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Officials Say, Drone That Killed Three U.S. Soldiers in Jordan May Have Been Following American Drone; Senators Reach Deal as Party Censures GOP Negotiator; Retired Conservative Judge Says, Trump Disqualified Himself. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 30, 2024 - 07:00   ET




We're going to see X, which is one of Twitter's other -- Elon Musk's other companies, in front of Congress this week. Its new CEO, Lindy Yaccarino, will testify. And it's a good example of the fact that he has to go through regulatory approvals from so many different bodies and so many different agencies.

You know, with this, it's the FDA. With SpaceX, it's the Department of Transportation and the FAA. You know, with X, it's going to be members of Congress. So, every time Elon Musk wants to do something, he's got to get through policymakers and his sort of strange personality is going to make that even tougher, which is why it's impressive that they were able to get a lot of these permissions.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Think you just made me a believer, just that two-minute hit. Sara Fischer, I was skeptical of Poppy's belief in it, but Sara brought me all the way that we're in.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This is what I get for sitting next to him three hours a morning.

MATTINGLY: Sara Fischer, we appreciate you as always, my friend. Thank you.

CNN This Morning continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All eyes on the White House as Biden vows to retaliate after three U.S. soldiers were killed by a drone strike.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We will respond and we will respond strongly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know these groups are supported by Iran, and therefore they do have their fingerprints on this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These militant groups are trying to start a war. We want to stop a war, not start one. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN on the frontlines reporting on Ukrainian forces holding up Russian attacks as ammunition supplies dwindle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to keep distance between our cars, but we also, of course, have to keep moving the entire time to make sure that we can get out of here, hopefully, safely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Super Bowl is now set and there are new conspiracy theories that are already flowing around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ramaswamy says that the NFL is rigging this Super Bowl to give Taylor Swift more airtime ahead of her endorsement of Joe Biden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so ridiculous. This whole Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce thing has been fun. And the fact that it's irking a lot of football fans is beautiful. Deal with it.


MATTINGLY: A good Tuesday morning, everyone, I'm Phil Mattingly with Poppy Harlow in New York.

New information about that deadly drone attack that took the lives of three American soldiers in Jordan. Military sources telling CNN the enemy drone was following an American drone that was returning to the base at the same time. That caused confusion on the ground, confusion that delayed a response to the attack.

HARLOW: The White House is vowing to retaliate. President Biden right now weighing his options, but also wary of escalating all of this into a full-scale war. Officials do tell CNN the U.S. response is likely to be more powerful than those previous retaliatory strikes that we've seen in Iraq and Syria. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issuing this assessment.


BLINKEN: 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.


MATTINGLY: The three fallen soldiers are all from Georgia, 46-year- old Sergeant William Rivers, 24-year-old Specialist Kennedy Sanders, and 23-year-old Specialist Breonna Moffett.

We want to start from the White House with CNN's Arlette Saenz. And, Arlette, as the president weighs balancing the desire to contain that volatility in the Middle East while also responding with significant force here, what are the options on the table?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the key challenge for President Biden and his national security team is just that, trying to work through the options he could pursue to respond to this attack without having this become a greater regional war.

The White House has been very careful in their statements over the course of the past two days in trying to stress that point. And one thing that National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby really went to great lengths to say yesterday in briefing reporters is that the U.S. is not seeking a direct conflict with Iran in a military way.

Now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday said that he anticipates the response could be multileveled, could come in stages and be sustained over a period of time.

And one thing officials have made clear is that they anticipate this response to be more powerful than the retaliatory strikes Biden has already taken against these Iran-backed militant groups in Iraq and Syria. So far, those types of counterattacks that the U.S. has launched have not deterred them from carrying out any attacks on U.S. and coalition forces. There has been more than 160 of those attacks by those groups since October 7th.

But one thing that officials have indicated is that they have a host of options on their plate that they could pursue. That includes trying to target some of these groups within Iraq and Syria, also potentially targeting the leadership of these regional militant groups. There's also the possibility for launching some type of cyber attack on these groups as well.

But one thing that officials have suggested is that it's unlikely the U.S. will be striking directly within Iran. That is something that Republican lawmakers up on Capitol Hill have been pushing President Biden to do since this attack on Sunday.


Now, we anticipate seeing President Biden when he departs the White House in a few hours. We will see whether he answers any reporters' questions as he is working through these options to try to have a forceful response without sparking a greater regional conflict.

HARLOW: Quite a line to walk. What more can you share with us about those three fallen soldiers?

SAENZ: Yes, three American families had their lives completely changed after this attack. There were three individuals, all part of the 718th Engineer Company, a U.S. Army Reserve unit based out of Fort Moore, Georgia. That includes Sergeant William Rivers, who was 46 years old, Specialist Kennedy Sanders, 24, and Specialist Breonna Moffett, 23 years old.

Now, the mother of Kennedy Sanders spoke with CNN last night and said that she has a call scheduled with the Biden administration. We are still waiting to hear whether President Biden has placed any of those phone calls to the families who have lost their loved ones but it would be another moment for the president to step into that role of consoler-in-chief.

Kennedy Sanders mother also told CNN that she wants her daughter to be remembered for her service, her sacrifice, and the way she lived her life to the fullest.

HARLOW: And we will remember all of them. Arlette, thank you for the reporting from the White House. Phil?

MATTINGLY: Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey. She's a former Navy helicopter pilot and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Congresswoman, we appreciate your time this morning.

To start with, as we look forward, and we know that the administration is weighing options right now for a response, what would you like to see based on the options we know are on the table?

REP. MIKIE SHERRILL (D-NJ): Well, I would really like to see the administration use the tools to ensure that we can add some calm to the region. We do that by gathering our allies because, make no mistake, it is the desire of these organizations backed by Iran to escalate the situation.

And any destabilization of the region is bad for the United States. We've already seen the Red Sea largely shut down by the Houthis. That impacts global shipping. That impacts our ability to make our supply chains more resilient. So, we are working incredibly hard to ensure that we have a calmer, better situation in the region.

MATTINGLY: I think the complicating thing to try and understand at this point is the Houthis have continued their attacks despite U.S. and coalition strikes over the course of the last several weeks. There have now been more than 160 strikes from both from proxies in Iran and Iraq. What can change that dynamic from a forced perspective for the president to consider?

SHERRILL: Well, it's really a delicate, delicate situation. As you've heard from Secretary Blinken, it is probably there is more unrest in the region than any time since the early 70s. So, the president has to calculate how much force is he necessary right now to push back to deter further aggression.

And I think, as you've heard from the White House, you are going to see an increased response here because, as you've pointed out, with over 160 attacks on U.S. service members across the region, we've got to do more to deter that aggression while, at the same time, working hard to ensure that we are not going into a full-scale war with Iran.

Look, as a nation that's just come out of 20 years war as a veteran of the global war on terrorism, I can attest to the fact that the last thing we need right here is to enter into another long-term war in the region.

MATTINGLY: I'm glad you mentioned that. Because in these moments, there are always members of Congress who want to escalate to another war, who say attack Iran directly. Lindsey Graham is often one of them. John Cornyn, the Texas senator, was saying it yesterday as well, Senator Tom Cotton, and you also have John Bolton, who was long advocated for striking Iran, saying this. Take a listen.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If you want to establish deterrence, you don't just hit the proxies that are carrying out the attack. You carry out retaliation against the command and control authorities in Iran and some of their facilities.

To be clear, I don't think it should be proportionate. I think it should be disproportionate that's how you create deterrence in the mind of your adversary, that the cost of them of attacking our forces is so high they won't do it again.


MATTINGLY: Again, the context here, which is important, as John Bolton has long advocated for a more aggressive posture, more offensive posture when it comes to Iran. But given what we've seen over the course of the last several months, why is that wrong this time around?

SHERRILL: So, Iran has done -- quite frankly, has done a lot of work to fund terrorist groups, cells across the region, Hezbollah, the Houthis, et cetera. And we are seeing the results of that work. A lot of these groups are not in direct contact, but are nevertheless attempting to destabilize the region, want to draw the United States into this conflict. And I think that we have to be very careful here.

Sure, it feels good. It feels macho to say that we are going to destroy our enemies. But at this time, what the United States often does is not simply go in half-cocked, but rather gather our allies, bring a force to bear of world opinion of our allies, and back down those who would create this instability.


And I think we've seen some signs that Iran does not want to get into this full-scale war. Make no mistake, the United States is ready for it. We can certainly assert our power and might throughout the region of any attackers. But what we are trying to do here is to prevent a full-scale war. We are trying to deter this aggression.

The president is working hard. He has options on the table to increase the force that we use. We will likely do that, as we'll see in the coming weeks. And we will hopefully see less aggression.

I also think that we aren't doing this in a vacuum. We are doing this combined with our attempts right now to have a pause in the fighting between the Israelis and Hamas so that we can get hostages freed and so that we can have a better outcome in that war right now.

MATTINGLY: Are you concerned when you see -- I mean, from the complete other side of the political spectrum, the protests that you see often interrupt, not just the president, but the vice president and other members of Congress as well, that the political repercussions of this moment in the Middle East are very problematic for Democrats going into November? SHERRILL: You know, this is where I think some of us differ on what our job is here as public servants. My job is to serve the American people. My job is to make sure that I do everything in my power to get a good outcome for this country and for the people I serve.

As much as I work hard to get reelected and I hope to do so, I hope the people in my district once again elect me to serve them, I'd be honored, but my job is not to get re-elected. My job is to make sure I am ensuring the best outcomes for the United States of America.

MATTINGLY: It's interesting you say that because I also wanted to ask you about the border legislation that could be coming to the House at some point. We're still waiting to see what the Senate comes up with, but there has been a kind of snap rejection of the legislation from Republicans based seemingly on what their leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, has asked them to do.

Given how far, I think, Democrats have moved in those negotiations in the Senate, based on what you know up to this point, is that legislation that you would be willing to support if it comes over to the House?

SHERRILL: Well, certainly a bipartisan negotiation out of the Senate is something that I would take a very hard look at. And there is a good chance that I would be interested in moving forward with that. I'd have to see that legislation.

But I think to the point I was just making, this is the exact opposite of what I was talking about. Here you have what I'd say the tail wagging the dog, people who are engaging in partisan politics to win elections versus really attempting to address issues that the United States has.

And here you have a Republican Party in the House that has, for years, said we need border legislation. I agree, I've wanted a comprehensive solution on immigration for many, many years. However, now that the solution is actually at hand, you see the person who is the likely nominee for president from that party saying, no, don't do it, because it's better for me if I have it as a campaign issue. And suddenly all of his acolytes have backed away from it.

So, the hypocrisy and the shamelessness has constantly been a frustration to me. But, nevertheless, I and many like-minded people in the Senate and hopefully the House will continue to work to address the issues at the border and to make sure we have a more secure border.

MATTINGLY: On the same day the House Homeland Security Committee will move forward on impeaching the Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. Let's see what happens to that legislation, Congresswoman, we appreciate your time, as always. Thank you.

SHERRILL: Thank you.

HARLOW: A retired conservative federal judge in a brief to the Supreme Court urging the high court to disqualify Donald Trump from office. We'll discuss why, next.

MATTINGLY: And what did Taylor Swift, Joe Biden, Travis Kelce and Pfizer all have in common? Some fever dream someone you might know might be having. They're all part of a far right bogus conspiracy theory, the latest misinformation campaign that's driving the internet wild. We will try to explain.



HARLOW: A retired, very well-known conservative federal judge is urging the Supreme Court to disqualify Donald Trump from office. Judge Michael Luttig wrote a friend of the court brief, and it makes a distinction between Trump's efforts to hold on to power after the 2020 election and the South Carolina secession, which, of course, led to the Civil War.

Luttig argues that, unlike the secession of South Carolina, Trump, quote, tried to prevent, quote, the newly elected president from governing anywhere in the United States.

MATTINGLY: He continues, quote, Trump incited and therefore engaged in an armed insurrection against the Constitution's express and foundational mandates that require the peaceful transfer of executive power to a newly elected president. In doing so, Mr. Trump disqualified himself under Section 3 of the Constitution.

However, earlier this month, the high court agreed to review the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to remove Trump from the state's ballot. The justices are set to hear oral arguments on February 8th.

HARLOW: Let's bring in the writer of the Very Serious Newsletter, host of the Very Serious Podcast, Josh Barro, is here and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and former Senior Investigative Counsel for the January 6th select committee Temidayo Aganga-Williams. Thanks guys.

Given your role on the select committee and looking at this, I wonder what you make of Luttig's argument in this brief because it's -- and it's a big deal to say this is essentially worse or more, more detrimental potentially to the United States than the secession we saw because it's about the whole country.

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: I think it's a powerful brief and I think it's based in both fact and law. I think Judge Luttig here was a critical witness for us in providing the committee with historical context, what we were looking at with the acts of the former president.


And I think what he's done here, frankly, by him and Dean Tribe, kind of starting this argument here, that Section 3 of the Fourth Amendment applies, I think it's critical. At its core, what it's saying is that the former president, by breaking his oath of office and engaging in insurrection, has disqualified himself from holding any future federal office. And I think that's a really, really strong argument.

And what makes it even more interesting here is that he's really appealing to conservative principles, like textualism.

HARLOW: That was interesting as part of it. He's saying this is how you need to read it. Your court that tends to read things this way, at least the majority.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Exactly. I think that's what's going to be powerful here. He's looking at the conservative bench, the conservative justices, and he's saying, this is how, for decades, conservative scholars have read statutes, have read the Constitution.

And if you basically stick true to conservative principles, you will arrive at the conclusion that the former president is not eligible to be president again, that the only way he could become eligible is by two-thirds of Congress removing the disqualification. But without that, the former president cannot hold office and should not even be on the ballot.

MATTINGLY: What's your read, not just on what Luttig is saying here, but just in general as this continues to play out? We head towards this February 8th. It's a very, very big day. What's your sense of where this stands?

JOSH BARRO, WRITER, VERY SERIOUS NEWSLETTER: Well, I mean, Luttig has been a big voice in conservative scholarship for this position. You've seen some other conservative legal scholars like Elias Home (ph) and Will Baude take the position that, in fact, the former president is disqualified.

If you're going into a Supreme Court with a six-three conservative majority, you need arguments that might pick off at least two of those conservative justices for that argument. And I think, you know, in terms of making a textualist approach, I think if you're looking for a justice on this court who might be willing to pick up a very old document and say, you know, this does give a surprising power that we haven't had to discuss before, but it really is in there, that seems like an argument for Judge Gorsuch in a similar way to, you know --

HARLOW: Totally, Neil Gorsuch.

BARRO: Yes. He will look at very old treaties with Indian tribes and reach conclusions about powers that it gives them that undermine significant ways the state of Oklahoma does business, that drive other conservative justices crazy. He's open to those sorts of arguments, and the Bostock case about discrimination against --

HARLOW: Gay rights

BARRO: On gay rights. His opinion essentially said that civil rights law has always prohibited or has for decades prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

So, it seems like an argument that could be made for him that would still only get you to four, assuming that you can get the three liberal justices along.

I mean, in the Colorado Supreme Court, that has a seven-zero Democratic appointee majority and it still was only a four to three decision.

HARLOW: Where does Roberts go on this?

BARRO: Well, I think, you know, I don't -- where do you think Roberts goes on this?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, you know, Roberts, we think of him as the institutional person here. And I think he's going to be thinking, how is the court perceived after a decision like this? And, frankly, I would guess Roberts goes with the former president.

I would be surprised here if Roberts allows a world that the court is perceived at least as being the dispositive factor in the election, political.

HARLOW: The thing he doesn't want it to be.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Yes, but I think that's what the judge here, Judge Luttig, is also employing the court to do, right? Is to not look at, you know, the politics of the moment, to look at the text, look at the constitution, and do what the law requires, not what the politics of the moment require.

MATTINGLY: Can we play the sound from Justice Sonia Sotomayor as we're talking about the Supreme Court? I thought it was fascinating. We don't hear candid assessments of things from them quite often. Listen.


JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Change happens because people care about moving the arc of the universe towards justice. And it can take time. And it can take frustration.

I live in frustration. And as you heard, every loss truly traumatizes me in my stomach and in my heart. But I have to get up the next morning and keep on fighting.


MATTINGLY: Josh, what do you think the intent is behind that message?

BARRO: I'm not sure that there is a strategic intent behind it. I mean, it seems like a description of what her day is like. I mean, I find it a little bit surprising, given what Justice Sotomayor describes there about the stakes of what is happening before the Supreme Court that she is not retired. She's 69 years old. She's been on the court for 15 years. It's quite possible the Democrats will lose control of the Senate in the next election, and who knows how long it could be before there's a next opportunity for a Democratic president to make a new appointment into the seat that she sits in.

I mean, Justice Scalia stuck around through the 2006 election, did not make it to 2017, which would have been the next opportunity.

Now, he had Mitch McConnell running interference for him. But it can be more than a decade before there's another opportunity for a Democratic appointment with the Democratic Senate. It seems like it would be the right time strategically for her to step down in favor of somebody younger if she's very concerned about the political balance on the court.


HARLOW: Interesting point.

MATTINGLY: Is that a thing?

HARLOW: Not what I've heard a lot about, but there we go. But now it's a thing --

MATTINGLY: No, no, I understand. I just hadn't heard like the chatter about it.

HARLOW: Now, it's a thing because you brought it up.

BARRO: I think it's strange that there hasn't been chatter about it. I mean we've already been through this with Justice Ginsburg.

HARLOW: She was a lot older.


HARLOW: She had multiple health issues beforehand.

BARRO: Justice Sotomayor has diabetes. And Scalia was a little bit older in 2006.

HARLOW: That was a surprise.

BARRO: Right, but that's the thing. A decade is a long time. I'm not saying that I think Justice Sotomayor is on death's door by any means, but I think that it's important, given that it is a lifetime appointment to take a very long time horizon view on this.

Democrats are at a structural disadvantage in the U.S. Senate. I would not assume that within the next four or six years we'll have another occasion where there's a Democratic president and Democratic Senate again.

HARLOW: It's an interesting point. I think people will talk about it now, yes. BARRO: You're just not talking about Temimdayo.

HARLOW: We're going to commercial. I'm sure he would.

MATTINGLY: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Well, Secretary of State Antony Blinken laying out the global implications if the U.S. fails to provide aid to Ukraine.

HARLOW: Also CNN seeing the real life impact of the lack of aid on the frontlines in Ukraine. We will take you live to Kyiv with the latest on that war.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were getting ready to film here, and then all of a sudden, we heard it would appear to be outgoing artillery, but then a shell came in. 100 meters, got you.