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Drone Kills U.S. Contractor, Wounds Five U.S. Service Members in Syria; U.S and Canada Strike Deal on Asylum Seekers; Today, Trump Attorney to Testify in Classified Documents Probe. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2023 - 07:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: No. I think he's fine. I think he said it on the air. But we'll find out. I'll text him.

But I think Wolf has like a cookie or something, a chocolate chip cookie.

NATHANIEL MEYERSOHN, CNN CONSUMER REPORTER: It will have to get him sweet dreams.

LEMON: Yes. And so maybe that'll help.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I shouldn't eat on air. It's like stuck in my teeth.

LEMON: But that's good, right?

HARLOW: It's sugary. Sweet dreams, Nathaniel.

LEMON: And then you need like way more than one cup of coffee to wake you up after that. That's the issue. Thank you, Nathaniel, I appreciate it.

HARLOW: CNN this morning continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Pentagon says that a U.S. contractor was killed in Syria after a drone strike.

HARLOW (voice over): President Biden responded with airstrikes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a proportionate retaliation that it is designed not to escalate the situation.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-WA): We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values. Your platform should be banned.

SHOU CHEW, CEO, TIKTOK: I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to their data. They have never asked us. We have not provided.

REP. ANNA ESHOO (D-CA): I find that actually preposterous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it a threat to the United States security? I believe that it is. Yes, it should be ended one way or another.

CHEW: The bottom line is this. American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The entire country is waiting to see whether Trump is about to be charged and arrested or not.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Sources tell us the Manhattan grand jury panel met but did not take up the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: District Attorney Alvin Bragg is unleashing on House Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three committees have said they wanted Bragg to come in and testify. Bragg's office is sending the message they want Congress to back off.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's easier for them to go against Alvin Bragg than it is for them to go against Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A day after the French president said he wanted an increase in retirement age by the end of the year, more than a million people turned out in protest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just stuck to his economic argument that he knows best. And, ultimately, what we're seeing from the street is that people disagree with that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Count the basket wins and Kansas State wins it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A wild start to the Sweet 16 for the lead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gonzaga survives. They're going to the elite eight.


LEMON: So, good morning, everyone. Welcome in. It's top of the hour.

Let's start with the deadly drone attack on U.S. troops in Syria, shall we? The Pentagon says an Iranian-made drone killed an American contractor and wounded five U.S. service members after it struck a base in Northeast Syria. President Joe Biden responding with airstrikes against groups affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard in Syria, and you can see ambulances rushing to that scene and what looks like a burning building off to the side.

The U.S. still has roughly 900 troops on the ground in Syria to help stamp out ISIS. Just yesterday, their commander testifying to Congress about how Iran is using proxy militias to attack American soldiers with drones and rockets.

HARLOW: So, let's go to our National Security Reporter Natasha Bertrand, she joins us live at the Pentagon. Natasha, good morning to you. This breaking overnight, the U.S. military says it's ready to respond not just to this but to any additional Iranian attacks if this continues to escalate.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. And Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin did issue a statement last night saying that he authorized the strike after President Biden ordered it in response to a series of attacks by these groups affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps against U.S. personnel in Syria. This is not the first time that the U.S. has conducted these kinds of strikes, but it is -- these kinds of attacks are you know increasing, and the U.S. says that it's going to respond in a proportional way.


BERTRAND (voice over): President Joe Biden ordering a U.S. airstrike in Eastern Syria Thursday after U.S. intelligence assessed that an Iranian origin drone killed an American contractor and wounded five U.S. service members and another U.S. contractor. Biden authorized the straight, quote, against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

The Department of Defense said it, quote, took proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties. The U.S. military maintains approximately 900 U.S. troops in Syria, some of which are there as part of a coalition to defeat ISIS, but those forces are often under attack by Iranian proxies.

GEN. MICHAEL E. KURILLA, CENTCOM COMMANDER: Iran's vast and deeply resourced proxy forces spread instability throughout the region and threaten our regional partners.

BERTRAND: The commander of U.S. Central Command said in a statement following the strike, quote, we are postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks.

Testifying on Capitol Hill Thursday, Kurilla said that Iranian proxies have carried out attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East 78 times since the beginning of 2021.

KURILLA: So, what Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies. That's either UAVs or rockets to be able to attack our forces in either Iraq or Syria.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are these considered acts of war by Iran?

KURILLA: They are being done by the Iranian proxies is what I would tell you, Congressman.

BERTRAND: The Biden administration has carried out multiple airstrikes against militias affiliated with Iran following previous attacks on U.S. facilities in the region. Biden's first known military action was a strike in February 2021 after rocket attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.


BERTRAND (on camera): Now, adding to this concern is yet another thing that Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told Congress last week, which is that, today, Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East with thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles. And we should note that two of those wounded service members from the strike on Thursday were treated on site but three additional service members and that U.S. contractor were actually medically evacuated to coalition medical facilities in Iraq. Poppy, don?

HARLOW: Really significant overnight. Natasha, thank you very much for that reporting from the Pentagon. Don?

LEMON: Thank you. We're very lucky to have our military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton to walk us through that. Colonel, thank you so much.

Listen, so the first strike happening in the northeast and then just south of that is where Biden authorized that strike back again. Can you tell us what happened?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Don. Good morning. It's still basically with the first strike at the Iranians conducted -- the Iranian proxies conducted, I should say, what we're looking at here is in the northeastern part of Syria, the U.S. maintains a major presence with British forces. So, this is a vestige of the work that we did against ISIS to destroy that entity and, of course, there're still elements that exist there.

What happened was the strike occurred on the U.S. facility and that ended up killing the contractor and wounding the five soldiers and the other contractor. So, with that, the idea that the Iranian proxies are working very much in conjunction with Iran, and it's also something to note that when you look at in which this happened, you can see this happening right after Iran and Saudi Arabia mashed up (ph) their relationship with China's help.

So, there's a lot that's going on here, a lot to unpack. But the basic idea is that the U.S. then responded after the strike occurred and that (INAUDIBLE) on the map that you have by you, Don, that was where that Iranian group was actually located. So, the attack that the U.S. conducted was right there in more or less than the east central part of the country.

LEMON: Are you expecting the U.S. military to respond further?

LEIGHTON: I think this is it for the moment. But what would happen, you know, if the Iranian proxies just headed to move forward with some other attacks, then you can expect that Central Command, the U.S. Central Command, would be responding in kind. So, they basically said that they would use proportionate force anytime that something like this happened. And this is a response after about 80 attacks that have occurred since the beginning of 2021.

LEMON: As we've been reporting, there're still U.S. personnel there. The U.S. intel says that the strike was carried out by these Iranian proxies that you mentioned in the region. What more do we know about where they are, and the threat that they pose to the U.S. military, to the U.S personnel?

LEIGHTON: Right. So, most of these groups are located in the eastern and central parts of Syria. There are some that are located in the western part of the country. A lot of the fighting that was going on in the Aleppo region, for example, Iranian proxies were involved in that in the Syrian civil war. So, these elements are really throughout the country of Syria and they can turn and attack any forces, whether it's Syrian defense forces, democratic forces that are aligned with us or where the Kurds or some other entity, including the U.S. forces that are there.

LEMON: Yes. Just last Thursday, the top U.S. military general for the Middle East testified before Congress that Iran is significantly more military capable than ever. Let's listen and then I'll get your response. Here it is.


KURILLA: Today, Iran his exponentially more capable than they were just five years ago. Today, Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East. Thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles many capable of striking anywhere in the Middle East. Iran also maintains the largest and most capable UAV force in the region.


LEMON: So, Iranian proxies have carried out attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East 78 times since the beginning of 2021. What are your concerns, Colonel?

LEIGHTON: So, what this shows is that there's a real proliferation of arms in the Middle East and Iran is being culprit in this case. And what they're doing in order to protect the identity of who is doing this, at least protected initially, is to give a look at these weapons to proxy forces so that they can use what's called plausible deniability.


In other words, they can wash their hands of whatever happened and say it wasn't us even though it really was them.

So, this is very concerning because it really directly impacts American in interest anywhere in the Middle East. It really impacts the ability of the Kurds, for example, to maintain relative peace in their region and it puts at risk any type of peace agreement that was reached in the Syrian civil war. So, this is something that is very dangerous and could explode at any point. LEMON: That is Cedric Leighton, Colonel Cedric Leighton. A little bit later on, we're going to have John Kirby, he is going to join us from the White House. Thank you, Colonel.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Don.

HARLOW: The United States and Canada have been grappling with a surge of migrants seeking asylum, and we are now learning that both countries have reached a major agreement to help deal with this. President Biden is in Ottawa right now.

Our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly traveling with the president, he's there. Phil, good morning. This is significant, right, years in the making, and as I understand it, an extension, a broadening of that 2004 agreement known as the Third Safe, Third Country agreement. What does it do?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. Essentially, it will expand that 2004 agreement to include one unofficial border crossings specifically. It's known as Roxton Road. It is an area where migrants have been crossing into Quebec from New York at increasing rates over the course of the last several years, and it's caused significant domestic political problems for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And the fact that they were able to reach an agreement on this and what this essentially will do is it will make that unofficial crossing official, giving Canadians the ability to stem the tide of the crossings there. And in exchange, Canada has agreed to create a refugee program for about 15,000 migrants that would come up for the U.S. side of things.

And the reason why this is significant is twofold. One, it is a significant domestic political issue here in Canada for the prime minister and his party. It is also something that U.S. officials did not seem like they were going to head toward just a matter of weeks ago. It has been a major push by Canadian officials in the lead up to this meeting.

And it underscores the fact that U.S. officials and President Biden in particular are really trying to set the conditions for a very productive meeting, a very quick, 27 hour visit to Canada. But while one where there are significant issues on the bilateral side of things, that they want to try and reach agreements on.

Now, the agreement itself, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and talking to our colleague, Paula Newton, did not confirm it exactly, he did lay the groundwork for it. Take a listen walk up.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Canada is always willing to do more. We're a country that has been built like the United States on welcoming people from around the world. We just need to make sure we're doing it in responsible, proper ways to continue to have our citizens positive towards immigration. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And while it seems a little bit high level, the translation is they needed this deal. They wanted this deal. They have gotten this deal. It will be announced later today.

It's one of a series of thorny bilateral issues that the president and the prime minister will get into. But the relationship itself guides very warm, unlike the current place that I'm standing at the moment and one where the two leaders themselves, have a very close relationship as well, which I think we'll see play out throughout the course of today's events.

HARLOW: You saw it in their embrace, right, hugging each other's wives, et cetera when on the arrival. Phil Mattingly, thank you for the translation into English of that very diplomatic answer from Trudeau. See you soon.

LEMON: We want to show you this incredible video capturing the moment of U.S. Border Patrol agent rescues a one-year-old. The child was abandoned at a U.S. Mexican border by the person the agency describes as a smuggler. The adult leaves the child sitting next to the barrier and immediately returns to the river. A white patrol truck pulls up. And an agent puts a child in the vehicle.

Now, the Border Patrol chief tweeted this picture of the child safe in the arms of the agent who rescued him and authorities told CNN the child is from Guatemala and will be placed with Health and Human Services.

Sadly, this is not a rare incident. The agency has reported many smugglers abandoning young children in recent years.

What do you say?

HARLOW: Well, all I was thinking of is now what for that child, and it's just so sad.

LEMON: Yes. I read it slowly there because I wanted the video -- you see the video, but I mean it's just -- it's sad, and I think it just shows, you know, the crisis at the border, it shows you what people are dealing with who are, you know, on the other side of our border and imagine a parent or someone, you know, a guardian or what have you feeling that they're so desperate that they have to abandon a child.


HARLOW: You only do that with a small child like that because you're so desperate.

LEMON: And knowing that they're better off on the other side.

HARLOW: I hope that child --


HARLOW: -- is all right.

Okay, major turn here but you've probably been watching basketball at night, right? Turning to March Madness, Gonzaga surviving a wild finish against UCLA to advance of the Elite Eight.

Andy Scholes joins us with the highlights. So, how was it?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Oh man, Poppy, Don, what a night and what a game we had in Las Vegas the second half. It certainly was one wild ride for fans. Gonzaga was down 13 in halftime, but they came all the way back and actually had an eight-point lead over UCLA with a minute to go.

But the Bruins would go in a frantic ten to one run capped off by Amari Bailey, hitting a three to give them the lead with 13 seconds left. But then Mark Few dialed up what he calls the Jay Wright pay. It's the same one Villanova used to win it all a few years ago, and Julian Strawther, the Vegas native, nailing the three there. UCLA would have one last chance, but they turned the ball over. Zags just winning an absolute thriller, 79 to 76.

Now Kansas State, Michigan State, they also played a thriller at Madison Square Garden. And it was another legendary performance from Wildcats Point Guard Markquis Nowell. The 5'8" Harlem native scored 20 points to go along with an NCAA tournament record 19 assist. And no assist was bigger than one to Keyontae Johnson right here in overtime, Johnson going to come up with the reverse slam.

And take another look at this. Nowell was actually going back and forth with his coach, Jerome Tang, right before throwing that pass. In the closing seconds, Nowell also getting a big steel and he would take it the other way to seal this victory for the Wildcats as Kansas State wins 98 to 93 to advance to the Elite Eight. And here's Tang on his point guard after the game


JEROME TANG, KANSAS STATE HEAD COACH: Well, what was that? It was a place of fire, but we practice in a place of fire all the time. So, he was ready for it. This is a bad boy right here. This is a bad boy.


SCHOLES: You got to love the intensity. And Keyontae Johnson, he led the Wildcats of 22 points last night, including that big dunk. He continues to be one of the best stories of the tournament. So, Johnson, he collapsed in 2020 while playing for Florida and was in a coma for three days. He was diagnosed with heart inflammation. And instead of taking a $5 million insurance payout and never playing basketball again, he transferred to KSU, guys, and now has them a win away from the final four. So, if your bracket is out, you know, you've got nothing to root for their, it's hard not to root for the Wildcats and their two star players, two great stories.

LEMON: I was getting dressed this morning. I looked at my bracket. I was just like I just stuffed it in my backpack and didn't really -- I was like, I don't know what this thing is, what's going on it.

SCHOLES: Never look at it again.

HARLOW: Wait. Andy, is Princeton going to make it to the Elite Eight They play tonight, right?

SCHOLES: They play tonight against Creighton there. Surprise, surprise, once again, underdogs, but, hey, one thing we've learned so far from this tournament, you cannot count out these Princeton Tigers.

HARLOW: Thanks, Andy.

LEMON: Thank you, Andy Scholes. See you soon.

HARLOW: So, wait until you hear all that we have ahead on this. One of Donald Trump's attorneys will testify today in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents probe no longer being able to cite attorney- client privilege for some critical questions. What do prosecutors want to ask him?

LEMON: Plus, the former president also facing backlash four, get this, calling the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, a Soros- backed animal, among other things. More on this escalating rhetoric, straight ahead.



LEMON: So, new developments in the investigations into former President Donald Trump. First, in the DOJ's investigation of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago Trump's defense attorney, Evan Corcoran, is set to testify in front of a federal grand jury today after being denied attorney-client privilege. The special counsel suspects Trump intentionally misled his lawyers about those documents. And Corcoran was also ordered to turn over his notes from that time.

Another Trump lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, says that he testified back in December before the grand jury for several hours about additional searches for classified documents at Trump properties. He says that there was no obstruction of justice and that his team complied with the subpoena.

HARLOW: And new this morning, Donald Trump escalating his rhetoric against Manhattan's district attorney, Alvin Bragg, over that hush money investigation. In a post overnight, Trump raised the possibility of, quote, death and destruction, close quote, that could happen if he's indicted, with the former president continuing on to write, quote, no crime has been committed.

Our Senior Political Correspondent, Anchor of Inside Politics Sunday and then anchor of a fascinating special on TikTok, which we'll get to in a moment, Abby Phillip is here. Good morning.

LEMON: Good morning.


LEMON: Good to see you.

PHILLIP: Great to be here with you guys.

HARLOW: Abby, death and destruction, given the history and the background of the death and violence on January 6th and the insurrection, why is the president saying this, former president?

PHILLIP: he doesn't see any downside to upping the ante? And why would he? Every time that he's escalated the rhetoric, the response on Capitol Hill from Republicans, even the ones who are typically more measured about Trump, has been to circle the wagons around him.

So, these things really feed on themselves. When Trump sees the reaction to one post, the previous one calling on his supporters to protest, and he sees that the only consequence of that had been that Republicans basically said, we've got to defend Trump, he goes one step further. And I think that's what we're seeing here.

We don't know what's going to happen. We don't know what Alvin Bragg is going to do. But Trump is raising a lot of money off of this kind of rhetoric and I think that he does not care if he does, in fact, spin up unrest.


That's part of the strategy.

LEMON: Well, he raised a whole lot of money by saying, oh, I'm going to be -- you know, insinuating that he was going to be indicted on Tuesday, right, raise money off of that. But this is really disturbing to me because he's been doing this for a while, and I think we can't talk enough about it where he's been calling these prosecutors who happen to be African-American, saying that they're racist. He called Alvin Bragg a Soros-backed animal. He is old tricks here of, you know, being racist or racist adjacent, using that type of language for people.

PHILLIP: Yes. And as someone who's -- I covered Trump for years, if you go back and you read his rhetoric, I mean, this goes actually all the way back to the '80s. Trump has a very long history of calling black people racist.

LEMON: Or dumb.

PHILLIP Or dumb or using -- you know, talking about Baltimore as being, you know, filthy, rat-infested, the same thing with Congressman John Lewis' district in the Atlanta suburbs. So, he has a long history of that.

These are -- I don't know if we can even call them codes at this point, because I think that it's pretty transparent, but they are signals to his base who are much more prone to see black people in positions of power in particular in a racial lens, even though what the D.A. is doing at this moment actually has absolutely nothing to do with race. I think we've got to just stick with the facts here, wait for them to unfold and not get distracted by what Trump is trying to do, which is to rile up his base from a political perspective on this issue.

LEMON: So, I want to get to this. Trump's defense attorney, Joe Tacopina, who has been on this network a lot, and he was on my old show at night a lot. He's defending this contradiction now over now representing Trump in this case. And there was some, you know, issue about possibly him representing Stormy Daniels.

We dug up this clip. It's from him claiming attorney-client privilege with Stormy Daniels back in 2018. I want to get your thoughts. Here it is, though.


LEMON: So, I understand that you had some communication with Stormy Daniels at some point.

JOE TACOPINA, ATTORNEY: You know, obviously, there's attorney-client issues. Let's put it this way. I was contacted -- go ahead. Well, what?

LEMON: Jack, let him finish.

TACOPINA: the question. I was asked whether I was contacted or are asked to represent her. The answer is yes, I was, but I can't go into anything further. I'm not representing her. I don't represent her. I've never represented her.


LEMON: Listen, he is defending and saying that I never represented, I never spoke with her, but Trump's attorneys always somehow seemed to become part of the story that maybe he's right. I'm sure I'm assuming he's right and he's telling the truth but they, you know --

PHILLIP: Well, let's start with this. It has not actually been that easy for Trump to find attorneys, okay? He is not picking from the top shelf here. There are a lot of people who don't want to represent Trump because Trump's lawyers tend to need to get lawyers.

And I think this is probably one of those cases where you've got someone who, in addition to this clip, which I think raises a lot of ethical questions, even potentially some legal ones, Joe Tacopina also said that what Trump did was illegal. And there are a lot of people in Trump's orbit who have been on the other side of many legal issues as it relates to Trump, but now that they work for him and they're getting paid -- presumptively, they're getting paid, although some of them don't -- where they're getting paid, they changed their tune. And I think that's actually pretty typical for Trump's orbit.

And it's -- I'm not saying that Joe Tacopina is not a good lawyer. I'm just saying that Trump has too often pick from people who previously said that what he did was maybe illegal. LEMON: He's a tough client to represent, because, usually, you tell your client to be quiet and they do. But as you said, MAGA, since making attorneys get attorneys.

HARLOW: Well said. Let's turn before you go to your special last night on TikTok following just an absolute grilling of TikTok CEO on Capitol Hill by notably both Republicans and Democrats seeming to have no -- almost no defenders in that room. Let's play this exchange from the hearing between one of the lawmakers and Shou Zi Cewh. Here it was.


REP. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-WI): Do any American dance employees in China, including engineers, currently have access to us data?

CHEW: Congressman would appreciate -- this is a complex topic. Today, all data is stored by default --

GALLAGHER: Yes or no? It's not that complex. Yes or no, do they have access to user data?

CHEW: we have -- after Project Texas is done, the answer is no. Today, there is still some data that we need to delete.


HARLOW: Do you think that Congress accomplished something for the American people and national security yesterday?


PHILLIP: I don't know that they got answers. I don't know that they got close to solutions. But that was a really key moment because I think it highlights the core of the problem.