Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

US-Led Coalition Strikes Iran-Backed Houthi Militants In Yemen; Closing Arguments Wrap In Trump's NY Civil Fraud Trial; Dramatic Final Day Of Trump Civil Fraud Trial Wraps. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 11, 2024 - 20:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Deeply personal.

GANGEL: Deep, yes.

BURNETT: And the money, I mean, his entire brand (inaudible) because I'm a businessman ...

GANGEL: Right.

BURNETT: ... I'm a billionaire, right?

GANGEL: Right.

BURNETT: It goes to the heart of absolutely everything he says he is. When do you think we'll know?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR DOD: The judge says that he'll rule probably by the end of the month. And then the question is it's going to be appealed. The appeals might take years.

BURNETT: Why is it always that's the case? I always come to mind hoping and then then I see the look in his eye, and I know it's years.

All right. Well, thank you all so very much. We appreciate your time and all of yours as our coverage of the breaking news out of the Middle East and the US strikes continues with "AC 360".


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We begin tonight with breaking news. American-led airstrikes in one of the most volatile hot spots in the world right now. This is some of the first video of explosions tonight in Yemen's Saada province, just north of the country's capital.

For weeks, with Israel and Hamas at war in Gaza and fears that war could widen Iranian backed Houthi fighters from Yemen have been attacking commercial ships in the nearby Red Sea. There have been dozens of attacks.

Tonight, US and British forces have struck back using air and naval assets, both surface ships and submarines with one Houthi official, moments ago, saying that multiple cities had been hit. CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon for us tonight. MJ Lee at the White House where the president has just weighed in.

I want to start at the Pentagon. Oren, what do we know about the targets so far that have been hit?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: More than a dozen different targets were hit by several different US aircraft and assets. It was not just fighter jets and surface vessels, but also submarines that took part in this, launching Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles.

The targets included not only radar systems, but also storage and launch sites for ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, as well as UAVs. Now, those three types of weapons are significant. Those are the types of weapons the Houthis have used to attack and, frankly, to try to terrorize international shipping in the Red Sea. It is because of that threat to one of the world's most critical international waterways that, first, a number of major shipping companies have chosen to avoid the Red Sea, but second, that the US setup what it called Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multinational coalition to defend ships there. That was purely defensive.

Now, after warning repeatedly the Houthis to stop these attacks, the US, the UK and backed by other countries decided they needed to take offensive action, carrying out these strikes against once again more than a dozen Houthi targets across several cities in Yemen. This isn't an all-out attempt to try to destroy the Houthis -- far from it -- this targets the capabilities and tries to degrade the capabilities they have used to attack international shipping lanes over the course of the past several weeks and months -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Oren, talk about the coalition that the US has -- has involved in this.

LIEBERMANN: This is quite interesting. The US and the UK, from what we understand, took part in the kinetic part of this operation in terms of firing the missiles and carrying out the strikes, but they were backed by a number of other countries here including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands.

The US was looking to make sure this wasn't just a unilateral action, that they weren't acting on their own, that they had international support. Part of that was a diplomatic effort, right? There was just a UN Security Council resolution passed effectively warning the Houthis to stop attacking international shipping in the Red Sea. There was also a joint statement put out by a number of countries.

The US and about a dozen other countries earlier this month effectively warning the Houthis of the same thing that clearly didn't do anything to stop them. We have now seen 27 times the Houthis have attacked international shipping. And now we are seeing a coalition of partners, some taking part in the attacks, some likely taking part in the intelligence and the logistics that went into these attacks on Houthi targets. It's not just the US sending a message now, and this is the important point, it is a coalition of countries sending a message.

COOPER: And, MJ, is it clear when the president made this decision?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Anderson, what I'm being told tonight is that sort of the final straw of all of this came Tuesday when we saw the barrage of attacks by the Houthis in the Red Sea that, when that unfolded, that President Biden sort of gave the go ahead for these airstrikes that we are seeing on our screen right now. But, of course, these warnings have been coming for some time.

These strikes, these attacks and provocations from the Houthis in the Red Sea have been going on for weeks, as Oren was just talking about. And US officials had been giving warnings repeatedly. And actually, in recent days, one US senior official had said, this is basically going to serve as our final warning. There isn't going to be another warning.

So when we saw those attacks on Tuesday, which I'm told by a senior US official, also had targeted US vessels, we knew and we expected that some kind of different response would likely be coming from the US and its allies.

I also just want to point you to a part of the president's statements that we just got that we just got that I thought was really noteworthy and gave a signal as to what might be to come. He said in the statement that these targeted strikes are supposed to be a clear message that the US and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel and allow hostile actors to imperil Freedom of Navigation.


He then goes onto say I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people, the free flow of international commerce is necessary. So, clearly, Anderson, this statement is meant to serve as a warning to the Houthis that more of this could come if they do not stop these attacks and provocations in the Red Sea.

COOPER: And, Oren, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the region meeting with Bahraini officials recently. And so would this -- I mean, this certainly has been, it seems, in the works for quite some time.

LIEBERMANN: It looks like it not only because of the amount of effort, cooperation, integration, and planning it would take to carry out such a large strike. But to do it with other countries means they have to all be on the same pages.

Bahrain is the very interesting one here. It's the only country in the region that's part of this group. It is also home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. So there is some cooperation here, two countries that are notably missing, of course. One is Saudi Arabia, which is still trying to work out and advance a delicate sort of ceasefire with the Houthis after fighting years' long war with them. And the UAE, the Emiratis also missing. Now, look, the US has made clear that the defensive part of this Operation Prosperity Guardian isn't going away to safeguard international shipping, and President Joe Biden warning that the offensive part of this may also not go away if the Houthis don't stop attacking that shipping. So we'll see if the coalition of countries willing to take part in this grows as well.

COOPER: And, MJ, President Biden made clear in his statement earlier or just recently tonight the price that has been paid thus far by all of these attacks, the 27 attacks that Oren talked about. He talked about more than 50 nations have been affected, 27 attacks on international commercial shipping, crews from more than 20 countries have been threatened or taken hostage, more than 2,000 ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea. This has been going on for quite some time.

LEE: It has been. And in other words, if you're parsing that statement, this situation has gotten so intolerable that the US and the U.K., along with support from other countries, felt compelled to take this kind of action. I think it's also just really important to underscore from here at the White House how much the Biden administration didn't really want to get to this point.

In so many ways, it has been a huge priority for this White House and the administration to try to keep the situation in the Middle East contained. Obviously, for a lot of reasons, the situation there is incredibly volatile.

They also have been very wary of, in any way, disturbing the current truce in the Yemen civil war between the Houthis and the Saudis. So I think the fact that this action was taken anyway just really signals how intolerable the situation had become.

And just, Anderson, since you noted the part of the president's statement where he was talking about the widespread effect of the attack that the Houthis have been undertaking, obviously, the potential economic impact is not just a side note. We are talking about weeks and weeks of a situation where major shipping companies have had to find different routes, basically, not operate their usual shipping lines in the Red Sea. That is going to already cause delays and other kinds of disruptions.

This is something that US officials and White House officials are watching really carefully. So far at least, as of today, senior White House officials saying that they've not seen this kind of economic impact at least here domestically, but if this kind of situation goes on for days or weeks, certainly, that is going to become a more urgent problem and urgent potential concern for this White House -- Anderson.

COOPER: Oren, we should point out Saudi Arabia is not listed among the coalition of countries involved in this attack. That is significant given Saudi Arabia has conducted a long-term bombing campaign in Yemen. Tens of thousands of people have been killed.

They're now, though, as MJ indicated, have something of a truce and I assume are not involved because they don't want to upset that. LIEBERMANN: Right, and that is a very delicate truce. That's the reason it looks like the Saudis are not involved right now. As you point out, the Saudis conducted a widespread bombing campaign to try to destroy the Houthis, but that, obviously, very much unsuccessful as we've seen over the course of the past weeks and months.

It's interesting to note the interplay here between the US, the Houthis and Saudi Arabia early in the Biden administration, they announced they would halt support to Saudi offensive action in Yemen though they would still support the Saudi's defensively. So the US was very much trying to put that to an end and get to a ceasefire there that was achieved frankly not all that long ago -- 18, 20 months or so. So trying not to upset that here between the Houthis and Saudi as the US, UK, and others taking part in this operation to strike the Houthis.


So there is delicate diplomacy at work in the background here as well that the US is trying not to upset. We'll see how successful they are because the Houthis have very much promised they would respond to any US action.

COOPER: Yes, Oren Liebermann, MJ Lee, thank you. More now on the scope of tonight's operation, what we know so far. I want to go to CNN's Alex Marquardt.

So let's talk about the strikes. What do we know about the targets?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the importance of the Red Sea cannot be denied. You have 15% of the global seaborne trade that passes through here. And if you look down here, this is the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which an absolutely critical narrow area that ships go through into the Red Sea and then up to the Suez Canal.

There were more than a dozen strikes across Yemen from north to south across a variety of targets. We're learning more and more by the minute really of what these targets were. But they were at least in five different locations, if not more, in and around the capital of Sana'a over here on the western coast of Yemen and Al-Hudaydah, and then in several other locations, up and down the -- this north-south axis in Yemen.

Now, we are hearing both from the coalition that carried out these strikes, as well as the Houthis. The Houthis have said that a number of air bases and airports were hit along with several camps. They mentioned the 22nd Brigade Camp in the Taiz district, which is in the district down south.

This is what we're learning from this coalition which, of course, the US is really leading in terms of the assets that were brought to bear. They hit radar systems. They hit drone, storage, and launch sites. As Oren touched on, the drones have been absolutely a critical part of those attacks that the Houthis have been carrying out ballistic, and cruise missile, storage, and launch sites. And then in terms of what assets were used, this is just what the US used in tonight's series of strikes. We also know the RAF, the British Air Force, as well as the British Destroyer, they have been out there.

But the USS Eisenhower Strike Group has basically been out in the Red Sea serving as the deterrent to Iran and other countries. US trying to send a message to not widen this conflict with that formidable strike group. But fighter jets, US fighter jets were used to carry out tonight's strikes along with ships. We don't know exactly, which ones yet, but we do have the name of the submarine that was used. This is a guided missile submarine called the USS Florida.

Very notable that the US military is telling us tonight the name of the submarine. And they, both the surface ships and the submarine fired these land missiles. These are essentially surface-to-surface missiles -- Tomahawk missiles against this more than a dozen locations inside Yemen.

So a formidable amount of force brought to bear tonight in these strikes all across Yemen -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, obviously, we don't know if this is the end of these strikes or this will be an ongoing operation. Do -- let's talk more about the -- what's behind the US decision to launch the strikes now?

MARQUARDT: Well, quite simply, as I think MJ was just saying, this was -- the strikes that we saw, the attempted attacks by Yemen just two days ago on Tuesday, the biggest yet involving drones, ballistic and cruise missiles was essentially the straw that broke the camel's back. There had been repeated warnings by the US and others to the Houthis to essentially knock it off.

We have seen the US carry out responses against Iranian-backed militant groups in Iraq and Syria. We had not yet seen any kind of US response against the Houthis in Yemen. And that is, in large part, because they do threaten this waterway.

But essentially having choked this off, the US now trying to send a message to the Houthis that they need to back down, they're essentially trying to punch them in the nose, bloody them, and get them to stop.

Whether that will work, Anderson, is now the major question. Of course, the big foe here in the region is Iran. They back forces in Yemen, in Iraq and Syria, in Lebanon with Hezbollah, of course, and then Hamas in Gaza.

So as Oren was saying, the Houthis have vowed to respond. So it remains to be seen whether there will be some kind of escalation here or whether the US and these other countries have sent the message that they are intending to send tonight. This is absolutely critical not just in terms of potential for a widening war, but for global commerce.

Because of the amount of shipping that go through here, now you have ships being forced to not go through the Red Sea, instead go south around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, which makes things a lot more complicated, a lot more expensive.

COOPER: Yes. We should point out a senior member of the Houthis, Abdul Salam Jahaf made a statement on Thursday warning, quote, "We will confront America, make it kneel down, burn its battleships and all its bases and everyone that cooperates with it no matter the cost. He went onto say we will trade on America with a fee.


Remains to be seen. What, if any, response they may have to these latest attacks. Just moments ago, CNN's Manu Raju got a statement supporting the strike from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It reads, in part, and I quote, "President Biden's decision to use military force against these Iranian proxies is overdue. The United States and our allies must leave no room to doubt that the days of unanswered terrorist aggression are over.

Joining us now two former NATO Supreme Allied Commanders, Retired Army General Wesley Clark and Retired Air Force General Philip Breedlove. With us as well from Israel, CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson.

General Clark, let me start with you. I'm wondering what your reaction is to news of these strikes. What do you make of what we've seen so far?

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, I think it's a good first step. I think it could have happened sooner. I'm glad we have a coalition.

And, you know, when you're dealing with something like this, Anderson, you don't want to have to do this in the first place. But when you do, you must obtain escalation dominance.

So I didn't see anything in the reports about taking out the boats. So there are boats. They've been used to try to attack shipping. Take out the boats. Take out every means that the Houthis have to get at these shipping areas wherever the mine fields are -- the mines are stationed.

Now, the Iranians pulled their destroyers back, so they're trying to run from this. And that's the next step is to do something with Iran. But for now, it's on the Houthis. And so, they either stop or we will have to escalate what we're doing. It's all a matter of getting the targeting. The intelligence is so critical. We can strike anything in there and probably hit it if we know what we're after.

So I'm sure we've been preparing this strike package for a while, but we're going to have to probably go back again and harder, and they're going to -- it's a game, and they're learning from our strike. They're figuring out what we know, so this is just the beginning of this, unfortunately.

COOPER: General Breedlove, do you have a sense how sophisticated the Houthis are in terms of the weaponry that they have at their disposal? GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, remember that all roads in the Middle East lead back to Iran. So they are being fed capabilities that are beyond what they have would have created in their country. And this is what this is all about.

We have a strategic defensive issue. We have lost what deterrents we've had in this area -- 130 strikes against our people, 27 against international shipping, one boat being held. And so, our deterrence has to be regained.

And we've lost the initiative. We are now reactive rather than proactive. And I think this is the first step to begin to be proactive and try to re-establish deterrence much like Wes and others just talked about. We have to make Iran and all of their proxies understand that they will have to pay a cost for the things they're doing.

It's a little slow in coming, but now maybe we will begin to regain that initiative and re-establish the deterrence that we once held in this area.

COOPER: So, General Breedlove, in terms of the Houthis what does that look like? I mean, General Clark had talked about going after mines, after boats that they have access to. I mean, how many other kind of targets do you think there are? How long could this go on for?

BREEDLOVE: Well, I think there are many yet to be struck. We heard today that they were moving some of their best kits into bunkers that were built for a different part of a different war. And so, they know we're coming after them.

And the good news is I think we demonstrated to them today that we have good intelligence of where they are because we did strike value targets today. And I think we just have to increase the cost, as Wes mentioned, increase the cost so that they know this is not going to be a profitable venture.

COOPER: Nic Robertson, we should point out, I mean, the Houthis have been saying that they are attacking the shipping lanes, attacking targets in the Red Sea in support of Gaza. What kind of reaction do you think these strikes will likely have in Israel, in Gaza, in Lebanon?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think if we look back to before the Houthis actually started targeting shipping in the Red Sea, they were actually trying to fire cruise missiles towards Israel, trying to hit Eilat. So it's interesting that it is some of the longer-range missiles like the cruise missile sites that have already been taken out. And, of course, the Saudis have huge commercial shipping interests in the Red Sea because they're developing with China the port city of Jizan, which is just across the border from Yemen.


Jeddah is an important port. No, of course, their big signature development in the future, NEOM is on the Red Sea as well. So the Saudis have a vested interest in stability in the Red Sea. And it was interesting that in those first waves of attacks that went towards Israel from the Houthis, it was the Saudis as well that actually intercepted some of the cruise missiles going to Israel. They put up fighter jets to do it.

And the Houthis actually had a cross-border raid against the Saudis, killing Saudi soldiers on the border not in many weeks after October 7th, again, ostensibly in support of the people of Gaza. That was the Houthi's rationale. So the Saudis here have a vested interest in seeing stability, but a war with the Houthis involving Saudi allies like the United States and the UK seems very likely to draw them in over time.

And I think to a point that General Wesley Clark was making about the boats, the way that the Houthis actually operate in the Red Sea, as well as firing drones at shipping, the way that they try to board them, as well as trying to use helicopters, they take over small commercial fishing vessels, sort of, you know, 50, 100-foot type vessels. And then they use those as sort of a mother ship for smaller boats that would then go out and try to board some of these bigger commercial vessels moving through the Red Sea.

So you can blind their ability to see the shipping that's coming by hitting the radar sites, which was one of the target packages today. But the actual means with which they go after the shipping is small, harder to hit, and mingles in with regular fishermen who use the regular fishing ports along the coast of Yemen.

So this has a possibility to get messy. But clearly, the very strong message has been sent. But I think the idea that the Houthis are going to back down and pack up and go away quickly, I don't think that's what we're going to see at this time.

COOPER: General Clark, to Nic's point about these small vessels, I mean, it reminds me a little bit of the sort of Somali pirates years ago. Obviously, the scale seems to be different on this, and the impact of it is so far different, so is the US response so far. How difficult is it to -- for US assets to counter these kind of small boat attacks on -- and attempts to board international shipping?

CLARK: Well, I think you've got to give the US commanders the mission to do it, put the intelligence on it. We've got lots of resources in the area. We've got helicopters working with our own special forces. We can bring our ships a bit closer if necessary. We can handle this.

Now, the key is, of course, there's no guarantee we'll never have any collateral damage just as in the case of these strikes. We don't know exactly what the collateral damage might be.

But just to reinforce what Nic and Phil have said, we need escalation dominance here. We don't want to be in a tit for tat indefinite. They shoot some missiles, we drop some bombs. They shoot some missiles, we drop some bombs. That's not the way to handle this. So we've given plenty of warning that we don't want escalation.

So they're still defiant. The next time got to be bigger, got to be boulder strike, got to be more comprehensive strike, got to take away not their will, but their capabilities to interfere with the shipping. That's the real goal here.

You know, we've apologized for two months saying that we don't want escalation. We don't want escalation. We've said that enough. When it comes to it and you have to use military force, you have to use it effectively, and that means getting the escalation dominance, so we cut off their ability. And we can largely do that against sea targets.

In here, they're going to try to lay mines. They're going to use unmanned surface vehicles. They're going to try to get unmanned undersea vehicle. They're going to get information from Iran. All that's part of our understanding, and we'll put a campaign plan together. Just give us the mission and we'll do it. We want to stop the tit for tat.

COOPER: I want to check back in with Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon. Oren, I understand there's a statement you've gotten?

LIEBERMANN: We've just gotten a statement from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who it is s worth noting, those remain in the hospital at this point, after being admitted on January 1st. But nevertheless, in the statement he released just a short time ago, he says -- and this errors -- echoes language we heard from President Joe Biden.

Today's coalition action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will bear further costs if they do not end their illegal attacks. So you see there very much the threat of further action from the US, perhaps the UK, and the countries that back this operation if this doesn't stop. And he also gives a bit more information about what exactly was targeted.


UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned surface vessels, we saw one of those used to try to attack shipping, land attack cruise missiles, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities. So the US, it seems, going after the Houthi's ability to monitor their own skies and monitor the sea around the southern Red Sea, which was where many of their attacks have been focused on international shipping.

One other statement that's worth pointing out here, Austin says a coalition of countries committed to upholding the rules-based international order demonstrated our shared commitment to defending in international vessels and commercial vessels exercising navigational rights and freedoms from illegal and unjustifiable attacks.

The reason I point that out is because normally when you see the US highlighting their action in support of the international rules-based order, it is, for example, in the other side of the world in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait. These are the actions from China.

Here are the US needing to put the finger point on that and say, look, this is what we're upholding in carrying out these the strikes against the Houthis in Yemen who have targeted one of the world's most critical international waterways. COOPER: It also echoes language President Biden had used in his statements saying the response to international community to these reckless attacks has been ignited, resolute. Last month, the US launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, a coalition of more than 20 nations committed to defending international shipping deterring Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

He went on saying we also joined more than 40 nations in condemning Houthi threats. And last week, together with 13 allies and partners, we issued an unequivocal warning that Houthi rebels would bear the consequences if their attacks did not cease.

He also points to the United Nations Security Council resolution passed yesterday demanding that Houthis end attacks on merchant and commercial vessels, so emphasizing just the large numbers of actors in the region and around the world, which are involved in this, as well as the United Nations.

Alex Marquardt, is it clear how many US assets were in the region ahead of these strikes and how many non-US assets were involved?

MARQUARDT: There are a lot of US assets not just involved in trying to deter a wider conflict, but all across the region more traditionally. We are learning more about the foreign assets, the non-American assets that were also involved in this, notably, those Royal Air Force jets from the Brits. We also know that they have had a destroyer out in the Red Sea as well.

So what we've known in terms of this conflict, Anderson, the US has actually reduced the number of US forces that they initially sent out following the October 7th massacre. Initially, there was a Carrier Strike Group, the Gerald Ford, which was already in the eastern Mediterranean, then the USS Eisenhower was sent out to join it. Those two carrier strike groups meant to send a very significant message to Iran and the groups that they back to not escalate the situation.

The Ford has actually gone home with its Strike Group. There have also been hundreds of American soldiers who were sent out to the Middle East who have also gone home. But make mow mistake, still a huge number of US forces dedicated to this Red Sea issue, as well as the broader region.

I mentioned the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. So, of course, there's the aircraft carrier, the Eisenhower. There are two -- three other ships associated with that, one cruiser and two destroyers.

And then you have four fighter jet squadrons. You have a helicopter squadron, electronic warfare squadron. So all of those, just here, dealing with this threat from the Houthis in Yemen.

And then more broadly, Anderson, this whole area of command as it's known in the Middle East falls under US Central Command. The biggest base there for the US Central Command is right here in Doha, and then you've got the US Fifth Fleet that patrols the seas. That is based right here in Bahrain. And then, Anderson, you have thousands and thousands of US troops who are all across the region here in Saudi Arabia, here in Kuwait, here in Iraq and Jordan. So if this were to escalate, it's not like the Eisenhower is on its own dealing with the Houthis, you also have all these US forces, all of these US assets and bases across the region who are ready to respond.

Again, the US goal tonight was to de-escalate. Now whether the Houthis see it that way, we don't know yet. There certainly is an expectation that there could be a response. But I would agree with General Clark, there are assets in place to deal with that response, Anderson.

COOPER: General Breedlove, the Houthi deputy foreign minister just issued a statement saying, in part, quote, "Our country was subjected to a massive aggressive attack by American British ships, submarines, warplanes, and America and Britain will undoubtedly have to prepare to pay a heavy price and bear all the dire consequences of this blatant aggression.

I'm wondering what you make of that statement?


And more importantly, what is the Houthis ability to project power to make attacks beyond just in the shipping lanes in the Red Sea?

BREEDLOVE: So Anderson, it's a great question. You cannot dismiss their ability to wreak havoc in other places of the world. And we will have to reestablish as several of your discussants have already mentioned tonight. We're going to have to reestablish our position to be able to block and prevent and where required attack those capabilities.

This is much like what we have seen in Ukraine and we are going to face some of the same problems in the South China Sea and with North Korea. These people are all connected in watching how America deals with problems overseas and then attacking them.

And remember that we are deterred and have lost the initiative in Ukraine largely because of Mr. Putin's statements about widening the war and nuclear expansion. So what did the Houthi leader do today? He threatened us with a wider war and so forth, expecting that we might be deterred at that point.

I think, again, that thankfully, this may be the first rounds of reestablishing deterrence and retaking the initiative rather than being reactive in these kind of conflicts.

COOPER: Nic, what do you make of Houthis abilities?

ROBERTSON: I think they're somewhat of an unpredictable actor in this environment, because they have seemed to act, in many occasions, quite irrationally. It has a rationale to them, and undoubtedly has a rationale to their sponsors in Tehran. But their ability to do the unexpected, I don't think can be underestimated. For a number of years, until China got with Saudi and Iran to get a diplomatic agreement almost a year ago now, the Houthis were really active in firing cruise missiles into Saudi Arabia. Not just short missiles over the border to port cities like Jazan, but hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles to the capital of Riyadh.

And this was going on over a number of years. So they do have the capability to reach. They've also since they've claimed to have sent drones into the UAE as well crashing at one time into one of the airports there. So their ability to do the unexpected, I believe, cannot be underestimated. And their persistence in taking up what -- you know, this support of the people of Gaza, which is new to them.

It's not something they've made a big issue out of in the past. Yes, they've referenced it, but it's not been a big issue. Their ability to give unexpected reasons and rationale and do the unexpected can't be overlooked.

COOPER: And I want to go to MJ Lee at the White House. I understand there's been now another statement from the Houthis.

LEE: Yes, actually, Anderson, right now we are monitoring a press call that is taking place where we are getting just new information about some of the behind the scenes and what sort of led to what we are seeing right now on the screen.

A senior administration official confirming what CNN reported earlier this evening that U.S. vessels had been targeted by the Houthis on Tuesday. This is the series of attacks that we saw just two days ago. This included a U.S. commercial vessel as well as, according to this official, U.S. military vessels.

And just to give you a sense of what exactly happened on Tuesday, we are told by this official that had it not been for this defensive coalition that had been in place in the Red Sea -- this is what we've been referring to as Operation Prosperity Guardian -- that ships would have been sunk and that this commercial ship that was full of jet fuel would have been hit, and they described it as a close call.

Now, we are also told that some of this we also reported a little earlier, that after these attacks by the Houthis on Tuesday, this is when President Biden convened his national security team. He ordered his advisers to basically draw up what the possible plans were for retaliation. And then he directed his defense secretary, Secretary Austin, to carry out this response that we are seeing right now, led by the U.S. and the U.K.

So again, more details are filtering in about how, especially the last few days have unfolded. But as we have been talking about throughout the hour, we've gotten a lot of this information from U.S. officials in recent days about how serious the situation was and that there was going to be some kind of action taken. But, of course, we are now learning in real time what exactly led to those considerations, Anderson.

[20:35:16] COOPER: I'm also getting word that the Houthis have made a new statement. I just want to try to get a read on exactly what the wording on it was. But I believe that -- can you repeat what that wording was to me, Charlie, in my ear? They were told that they had said that they had launched possible retaliatory actions.

LEE: Yes. Anderson, I can help you out there.


LEE: Houthis are claiming that they have launched fresh attacks on U.S. and U.K. warships in the Red Sea. Obviously, this is a fast unfolding situation and an incredibly volatile situation where we may see sort of a back and forth now that this -- these airstrikes have been conducted by the U.S. and the U.K.

U.S. officials are making clear that, of course, there are very much on the lookout to see how and in what ways the Houthis may respond. Again, we will get back to you with more reporting once we know exactly what the U.S. assessment of this claim from the Houthis is. Again, that claim is that they are launching -- have launched fresh attacks on U.S. and U.K. warships in the Red Sea. Anderson?

COOPER: If we still have General Clark, General Clark, if that is the case -- and again, that's just a statement made by the Houthis, we don't have confirmation that has actually occurred -- that's something that would pretty easily be monitored, I would imagine, by U.S. authorities. I mean, if U.S. authorities are in the midst of a strike against the Houthis, I would imagine they are looking very carefully at what is being lit up in various areas controlled by the Houthis.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Sure, and they're -- we're also doing our bomb damage assessment after the strike. And obviously the warships have got all of their radars on alert at your battle stations. You're ready to defend yourself. Sure.

But one more thing, Anderson, in terms of unexpected directions, we should never forget that there is always the possibility of a terrorist strike managed by Iran in the name of the Houthis anywhere against U.S. assets, including here in the United States. We know that these capabilities are out there.

We know the Iranians have the capability to strike. We know that the Iranians are -- they're very carefully managing this. They want to assert their pretensions to regional hegemony. They want to try to isolate and threaten Israel. They also want to reduce the credibility and influence of the United States in the region without being struck in such a way they lose their nuclear capabilities.

So there's a dance going on with the Iranians, and it wouldn't be surprising if they -- some of the efforts come in the form of attempted terrorist activities against U.S. bases, U.S. embassies worldwide or whatever. And I'm sure our government's got everybody on alert for this.

COOPER: And Nic, more on that. What some context about their capabilities?

ROBERTSON: Yes, I mean, one of their capabilities, and we've seen them use it before in the past on shipping in the Red Sea, going back a couple of years here, but they have these drone boats, these fast drone boats that are packed with explosives that they send out to try to target shipping.

They've tried to use them against oil tankers in the Red Sea before. So their ability to launch a couple of those at short notice tonight, you know, cannot be uncounted for the, you know, for the naval assets in the region, which I'm sure they're looking out for.

You know, one other point I would make here as well, and this must be going through the mind of Saudi officials when they consider what Secretary Blinken has been talking about, their willingness still with Israel to have a normalization of relationships on their provisos, two-state solution, all those things.

But with the Houthis at your back door saying they support the people of Gaza, that's an implicit threat against Saudi Arabia for any normalization with Israel. If the Houthis are going after international shipping and have gone after Saudi with cruise missiles before, that clearly has to be on their agenda set potentially for the future, and Saudi Arabia will be acutely aware of that potential threat. This really -- the Houthis, have really unlocked quite a big threat in the region right now.

COOPER: Nic, thank you very much. I want to thank everybody so far.

In the wake of Defense Secretary Austin statement a moment ago, we're expecting to get more details from a senior Pentagon official who's going to join us shortly. We'll bring you that. We'll stay on the story as we get any additional new information throughout this hour and throughout the evening.

Coming up next, the former president's own closing remarks in his civil fraud trial after making outlandish claims in court. What he said and what the facts say. Keeping him honest, ahead.



COOPER: More on tonight's breaking news, as we wait to speak with a Pentagon spokesman about the American and British airstrikes that have taken place on Houthi targets in Yemen, got new video tweeted out by Britain's Secretary of State for Defense. Their defense secretary shows a British Eurofighter aircraft, the kind that took part in the strike taking off.

Back to our breaking news, the missile strikes against the Iranian- backed Houthis. We're joined now by Pentagon Press Secretary Major General Patrick Ryder. Major General, appreciate you being with us. What phase is this mission currently in? Is it ongoing? Is it finished? MAJ. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. First of all, Anderson, thanks very much for having me. So we've conducted these strikes. Of course, you know, if there's an eventuality where we may need to take self defense strikes, of course, we'll do that.

But for all intents and purposes right now, we've conducted this significant multi nation operation in order to send a clear message to the Houthis that the kinds of attacks that they've been conducting since November 19th, 27 as of today will not be tolerated.

And so these strikes were specifically targeting facilities that were known to have radars, missiles and UAV capabilities that have enabled the Houthis to conduct these strikes. So going forward, the intent here is to degrade and disrupt their ability to do this going ahead in the future.

COOPER: Have you done damage assessment yet to get a sense of how effective these strikes have been?

RYDER: Well, after any operation, of course, that's going to be a natural aspect. And so that's ongoing right now. And of course, you know, we'll know more. But these strikes again were intended to be very surgical, very precise and very deliberate to degrade and disrupt Houthi capability.

COOPER: You indicated that there would be more if there are further strikes by Houthis if there are not further strikes. Is this done? We talked to General Wesley Clark earlier who was pointing out, you know, there are small boats used by the Houthis to strike at ships in the Red Sea. Are you looking to -- are you looking for other targets now, or is it basically, this is done and you're waiting to see what a response is?


RYDER: Yes. Well, I'm not going to, as I'm sure you can appreciate, telegraph or speculate on potential future operations. But as Secretary Austin has said tonight in his statement, we reserve the right to protect and defend our forces, to defend the global trade that transits through the Red Sea. And to take necessary steps to, again, make sure that the Houthis understand loud and clear that it's unacceptable to the international community to continue to conduct these reckless, dangerous, and illegal attacks against commercial shipping and mariners that are transiting this vital waterway.

COOPER: Can you talk about the role played by British forces in this, Bahrain, the Netherlands were cited as well? Australia, I believe as well.

RYDER: Well, yes. We'll let our international partners, of course, talk to their own role for the United States. We had multiple capabilities involved in this to include U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force aircraft, U.S. Navy ships and submarine subsurface capabilities, all participating in these strikes.

And again, we'll have much more information to provide in the future on what those capabilities were. But needless to say, this multinational effort sent a very loud and clear message to the Houthis tonight.

COOPER: There was a vow of retribution from the Houthis saying, quote, "We will confront America, make it kneel down, burn its battleships and all its bases and everyone who cooperates with it, no matter the cost." Have you seen any response by the Houthis thus far, because there was also -- there was a claim that they had made about launching retaliatory strike?

RYDER: Yes. So far, we have not seen any kind of reaction or retaliation. And it's important to remember how we got here. On November 19th, we started to see these Houthi attacks against commercial vessels transiting this waterway. Over 50 nations have been affected by this.

And as you know, 10 percent to 15 percent of global trade transits through the Red Sea. There had been multiple warnings to include. Early in January, a statement by many nations saying that there would be consequences. Clearly, none of us want to see an escalation of conflict.

No one wants to see, you know, the tensions rise in the region, but it's unacceptable to see the kind of behavior that we've been seeing. And so again, tonight was intended to disrupt and degrade their ability to launch those attacks.

COOPER: How much of this coalition force is comprised of U.S. military assets and how much of it is made of foreign military assets? Can you say?

RYDER: Yes, I don't have a breakdown to provide, Anderson. Needless to say, I think the important thing here is the fact that this is a multinational effort, a multinational coalition, and that these Houthi attacks have been, as I highlighted, essentially affecting over 50 nations and global trade and the economic wellbeing of nations around the world.

And so, again, we would hope that the messages received loud and clear, the Houthi stop these attacks and that mariners and commercial vessels can transit this vital waterway without being subject to the dangers that these attacks have presented.

COOPER: General Ryder, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

RYDER: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up next, the former president in court and afterwards making claims about his civil trial that in reality. We're keeping him honest next.



COOPER: Closing arguments and verbal fireworks today, a New York civil fraud case against the former president and his family business. Now, in a moment, we'll talk about how each side summed up the trial, which could spell the end of the Trump organization as we know it.

First, though, keeping them honest. What the former president said outside the courtroom today came after the Judge Arthur Engoron, in reversal from his prior decision, allowed Trump to speak in court and then eventually cut him off six minutes into a statement ordering the defense to, quote, "control your client".

It continued after court with the former president making a string of claims which could be true, but only if court records did not exist or newspapers, or if time flowed backwards and cause and effect were reversed. Here's the condensed version.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We didn't have a jury. We had no rights to a jury. This is a statute that's a consumer fraud statute, never been used for anything like this before. And it's a shame. We won this case already in the Court of Appeals.


COOPER: Now, keeping him honest again in the condensed version, because some of these claims have been repeatedly debunked, his lawyers never push for a jury trial. The statute in question, contrary to his claim, has certainly been used like this before, including against Trump University.

And yes, the Trump Foundation, which generated millions of dollars in settlements and resulted in that foundation being dissolved. And no, the former president has not already won the case on appeal. One appeal did eliminate his daughter Ivanka as a defendant. A more recent appeal to pause the trial ended in defeat.

Joining us now, CNN's Kara Scannell with more on what happened in court. Also, CNN Legal Analyst and Criminal Defense Attorney Joey Jackson and Elie Honig, CNN Senior Legal Analyst and Former Federal Prosecutor. So, Kara, what was it like in court today?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, you know, this was the closing moment in this case. And Trump, who was there for openings, was here again today for closings. Initially, he did not agree to the judge's terms to allow him to speak, so he wasn't going to speak.

But then, after all of his attorneys finished their closing arguments, Chris Kise's lead attorney said to the judge, can the former president please speak? The judge gave him the remaining five or six minutes of the day where he said, you can talk, but you have to work within these ground rules, which is what? Talk about the evidence and talk about the law. And Trump didn't.

He proclaimed that he was an innocent man, that he was being persecuted. He said, "This was a political witch hunt. What's happened here, sir, is a fraud on me." And he continued to go on and to attack the investigation. So the judge gave him a cue that he had 1 minute left.

And Trump said to the judge, "You have your own agenda, I understand that." Judge saying, "Mr. Kise, please control your client." Trump saying, "Your honor, look, I did nothing wrong. They should pay me for what we had to go through. What they've done to me reputationally and everything else."

So his lawyers and their closings were making the pitch that the attorney general's team did not put on one witness who said that they felt that a fraud was committed here from the banks that had given them loans or the insurers that had underwritten some of these policies.

The attorney general's team said, the buck stops with Trump. He's the head of the organization. And they said that the judge could infer from Trump's vast knowledge of all of the assets, including the triplex apartment, that the AG's team said was overstated, which Trump has acknowledged was overstated for some of these financial statements, saying, given his vast knowledge, they can infer that he had the intent to commit this fraud because he didn't change any of the valuations that they believe he knew were overvalued.

Now, what was interesting, though, today is that the judge, who's very active, he interrupts everyone, he's very engaged in the closing arguments, as he was throughout the trial. He stopped one of the attorney general's lawyers and brought up Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and had said to them, what evidence? I haven't seen any of fraud that you have, that they knew that fraud had been committed.

And so that put the attorney general's team on their back heels. But they said that, you know, you can't stick your head in the sand and use that as a defense. Once Trump was in the White House, his two sons are running the company.


COOPER: Elie, how do you think ultimately the judge will decide here?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So Donald Trump has already lost, let's remember that, one of the seven counts the judge ruled before trial against Donald Trump. And I think Donald Trump's going to lose even further now. There's six other counts, and I think the judge is going to find against Trump on some or all of them.

The big questions really are, how big is the decision going to be? How much money is the Trump Org going to have to pay? I think that's the lesser concern. Bigger concern for the Trump Org is they could lose their business certificates, which would put them out of business in New York and potentially nationwide. That's going to be up to the judge, but it's going to be a heavy hit for the Trump Org.

COOPER: In their closing argument, the attorney general's team said that Trump, quote, "Acted with intent to defraud his financial statements." How do you expect intent to factor in the judge's decision? HONIG: Yes. So the AG's office has to prove intent as to these remaining counts. And as Kara said, I think it's actually really interesting. The AG's office acknowledged they did not have direct evidence. They asked the judge to infer from the other evidence. But that's perfectly legitimate. You do that at trial sometimes.

You can say, based on Michael Cohen's testimony, based on the fact that Trump ran this place, based on the extent of the overinflation, he had to have known, and that's the argument on intent.

COOPER: Joey, do you think the former president did himself any favors with the judge or with the end result in this? I mean, politically, that's one thing to his supporters. But in the court, did he do himself any favors by talking?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, Anderson, I think they are mindful, the Trump team, with regard to the two things they have to accomplish here. The one thing, obviously, is in court and what you have to communicate to the judge. Closing arguments are obviously about the facts and about the law.

And actually, that was the reason that he couldn't give the closing argument, because he would not agree to follow those rules and instead wanted to wax poetic about the campaign, et cetera, attacking the attorney general, everyone else. So they said, you can't make it.

So in terms of an in court proceeding, I do not think that he did himself any favors with respect to denigrating the attorney general, saying it's a witch hunt, et cetera. However, there's that other imperative, which is very big, and that is there's a presidential election.

And with regard to that, you want to contain and keep the narrative of what am I doing here? I'm a victim. I made a lot of money for these banks and other people. There was no fraud. I'm being persecuted. And that's something, I think, that plays to his followers. And as a result of that there, he may have done himself a lot of favors. So I think it's the bridging of those two gaps at the end of the day that he's very mindful of.

COOPER: Right. He's fundraising also off all of these appearances. Kara, what happens next? I mean, what --

SCANNELL: So the final word was said today. The legal briefs were all filed last week. The judge saying that he expects to make his decision, which will come in a written opinion by the end of the month. He said, it's not a promise, it's not a guarantee, but look for it by January 31st.

That, though, won't be the end of this, because Trump's team has already said they're going to appeal. They expect to lose this. It's just a matter of what they're going to be appealing. So this is going to continue for months, potentially on end, until the appeals court has the final say on this.

COOPER: What's the appeals process look like? HONIG: Well, I think that Donald Trump's team is going to appeal, certainly whatever the verdict is, certainly the amount. I also think they're going to claim that when the judge gave summary judgment, when the judge ruled before the trial, that he actually violated procedure there, because summary judgment means if I take all the facts in favor of the party, I'm ruling against.

Meaning, if I assume the world as Trump argues it, he still loses. That's not really what the judge did. If you look at his summary judgment order, he says, well, the AG says, a, Trump says, b, I find a way more credible. But I think they'll argue on appeal that's a verdict that was inappropriate for summary judgment.

So they will have legitimate appeals issues. I don't think they're going to get this case thrown out, but they may be able to chop down the award.

COOPER: Joey, do you think there'll be?

JACKSON: Listen, I think that obviously there'll be an appeal and there'll probably be multiple layers to that, right? Remember what that looks like. The judge makes a determination. Thereafter, it goes to what we call an appellate division. That's an intermediate level court.

And then, of course, the courts in New York, the court of Appeals is the highest court. And I think it'll ultimately end there. It's going to turn on two things that they always do, facts and the law. And if the judge follows factual -- his factual determinations, that's what judges do in a bench trial, Anderson. It's up to the judge to make the factual finding.

And if they are supported by facts and he matches that to the laws at issue here, I think, you know what? Ultimately, the courts need to decide whether there was any overstep, whether there were any errors, et cetera. And I think that they'll have their hands full because they're going to appeal everything in this case.

COOPER: Kara, I mean, you've covered a lot of trials, what was -- how does this compare?

SCANNELL: I mean, this was kind of a wild trial because it was a bench trial. The judge gave a lot more leeway in this case. There were a lot of speaking objections. The parties would break out in fights, slinging insults at each other at different points during this trial.

It was just unlike anything else. And I've covered a lot of trials to actually see it handled this way. But I think part of what the judge was doing is he was very cognizant that they were going to appeal. So he was giving the Trump side a lot of room to make their records, put a lot of things on the record.

But, you know, it was a three-month long trial. You know, even today, it was this idea that he set the rules for Trump coming in and then in the end, ultimately let Trump speak because he said no one had more to lose in this trial than Trump. And so he felt since there was no jury, it was appropriate for Trump to have the final word.

COOPER: Interesting. Well, thanks so much. Appreciate it, all of you.

The news continues. That is it for us. I'll see you tomorrow. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.