not having Andrew Yang's perspective, it is unfortunate. I don't think that's where our party is.

Cory was the only person in this race that lived in a low -- that still lives in a low-income community, that, you know, brought up the issue of gun violence and gun licensing programs to the race that actually a dozen candidates got behind. So I think it is a loss for our party.

And sad, but, you know, at the end of the day, we didn't have the resources to continue on. And Cory said from the begin beginning, Cory was never going to stay in this race to pull resources away from other candidates. He was going to stay in this race to win.

So unfortunately, we didn't see that path. But we do have some fantastic candidates still in the race and it will be certainly interesting to see what they bring to the stage tonight.

BOLDUAN: Tom Perez, the chairman of the -- the chairman of the Democratic Party, he was asked about this lack of diversity, what that means for the Democratic primary.

Ian, what is your takeaway? You thought about this a lot, in working with Kamala.

SAMS: Yes, for sure. Look, I think the DNC has done their level best to try to have a fair process throughout the primary and ensure as we head into the first contest in a few weeks that voters are really going to see a winnowed field that is based on not party rules necessarily, but based on voter sentiment. I think that, you know, Vice President Biden has proven tremendously

durable among communities of color, specifically, specifically black voters in South Carolina where he maintains a very significant lead.

I think for candidates who -- you know, whether it was Kamala or Senator Booker, or any of the other candidates, basically, who have been trying to carve out a niche for themselves in this race, it has been very tough to penetrate his support among those voters.

And I think that until you're able to do that, you're kind of trying to figure out, well, who else can I cobble together as part of my coalition to be viable, to compete with, who has been a pretty formidable frontrunner among more diverse voters and more diverse states.

I think right now you see the kind of manifestation of that. It is not necessarily reflective upon the races that Kamala or Cory ran. Both of them ran pretty strong campaigns with good messages and were well liked figures within the party.

I think it was just trying to eat away at the lead that Joe Biden has built among those voters for the duration of the campaign and sustained with him throughout this campaign because of the broad perception and the polls that have shown that he is leading Trump head to head with the biggest margin.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Great to have you guys. Thank you for being here. Very different capacity and I really appreciate it. Thank you.

SAMS: Thank you.

SINGH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Russia now accused of hacking the Ukrainian company at the center of President Trump's impeachment. What were they looking for? And is this the danger of what is to come?



BOLDUAN: Just in to CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it official, releasing a statement confirming that the House will vote tomorrow on transmitting the articles of impeachment to the Senate, and also in doing so, naming the Democratic House impeachment managers.

So while we are tracking that, we'll continue to do so, we are also watching this. An early warning sign of Russian interference not in 2016 but right now, heading into this year's election.

Russian military hackers targeted Burisma, the Ukraine gas company, at the center of President Trump's impeachment, according to an online security firm and first reported by the "New York Times." Joe Biden's son, you'll remember, Hunter Biden, served on the

company's board, and that was what President Trump specifically said he wanted the country to investigate.

The online security firm that discovered this hack is now saying this: "The time of the GRU" -- which is the Russian military -- "their campaign in relation to the 2020 U.S. elections raises the specter that this is an early warning of what we have anticipated since the successful cyberattacks undertaken during the 2016 U.S. elections."

A short time ago, House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, he said this.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): And with an eye towards helping this president, we all have to denounce any further meddling in our elections. Americans should decide American elections.


BOLDUAN: Thank god for Manu being able to walk fast there.

Joining me now is Senior National Correspondent, Alex Marquardt, with much more detail on this.

Alex, what do we know here?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, what appears to have happened is exactly what we do know happened in 2016 with the Russian hacking of the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign in so-called phishing attacks.

This company, Area One, they are the cyber researchers. They say they don't know what Russia was looking for in Burisma or what they got. But what they did say was this started in mid-November, and, Kate, that's when this impeachment was ramping up and the word "Burisma" became familiar to lots of Americans.

So if we assume they were looking for dirt on the Bidens, then the Russians were looking for the same thing the president is also accused of looking for.


So this was a classic phishing attack in which the GRU, the Russian military hackers, set up a network of fake Web pages, log-in page that looked like they were Burisma properties. They blasted e-mails to Burisma employees to use their log-ins to get into these pages. And it appears that they were successful.

But, again, Kate, it's unclear what exactly they did get.

BOLDUAN: A lot to be learned from it.

Alex, thank you very much. Coming up for us, much more on breaking news. Speaker Pelosi just

announced a vote tomorrow to send articles of impeachment over to the Senate. And both sides are now prepping for the next chapter of the historic impeachment of President Trump.