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Biden Weighing Options to Respond to Drone Attack; Hamas is 'Studying' New Truce Proposal; House GOP Set to Take Up Mayorkas Impeachment Articles. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 30, 2024 - 06:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York.

The White House weighing the scale of retaliation this morning after that deadly drone strike on a base in Jordan killed three American service members. How the enemy drone actually followed an American drone onto that base.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And this just in: a broad framework for a potential hostage release and ceasefire deal now being studied by Hamas as the families of Americans held captive meet at the White House later today.

And Team USA figure skating takes the gold, nearly two years after a Russian doping scandal rocked the Olympics. We'll have more.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: And we begin with new details this morning about how that drone attack killed three U.S. service members in Jordan. Military sources tell CNN the drone was following an American drone that was returning to the base at the same time. That created a lot of confusion on the ground and delayed the response to the attack.

MATTINGLY: We are also learning more about the three fallen soldiers, all from the state of Georgia. They've been identified. It's 46-year- old Sergeant William Rivers, 24-year-old Specialist Kennedy Sanders; and 23-year-old Specialist Breonna Moffett. Their families are now speaking out.

HARLOW: And President Biden meeting with his national security team as he faces mounting pressure to respond forcefully without sparking a regional war.

Officials tell CNN the U.S. response is likely to be more powerful than previous retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria. To date, none of those strikes have deterred the militants. They have launched 165 attacks and have injured more than 120 U.S. service members just since October. Something the president acknowledged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the air strikes in Yemen working?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, when you say working, are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes.


MATTINGLY: Let's get straight to CNN's Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon to start us off this morning. Natasha, what do we know right now about the options the president, his national security team, are actually weighing for this retaliation?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a number of options that President Biden could take here, including striking the particular Iran-backed militants that carried out this attack. They could also conduct a cyberattack, an offensive cyberattack that cripples certain infrastructure being used by these militants.

There are a number of different options. But one that the U.S. is unlikely to take, we are told, is to strike directly inside Iran. That is something the administration does not want to do, given that they do not want to go to war with Iran.

But the response that we see, it could be, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, multi-leveled, come in stages, and it might not all happen in one day. It could be sustained over time.


BERTRAND (voice-over): A powerful response from President Biden is expected after a drone attack in Jordan killed three U.S. service members and injured dozens more.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is an incredibly volatile time in the Middle East. I would argue that we have not seen a situation as dangerous as the one we're facing now across the region since at least 1973.

BERTRAND (voice-over): U.S. officials tell CNN that Biden is under increasing pressure to respond more forcefully to stop the targeted attacks by the Iran-backed militia groups against U.S. and coalition forces in the region.

SABRINA SINGH, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: We know these groups are supported by Iran. And, therefore, they do have their fingerprints on this.

BERTRAND (voice-over): The attack happened Sunday at Tower 22 in Jordan, a military outpost near the borders of Iraq and Syria. The enemy drone approached around the same time that an American drone was returning to the base, causing uncertainty and delaying the military's response.

U.S. officials are now trying to determine if the drone followed the American drone or if the timing was a coincidence. According to the Pentagon, since October 17th, Iran-backed militia

groups have targeted U.S. military personnel and bases over 160 times, despite a number of retaliatory attacks by the United States, targeting their munition supplies in Iraq and Syria, and killing a militia leader in Baghdad.

The Defense Department has now identified the three soldiers killed as Sergeant William Rivers, Specialist Kennedy Sanders and Specialist Breonna Moffett.


Twenty-four-year-old Specialist Kennedy Sanders' parents wished for their daughter's service to her country to be remembered.

ONEIDA OLIVER-SANDERS, MOTHER OF SPC. KENNEDY SANDERS: She was definitely a free spirit. She was -- her personality was contagious. So I just want people to remember that, you know, even though her time was short on earth, she lived her life to the fullest, and she enjoyed her life.

BERTRAND (voice-over): Twenty-three-year-old Specialist Breonna Moffett's mother describes how she was waiting for her daughter to call her back when she was killed.

FRANCINE MOFFETT, MOTHER OF SPC. BREONNA MOFFETT: I held onto that phone call as long as possible. I would have got an "I love you." and everything just -- to make sure that she knew how much we loved her. And that we never wanted her to feel alone.


MOFFETT: And that we would always be right there by her side.


BERTRAND (on camera): Now, Phil, more than 40 other U.S. service members were injured in this drone attack that targeted that outpost on Sunday, and eight of them actually had to be medically evacuated to Baghdad from Jordan.

Three of them had to be further transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to be treated for their injuries. The other five are expected to return to duty soon after being diagnosed and treated for mild traumatic brain injuries, Phil.

HARLOW: So much heartbreak for your families. Natasha, thank you for that reporting.

And joining us now, former director of communications for U.S. national intelligence, Shawn Turner is here, along with our military analyst, Major General "Spider" Marks. Good morning to both of you.

Just devastation for these families of these three service members. You heard from some of them right there. And now major questions about how this happened. Spider, to you first. The fact that it was -- whether it was

intentional or inadvertently, this drone following a U.S. drone. And as I understand it, flying pretty low. That made it hard to detect, and then there was confusion so a slowed response. Does that track with what you would expect here?

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It does. And clearly, in circumstances like this, there will always be a -- probably a delay in response. Look, there is a human in the loop. You know, in operations like this. This is not necessarily a completely hands-free type of environment where a device detects a device and then launches based on a preset criteria. There's too much that going on.

So with the human in the loop, you're going to have delays like this.

But I don't want to speak into the details of what might have occurred until it becomes absolutely certain how this occurred, you know, what the circumstances were. If it was following another drone, then you would expect that there would be an uplink to that enemy drone. There have been a downlink. That probably could have been intercepted, and that's probably what was about to happen before it engaged.

MATTINGLY: Shawn, when we talk about response, you hear things like proportionate. You hear, you know, calibration, a lot of buzz words that don't necessarily explain how there have been 160-plus attacks, there have been dozens of U.S. troops and personnel that have been injured even before the three that were killed. What is on the table that could stop this from a deterrence perspective?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes. Yes, well, you know, the administration likes to say that all options are on the table. But it's important to remember that not all options are equal.

What the purpose of a retaliation here has to be to exact a cost on those who attacked us. And for that cost to be so high that when they -- should they ever think about attacking us again, they stop and think twice.

But the real challenge for the administration right now is striking the balance between deterrence and escalation. We've seen a lot of reporting about the potential of striking inside Iran or the potential of striking Iranian-backed proxies. And we've also seen the possibility of economic sanctions.

And when you look at all of those things, the fact of the matter is, is that what people want to see in the aftermath of the death of three U.S. service members is an attack that's decisive. It's unlikely that we would see something that's non-kinetic.

So what I think we're looking at here is we're most likely looking at an attack against Iranian-backed proxies. But the administration has a lot to think about here to avoid escalating this into a larger regional conflict. That's not something that we want -- that the United States wants to get into right now. HARLOW: General Marks, former allied -- supreme allied commander of NATO, Wesley Clark, said this, disagreeing with how the administration is handling this so far.

He posted, "The U.S. should stop saying we don't want to escalate. This invites the attack on us. Stop calling our attacks retaliation. This is reactive. Take out their capabilities and strike hard at the source: Iran."

Is there any part of that statement, whether it's, you know, the words that this administration is using talking about it, or his suggestion of strike the source, meaning Iran, that you agree with?

MARKS: Well, I certainly agree that it has to be a very punishing blow. It has to be sustained over time. I would not recommend a strike into Iran.

But also bear in mind, we are very reactive here. The initiative entirely belongs to Iran. We have to get off our back heels. How do you do that?

Well, we talk about deterrence. Deterrence is a strategic condition, a priority that establishes, you know, levels of behavior and forms of behavior that are accepted. And when you get beyond those forms, those described boundaries, if you will, then something is going to happen. There will be some punishment, and there will be some pain.

I mean, we've worked with deterrence before. We've had that definition, where you can have at the very stop strategic level definitions that describe what's acceptable down below. Then you hold them accountable.

And in this particular case, there must be an incredibly punishing blow. We have an array of options. There are things we can do in the gulf.

Right now, Iran is pumping about 3.2 million barrels of oil a day. Their economics are fine. They're selling that to China. They're selling that to India. We can try to shut that down. We can make it that much more painful for them.

So all of government needs to be engaged. And I would expect to see this.

And Phil, I would also suggest, if I can, don't use the word "buzz word." In terms of proportionality, in terms of levels of engagement. These are military terms that describe doctrinal engagements, and they're legal in their nature. And it's how we grew up. So it kind of gets beyond that.

MATTINGLY: But to that point, and actually, it's a great point that I want to explore a little bit. Because I feel like it has become so shorthand in this moment, because there have been so many back-and- forths that it's difficult to understand that underneath it there are clear thresholds, there are kind of lines that people are following based on history, based on conflicts that have driven U.S. force posture for decades, if not longer.

And does that complicate this to some degree right now? Because it feels just like a daily back and forth to, I think, somebody who's maybe outside of this.

MARKS: No, no, no. What you're describing is very difficult to get our arms around, but there has to be a description of consequence. And that's what I'm talking about. On both sides.

What's the consequence to Iran for their activities? What's the consequence for the United States to say there's proportionality?

Well, if there's proportionality and we're still losing American soldiers, then maybe we need to redefine what proportionality looks like, maybe stretch it a little bit.

And what I'm suggesting is I would hope that those kinds of options are on the table right now that this administration is about to embrace.

MATTINGLY: All right. Major General "Spider" Marks, Shawn Turner, we appreciate your time.

Well, happening today, the families of American hostages meeting at the White House as negotiators move toward another release deal. The very latest on those talks, that's ahead.

MATTINGLY: We also have new video into CNN. What you're looking at. This shows undercover Israeli forces infiltrating a hospital on the West Bank. We'll explain more ahead.



HARLOW: This just in. Hamas says it is studying a new proposal for a potential hostage release deal and ceasefire, but also says its priority is complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Negotiators in Paris have agreed to a broad framework for a three- phase deal.

Meanwhile, happening today, families of those American hostages still being held, will meet at the White House with the national security advisor, Jake Sullivan.

Jeremy Diamond joins us live from Tel Aviv. Talk about what sounds like quite a bit of progress in Paris. If this thing works, what would it look like in each phase?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it looks like these talks in Paris were really focused on getting Israeli, Egyptian, Qatari, and American officials on the same page, in order to then present what they are calling a broad framework that was agreed to on Sunday to Hamas for their review. Now, the details of this framework, according to officials, would

involve the release of civilian hostages first over an initial period of about six weeks, with that same ratio that we saw in the previous agreement of three Palestinian prisoners for every one civilian hostage release.

And then the second phase of that would involve the Israeli soldiers who are being held hostage by Hamas, as well as the bodies of some 28 Israeli hostages that Hamas is also holding as bargaining chips.

And as part of that, we would see a longer pause that would likely happen, as well as a higher ratio of Palestinian prisoners being released. When you put this all together, you could see something like a two-month ceasefire being put into effect if, indeed, Hamas agrees to these terms.

But Hamas, for its part, has insisted throughout this process that it wants to see Israeli soldiers leave the Gaza Strip altogether and an end to this war.

And in a statement this morning, they are saying that they are reviewing this proposal. And they say, quote, that they are "in the process of studying it and submitting its response to it on the basis that the priority is to stop the aggression, the brutal attack on Gaza and the complete withdrawal of the occupation forces from the Strip."

They also say in that statement that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has been invited to Egypt to further study and discuss this proposal. It's clear that ultimately there will be a lot of details to work out, even if they can get to an agreement, including implementation details that will be key to seeing if this deal can actually go forward -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Also, I want to play this video -- I know you've seen it -- for our viewers. We just got it in. These are Israeli special forces dressed in civilian clothing and doctors in this hospital in the West Bank. What is happening here, and what's the significance of it?

DIAMOND: I mean, this is just remarkable video. You would think that this was a scene out of the Netflix show, "Fauda."

You see Israeli Special Forces entering a hospital in the occupied West Bank city on Jenin. Dozens of commandos -- or about a dozen commandos, I should say, disguised as civilians, as well as medical staff. Some of them are women wearing hijabs.


And they killed three Palestinian militants. Both Hamas and Israel agree that the individuals who were killed in this instance were, indeed, Palestinian militants. The Israel military says that they were linked to Hamas, as well as Palestinian Islamist Jihad and say they were involved in attacks on Israeli forces as well as, quote, "promoting significant terrorist activity."

The Israeli military says that they were hiding in that hospital when they were killed. The hospital, for its part, says that at least one of the men had been receiving treatment for his injuries -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And it's an operational hospital then, Jeremy. It has patients in it as this was happening?

DIAMOND: Yes, I mean, look, there is international protection for hospitals. Those hospitals lose that protections once fighters use those grounds --


DIAMOND: -- for their fighting purposes. It does have to be kind of active use of that compound. That's unclear here. But certainly, these were militants hiding in a hospital, killed by Israeli forces.

HARLOW: Jeremy Diamond live in Tel Aviv. Thanks very much.

So Elon Musk says his company, Neuralink, has successfully implanted a brain chip into its first human patient. It happened Sunday. We've got details straight ahead.

MATTINGLY: And House Republicans move closer to a very rare move: impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. We'll tell you when this could reach the House floor. That's next.



MATTINGLY: Later this morning the House Homeland Security Committee is set to take up articles of impeachment against Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas.

The two articles released on Sunday accuse him of, quote, "refusing to comply with the law" and "breaching the public trust" in his handling of the Southern border.

Democrats are quickly rallying to defend Mayorkas, releasing a report Monday and calling GOP action a, quote, "sham by conservative hard- liners."

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us from Washington.

Lauren, when you talk to Republican rank and file, I'm kind of surprised. It seems like everybody has just totally fallen into line. Is that the way it's going to be here?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, this is a really big moment in the House Homeland Security Committee, and that is because this is the first time in more than 100 years that Congress has tried to move forward with impeaching a cabinet secretary of a president.

This is going to be a moment today where we expect there's going to be a lot of fireworks between Republicans and Democrats as House Republicans move ahead with marking up those two articles of impeachment that you mentioned. But, you know, Mayorkas is already firing back, saying that the

immigration system was broken long before he came into office. He's going to continue doing the job that he was given. And he plans to not be spooked by these Republican actions.

He also says if House Republicans are really serious about fixing the immigration system, they could move ahead with the emerging border deal in the United States Senate, something that a lot of Republicans have already rejected out of hand.

Meanwhile, there's a question, Phil, as you noted. There are a lot of Republicans falling in line, but they have a narrow two-seat majority. Once this gets out of the committee, which we expect it will, then there's a question of whether or not House Republican leadership has the votes it needs to put it on the floor.

Now, Tom Emmer, the Republican whip, has signaled they're going to begin the process of whipping this once it already moves out of the committee. That is something that a lot of resistant Republicans have started saying that they want to see this get out of committee, and then they will take a closer look at it.

Here was one of those Republicans who had questions about whether these were impeachable offenses back in November, Tom McClintock.


REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA): Mayorkas is guilty of maladministration, neglective duties, malfeasance in office, but these are not impeachable offenses.

So if Greene and her friends are successful in redefining impeachment, well, then the next time the Democrats have the majority, I think we can expect this definition to be turned against the conservatives on the Supreme Court and any future Republican administration.


FOX: So, I think the other thing to keep in mind is where this is ultimately going to go.

Even if the House Republicans can approve impeaching Mayorkas, then it gets to the United States Senate for a trial. And you have some resistant Republicans over there. Obviously, that chamber is controlled by Democrats, Phil.

So the expectation is that Mayorkas obviously would not be convicted, but obviously, House Republicans continuing to move forward with this important markup today.

MATTINGLY: All right. Lauren Fox, keep us posted. Thank you.

And joining us now, CNN political analyst and historian, Leah Wright Rigueur; political anchor at Spectrum News, Errol Louis; and Associated Press national politics reporter, Michelle Price. Guys, thanks so much for joining us. Michelle, that Tom McClintock sound, I think, is everything for me. Because while I am no impeachment scholar, I've covered a couple of them, have a good sense of how it's supposed to work. And it's not supposed to work, traditionally or historically, like this. And yet, here we are. Why?

MICHELLE PRICE, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I mean, it's an election year. This is a thing that galvanizes the base for Republicans.

If you talk to Republican voters in any of the early states and states beyond, this is the top issue that they are talking about right now. Whether they live on the border or not. The concern about people coming over the border, how it's impacting their communities. There are national security concerns being whipped up by Republicans on the right.

And there is a -- there is a crisis at the border. So this is why this has become a top issue for both Republicans and Democrats. It's an election year.

HARLOW: The reality, though, if they're -- let's just play this out, Errol. If -- if those Republicans who want to impeach Mayorkas are successful in getting it all the way through -- the House articles and then the Senate, the conviction -- they need him, don't they, to enforce some of these measures that they want most.

Meaning, is this the most prudent cause to get the significant decrease of migrants crossing the Southern border that they actually want. Do you see what I mean? I mean, he's been involved in some of the negotiations in terms of the technical explanation of you could do this or you need this to make this work.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. Look, the substance left the room a long time ago. Republicans are --

HARLOW: Shocking.

LOUIS: -- are galvanized by this, because there's so little else that they have.

They don't really have a path forward to talk about the economy, because the economy is kind of improving. They don't really have much to talk about when it comes to prescription drug prices or any of the other complicated things.