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U.S. Hits Syria With Precision Airstrike After Drone Attack; WH Adviser Kirby: "We Don't See A War In Iran"; Biden Authorizes Strike In Syria After Drone Kills U.S. Contractor; Trump Talks Of "Death" & "Destruction" If He's Indicted; Trump Lawyer Evan Corcoran Testifies Before Grand Jury; Jeffries: Trump's Language Is "Going To Get Someone Killed"; Moments Ago: Biden, Trudeau Meet Amid Surge In Border Crossing. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 24, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, everybody, welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Fire, smoke in a new Middle East flashpoint. The United States retaliates with airstrikes that after a suspected Iranian kamikaze drone kills an American contractor inside Syria.

Plus, a Trump lawyer testifying in front of a federal grand jury in the classified documents case. But the former president's attention is on New York. He calls the Manhattan prosecutor a degenerate and he recklessly warns of death and destruction if he is charged with a crime. And right now, President Biden meeting with his counterpart to the north, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The visit happening if the United States and Canada strike a new deal to slow a growing migrant surge.

Now, though, we begin with a commander in chief moment for the president of the United States. President Biden signing off on retaliatory airstrikes in eastern Syria. Social media video, you see it here capturing the smolder and fire, fury of American missiles fired from F-15 fighter jets. The president hitting back at Iran after a kamikaze drone flew directly into a coalition base, killing a contractor and wounding five other U.S. service members.

CNN obtaining video of ambulances racing to the scene of that attack. The back and forth stretches already strained relations between Washington and Tehran. The United States keeps about 900 troops in Syria, alongside American contractors. Stepped up Iranian backed targeting of Americans is now a top concern inside the Pentagon. And this morning, the National Security Council underlining the danger and the president's readiness, they say to respond.


JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NSC: He made the decision very, very shortly in that discussion to authorize these strikes against these particular targets. We're going to work to protect our people and our facilities as best we can. It's a dangerous environment.


KING: The team coverage to understand and explain all this to our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, standing by live in London. But let's begin with CNN's Natasha Bertrand who is live at the Pentagon. Natasha, what more do we know about just what happened here?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, John. So, we are learning at this hour that those five U.S. service members as well as an additional U.S. contractor are currently in stable condition after being wounded by that suspected Iranian drone attack on Thursday morning eastern time.

But we are also told that this Iranian drone, suspected Iranian drone, I should say, it was a one-way attack drone. And it attacked infrastructure, essentially the U.S. military base there in northeastern Syria, and it exploded on impact, right, it was targeting very specifically that base. And we're also told that the U.S. deliberately targeted facilities in Syria that it believed were being used by Iranian proxy groups to store munitions and also for intelligence gathering reasons.

But look, this is not the first time that the U.S. has conducted this kind of airstrike targeting Iranian proxy groups in the region. In fact, the U.S. has about 900 troops in Syria as you mentioned, and they have really undergone multiple attacks from these Iranian proxy groups over the last two years, as many as 78 attacks according to the commander of Central Command, General Erik Kurilla.

Kurilla also in testifying to lawmakers last week, he did say that the U.S. is changing its defensive posture in Syria to better protect U.S. personnel. But he also after this U.S. strike left open the possibility that if the Iranian proxy groups do not stop their attacks on U.S. personnel in the country, then the U.S. of course, reserves the right to take proportional action in the future.

And importantly, the National Security Council spokesperson there, John Kirby, he emphasized this morning that the U.S. is not seeking war or conflict with Iran itself, but that they will take action, of course, to protect U.S. service members in the country. John?

KING: Natasha Bertrand for us live at the Pentagon. And Nic Robertson, as I bring him in. Let me follow-up on that point that. Natasha just made, a lot of Americans maybe forget about this, but American servicemen and those contractors have been in Syria for quite some time. It's a dicey situation.

And listen to Admiral Kirby. He's the president's top spokesman on national security issues, saying that this is an issue, the president will respond forcefully. The United States hopes it doesn't mushroom into something bigger.


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.


KING: So Nic, you've covered this for quite some time. You hear John Kirby saying, we're not looking for war. But because these troops are there, because the situation in Syria remains so dicey because you have outside players like Russia, like Iran. It is a place where if you have a point to make, you can make it.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You can. It's one of those pressure points that Iran picks upon. It has lots of different proxies around the world. And this is the one the ones in Syria, the ones in Iraq, are the ones that it uses often to needle the United States. So far, interestingly there doesn't seem to be a spike in tensions there at the moment.


You know, we're keeping an eye on local media in that area in Syria. We can't verify it particularly well because we just don't have access. We don't have our own eyes and ears on the ground there. But some of those local media are saying that two IRGC, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard. People were killed on the ground that eight of the local group that was supported by the IRGC were killed on the ground there.

But what we're not getting reports of is that there is an escalation and tensions. There might have been a response, but that remains unclear. But in the background of all of this, you have the United States through intermediaries actually talking indirectly with Iran about release of four Americans who are being held illegally in Iranian jails. And there's bonuses in that arrangement for Iran. So, Iran may have an eye on that.

There are other things in play here as well. There is a regional rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president after more than a decade now of his civil war with Arab allies. Iran and Russia both looked to have huge influence inside Syria. But that rapprochement with Arab allies perhaps means a diminution of Iran's control and access and interests inside Syria.

It's hard to tell what precipitates any particular action. But when they target a U.S. base like this, it is very clearly aimed at the United States. At a time when Iran might be trying to send a signal to the United States or others, it just isn't clear. But the message back was so super clear. We're watching. We know and we've got the coordinates of targets, and we've hit them and don't do it again.

KING: Don't do it again. Right now, we see whether it escalates or whether this is an isolated incident. Nic Robertson, live for us. Natasha Bertrand, live as well at the Pentagon. Appreciate it to both of you. We end the week now referring to a story we've talked about throughout the week.

But today, important and secret testimony right here in Washington. We ended of course, also waiting on Manhattan prosecutors to pick a pathway forward. And we ended watching Donald Trump do - sadly what Donald Trump does, calling his opponents names and pushing his fans, his supporters toward violence.

Today a big event in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. Evan Corcoran and the Trump attorney is under oath. special counsel prosecutors want to find out if the former president directed Corcoran to lie or to aid and abet a crime. Corcoran's testimony is a big victory for the special counsel. And it follows to significant court wins.

But in New York, another case we've been watching, the Manhattan D.A has gone dark. The grand jury hearing evidence on the hush money case there, does not meet again until Monday. And it is right now simply unclear whether prosecutors plan to present another witness or if Alvin Bragg will ask those grand jurors to return an indictment.

The quiet is not so calm though due in no small part to Donald Trump being Donald Trump. He is writing profane rants on truth social. In one, posted after midnight, he smears the Manhattan D.A. as a quote psychopath. And it is hard, hard, very hard to dismiss these words, especially because we all know the history.

Donald Trump's words is anything but incitement, quote, potential death and destruction. In such a false charge could be catastrophic for our country. More on those reckless words by the former president in a moment.

But first, one of the reasons, he is so on edge. Let's get straight to CNN's Katelyn Polantz. She's outside the federal courthouse here in Washington. Katelyn, a big victory, the special counsel and big testimony before the grand jury.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, John. We are seeing some movement. Now, it's about three hours into what we believe has been Evan Corcoran inside the grand jury testifying, answering questions he did not want to answer previously, that the Justice Department fought very hard to get him to answer in court.

And we're seeing some movement that people are breaking for lunch. That's what happens here at the courthouse every day, every afternoon. And we are waiting to see whether Evan Corcoran may be done with his testimony now, or if he will have more hours to go today to share what he knows about conversations directly that he would have had with Donald Trump, his client, when the Justice Department was trying to get back all of those documents at Mar-a-Lago with classified markings on them.

There were many communications, Evan Corcoran would have been privy to when he was telling the Justice Department, yes, we've done searches. Yes, we've given you any and all of the classified documents that we have, but of course they hadn't at that time the FBI then went in.

And so, what we know about this is it's part of an obstruction investigation. It's part of a mishandling of classified documents investigation, and it is very rare for the Justice Department to be able to win something like this, a day like this, where a defense attorney can come in and share exactly what went on between him and his client. Because the Justice Department has been so clear saying, they believe Donald Trump may have been trying to commit a crime. John?


KING: Katelyn Polantz, for us outside the courthouse. Katelyn, raise your hand and come back if we get any new information beyond the lunch break. Now, let's get some important legal perspective. Our CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates is here. So, put your former prosecutor hat on. It is extraordinary as Katelyn notes to be able to get at court and then an appeals court to say, Mr. Trump's lawyer.

Privilege aside, you have to go tell that the special counsel is presented at least threshold evidence that you might have been involved in helping him further a crime. What do you get? What are you trying to get from Evan Corcoran that you can't get from anybody else?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR & SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: First of all, it is unbelievably extraordinary to pierce this very important protection. We want people to be able to be truthful with their attorneys to have the protection that wherever they talk to them about in the furtherance of legal advice and service will be truthful and clear.

Here, the crime fraud exception says, if you're trying to use an attorney as a conduit of a crime or trying to use that protected communication to actually do the wrong thing, we're not going to honor it. Here you have an attorney, testifying on essentially.

What did you know about the certification, and everything had been handed in? What were you told? Who gave a code read? And what was that code rea here? Did you know that it wasn't in fact complete? What kinds of documents were you told, or perhaps thought were handed over and were not?

The idea of getting it right from the horse's mouth, so to speak, specifically, what was said, and why perhaps there may have been a reason or that have not to hand over everything is going to be so important here.

KING: And so, your belief, I believe, correct me if I'm wrong. Is that this is key to the obstruction, the idea that Donald Trump was losing (Ph) his lawyers to lie to the government about saying, I returned it not so much about how they got there in the first place, or how they might have been handled or why it took them. But this part is, you know, they certified, or we've returned them, or we have a few lefts, but they had way more than that. And did was the lawyer knowingly helping Donald Trump lied to the government?

COATES: It's the whole kit and caboodle, John. It's the idea of how they got from the White House where they were supposed to be. How they were ending up at Mar-a-Lago. What happened? We've all been wondering all this time. I've never seen Donald Trump carry a box, carry documents with him, right?

So, how did they get from point A to point B? How did they remain there? And we don't know still. What was the nature of the document. As I'm sure it's very, very interesting to Jack Smith and company about what actually is contained because it might answer the question as to why there was an agenda to actually retain these documents.

So, from the moment they left the site of the White House where they were supposed to be, or whatever, you know, skiff related jurisdictional place to where they are now, and don't forget, Trump has fought the return of these documents. So why? And what did the lawyer know about it? All of that is fair game.

KING: So, we are ending. This is Friday of a week in which the former president United States predicted he would be indicted and arrested. That has not happened. That involves the Stormy Daniels hush money case in New York. He has the investigations to federal grand juries here headed by the special counsel. He has the Georgia investigation.

The New York Times has a piece today, which they quote, a former top Justice Department official saying, it wouldn't be any surprise that people out there were kind of confused and the Justice Department prosecutors sometimes worry about that, everything gets merged together. So, people sometimes lose the nuance in the separate investigations conducted by different entities.

Does that matter? I mean, in the public consumption now, there's probably a great deal of confusion. But does it matter to the individual prosecutors trying to build their cases?

COATES: Conflation can be deadly. If you're talking about a jury pool, you know, you want a jury to feel like this is the very specific case, you're asking them to look at and be able to clearly delineate from the different cases. And if they're known to sort of conflate other things, they might be in the court of public opinion, judging one particular case by what is given in another once. You have that concern.

But these are all independent sovereign entities. They don't need to coordinate with one another. They don't need to ask Alvin Bragg or Fani Willis or even Merrick Garland and Jack Smith, what they're doing to proceed. But remember, we only have this timeline from Tuesday on because Donald Trump presented it. We didn't get that from the D.A.'s office, from the Justice Department. They don't owe that to anyone.

And so, in many respects, this timeline about judging where they are, has been a part of a bit of a publicity stunt, I would say from Donald Trump, without more. But going forward, obviously, on the hierarchy of cases you might think about, an insurrection, the idea of not wanting to hand over the office, the Oval Office, somebody else very, very important to our democracy. The idea of a hush money payment might rank lower, but it does not mean that it's not a law - lawful case in pursuit for this particular D.A.

KING: To your point about complaining Trump constantly tries to make it all one big, which further reasons, I think you so smartly outlined. Laura Coates, great to have you at the table. Up next for us, a new Donald Trump after midnight mumble. We'll take a closer look at smearing a prosecutor and warning of death and destruction.




KING: More now on Donald Trump's legal reckoning and his reprehensible words. The Manhattan grand jury is home for the weekend. The Manhattan D.A. brings them back on Monday. But Donald Trump is not waiting. A week of attacks on prosecutor Alvin Bragg crossed into reckless incitement after midnight. Look at this. It's an early morning Truth Social posts from the former president insisting, any charge in the hush money case could unleash quote, death and destruction.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Lauren Fox, Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times, and NPR's Tamara Keith. Death could unleash death and destruction catastrophic for our country. He should know better.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: This, it's now been two, three years where we've had law enforcement agencies across the gamut have been warning about the risk of political violence. And how some of the claims from public officials' false claims continue to motivate some of that political violence and make that threat more severe. We saw similar chatter ahead of January 6 online as well. This is blatant forecasting of potential violence here. And we've learned through the past couple of years that there's consequences to this as well.


KING: Right. So, let me just interrupt at that point. Just to bring into the conversation. Look, Donald Trump is not going to listen to Hakeem Jeffries. He's the top Democrat in the House of Representatives now. But you're going to - you will get a chance to listen Hakeem Jeffries here. And guess what? Most Republicans won't say this publicly, privately, they'll tell you they agree with just about every word of this.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D-NY): Well, the twice-impeached former president's rhetoric is reckless, reprehensible and irresponsible, it's dangerous. And if he keeps it up, he's going to get someone killed. We've already seen the consequences of incitement from the former president.


KING: And the former president is an active candidate for president at the moment.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Right. And he has proven this week by putting out a message on Truth Social saying, he was going to be arrested. And then drawing the media and everyone else to talk about him nonstop all week long, that as a candidate for president, and as a public figure, he can draw people - draw attention to himself.

And then what he does with that attention, is sent out on Truth Social, racist and antisemitic tropes and other dog whistles about the prosecutor and about the case. And then he said, he's not threatening violence, he's saying there will be violence.

KING: Right. And that he tries to skate around. And we can show you some other emails he sent this week. And some of them I just think, you know, he thinks this is helping him. Emails about, you know, other sex scandals and other court cases and other things like that. He's entitled to do this, if he wants, it's a free country.

But the idea, anyway, anyway, that a former president United States would be talking about catastrophic death, destruction, but that the same president, the same president who sent him off to the Capitol on January 6, and yet, and yet we listen from Hakeem Jeffries, a few Republicans have said, you know, things need to be peaceful, but you don't hear the swift condemnation.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, I think that one of the question marks is, if the Republican Senate was in session today, would there be a swifter and more robust reaction to Donald Trump from someone like Mitch McConnell or John Thune, perhaps there could be. You know, keep in mind that the House Republicans are the ones on Capitol Hill today, that is probably his most loyal group of supporters, and even they're not that loyal to Donald Trump at this point.

But it's really remarkable given the fact that the January 6 committee, they spent a year plus, proving the point that Donald Trump's rhetoric and his message what he was telling his supporters had a direct impact on what happened at the Capitol on January 6. So, it is really remarkable to sort of be seeing this playing out once again.

KEITH: And there are trials underway right now, for people who stormed the Capitol. There are people who have gotten, you know, a sentencing just today. So, this is an ongoing live issue from January 6, that now new supporters are being told, sent a signal.

KING: It'd be interesting to see how, not only you're right that Congress, it's Friday, so you don't have people moving about on Capitol Hill, but the other candidates for the Republican nomination as well. This happened after midnight last night. Where were they willing to go because Trump is trying to bully them into bullying the prosecutor, if you will, but we'll watch as it plays out.

When we come back, though, just moments ago. You see the pictures right here, President Biden shaking hands with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. On the agenda, a big deal on immigration. Also, incredible video showing a U.S. border patrol agent rescuing a child who had been abandoned by a smuggler.



KING: Moments ago, a big meeting between neighbors President Biden and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shaking hands as the two leaders hold talks in Ottawa. And agreement on immigration take center stage as illegal crossings at the U.S.-Canada border have been surging in recent months. Our chief White House correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us now live from Ottawa with the latest details. Phil, what they get done?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think this agreement that you're talking about which is clinched by U.S. and Canadian officials in advance of the president's arrival will be announced later today. Just goes to the idea that this is a critical meeting from a bilateral perspective. I think sometimes the relationship with Canada is taken for granted by U.S. officials, U.S. lawmakers as well. There is certainly an inherent warmth within the relationship.

One the president has made very clear he feels over the course of his time in office and before. And yet, there are very real issues between the two countries underneath the surface that need to be addressed and prime to among them is immigration. The domestic political pressure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his party have faced has been real, has been palpable.

And they've been pushing for this agreement over the course of the last several months, increasingly in public tones and they were able to secure it. The U.S. revising nearly two-decade old agreement to allow candidates to turn back border crossers, and a popular crossing between New York and Quebec in exchange. They've agreed to start up a refugee program that would allow 15,000 refugees to come into their country.

So a deal there and the primary focus of that deal beyond the domestic political issues that they've been dealing with is really it sets the conditions for meeting that does have a lot of substance in it, whether it's the economy, trade, security, obviously NORAD has been front and center over the course of the last several months, along with the broader geopolitical issues of which the president and the prime minister have been very closely aligned, Ukraine and China.

One thing that the president noted as he met with the prime minister in front of cameras is that there are no fundamental differences in the democratic values that the two countries share. While there are certainly issues that they're trying to work out underneath the surface. On the top line, it's very clear when you talk to U.S. and Canadian officials very aligned on some of the critical challenges at the moment. John?