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National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby Interviewed on Iranian Drone Attack on American Soldiers in Syria and Congressional Hearing on Social Media Company TikTok; TikTok CEO Testifies to Congress Defending Company against Accusations It Poses National Security Threat to U.S.; Lawmakers Grill TikTok CEO Over China Ties, User Protection; Trump Refers To "Potential Death & Destruction" If His Indicted; Today: Trump Lawyer Evan Corcoran To Testify Before Grand Jury. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2023 - 08:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Has been using proxy militias to attack American soldiers with drones and rockets.

The White House national security spokesman John Kirby joins us now. He's in Ottawa traveling with the president. Good morning to you, sir. We appreciate you joining us here. Can you please walk us through the president's decision to authorize this retaliatory strike. What did he and others have to weigh?

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: He had a discussion with his national security team on the way up here to Ottawa in the wake of the drone strike on our base in Syria and received recommendations from the from the Defense Department leaders and the intelligence community about what response options could look like. He made the decision very, very shortly in that discussion to authorize these strikes against these particular targets.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Is there anything you can tell us about the U.S. contractor killed?

KIRBY: I'm afraid not. We're trying to give the family some time and in space here to grieve. They just got devastating news yesterday. We do know that he was an American citizen and a contractor working for us at that particular base. But again, Poppy, I think you can understand we're going to give them a little bit of privacy right now.

LEMON: Just to follow to Poppy's question there, what are the things that U.S. -- can the U.S. do anything to help keep the personnel and U.S. contractors safe there?

KIRBY: Well, the actions that we took yesterday are part and parcel of that effort, Don. We're going to work to protect our people and our facilities as best we can. It's a dangerous environment. You said it at the top, we're there to defeat ISIS, to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. They are still a threat in Syria. They are still a threat in Iraq. Nowhere near what they were back in 2014, of course, but they're still there, they're still plotting, they're still planning. They're still resourcing, they're still training, and obviously they're still capable of conducting operations.

And we've got militant groups that that are supported by Iran that are the ones conducting these attacks against our troops and our facilities. We're going to continue to do whatever we can to defend themselves. And if we have to retaliate like we did yesterday, we'll do that.

HARLOW: I think the question also become sort of how is this measured? And is this an act that is indicative of what is to come? We know that Iran has been building these increasingly sophisticated drones, selling them to Russia, for example, in the fight against Ukraine. And it was just striking that yesterday, John, it was the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East at this hearing on Capitol Hill who said this. Listen.


GEN. MICHAEL KURILLA, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: 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.


HARLOW: And that literally is what happened overnight. Do you believe that these attacks could be considered an act of war by Iran?

KIRBY: We don't seek a war with Iran. We're not looking for an armed conflict with that country or another war in the region. We do seek to protect our mission in Syria, which is about defeating ISIS, and we do seek to make sure we can protect our people and our facilities against these Iran-backed groups. These are militant groups that Iran is funding, resourcing, even training. And they've got facilities there. Iran and the IRGC has facilities there in Syria from which a lot of that resourcing and training and facilitation occurs. And it was against some of those targets, again, that we that we struck back last night.

LEMON: Let me see how else I can ask you this question, because my question, I think, Poppy's question, it's like, what can we do preemptively? Because this is -- we retaliated. The United States have retaliated. Iranian proxies have attacked U.S. forces about 78 times with these unmanned aerial vehicles. That was since 2021. That's according to the Pentagon. So the question is, how do you stop it from happening again? I'm talking preemptively. I don't mean retaliating for a strike when they strike us, but preemptively, John.

KIRBY: I appreciate the -- I appreciate the question. Look, we were not seeking a conflict with Iran, as I said. We've been very clear with the Iranians and with our partners about how serious the mission that we're doing in Syria is and how much we're going to protect that mission. Iran should not be involved in supporting these attacks on our facilities or are on our people. We've made that very, very clear. We're going to continue to be vigilant, to monitor this as best we can.

But look, I think if you broaden this back out a little bit, you've got a country in Iran who is supporting now drone strikes in Ukraine, helping Mr. Putin continued to kill innocent Ukrainians. You have Iran supporting terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, whether it's Hamas or Hezbollah, targeting our allies and partners in Israel. And of course, you've got Iran conducting maritime threats to shipping in and out of the Persian Gulf. They're continuing to grow a burgeoning ballistic missile program.


So to your question, what we've got to do is make sure that we have adequate military capabilities to meet our security requirements throughout the region to counter and to thwart Iran's destabilizing behavior, and we're going to do that. And you heard a lot of that from General Kurilla yesterday.

HARLOW: We certainly did. The timing was just striking given what he warned of and what happened.

Let me just end on, if we could, given that you are the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, the other -- another national security concern is TikTok. And we saw what happened at the hearing with the CEO of TikTok yesterday. I want to ask you about an exchange between Congressman Bach and Secretary Blinken. Listen.


REP. KEN BUCK, (R-CO) FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, you said the challenge it poses. Is it a threat to the United States?

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe that it is, yes.

BUCK: And shouldn't a threat to United States security be banned? They do it to us. Why don't we do it to them?

BLINKEN: It should be ended one way or another, and there are different ways of doing that.


HARLOW: Now that you've heard for hours from the CEO of TikTok, is it the Biden administration's position that TikTok is more of a national security threat and previously believed or less of one? Did he convince you?

KIRBY: His testimony didn't change our view one way or the other, Poppy, that there are real national security challenges with respect to that application. That's why the president has banned it from government devices. We have concerns over data. We have concerns over privacy. We have concerns over information sharing and the flow of that information back to Beijing. That's why it's banned on government devices. There is, an ongoing Committee on Foreign Investment review

independent, of course, into TikTok and to applications like TikTok. We've got to let that process play out as an independent review.

HARLOW: I know, but that has taken years.

KIRBY: We don't want to get ahead of that.

HARLOW: That's taken years, CFIUS review, and that's why the House, that's why Congress is getting involved.

I just want to ask you before Don moves on to another important topic, and that is Tony Blinken said in that, Secretary Blinken said in that soundbite about TikTok, quote, "It should be ended one way or another." Is that the position then of the Biden administration?

KIRBY: We obviously want to deal with all national security threats in the appropriate way and mitigate or end them as much as we can. What Secretary Blinken is referring to is there's different ways to do that, and he was being careful, again, not to get ahead of this CFIUS review. We've got to let that play out. But we are certainly willing to continue to work with Congress to deal with the challenges here presented by TikTok.

LEMON: We've got to talk to you about -- we see beautiful backdrop in Ottawa behind you. You're in Canada with the president. CNN has learned that the U.S. and Canada have struck now this deal on changes to a decades old asylum agreement that would restrict certain migrants from seeking protections in Canada. What can we expect to hear from President Biden and from Justin Trudeau today?

KIRBY: The president's real excited to be here in Ottawa to meet with Prime Minister Trudeau. They'll have some bilateral discussions. He'll get a chance to address parliament and then he'll obviously, he and the prime minister will talk to members of the press corps. And I think migration will clearly be top on the agenda of the concerns that these two leaders are going to discuss in addition to other things, like climate change and certainly trade and economic practices, maybe the situation in Haiti. There's a lot on the agenda. Migration will certainly be discussed. I won't get ahead of any thing that the prime minister or the president might say specifically about it, but this is a shared regional challenge.

And when they were both in Mexico City for the North American Leaders Summit, they all talked about the fact that we've got to take a holistic, comprehensive, regional approach here. There are more people on the move in the western hemisphere right now than there has been since World War II. It's staggering the numbers of people that are moving throughout the hemisphere. It affects Canada. It certainly affects the United States. We've got to take a holistic approach. And I think you're going to see both leaders talk about that approach today.

LEMON: John Kirby in Ottawa with the president. Thank you, John. We appreciate it.

KIRBY: You bet.

HARLOW: This morning China says it would, quote, firmly opposed any for sale of TikTok. It is the first direct response to the Biden administration's demand that the app's Chinese owner sell that part of their company or potentially face a ban. This response from Beijing came just hours after the CEO of TikTok was grilled on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers raised concerns about its ties to Beijing.


SHOU CHEW, TIKTOK CEO: ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government. There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them.


HARLOW: He tried to convince lawmakers that this app should not be banned. He faced claims that TikTok is a, quote, weapon of the Chinese Communist Party to spy on users. That was a claim. We should note that there has been no public evidence presented to support that claim, but lawmakers really appeared unconvinced.



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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what? I find that actually preposterous.

CHEW: I have looked, and I have seen no evidence of this happening. And in order to assure everybody here and all our users, our commitment is to move the data in into the United States to be stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't believe that TikTok has, that you have said or done anything to convince us that that that information, the personal information of 150 million Americans, that the Chinese government is not going to give that up.


HARLOW: Let's bring in Kara Swisher, host of the podcast "On with Kara Swisher." And, of course, "Pivot." Good morning.

LEMON: It's been a while, Kara. Good to see you.

KARA SWISHER, HOST, ON WITH KARA SWISHER" AND "PIVOT" PODCASTS: I know. How you doing? Good to see you.

LEMON: Good to see you. So you heard what John Kirby had to say. Poppy had great questions asking him. Do you want to respond to what he had to say?

SWISHER: Well, I mean, the issue is how are they going to do it? Because the Trump administration and sort of tried this along the edges before and it's really hard, because they can say they want to ban it. They've got to actually ban it because they need, as Mr. Chew talked about, evidence. They have to show their evidence that this is a threat, and that's why it's going through the various agencies of government, including the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. So I think they can say they want to ban it. Banning it is going to be a lot harder because the something called the First Amendment here. And selling it is hard because of something we call capitalism, and they may not be able to be forced to sell it without proof.

HARLOW: Also China's 2020 law protecting intellectual property might really block of sale as well in terms of selling it to a U.S. company.

Do you think, I know this won't be a popular question, but do you think what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill was productive and fair to the American people? There were a lot of times that he didn't even get to fully answer.

SWISHER: Well, that's typical, right.

HARLOW: I know.

SWISHER: You've seen these hearings. It's sort of like this is what they do with all the social media.

HARLOW: I know but this really matters.

SWISHER: It does, but it mattered -- it mattered when they didn't do anything about Facebook and privacy and algorithms and antitrust. What they do is they like to put on a show and then do precisely nothing. This is their version of doing something, which is calling attention to it, and then giving a speech. But they've got to actually do things.

And it applies to not just TikTok. It's a special case, certainly, because of the worries about the Chinese government, and they're good worries and concerns -- they kept saying the word "concerns" -- to have. It's just, they've got to -- they've never done it with anything else. And now suddenly they're all incensed about privacy. This is an issue globally, and it's definitely more of an issue because this is a company based in China, and they should have these concerns, and including national security concerns. But they need proof and they need to do some nothing about it, and that's going to be more difficult.

And you know they could, I don't believe it. It's preposterous. Well, show me the proof. Unfortunately, that's what they've got to do here, and they haven't done that yet.

LEMON: Well, that's the question then, because -- let's talk more about that, because there as yet, there has not been any public evidence that shows that China is actually spying on people through TikTok. SWISHER: A little bit. There's been a little bit. There's been in a

little bit --

HARLOW: With journalists.

SWISHER: With the with the journalist, right, and they have said this is a rogue reporter. I think the problem with that is -- that it was a rogue employee of TikTok. Now, that's the issue of a rogue employee could get that information, so could and probably does the Chinese government. I just don't know, and I think that's what they have to figure out. They have to prove that. And in the case of the reporter, it did happen, but they are saying it was a rogue employee and a one time thing. And that's happened at other companies, too, spying. Twitter I recall, there was one in Facebook, et cetera.

LEMON: Do they need to show Americans more proof than other just the example that you mentioned?

SWISHER: Yes, they do. They need to show that it's a national security issue, because unless -- they don't do that, they're going to need an act of Congress. And then you have the First Amendment, and judges have been very loathe to do this, including the Trump administration. So it's a long way from saying I cannot believe you, sir, to actually doing something about it, and that's the difficulty.

And then we're in the middle of a really tense period with China, and so there's going to be retaliation, obviously. But they actually can't retaliate much because none of our companies are there, and that's a really big issue that they can operate here, and we cannot operate there as freely. And that's something that needed to be addressed for many years but hasn't been either.

LEMON: You never know where Kara Swisher is going to be, is it San Francisco, is it Washington, is it New York.

SWISHER: San Francisco. San Francisco.


HARLOW: Super early. You must really love us.

SWISHER: Super --

HARLOW: It's 5:00 in the morning.

SWISHER: I must because literally all I want to do is fall asleep right now. But you're so fascinating, it's hard not to.

HARLOW: Welcome to our lives.

LEMON: Thank you. Are you off for a nap right now?

SWISHER: I am going to go right to sleep. Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

LEMON: Night-night. Thank you, Kara, appreciate it.

SWISHER: Thank you.


LEMON: So, overnight, former President Trump ramping up the rhetoric in response to his legal scrutiny and one of his defense attorneys, it's about to testify before a federal grand jury without attorney client privilege. So, how is all of this resonating with voters? How's it resonate? There are some voters right there, we're going to ask a group of political reporters on the ground in purple states, the responses they are seeing in their community. It's going to be fascinating, so, stay tuned on the other side of this break.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this morning, former President Trump posting that there could be quote, death and destruction if he is indicted in Manhattan District Attorney's probe into the alleged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. Sources tell CNN that grand jury -- grand jury will reconvene on Monday. And on a separate investigation over classified documents later today. Trump's defense attorney Evan Corcoran will appear before that grand jury, and he will have to testify because he was denied attorney client privilege. Both significant developments CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live in Washington. So, let's talk about Evan Corcoran. What do you expect prosecutors will ask him today?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SERNIOR REPORTER: Well, Poppy, we have a little bit of insight into that. We think that they're going to be asking largely about the response to the Justice Department trying to get back all of the classified documents from Mar-a-Lago. The response was not adequate, because it ultimately led to the FBI, performing a search approved by a court at Mar-a-Lago finding hundreds more classified records. Evan Corcoran was the point person in responding to the federal government as they were investigating this criminally last year leading up to that search. So, we think that he's going to be asking questions about that, but I want to emphasize how critical of a day this is for the special counsel's investigation.


This has been an extremely active grand jury. We know that there have been lots of people subpoenaed to it more than two dozen who are working around the President or at Mar-a-Lago. The grand jury was even active yesterday, but this is different today. It's because this is a defense lawyer for Donald Trump. And he is being forced to come back in here and testify to the grand jury and secret answer questions that Trump's team fought very hard not to have him answer. And we also expect him to turn over documents, handwritten notes he has, if he hasn't turned those over already, to the Justice Department. Poppy?

HARLOW: So, where to have that attorney client privilege punctured in a way like this. Katelyn, thanks very much. Don.

LEMON: All right, so, how's this all -- this all this legal scrutiny of the former president playing with voters around the country. We invited the three of reporters to tell us what they're hearing in their states? It's very important. So, pay attention to this because not just what's happening in New York and Washington and on the coast. Editorial writer for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis is Patricia Lopez, Axios reporter from Phoenix, Arizona, Jeremy Duda and political editor with the Tampa Bay Times in Florida, Emily Mahoney.

Thank you all for joining us. Emily, I'm going to start with you, and good morning to you, by the way. I know it's quite early for Jeremy. So, I really appreciate Jeremy, joining us -- all of you, but especially Jeremy. Emily, I'm going to start with you in Florida. In Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis poses the greatest potential threat to Trump's 2024 run. How are voters reacting to all of these investigations?

EMILY MAHONEY, POLITICAL EDITOR, THE TAMPA BAY TIMES: Right. So, even before, some of the latest news with these investigations, I've been talking to voters. You know, covering various events where Governor Ron DeSantis has sort of been ramping up this campaign or shadow campaign for president. And among DeSantis supporters, you know, who really overlap with people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. There has been a growing sense that Donald Trump, it could really be hindered both politically and in a potential administration by what they see as mounting sort of deep state resistance to him.

And I think that the latest revelations with these investigations will really only add to that sense, that he faces so much resistance. That they're turning to Ron DeSantis as an alternative person who they see as being more likely to be successful politically. And also, would be able to have more control over his own administration. And I think that these, like I said, the latest news kind of will only add to that sentiment.

LEMON: So, Emily, the shorthand what you're saying here. Too much drama enough is enough, they're ready to move on to some someone else. Is that what you're saying?

MAHONEY: I think so. I mean, obviously, Florida is not exactly representative of the entire country, because DeSantis just won reelection here by more than 19 points. And so, he's very popular here but I do think that is the sentiment among Trump slash DeSantis supporters here in the state. On the other hand, I will also say, though, that Trump and DeSantis have both proven very adept at taking up a lot of oxygen in the news cycle. And in Florida, typically, we talk almost 24/7 About DeSantis.

He's very good at producing headlines at a very steady pace, he does so intentionally. And with all of the Trump news recently, and with these investigations sort of looming over the country, it has very dramatically sort of reoriented the conversation in the news cycle. Even here in Florida, where DeSantis is now being asked about Trump having to form a position on these investigations. And so, I think if this continues, it will prove interesting because Trump is now sort of once again at the center of the Republican universe.

LEMON: Got you. OK, Jeremy, I want to come to you now. Because during the 2022 midterms, several Trump beat candidates were defeated in their races Kari Lake for governor, Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem. And also, Attorney General candidate Abe Hamadeh. What does that say about Trump's influence in your state? And do these investigations move the needle for voters?

JEREMY DUDA, REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, I think what it says about Trump's influences that at least as of last year, he still has a tremendous amount of influence within the Republican primaries. Perhaps, a lot less so in the general election. This is still -- if you look at the voter registration numbers, you know, somewhat readily named state, but you saw Democrats run the table on all these big statewide races last year. And I think the general sentiment is because of all these Trump back candidates who came out of the primary.

Now, so far, I don't think the news out of New York is really filtering down much to voters yet here in Arizona. But if that indictment comes, which seems like that's expected, I think it'd be fascinating to see the effect that has on the primary. I think it could have the effect of pushing folks away from Trump a little more at least. You know, there's a lot of Republicans who want to see that influence diminished in the primaries next year. We have a, you know, probably one of the biggest Senate races in the country coming up next year.


It could also have the effect of galvanizing his supporters. You know, probably the leading prospective candidate for the Senate is Kari Lake. The Republican gubernatorial candidate who was defeated last year. Very closely allied with former President Trump, she was at Mar- a-Lago for his presidential announcement. She's being spoken of as a possible running mate if he's the nominee. So, when that comes, she will certainly, you know, rally around him, a lot of her supporters will as well. So, it will be interesting to see if that kind of gives her a boost. I think he's already probably viewed as the leading candidate if she gets it, and that could kind of bolster that a little more.

LEMON: Yes, it's interesting, because it goes back to the -- what happened during the midterms and the qualified candidate's argument that Republicans were making like Mitch McConnell, we need to run. Qualified candidates and also Republican leaders in Congress as well saying the same thing. Patricia, I want to turn to you Minneapolis was ground zero for social justice protests following George Floyd's murder. With Trump famously tweeting, when the looting starts, the shooting starts and calling the protesters thugs, among other things. What does the average voter think about these investigations and how it would affect Trump in the primaries?

PATRICIA LOPEZ, EDITORIAL WRITER, THE STAR TRIBUNE: I think, you know, Minnesota as a whole has some serious Trump fatigue. And the best evidence of that is in the November elections. Voters completely swept Democrats into power at the highest levels. There are no high-level Republicans to even fly the flag for Trump. Party leaders don't talk about him, I think the reaction has been muted at best. Our Governor Tim Walz said earlier that while he, you know, everyone has a right to protest. All of their officials were looking for signs of possible planned protests, civil disturbance, something that might be akin to what happened earlier. And they found no evidence of that.

LEMON: Yes, what is the issues that voters are talking about as we head towards 2024? I'm going to start with you, Patricia. If you can give me a quick, what are the issues? What are people concerned about Minneapolis, and we're in the area you cover?

LOPEZ: I think, you know, they're concerned about crime, they're concerned about education, about health care that the usual. But they're also quite alarmed at the anti-trans, anti-gay, legislation that's sweeping the country. I think they want to guard against that. I mean, it's not uniform.


LOPEZ: Rural vote, it tends to be more conservative. But it's, it's not -- It's not -- it's not a uniform thing.


LOPEZ: They have to, yes.

LEMON: Yes. All right, Jeremy?

DUDA: Well, obviously, inflation is a big concern all over the country, and it here in Phoenix, we've had some of the highest inflation rates in the country. I think, probably voters are focused on that more than anything. you know, the border we're right here -- right here on the U.S. Mexico border. This is always a major concern. In Arizona, I think, especially after what we've seen in the last couple of years, attempts to undermine elections. I think that has kind of moved the needle a bit and really filtered down to the electorate, we still see, you know, some of that going on now at the legislature.


DUDA: And then, you know, we'll have to see what really kind of rises to the forefront with voters.


DUDA: You know, by the time.


DUDA: The elections roll around next year. But I think those three issues, especially at play inflation in the border are always going to be at the forefront of voters' minds out here.

LEMON: All right, Emily?

MAHONEY: Yes, I would echo similar things here in Florida. Education is always top of mind for people and Florida has also experienced of a good chunk of the inflation. And is also, experiencing just a rapid loss of affordability here because of an influx of new residents in part. And so, I think that economic issues are always -- are always top of mind, and particularly are poignant here in Florida right now.

LEMON: Fascinating to hear from all three of you. And again, we really appreciate you joining us here. We hope that you'll come back and great reporting. Thanks so much to Patricia Lopez, Emily Mahoney and Jeremy Duda. Poppy, interesting.

HARLOW: I loved that.

LEMON: Yes, it was great, right? They talked about --


LEMON: -- education, affordability, right? And

HARLOW: Yes, and were not on the ground in those states. They are covering it day in and day out.


HARLOW: That was great Don, thank you. OK, so, coming up, controversial judicial reforms and now a new law that protects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even more as Israel on edge. Jake Tapper interviewed Netanyahu, exclusively earlier this year. He'll join us on that and to preview his one on one with Ted Laso, Star Jason Sudeikis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coach, I'm sorry.

TED LASSO: You know what the happiest animal on earth is? It's a goldfish. You know why?