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At This Hour

U.S. Retaliates After Drone Kills Contractor, Wounds Troops In Syria; Trump Lawyer Evan Corcoran Testifies Before Grand Jury Today. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. AT THIS HOUR, we are standing by to see President Biden. He's about to meet one on one with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You're looking at pictures there in Ottawa. We're going to bring you that when it begins. And there is also other major news that is demanding attention from the President and his team today, retaliatory strike by the United States in Syria.

The Pentagon says President Biden authorized the strike after an American contractor was killed and five U.S. service members injured in Syria. The administration says the Americans were attacked by a drone, officials say came from Iran. Let's begin at the Pentagon with CNN's Oren Liebermann or and what are you learning about the U.S. personnel involved here and how frequently attacks like this happen?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the latest update we have on the U.S. personnel involved here is that there were five service members injured. They are in stable condition. Two of them were treated at the scene. Three of them had to be taken to coalition medical facilities in Iraq. There was also one other U.S. contractor injured that in addition, according to the Pentagon to the one U.S. contractor who was killed in this one way UAV attack or suicide drone attack.

The Pentagon says the drone was of Iranian origin, likely indicating that this was carried out by Iranian proxies, Shia militias in the area that work or are affiliated with Iran. In response, the U.S. carried out what it called a proportionate, deliberate action in response targeting facilities belonging to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. So facilities not directly linked with the strike itself. But the organization that works with these Iranian militias.

In terms of how often these happen, that number quite surprising. General Erik Kurilla said yesterday that there have been 78 drone or rocket attacks against U.S. personnel in the Middle East since the beginning of 2021. That averages out to about one every 10 days or so. So these attacks happen. Of course, it's not often you see this sort of tragic end to these attacks, whether it's a rocket attack, or a drone attack. In terms of Iran's drone program, in general, the Pentagon views that as very advanced. And we've seen evidence of how advanced Iranian drones can be in terms of Russia employing those in Ukraine. So Iran has this capability. And its proxies use these capabilities to attack and harass U.S. forces in the Middle East. There are approximately 900 troops in Syria at a few different bases there. And they're there as part of the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS. Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you Oren. Thank you for that latest. Joining me now is CNN military analyst and retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. Spider, what do you see in this attack and then the U.S. response?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the attack as Oren described as not unprecedented. The Iranians, the IRGC are the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which really permeates all aspects of the Iranian government, you know, from the markets, to the education system, to the mosques, et cetera. This is an ongoing effort to really try to wear down the U.S. will.

When you take it in context, look the Iranians think that maybe the United States is distracted in Ukraine and trying to get its arms around this challenged and emerging relationship with China and on the heels of Xi's visit with Putin in Moscow. But look, the United States has been conducting these operations in northeastern Syria for the last many, many years. This retaliatory strike, as described was proportional.

And it was a lot of consideration for collateral damage. It was done at a time to minimize civilian casualties. But let there be no doubt it was very small. And it was very precise in terms of trying to print a very simple message, which is don't mess with United States. We've been a presence. We've been trying to get our arms around this challenge. And we're going to be there for a while. This will not alleviate or mid or reduce U.S. presence.

BOLDUAN: I want to play for you, Oren mentioned Erik Kurilla, I want to play for you is the CENTCOM commander, General Erik Kurilla, what he told Congress yesterday about Iran's capabilities, there in Syria.


GEN. MICHAEL "ERIK" KURILLA, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: What I ran does the hiatus hand as they use Iranian proxies, that's either UAVs or rockets to be able to attack our forces in either Iraq or Syria.


BOLDUAN: He said Iranian proxies have carried out drone or rocket attacks against the United States in the Middle East, on an average of nearly one attack every 10 days since the start of 2021. Well, many people and much resources are kind of focused elsewhere, why is this happening in Syria and Iraq?

[11:05:02] MARKS: Well clearly what Iran wants to try to do is really extend its influence operations I mean that's what it's all about. And General Kurilla has just laid it out very, very pointedly and the magnitude of this challenge, we shouldn't find it surprising that with the United States in Syria, and we've been there a while. Iran is looking to try to push us out and give us every reason to depart. But the United States is not going to do that. This is a counter ISIS mission that we are conducting.

That's ungoverned space in Syria, totally ungoverned. And we know what happens when there's ungoverned space in the world. A lot of bad things can start to be ginned up and then operations can be planned. And then we end up with a potential 9/11 again. Well, we're not going to let that happen, not at all. So this is ungoverned. There's a lot of Turkish presence. There's a lot of U.S. presence. There's a lot of Kurdish presence.

So it's a real mixed bag of influences, and fault lines that can really cause some significant problems. United States will be there, and we'll work very, very diligently to try to reduce the ISIS threat. That's what it's all about, getting rid of the ISIS threat that gets a ton of support from the IRGC.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And when it comes to Iran and its drone program, the question then becomes, how far are both sides willing to go? What are they willing to let happen, I guess. I mean, what goes into that consideration from a military standpoint? Because we heard already this morning, John Kirby being asked at the White House, if this walks up to the line of an act of war U.S. citizen was killed. And the administration is obviously very careful in talking about that.

MARKS: Well, very, very true. Look, the primary thing that you want to try to achieve in circumstances like this, is de-escalation. You don't want this thing to spin out of control. Escalation is always a concern. And the old expression, you know, if it feels good, don't do it. But the United States could be tempted to just try to whack the hell out of the IRGC as, you know, as aggressively as we can. But there's no benefit to that.

What we want to be able to do is say, look, we're not going anywhere, this attack by Iran, although persistent, and they're probably going to attack again, we're going to remain, we're going to continue our mission. This is a burden that we agree to accept. But when you mess with us, when you strike against us, let there be no doubt we will respond. And we will do it very precisely and very quickly. If we have to do it again, we will, but we want to try to keep escalation down.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Spider. It's always good to see you.

MARKS: Thank you Kate. We do know that this is something President Biden is tracking as he continues his trip in Canada, a brief but very busy visit. Today, he is meeting one on one with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And he's also going to be addressing the Canadian Parliament. Joining me now from Ottawa with more on this is CNN's Paula Newton. Paula, the issue of Chinese interference is top of mind in Canada right now. Why? PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it has reached the highest levels of government here. And the reason is that there are questions about whether or not the Chinese government interfered in Canadian elections in 2019 and 2021. What's interesting here is that some believe that they interfered in those elections in order to help elect Justin Trudeau.

Now, the Chinese government, the Trudeau Government, saying they're trying to get to the bottom of this, the Chinese government denying it, and yet you do see a hardened posture here in Canada towards China and certainly China's surveillance efforts. I want you to listen now, in my interview that I had yesterday with Justin Trudeau, about what he said about China.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: But there are also areas in which we're going to have to directly challenge China, whether it's on human rights, whether it's on security behaviors, whether it's on cyberattacks or concerns like that. We're going to have to continue to be wide eyed and clear about the threat that China poses and wants to pose to the stability of our democracies.


NEWTON: You know, that language reflects what both U.S. and Canadian officials fear is a menacing posture that Canada -- that China is holding, both in Canada and the United States. Kate, you'll remember that balloon, Chinese balloon traversing not just Canada, but obviously the United States as well. Also Canada finding Chinese surveillance buoys in the Arctic. All of this will be part of the discussions today between Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau. Why? Because the United States is calling on Canada to really step up its defense spending, especially in things like Arctic defense.

And the reason is that threat posed not just by China, but also Russia. And that will be part of the discussions that are on the table today. I mean, Kate, I have to tell you, for years unite United States has been trying to gently tell Canada you need to step up on continental defense. It seems given the provocative moves by China and obviously, Russia's invasion of Ukraine that Canada is willing to go the distance now. And we will hear more of that coming soon in the hours ahead especially given that press conference we expect in the late afternoon. Kate?


BOLDUAN: So we have that press conference -- joint press conference this afternoon. But first and foremost we're waiting the arrival of President Biden to begin kind of the kickoff the day and then we'll have the bilateral meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau and we will be bringing that to our viewers when it begins, a beautiful day it looks like in Ottawa right now, though, chilly, I'm sure. Paula, thank you so much.

Let's turn to this now, what did former President Trump tell his attorney ahead of the FBI -- head of the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago? Well, that attorney is testifying right now in front of a federal grand jury, a move he and Trump were trying to fight, that's next.



BOLDUAN: It's a make or break moment in the special counsel investigation into Donald Trump and classified documents. Trump's attorney Evan Corcoran is being forced to testify to a grand jury today. This has to do with communications that he had with Trump in the lead up to the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago. Now Corcoran is only speaking to the grand jury because a judge ruled that his testimony goes beyond the protections of attorney-client privilege, which is how we got where we are At This Hour. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live outside the courthouse in Washington for us with much more. Katelyn, what does today mean?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Kate, this is a pretty notable day in this investigation and also for the presidency of Donald Trump and what happens to him after he has left the White House and as a presidential candidate. Evan Corcoran was his primary defense attorney responding to the federal government as they were seeking the classified records that might be kept at Mar-a-Lago.

In fact, there were many records kept at Mar-a-Lago after the presidency. And Corcoran was part of the legal team that responded to the federal government saying that they had done a diligent search and had turned over any and all that they had found. Then the FBI came in and found many more classified records.

So what's happening today, and the reason this is so notable is that the Justice Department believes what Corcoran will be telling the grand jury today is what Donald Trump was saying to him, the sort of thing where the Justice Department believes Donald Trump himself was trying to advance a crime potentially obstruct their federal investigation.

So it really is a make or break day in that the Justice Department does not know or they may know now, but they didn't know going into this exactly what Corcoran would say. It's also quite an unusual day in that this doesn't happen very often. There have been many witnesses called to this grand jury before. But it's very, very unusual to have a defense attorney for the former President or anyone being forced to testify again to a federal grand jury and answer questions. Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's a great point. It's good to see you, Katelyn. Thank you.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen, who served as counsel to House Democrats in the first Trump impeachment. Thanks for being here. What do you think the Corcoran testimony will mean, can mean, could mean for Donald Trump?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Kate, I think it means accelerating peril in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. Yet another place where a criminal investigation is advancing to a stage that is very dangerous for Donald Trump. The reason for that, the key part of any criminal case is proving a defendants intent.

And it seems like from CNN's reporting on what Corcoran is going to be talking about today, the government's honing in on a series of events from May to June, having to do with a Donald Trump's conversation with Corcoran possibly misleading Corcoran, possibly moving these classified documents in response to the government's subpoena during that period, all of which prove that Donald Trump was acting intentionally. So it really ups the risk if Corcoran testifies as we expect.

BOLDUAN: Of course, we're not in the room, but what questions could he possibly face here now that the judge has ruled that he, you know, this goes beyond the various almost sacred protections of attorney- client privilege?

EISEN: Yes, it's pretty extraordinary to have that ruling. You need to have a preponderance of the evidence that Donald Trump committed a crime. And I think Corcoran is going to be asked questions like, what did Donald Trump say to you in connection with the government's subpoena? What did he tell you? He had by way of documents and not. Were you aware that boxes were being moved in and out of that room?

Did Trump tell you that he had documents in his desk? Did he mislead you? Exactly what did he say to you? What information possibly false? Did Donald Trump provide that led you and Christina Bob to tell the government that a diligent search had happened? We know that's not true. And that all the classified documents had been found. We know that's not true. So these could really be nails in Donald Trump's coffin on yet another case that he's facing criminal peril in. Those are the kinds of questions.


BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about one of the other investigations, the New York investigation. And now heads into another week, the district attorney's office is really slamming House Republicans for their requests for information relating to the Trump case. Alvin Bragg's office called their requests, the House Republicans request for testimony and communications and unprecedented inquiry into a pending local prosecution. What do you think is going on here?

EISEN: Well, Kate, I had to live by all these rules, when we were doing the impeachment, and indeed, I've been doing congressional cases for more than three decades now. Congress can't go and ask a local prosecutor for information about a pending case. It violates the constitutional principles of federalism. The federal government can only go so far in meddling in state business.

It would force Bragg to violate state law, if he were to turn this over. It's just naked partisan interference of a kind I have never seen in my over three decades of doing this work with a pending criminal matter. When we were doing the impeachment, Bill Barr wouldn't even come talk to us in the judiciary committee about the Mueller investigation after it was over, Kate. So this is outrageous. If they subpoena they will lose if it tracks the broad scope of their letter. Bragg was right to slam them and slam them hard. BOLDUAN: I mean, you say in your decades long experience, especially handing congressional cases you've never seen, you've never seen a reach this far?

EISEN: Never. It -- what the GOP majority is doing here is naked interference in the case. It is a book end with Donald Trump's attempted interference in the case, calling for protests, protests, protests, threatening, I mean, he's making no secret about it, Kate. And his most recent posts, he's warning about death and destruction.

I think that's very dangerous hint to be giving to his followers. But this congressional thing is only slightly more polite. It is partisan interference that is completely unprecedented. The courts won't tolerate it if a subpoena is served here.

BOLDUAN: One thing that could happen next week is the grand jury testimony from another witness unclear exactly who that can be. But it could even be Michael Cohen being asked to come in again. Of course, this investment -- we're continuing to talk here about the hush money investigation into Donald Trump's involvement. What do you make of Michael Cohen is a central witness here if he is a central witness?

EISEN: Michael was one of the first witnesses I talked to when we started investigating impeachment. We investigated the hush money allegations, because they could have affected the outcome of the 2016 election. So it's a very serious, legit or possible democracy crime. Michael has never wavered in his story the whole time. I've talked to him about the core elements of what happened with Donald Trump and these allegedly false books and record entries that were alleged campaign finance violations that Michael pled to.

So I think he's a strong witness. He's a colorful individual. It'll be an exciting cross examination. I don't get any pause from the ups and downs of the New York grand jury over the past days. Kate, New York has one of the broadest legal structures, allowing defendants in the last stage of a grand jury to put information before that body. It's not unusual to have these stops and starts and delays at the end of the case, that letter that Alvin Bragg sent yesterday to Congress, that was not the writing of a man who is blinking or wobbling or hesitating.

So I think it's going to be full speed ahead. And this is just not unusual last minute I back and forth in the grand jury.

BOLDUAN: We shall see. Norm Eisen, thank you.

EISEN: Thanks, Kate.


BOLDUAN: So China is responding to President Biden and Congress and the ultimatum that's been put on the table over TikTok. The fallout today from yesterday's very contentious hearing with the company's CEO. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: The markets opened lower this morning, sliding down on renewed fears over the health of the global banking sector. This latest panic triggered by Germany based Deutsche Bank. CNN's Matt Egan is tracking all this for us. He joins me now. Matt, it does feel like another day, another crisis that you're reporting on what's happening with Deutsche?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Kate, you know, investors are just waiting for the next shoe to drop. They're kind of going from weakest link to the weakest link in the financial system. You know, first it was Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, then was first republic then it moved overseas and the focus was on Credit Suisse. And now all eyes are on Deutsche Bank.


And so Deutsche Bank shares, they're down pretty sharpl,y almost 11 percent. Some of these concerns have been triggered by a spike in the cost to ensure Deutsche Bank's debt.