Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

New Images Appear To Show Damage To Base Housing U.S. Troops; Fabian Hinz Discusses the U.S./Iraq Conflict; Iran Says It Wants No Further Escalation As Trump Says It Appears Iran Is Standing Down; McConnell Has Enough Votes To Start Senate Trial Without Witnesses; Dina Esfandiary Discusses The U.S./Iraq Conflict And Possible De- escalation; Harry & Meghan "Stepping Back" From Senior Roles In Royal Family; FBI & DHS Warn Of Potential Terror Threats From Iran. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 08, 2020 - 14:30   ET




BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: At least a dozen ballistic missiles fired at airbases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, but no U.S. casualties? You are looking at satellite images appearing to show damage from Iranian missile strikes at Al Asad Airbase. Four buildings on the base appear damaged. A missile hit one of the runways at that airbase.

And now, Iran is saying that it does not want further escalation. It's calling on the United States to, quote, unquote, "come to its senses." And even the president himself says Iran appears to be standing down.

Starting there, Fabian Hinz is a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Fabian, I read your quote in one of the papers. I know you have this incredible knowledge of the missile system in Iran, and you said that there has been this quantum change in their missile capability over the last couple of years. How do you mean?

FABIAN HINZ, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, JAMES MARTIN CENTER FOR NONPROLIFERATION STUDIES: So Iran, for the past decade, has basically been working on one major goal, and that is turning all of its ballistic missiles into precision guidance systems, but really by a few meters, so that they can be turned into like actual weapons systems that can target military forces instead of just cities or large facilities.

BALDWIN: So I mean, thank goodness no Americans or Iraqis were killed, according to President Trump today. But if these missiles are so precise, wouldn't they have hit those targets?

HINZ: So this represents a bit of a mystery because, of course, when you have very precise missiles, you can target bases in a way to minimize casualties. But still, these are very, very large and very powerful systems, and you can't always be like 100 percent sure about their reliability and accuracy.

So I would say Iran tried to not to cause mass casualties by not hitting the barracks or other living quarters at the base. But still, they took a really great risk in striking these bases with ballistic missiles because something can always go wrong.

BALDWIN: Sure, sure.

And it's also my understanding -- you know, Iran's missiles are so powerful and precise, they could attack anywhere in the world, India, Philippines, Africa, wherever American troops and families are stationed. But what about America's homeland? We've seen in the last 24 hours some of the rhetoric.

Are they capable of attacking America from Iran?

HINZ: So right now, they are not. They have a self-imposed limit of 2,000 kilometers. They're working around the edges of this one a little bit, but they don't have an operational missile that is capable of targeting the U.S. homeland.

The thing is they have a technological capability to develop one more quickly than I think than most people would suspect. So that is a space to watch. But right now, we don't have that kind of capability in Iranian hands.

BALDWIN: Sounds like the fear is more of a cyberattack.

Fabian, thank you very much.

President Trump says Iran appears to be backing down, but there are still other consequences in other countries. We'll talk about how America's actions may have hurt an ally.


Plus, news just in on impeachment. Hear what Senate Democrats now want to see happen as we wait for the trial.


BALDWIN: President Trump may be consumed with the current crisis regarding Iran, but the turmoil surrounding his impending impeachment trial could be coming to a head.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are in a standoff over the trial's proceedings. House Democrats want an agreement to call witnesses before the trial starts. Republicans will not commit. And now Senator McConnell says he has enough votes to begin proceedings without a deal.

Today, he accused Democrats of dragging their heels.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Supposedly, the explanation for this shameless game playing is that Speaker Pelosi wanted leverage? Leverage? To reach into the Senate and dictate our trial proceedings to us.

Now, I've made clear from the beginning that no such leverage exists. There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure. We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment.

The House Democrats' turn is over. The Senate has made its decision.



BALDWIN: Meantime, on the other side, Speaker Pelosi says she will not send over articles of impeachment until she knows what to expect.

Laura Barron-Lopez is a CNN political analyst and a national political reporter for "Politico." She's with me now.

So, Laura, it has been three weeks. The ball is in Speaker Pelosi's court. What do Democrats want her to do?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right now, House Democrats are in lock step behind Pelosi. And she's shown no indication that she plans to send over those articles anytime soon. Though we are hearing from a number of House Democrats she may decide to send them over by next week.

Pelosi is notorious for keeping every decision very close to her chest and not even telling some of her closest allies what she will decide to do.

Some of my colleagues at "Politico" were just reporting today that a number of Senate Democrats are getting a little bit restless and are urging her to send the articles over soon.

BALDWIN: Joe Manchin, moderate, West Virginia, asked about the possibility of John Bolton testifying. This is what he said.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-VA): Make sure if we have a person such as John Bolton that had firsthand information that wants to testify. And I can't see how anybody, Democrat or Republican, could not vote to have John Bolton testify. Whether a deposition, whatever, under oath, so that we have the evidence firsthand. That's what I want to see. If we don't get that, then it's a sham of a trial.


BALDWIN: How much weight does that carry?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I think that Bolton's saying that his willingness to testify is something that Schumer as well as a number of other Democrats is hoping applies pressure to Republicans. Schumer is saying that he is going to force votes on potential witnesses as well as documents.

But the big question there is whether or not any Senate Republicans join him. Democrats need about four Republicans to join them in a motion like that for them to even force Bolton or other potential witnesses to testify.

BALDWIN: Got it.

Laura, thank you.

More on our breaking news. The feds warning of terror threats against the U.S. from Iran and Iranian proxies. Hear about the intelligence bulletin just sent out to agencies across the U.S.

A dramatic announcement from the British royal family. Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say they are stepping back from the family in a royal exit.



BALDWIN: What if Iran's missile attack was really meant to send a message to the Iranians? My next guest believes that it was, calling it, quote, "deliberately planned to look impressive, display abilities and willingness, but avoid casualties. If so, then thought out and careful while saving face."

The woman who wrote that tweet also writes that, killing Qasem Soleimani, she believes President Trump has achieved the possible uniting of Iran.

But for now, it seems Iranian citizens also think retaliation can stop here.


UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN CITIZEN: His reaction, I heard mention it was a slap on the face. I think it could be enough. Because, whatever happens, people will suffer. I hope the war won't break out.


BALDWIN: Dina Esfandiary is a fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of "Triple Axis, Iran's Relations with Russia and China."

Dina, thank you for joining me.

And what are you hearing from Iranians?

DINA ESFANDIARY, FELLOW, THE CENTURY FOUNDATION: Well, Iranians seem to have been somewhat satisfied by the airstrikes that we saw last night. Indeed, the attacks seem to have been just enough to make enough of a bang for Iranians to assuage some of their anger, while at the same time, giving Trump an off-ramp and enabling things not to escalate. BALDWIN: Now, it's my understanding that Iran reportedly shut down

all Internet access back in November. And so these Iranian news sources have been telling Iranian 80 Americans are dead, 200 wounded. And listening to President Trump today, not a single American died.

Do you think that the reaction of the Iranians might be different if more of them knew the truth?

ESFANDIARY: I don't know. I think the idea of the attack was really -- it was well telegraphed. It was well-displayed and the idea was to show that Iran was capable of inflicting real damage on American assets in the region should it want to. In this particular case, I think it didn't really want to because it didn't want escalation with the U.S. because it knew it would lose.

BALDWIN: When you see the last couple of days the scenes inside Iran, the sea of people. How has the killing of Qasem Soleimani united what was a fractured and exhausted Iranian public?

ESFANDIARY: It's been pretty remarkable. I mean, a month ago, we saw protests in Iran. Iranians protesting their government, protesting their economic conditions. And they've now done a 180.

I think the killing of Qasem Soleimani boosted nationalism and made Iranians realize they would rather deal with a devil they know, at least for now, than an external one.

BALDWIN: What does that 180 mean for the United States?

ESFANDIARY: Well, for the U.S., it's not great news. It means that the Iranian government has bought itself a certain amount of time. It means, for now, Iranians are going to focus attention on Americans rather than their own government.


And it means that, effectively, it's undermining President Trump's maximum pressure campaign because part of the rationale for that campaign is to push Iranians to demonstrate against their government.

BALDWIN: Dina Esfandiary, thank you for your insight.

President Trump says the U.S. is, quote, "ready to embrace peace" after Iran's missile strikes, but the federal government is now warning about terror threats. What does that entail? What happens now?

And a surprise announcement from overseas. Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, announced they are stepping back as senior members of the royal family. What does that really mean? We'll tell you, next.



BALDWIN: A royal announcement that is sure to rock the United Kingdom and fans of the duke and duchess of Sussex. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle just announced they are, quote, "stepping back" from their senior roles in the royal family.

In fact, in a statement, the couple said they plan to spend the new year becoming financially independent of the monarchy and split their time between England and North America.

Let's go to CNN's Anna Stewart, in London, with, oh, so many questions.

Let's just begin with what does stepping back mean. Why are they doing this?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Stepping back as senior royals, this comes straight off the back of a six-week break from public life. So no wonder they probably talked about whether or not this was the right decision over Christmas.

What does that mean? It could mean they lose their "his and her royal highness" titles. They're unlikely to lose the duke and duchess of Sussex titles. But we really don't know. We've waiting for more information.

We also don't know if this will change the line of succession. Currently, Prince Harry is sixth in the line to the throne. That's another question we are waiting to hear more on.

In the statement, they say they want to live an independent financial life, that they will split their time between the U.K. and North America, and they will be launching a new charitable entity.

BALDWIN: OK. So when they say splitting their time between the U.K. and North America, does this mean they're moving into New York City? So many Americans are wondering where they may land.

STEWART: Are they moving next to you guys? Who knows?


STEWART: I mean, the speculation is, of course, that they may be moving to Canada, given that Meghan, the duchess of Sussex, used to live there when she was working on "Suits," the drama. And they were in a kind of a house meeting in Canada meeting with ambassadorial staff. So that is certainly the speculation here. But, again, we really don't know.

She has family in California, so perhaps it could mean California as well. Perhaps it's a whole litany of homes across the world.

We're waiting to find out a lot more information here.

BALDWIN: Let the guessing games begin.

Anna Stewart, for now, thank you so much.

All right, we continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Let's see where we begin with this. President Trump says the nation should be grateful that no Americans or Iraqis were killed after Iran launched a missile strike on airbases that housed troops from both countries in western and northern Iraq.

This action, taken in retaliation for the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, marks the first time that Iran and not its proxies have taken both aim and credit for attacking U.S. targets.

More than two dozen ballistic missiles were used during that nighttime strike. And an Arab diplomatic source tells CNN that Iraq gave the U.S. an advanced warning after Iran told Iraqis to stay away from certain bases.

Also this morning, President Trump said that while Iran appears to be -- this is his words -- "standing down," the country will never get its hands on a nuclear weapon while he is in the White House.

And he also revealed the consequences Iran will face as a result of the attack.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.


BALDWIN: And this just into CNN. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are now sounding the alarm on the potential terror threats still posed by Iran, including right here in the United States.

So let's lead off this hour with Evan Perez. He's our senior justice correspondent.

And, Evan, what kind of attacks are we talking?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things, Brooke, that the FBI and Homeland Security Department are warning about is cyberattacks. They say, of course, the most immediate attacks from the Iranian government or from its proxies would likely come in the Middle East.

But as far as here in the United States, cyberattacks against the U.S. government or against private sector that, you know, could be handling infrastructure and so on, would be some of the targets that the Iranian government or its proxies could target.

I'll read you just a small part of it. It says that, "The FBI, DHS and the National Counterterrorism Center have assessed that any kinetic retaliatory strike would first occur overseas. In the event that the government of Iran were to determine to conduct a homeland attack, potential targets and methods of attack in the homeland could range from cyber operations to targeted assassinations of individuals deemed threats to the Iranian regime."

And it goes on to talk about a potential for sabotage of infrastructure inside the United States.


Again, one of the things the FBI and the Homeland Security Department are saying is that there's no indication of an imminent threat here in the United States.