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The Lead with Jake Tapper

House Votes on Limiting Trump's War Powers; Did Iran Shoot Down Ukrainian Plane?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 09, 2020 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: In the meantime, to Washington, we go.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's becoming clear that the crash that night was not just a deadly coincidence.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking just minutes ago, the U.S. official now giving CNN details about how Iran shot down a passenger jet packed with innocent people, as the U.K. says there's a body of information to back up this belief.

While the pressure mounts on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, a new move by the majority leader, McConnell, which might result in no impeachment trial at all.

Plus, the tab for protecting the Trumps when they travel. Why doesn't the White House want you to see how much the Secret Service is spending of taxpayers dollars until after the election?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with breaking news in our world lead.

Multiple usual U.S. officials and the prime ministers of Canada and the U.K. are all now saying intelligence indicates the passenger plane that crashed in Iran Wednesday morning, killing all 176 people on board, was shot down by Iran, possibly accidentally.

The British prime minister saying just minutes ago there is a -- quote -- "body of information" showing an Iranian surface-to-air missile brought down that passenger plane.

Brand-new video sent to CNN purports to show a missile fired into the sky and striking an object right around the time that Ukrainian Airlines flight crashed.

CNN is trying, but has not yet independently verified the authenticity of the video and another new video purporting to show the fiery moment that Ukrainian Airlines flight hit the ground just minutes after taking off from the Tehran airport.

Our correspondents are covering the story from every angle, including on the ground in Iran.

But we're going to start with CNN's Alex Marquardt, who has new reporting about how this plane full of civilians may have been shot down by accident.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): In the wake of the tragic Ukrainian plane crash in Iran, U.S. and allied officials now saying Iran shot it down with two Russian- made surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 people on board.

Most of the victims were from Iran, Ukraine and Canada.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface- to-air missile. This may well have been unintentional.

MARQUARDT: Wednesday's crash coming just hours after the Iranian regime launched over a dozen missiles at U.S. forces inside Iraq.

President Trump today agreeing it was unlikely that the Boeing 737 was brought down due to a mechanical failure.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood, and somebody could have made a mistake. Some people say it was mechanical. I personally don't think that's even a question.

MARQUARDT: Eyewitness video shows a fireball believed to be the plane going down, a huge blast as it hits the ground. A U.S. official familiar with the intelligence tells CNN that the two missiles were Russian SA-15s, a surface-to-air missile.

The U.S. saw Iranian radar signals lock onto the jetliner before it was shot down. Minutes after taking off early Wednesday morning, the plane had turned back to the Tehran Airport, but never made it. So far, Iran has refused to hand over the plane's black boxes.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The fact that the pilots were very experienced, the fact that they'd flown this route before, all of these things seem to play into the idea that some external force may have forced the aircraft down.

MARQUARDT: Today, mourners gathered at the airport in Ukraine's capital, where the plane was due to land, rows of portraits of the dead and a flood of tears.

The Ukrainian mother of a pilot crying: "He was my only son. Now I'm all by myself."

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARQUARDT: Ukraine, for its part, has not yet said that the plane was brought down by Iran.

They have sent a team to Tehran to carry out an investigation. They have also asked the British and Canadians to help them. Now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has thanked the Iranians for access and for their cooperation.

And he does say, Jake, that he expects the team to get access to the plane's black boxes -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt with the latest.

Minutes ago, Iran announced it was inviting the U.S. to be present while it investigates the crash.

CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is live in the capital city of Tehran.

Fred, what does that mean for the next steps in this investigation?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means that the U.S. could send a representative here. Specifically, Boeing could send a representative here.

It's interesting, because the Iranian news agency, Jake, that put that report out, the Fars News Agency, said that Boeing had allegedly already designated a representative, but there might be problems with sending that representative because of the international sanctions against Iran.


We have also reached out to Boeing itself. We're still waiting to see what sort of answer there could be.

Meanwhile, however, the investigation, of course, is moving forward. I -- we were actually able to get in touch with the head of Iran's civil aviation authority, which, of course, is the body that would oversee such an investigation.

And we confronted him with that information that we have been getting from the intelligence services saying that the Iranians may have shot that plane down. He didn't deny that that could be the case. However, he did say that he had doubts about whether it was the case. He said that, if the plane had been hit by a missile, it would go down immediately, just fall from the sky, and that it wouldn't attempt or the pilot wouldn't have been able to attempt to fly back to Imam Khomeini Airport.

So, trying to cast some doubt there on the information, but, again, not-flat out denying that Iran -- an Iranian missile could have taken down that plane.

As far as the black boxes are concerned -- and I think this is something that is really important, Jake -- the Iranians are saying that they have the capability to read those black boxes. However, they are saying one of those black boxes is damaged and they're not sure whether they can read it.

They claim that, tomorrow, Iranian inspectors and Ukrainian inspectors, which Alex just said in his report are already on the ground here, are going to try and get the information from those black boxes together. However, they also say, the Iranians, that, because these boxes are damaged, that might be impossible, and then they might ask the French or the Canadians for help -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, thank you so much. Be safe.

Joining me now is CNN's Richard Quest, who covers aviation.

Richard, now that a U.S. official has confirmed a cause, now that we have heard this from the British and the Canadians, how important is it to learn what's on the black box?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is very important, in the sense that you have the data. You will be able to see what immediately happened to the aircraft when the explosion, if it is, took place.

But, Jake, I think more important even than the black boxes, because they won't tell you why, the most important thing is the wreckage, the wreckage, the physical wreckage, and -- forgive the indelicacy -- the remains of those who were on board, because they will have the explosive residue that will confirm what happened.

But in all of this, there's a much, much easier way to determine what took place. The Iranians can simply admit if they did -- if it was their missile that brought down the plane. Otherwise, everybody else will be scrambling for pieces of evidence to prove it.

TAPPER: Before the crash, the FAA had banned American airlines from flying over Iraq and Iran, saying they could be misidentified.

This has happened before. Should other countries and airlines have followed suit, or, at the very least, should they have been warned?

QUEST: Most have. Only a few airlines do actually sort of generally fly over Iran or Iraq.

In the last couple of days, of course, I have seen confidential notes from one particular European airline which now makes it clear they will not be going anywhere near Iran or Iraq, even if that means they now have to make refueling stops on the way back to counter the adverse winds, which, of course, that they will be facing.

Nobody wants to take any risks anymore. It will be a question that will be asked, legitimately, why Ukraine International decided it was safe to take off from that airport only hours after military activity in the country. Why didn't they cancel the flight?

TAPPER: Richard Quest in Beirut, Lebanon, thank you so much. Any moment, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a resolution that would curb President Trump's ability to go to war with Iran without congressional approval. But could this stop him from striking Iran?

Then, President Trump undoing a policy that's been in place for 50 years -- why it could impact the air you breathe and the water you drink.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news in the politics lead.

The House of Representatives is about to vote to limit the powers of President Trump to wage war on Iran in response to the deadly strike he ordered to kill the regime's top general, Qasem Soleimani.

Mr. Trump once again today defending the White House's claim of an imminent threat used to justify the operation, which has come under bipartisan criticism, because the administration has not publicly or privately presented enough credible evidence, according to several lawmakers.


TRUMP: We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy. We also did it for other reasons that were very obvious. Somebody died. One of our military people died. People were badly wounded just a week before. And we did it.

And we had a shot at him. And I took it.


TAPPER: CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill.

Phil, does this resolution have legislative teeth, or is this just a symbolic vote?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, I think the best way to probably view it is a political message designed to try and shape the administration's policy.

Look, is it going to immediately stop the president's ability to create hostilities or declare hostilities with Iran? No, it is not.

But what Democrats hope and what they believe will be a bipartisan vote -- and what you just heard Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the floor a short while ago try and underscore is, based on their concerns over the course of the last couple of days, concerns only amplified by the bipartisan criticism related to classified briefings yesterday, is that they believe the administration needs to know that, if they want to take action, they should at least consult with Congress.

If they want to go further with any of their actions related to Iran, they certainly need to come to Congress.

So, is this going to change how the president or the administration can operate related to Iran? No, not on its face, but Democrats hope that this will at least send a message -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Phil, House Speaker Pelosi had a very blunt message for President Trump this morning.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question about it.

Look, I think a lot of the anger that you're seeing from Democrats right now is about the relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch.

And the speaker certainly underscored that with this.

Take a listen.



REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We must avoid war. And the cavalier attitude of this administration -- it's stunning. And the president to say, oh, I inform you by reading my tweets -- no, that's not the relationship that our Founders had in mind.


MATTINGLY: Well, Jake, obviously, the relationship between the executive branch and legislative branch as it relates to war powers is one that has been tense for decades, one that legislative branch has largely ceded over the course of those decades.

But I think Democrats right now and some Republicans we certainly have seen it in the Senate, want to try to assert their authority or make clear to the administration that they should be in the loop when these sort of things start to take place, particularly if there's expansion and it's not related to an imminent threat related to the president's Article II powers. That's what the speaker is trying to drive home and you're going to see that not just in the House, but also over in the Senate as well in the weeks ahead, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this with our panel. Before that, I want to clarify something that President Trump said in the clip. He said the Iranians were looking to blow up our embassy, when asked about it, the president clarified he was talking about when the Iranian-backed militia was storming the embassy. That is not a reference to the plan that allegedly Soleimani was taking up.

Karen Finney, take a listen to President Trump when asked whether he -- whether he would consult Congress before striking Iran again.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would all depend on the circumstance. I don't have to, and you shouldn't have to be able, because you have to make split-second decisions. Sometimes, you have to move very, very quickly, John. But in certain cases, I wouldn't mind doing it.


TAPPER: And I'm old enough to have covered the war powers fight between Republican Congressman Tom Campbell against Bill Clinton when it came to the action in the former Yugoslavia.


TAPPER: Take a listen. What did -- what did you make of all that?

FINNEY: Well, look, I think that's part of why we are here where we are today. I mean, both sides, Republican and Democratic presidents since about 1973, have ignored the responsibility to inform Congress.

And there's really no intelligence that the Gang of Eight cannot hear, that it's not authorized to hear, and that should be kept from them. So, there's really no reason, particularly when you're talking about such an aggressive action.

And, you know, part of the problem, there's two problems with this, right? This is what happens when you're a president with over 15,000 lies. It's hard to know what to believe and whatnot to believe. And I appreciate the two Republican members of Congress who have come forward, but this is also why Congress has to take its role much more seriously as a watchdog, not a lap dog.

TAPPER: Take a listen, Robin Wright, to what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was a member of the Gang of Eight, this elite group, bipartisan group of leaders of Congress, which got the full intelligence briefing.


PELOSI: I do not believe in terms of what is in the public domain that they have made the country safer by what they did. And that is what our responsibility is.


TAPPER: It's very interesting that she used phrase, what was in the public domain, because she's specifically only talking about what the -- the administration has released and discussed publicly. She's seen much more than that.

ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Yes, I think everyone is waiting to find out what were the specifics that justified this military escalation. It's not just the safety of the United States. It's also the world. And we're seeing the intended consequences now play out with the shooting down of the Ukrainian plane. The rippling effect, the uncertainty, the insecurities will lead to unintended consequences that affect people who have nothing to do with this conflict at all.

TAPPER: And an Iranian general said the strikes were not meant to kill Americans. Three U.S. officials told CNN their belief that it was the Iranians intentionally avoided hitting U.S. troops.

But Vice President Pence doesn't buy it. He says there's evidence Iran was, in fact, trying to kill Americans. Take a listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The ballistic missiles fired at bases outside Erbil, we believe, were intended to kill Americans. We have intelligence to support that was the intention of the Iranians.


TAPPER: What do you make of it? Because there's obviously a disagreement within the administration on this.

JACKIE ALEMANY, AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST, "POWER UP": Yes, well, I think this is why there are members of Congress, including Republicans, who are so concerned because of all these contradictory mixed messaging. It goes back to last week when the U.S. first struck Soleimani. You had Mark Esper, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, Donald Trump, everyone pushed a different line here shifting the goalpost.

And, you know, it's why you have seen Mike Lee come out yesterday and say that it's -- this is so concerning. That there hasn't been enough evidence put forth to justify why the attack was eminent and more troubling was the push for amongst Trump's top allies to quell the debate going forward.

TAPPER: Uh-huh. David, we should point, you work for Trump 2020. You're an adviser for the campaign. You're also a lobbyist who works on energy and defense companies.

I want you to take a listen to the Republican chairman -- ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, also former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.



REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): One, they're in love with terrorists, we see that. They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who are the ones that suffered under Soleimani.

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The only ones mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democratic presidential candidates. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We also heard Kevin McCarthy say that Pelosi was defending Soleimani. Those are not -- you don't talk like that. Those are not arguments. There are just kind of smears.

DAVID TRUMP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, look, again, I take great umbrage with the speaker's comments earlier that somehow this administration did this in a cavalier fashion. I don't think there's anything cavalier about how this was approached. I personally know Secretary Esper, General Milley, the president, secretary of state, the national security adviser -- these are serious folks who weigh these things seriously.

So, we've had friends, relatives killed in these conflicts, right? So there's nothing cavalier about any of this being done. For the speaker to use language is incredibly offensive.

Number two, for her to say America is less safe because Soleimani no longer exists in this planet is also --


FINNEY: That's not what she said, Jake.

URBAN: Play the audio again. I challenge you.

FINNEY: Her arguments were less safe to take such an action without a plan.

URBAN: She said it's less safe.

So, I'm saying that -- what they are saying, she needs to be careful about her words. Words matter.

TAPPER: What about --

URBAN: Look, I don't condone that. I think there needs to be a full- throated debate, I said this before, on many occasions, on the authorization of the use of military force. I said that when we went into Syria.

TAPPER: You were for years, right.

URBAN: Because it's incumbent upon this country when we send our young men and women into harm's way we have a full-throated debate and we understand what our objectives are by doing that.

Now, do I think the president was authorized to take this action he currently did? Absolutely. Under Article II, and I do believe there's imminent -- there's some imminent nature here. You saw the Iraqi militia general outside -- outside the embassy which everyone was very concerned may fall.

TAPPER: Right, you disagree to Collins and Haley said, what they said? URBAN: I don't -- I don't think that's helpful.

TAPPER: So, let me ask you a question, because "The New York Times" is reporting that the CIA Director Gina Haspel looked at the assessment of attacking Soleimani, does killing him, is it more dangerous r or less dangerous for Americans? That's the question.

Because obviously, he's killing Americans -- he's killed Americans. But then also, what happens when the United States kills such a person? I mean, Putin has American blood in his hands, but we don't kill him because of the repercussions. That's where the debate was.

WRIGHT: And the problem is that eliminating one man or two men in this case is not going to change a deep bench that Iran has in striking American interest --

TAPPER: And he was replaced immediately.

WRIGHT: And replaced immediately, and Iran has been doing this for 40 years. We've seen them, whether it's attacking embassies in 1980s. I mean, we have a long litany. To think eliminating one man, he was larger than life, charismatic, mythical in terms of his capabilities, but this is not going to change what Iran has and it may change what Iran does.

TAPPER: So that's the debate.

FINNEY: Absolutely. But I think we have to go back -- I mean, David, obviously, I disagree with you vehemently because we have a situation where -- I had a member of Congress say to me this weekend, I said are you looking forward to the briefing this week. And this person said, you know what, I learned more from CNN than I have ever learned from these briefings in these last three years.

And it turns out, that was exactly what this person said to me yesterday. They learned more from what was in the public domain. You had two Republican senators come out and say, number one, the president is -- the argument the administration is making is that by having a public debate we're emboldening the enemy. That's shameful language.

Hold on, David, what you just said, we're sending young men and women into harm's way, they deserve to know where they are going and what's the plan. We have done that before. We know where that ends.

URBAN: I don't disagree. We should have a vote on a new authorization of the use of military force. I think we should have a really -- this has been going on -- this same authorization to use military force has been in place and not really examined and not really voted. And listen, shame to the Congress --

FINNEY: But why didn't this president have a responsibility to do that?

URBAN: Because --

FINNEY: What didn't he not -- he couldn't explain yesterday what the imminent threat was.


FINNEY: He has no proof.

URBAN: It's clearly covered under Article II as well --


ALEMANY: I mean, you had Mike Pompeo go on Jake's show on Sunday and say that it doesn't matter to Americans in the region whether or not it was imminent. It's a matter of months or days. It's the same thing.


ALEMANY: I think the important thing here is I disagree with your characterization of what Pelosi said about Soleimani. I think the most important thing is the republic believes the president acted recklessly.

URBAN: Oh, I disagree.


ALEMANY: According to a "USA Today" poll released this morning.

URBAN: I disagree.

WRIGHT: Who would have thought in 2001 that we would be talking about a war two decades later in yet a third country? I think Americans really want some kind of accountability they want to make sure that there is -- that this whole process is thought through.


Where are we going to war? Why we're going to war? For how long and who is funding it?

TAPPER: It's not in a third country, it's more than a third country, right? The same authorization has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan, but then you also have Syria, you also have Libya and not to mention the Horn of Africa.

URBAN: This is the point of the AUMF that I agree.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: But to say we are not safer, somehow by taking out Soleimani, I think it's a gross understatement.

FINNEY: I think we all agree Soleimani is a bad guy.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. Everyone, stick around.

Coming up next, proof of the attack. CNN is on the scene where Iran's missiles blew up. Stay with us.