Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Drone That Killed Soldiers Might Have Been Following U.S. Drone; Negotiators Outline Hostage/Ceasefire Deal For Hamas Approval; Biden Under Pressure To Retaliate For Attack On U.S. Troops; Biden's Biog Political Shift: Pledging To "Shut Down" Border. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 30, 2024 - 05:00   ET




JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: We are not looking for a war with Iran. We're not looking to escalate here.


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Tough choices for the Biden administration. How should the president respond to a deadly attack on U.S. troops?

And today on Capitol Hill, House lawmakers a step closer to something not seen in 150 years -- a vote to impeach a cabinet member.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It is Tuesday, January 30th. It is 05:00 a.m. here in Washington, where new details are emerging about the deadly drone attack on a U.S. military outpost in Jordan.

The three Americans soldiers who were killed were all from Georgia, assigned to the Army 718th Engineer Company out of Fort Moore. And we're learning the drone that killed them, approach the outpost around the same time an American drone was returning to the base. U.S. officials tell CNN that led to confusion and caused a delay in the U.S. response.

The enemy drone was also flying low to avoid detection and may have been intentionally following the American drone.

Also this morning, cautious optimism for a hostage release and potential ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel. An agreement on the framework of a deal has been reached by negotiators in Paris.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The proposal that is on the table, and that is shared among all of the critical actors, of course, Israel. But also with Qatar and Egypt playing a critical role in mediating and working between Israel and Hamas. I believe the proposal is a strong one and a compelling one that again offers some hope that we can get back to this process. But Hamas will have to make its -- its own decisions.


HUNT: All right. Our Scott McLean is tracking the latest developments.

Scott, good morning to you.

Let's start with this agreement. Do we have any details here and has this been communicated to Hamas?


Yeah. So according to an official familiar with these talks happening in Paris, this is a very broad framework that has been agreed on, but even they say that the precise details of this will be very difficult to work out. The framework, again, broadly speaking, would call for a six-week long pause. There would be three Palestinian prisoners in exchange for every one civilian hostage. This is the same ratio that we saw it with the hostage exchanges back in November.

But the ratio of prisoners to be exchanged for IDF soldiers that are currently being held hostage would be higher, how much higher? We don't know. There could also be a longer pause than six weeks for more phases of exchanges to actually take place, but again, a lot of details still to be worked out, but some level of optimism.

The Qatari prime minister for his part said that this represents good progress. Again, at things back in shape, and at least lays a foundation for the way forward. This is being presented to Hamas right now by the Egyptians. But even the Qatari prime minister said that he could not predict how Hamas might react to this.

This was a collaboration between the Qataris, the Egyptians, the Americans, and be as rallies, all of them had different ideas on how long the pause should be, what the exchange ratio should be between prisoners and hostages. But this is the sort of framework that they arrived upon.

But, look, it's not even necessarily clear that the Israelis are 100 percent on board with this because the Israeli prime ministers office is already signaling that they have concerns about some of the conditions that they don't find acceptable. So the reality is that there are still a lot to be worked out here. And then we know from prior experience as well but nothing on this happens quickly because of some of the difficulties in actually communicating with Hamas leadership given what's happening right now in Gaza.

HUNT: Yeah, just the sheer logistics of figuring out how to do that for sure.

Scott, let's go back to the drone attack and the pending U.S. response to what happened in Jordan with those three American service members who were killed. What more do we know at this point about what's on the table and what we might see unfold next year?

MCLEAN: Yeah. So first off, Kasie, one us official described this attack is relatively run of the mill. This has happened, you know, more than 160 times since October. It's only resulted in injuries until now. But obviously, this is the first time that us service members have been killed.

You mentioned already, the reasons why this drone got lucky and actually hit the target. Perhaps it was flying low. Another American drone was coming back to base at the same time, can cause confusion, caused some delay, things like that.

But the question right now that the Biden administration is deciding is what to do that at how to respond to this without escalating things further. We know that look, some Republican lawmakers are calling on Biden to strike Iran itself, something that officials say is not like I believe because they know full well, that that would likely cause a broader conflict, maybe you all out war.

The Iranians are also distancing themselves from this attack, saying that look, resistance groups that's what they call these Iran-backed militias that they have operating in Iraq and Syria, don't answer directly to Tehran. And in this particular case, it seems like the Americans are on the same page. They say that there's no direct evidence to suggest that are on ordered this or wanted specifically to escalate the war. And so that's why there's some caution around actually striking -- striking Iran directly in response.

But the White House has said that, look, the response here is going to be bigger, more powerful than we've seen in previous responses, which were more targeted, more limited. This one could be in several countries, could be across several days, could even be a cyber attack. They also aren't saying much about who specifically was responsible for this because they want to leave if some element of surprise and their response, Kasie.

HUNT: All right, and of course, the Biden ministration under intense political pressure around this here at home. Scott McLean, thank you very much for starting us off this morning.

All right, still ahead here, convicted murderer Alex Murdoch has denied a new trial what the judge said in her ruling there, and House Democrats rally to defend the Homeland Security chief as Republicans try to impeach him.

Stay with us



HUNT: Welcome back.

President Biden, under pressure this morning to respond forcefully to the attack from an Iran-backed militia that killed three us soldiers over the weekend. Officials tell CNN the U.S. response to the drone attack on a U.S. outpost in Jordan is likely to be more powerful than previous retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria. But one official says the U.S. is not being too specific about which Iran-backed militant group it thinks actually launched the drone in order to preserve some element of surprise.


SABRINA SINGH, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON: I don't have more to share on in terms of an intelligence assessment on if leaders in Iran were directing this attack. But what I can tell you is that we know these groups are supported by Iran and therefore they do have their fingerprints on this.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in Bloomberg News White House correspondent Akayla Gardner.

Akayla, good morning. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

What are you hearing at this hour from White House officials about how they view what the options are?

AKAYLA GARDNER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yeah, well, right now, we know for sure that the president and the White House plan to respond that much is clear. Obviously, three American service members were killed here, dozens of others were injured, and they say, because of the fact that American blood has been shed, their response is going to be different, again from those that we hit seen from past attacks from Iranian-backed militant groups. The president met yesterday with a large group of his national security team, and we assume that came out of that needing some sort of direction in terms of what they're going.

But they're not letting that be made known at this time. They have to be very careful here because obviously some lawmakers, especially Republican lawmakers, are pressuring (AUDIO GAP) specifically, but they seem to throw cold water on that yesterday. Basically saying they do not want a direct conflict with Iran. They do not want a war with Iran.

And so, I think that is something that they're ruling off the table right now. But for sure they want us to shrink. You want to say that this is not going to go on responded to.

HUNT: Sure. So, Akayla, this is obviously not occurring in a vacuum. It is an election year, very high stakes election.

John Kirby, the spokesman for national security at the White House, was asked whether public opinion is playing a role in how they're deciding to respond to this. I want -- I want you to watch what Kirby had to say in response to that question, then well talk about it. Take a look.


KIRBY: The commander-in-chief is not looking at polling or considering the electoral calendar when he's defending --

REPORTER: Or how they feel about the war in Gaza?

KIRBY: Now, can I answer the question?

He's not looking at political calculations or the polling, or the electoral calendar as he works to protect our troops ashore and our ships at sea.


HUNT: So, Akayla, you could see how Kirby responded a bit. He was a bit spiky. There in response to this question, what do you make?

GARDNER: Yeah, I wasn't a briefing yesterday. That was pretty intense exchange we saw there between that reporter and John Kirby, but this is something that we hear from the administration time and time again when it comes to the Middle East, they see the president is not looking at polling. He's not thinking about the political response. He is specifically thinking how best to support their ally, which is Israel in this case, and how to contain this conflict as much as possible. They do not want it to be spread any wider than it already is.

But the end of the day, there is political ramifications that I think the president is aware of that, that people are concerned about the deaths in Gaza and they want the killing to stop.


HUNT: Yeah. It's -- it's -- he's kind of in a vise on either side, pressure from Republicans and Congress on the one hand, pressure from progressives inside his own party on the other.

Speaking of said pressure, Akayla, the other issue at hand here is the southern border and Biden really escalated his rhetoric here over the weekend. I mean, he said he wants to the shutdown -- he promised to shut down the border if this border legislation goes through. I mean, it's almost Trumpian the way he sounds about this issue.

How has this evolved?

GARDNER: Yeah. I mean, it's almost the exact language that we heard from Donald Trump just a few years ago. And Biden ran (INAUDIBLE) as being the alternative who's going to show compassion towards (INAUDIBLE). That was markedly different record that we've heard from him this weekend, that we heard from the statement, seemingly repeating that shutdown language, again.

But really, what he's referring to is an authority that is being as a part of the negotiations that were really hearing in the Senate right now that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to expel migrants after a certain threshold that would be about 4,000 a day at the least. But that is pretty significant because right now, we're seeing encounters up to 10,000 migrants a day. So that could be a very significant measure if it were to come to pass

it. If the Senate passes and much less likely if the House passes it, it would be very similar to Title 42.

HUNT: Right. Title 42, that sort of pandemic era authority that the Trump administration used to turn migrants away that were seeking asylum, which is otherwise not allowed under the current law.

Akayla Gardner of "Bloomberg News" -- Akayla, thank you

All right. Just ahead here on alleged murder for hire plot involving Iranian dissidents and the Hells Angels. We'll have that

And does President Biden have a Michigan problem? Congresswoman Debbie Dingell joins us live.



HUNT: Welcome back.

We have quick hits across America now.

A South Carolina judge rules that convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh will not get a new trial. The former lawyer's legal team alleged the court clerk tampered with the jury. The judge said that the clerk made some foolish comments, but that it was not enough to warrant a new trial.

Federal prosecutors have charged three men in a murder for hire plot against two Iranian dissidents who live in Maryland. Officials say that one man is the leader of an Iranian criminal network. The other two are Canadian nationals. One is a member of the Hells Angels.

The IRS contractor who stole thousands of the wealthiest people's tax records and leaks them to the media, including Donald Trumps, will spend the next five years behind bars. Charles Littlejohn told the judge that people have a right to the information.

All right. Let's get now to weather. Heavy rain and snow along with powerful wind gusts across the West Coast, all driven by another atmospheric river event. This week means that more than 12 million people are under flood threats in California and our weatherman, Derek Van Dam, as always, tracking all of it for us.

Derek, good morning. What do we got?


Yeah. You know, I think it's important for our viewers to understand that it's not going to rain along the West Coast every single location for the next several days. But this plume of moisture is very directed, it's very purposeful in where it directs that moisture.

And so, it's going to start out first across the Pacific Northwest late tonight, and then start to slide further south into the California Central Valley, for instance, the coastal regions into bay area. And then as you head into Thursday, we're going to focus our attention more towards southern California. In fact, you can see that progression moving from north to south over the next, let's say 48 hours.

So depending on where that plume of moisture sets up, that's where well see the heaviest rainfall. That's why we have flood watches in advance of this plume of atmospheric river. This is that river in the sky that's going to direct the moisture all the way into the West Coast of the U.S.

And there it is. We put on a front just to kind of show you the somewhat subtle cooling that'll happen behind but generally, this is a warmer storm system, so high elevations, snowfall, only the tops of the Sierra Nevada will receive snow. And then you look towards the coastal regions.

We have the potential here for four to upwards of locally eight to ten inches of rain with lesser amounts of further south you travel. There's a lot of wind associated with this well. We could see hurricane-force gusts in some of those higher elevations, and then again, the highest of elevations of mountains particularly between Reno and Sacramento. That's where we have the potential for foot or more of snowfall.

Now this is interesting to the Sierra Nevada snowpack right now, only sitting at 52 percent of average. So what we need is snow and we need it desperately. But this again is going to be a very warm storm. You can see it in the record highs that were broken yesterday. Look at downtown San Francisco, 73. Their previous record for the date was 71.

There's a lot of red on this map. That means more warm weather as we get this plume of kind of Pacific air into the central U.S. 130 record highs and minimum record lows expected over the next several days across the country. So, yeah, warm and wet. That's the name of the game.

Kasie, back to you.

HUNT: It's been a very, very strange winter and weather.

VAN DAM: It really.

HUNT: Our weatherman, Derek Van Dam, thank you very much for keeping on top of all it for us. I appreciate it.

VAN DAM: Pleasure. Take care.

HUNT: All right. Just ahead here, pressure builds on President Biden to retaliate after U.S. troops are killed in Jordan. But the question is about Iranian involvement still remain. And the Senate moves closer to a bipartisan border deal that Donald Trump is calling a disaster



HUNT: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt, just before 5:30 here on the East Coast.

President Biden has promised a response to the drone attack that killed three U.S. service members and injured more than 30 others at a U.S. military outpost in Jordan. The administration has concluded the drones launched by a militia backed by Iran. The U.S. knows that Tehran supplies these proxy groups with money, weapons, training, and supplies, but a host of questions remain unanswered. And at the top of that list, what exactly was Iran's role in this attack? And critically, what should the U.S. do about it?


KIRBY: We are not looking for a war with Iran. We're not looking to escalate here. This attack over the weekend was escalatory. Make no mistake about it and it requires a response. Make no mistake about that.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's White House and national security correspondent --