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Oath Keepers Leader Convicted Of Seditious Conspiracy; All Five Defendants In Oath Keepers Trial Convicted Of Obstructing An Official Proceeding; Senate Passes Bill Protecting Same-Sex Marriage Rights; China Vows To "Strike Hard" Against "Hostile Forces" Amid Protests; Team USA Beats Iran, Advances To Next Stage Of World Cup. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 29, 2022 - 18:00   ET



PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Mr. Rhodes had been. So, I do want to be fair.

But I did look up from his tapes, Mr. Fuentes, sneering about the holocaust. If I can, Kevin McCarthy to read this new book called the Escape Artist, about the first Jew who escaped from Auschwitz, Rudy Verba. Jonathan Freeland wrote it, who you may know. It's a terrific book. If you want to know what really happened, the truth about the holocaust, particularly for catholic boys from Texas like me --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I will, I'll check it out.

And thanks one and all for being here. I really I appreciate it.

Our coverage continues now, Brianna Keilar is in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. See you tomorrow.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers was just found guilty of seditious conspiracy for his role in the events of January 6th and the efforts to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power. We are breaking down this rare and powerful verdict, what it means for the Justice Department's broader investigation of the insurrection.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I am Brianna Keilar and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get right to our big breaking story, the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, convicted on the very serious and rare charge of seditious conspiracy.

CNN Senior National Correspondent Sara Sidner is outside of the courthouse here in Washington, D.C. Sara, this is a historic verdict. Tell us about how big of win this for the Justice Department and really the precedent that it sets.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There is no doubt this is a very important moment in history, for the Justice Department, in particular, but for the justice in this country. This was the case that was the first trial of a seditious conspiracy trial to be brought. And so this sort of the government's attempt at trying to, as they see it, get justice for what happened on January 6th.

And who they went after is this group of people who are part of a militia known as the Oath Keepers, a far-right group who used to say that they were sort of anti-government. But then when Donald Trump came into power, they started backing Donald Trump and wanting Donald Trump to continue to hold on to power even after the 2020, said he did not win.

So, here is what we have. The government has proven its case when it comes to Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers. He founded it in 2009. That seditious conspiracy charge, he has been found guilty of. So has one of his top lieutenants, Kelly Meggs. Those are the only two people though out of the five people who have been charged in this case with seditious activity to be convicted of the charge. The others have been found not guilty by this jury.

And what this tells you is that the jury has gone through each of their stories, each of their defenses, which were very different, by the way. They all had a different story as to what they were doing, why they were there.

And the biggest and most important thing is that the government was trying to prove that they were trying to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power by using force. They said, yes, Stewart Rhodes is guilty of that, as is Kelly Meggs.

Stewart Rhodes, however, never went into the Capitol. So, when you start looking down at some of these other charges, like conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, Stewart Rhodes was found not guilty. And the reason why we are bring his name up over and over again is partly because he founded this group, the Oath Keepers. And each of these people, four of them, all four of them are members and one of them was an associate of this group, he was sort of seen by the government as the leader of these actions, the person who was talking the most, who was messaging the most, who had the most to say.

Just after the election, the government has these text messages and these messages where he starts talking about civil war when it is determined that Joe Biden won the 2020 election over Donald Trump. And so a lot of his verbiage and his wording, really, I think, struck this jury. They also, of course, heard some secret recordings of him talking to some of the members of this group.

They also saw a lot of video of different things as well as some of the guns that were brought into Virginia as part of the quick reaction force. Those were bought into court, they were displayed, they were pulled out, they were open to jury, saw the firepower that this group had and that this group had put in Virginia, knowing that it is legal to have them in Virginia but that they could be moved into Washington, D.C. when and if, as Stewart Rhodes put it, the president decided to go forward and say that there was an insurrection, the insurrection act was in place, and then they would come forward as a militia to back him up. So, the jury clearly seeing that the head of the Oath Keepers is guilty of seditious conspiracy, a charge, by the way, that brings with it up to 20 years in federal prison.


So, it is a huge, huge moment for the prosecutors and the defense, but it is a mixed bag. Because if you go down all of these charges, they were a total of ten charges, it is a mixed bag of who is guilty and who is not guilty. This jury deciding each case individually, as they were supposed to do, but overarching, the defense has constantly been, for all of them, that there was no plan on January 6th.

Well, that is not what the jury found. They clearly saw a plan in place, a plan that Stewart Rhodes followed and that is what the jury decided. So, you have to have at least two people to be a part of a conspiracy and literally two people were convicted for that seditious conspiracy and some of the other conspiracy charges. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Sara, if you can just stand by there for us, I do want to bring in Defense Attorney and former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu, we also have CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, CNN Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt, and CNN Senior Political Analyst Nia-Malika Henderson with us.

Shan, just your reaction, here to this verdict -- these verdicts.

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. I think it was a must win for the DOJ to at least get the conviction for seditious conspiracy of the leader. I think the jury demonstrated they went over the evidence carefully, parsing it out. I think you can also conclude from this. There are some lessons for DOJ and future prosecutions here, the acquittal of others on seditious conspiracy, but the uniform conviction for obstruction of official proceedings tells a lot about what may or may not be more easy to grasp for juries.

KEILAR: Andy, what do you think?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, I agree with Shan in all of those comments. And I would also say that, for me, Brianna, the important thing is what sort of message does this send to the rest of the kind of domestic extremist population. And I think in that column, it a huge victory. It sends a very loud and clear message to other members of militia groups, people who are harboring similar grievances and thinking about addressing violently, particularly at our political system, our democratic process. You cannot do that in this country without severe consequences along the lines of a potentially 20-year jail sentence. So, it is a very important message to send at this time and we're seeing those threats on the rise and, hopefully, it will have a chilling impact on some of those actors.

KEILAR: Kasie, it also sends a message to some members of the Republican Party, including those who try to make this out like it was just a tourist trip to the Capitol on that day. You were there. You know it certainly was not. KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It certainly was not, Brianna. I mean, watched from the Russell Building as these people overran and broke down windows and I was there and had colleagues inside the House chamber as this all unfolded.

And I think one of the things that stood out to me in the minutes since we have learned about this verdict was what Michael Fanone had to say to Jake a little bit earlier when Jake asked what he has to say to Kevin McCarthy, who is, of course, the Republican leader, and who, several weeks after January 6th, went down to Mar-a-Lago, took his photo with Donald Trump and has been hesitant to directly criticize him ever since. And Fanone said, I have nothing to say to him, because the reality is the Republican Party right now, there are many, especially in the House of Representatives, which was one of the buildings that was attacked on January 6th, who have that comment, a normal tourist visit was made by a member of the body that was attacked.

And so there clearly were different -- it was a broad mix of Trump supporters who were at the Capitol that day. It is very clear that there were dangerous, organized elements among them. There were people who were carrying zip ties, who were carrying more sophisticated types of weapons who were looking to do very real harm to people.

And I think that to Mr. McCabe's point, I think that bringing those particular elements out of the word work, underscoring it, identifying what it was that they did, even though, yes, Rhodes was so careful that he didn't actually enter the Capitol, we still know that as this jury has told us that he was a ringleader of what was going on, that he had a plan that they were trying to implement on that day. So, I think it's going to be very meaningful for people who were in the building as well as for obviously how this is talked about and discussed going forward.

KEILAR: Yes. Nia, huge political ramifications here for what this means.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's right. I think so many Americans looked at January 6th and you saw this unfold on T.V. and you saw all of these people at some point disperse and go back home, right?


They are obviously Donald Trump supporters. They were summoned by Donald Trump. And a lot of people said, well, what about the accountability for the folks there, let alone accountability for Donald Trump. Perhaps that will happen at some point. But I think for a lot of Americans, this will come as a relief that something is happening to the people that tried to essentially overthrow the process of the transfer of power. And so I think, in that way, that's a good thing.

Some people said, well, listen, maybe the January 6 committee, it's too overblown, they are focusing too much on Trump, this was in the past. And so now you see the people who were plotting on that day, who were plotting dangerous activities are now being held accountable. And, again, you have to wonder about Donald Trump. What does this mean for him? He has continued to downplay what happened on January 6th. I think at some point, he said he would like pardon people if he was able to get back into the White House, he would pardon people who had been accused and maybe convicted on January 6th. So, it certainly has direct ties and direct implications for his political future.

But I think for now, we will see who else gets convicted in the way that the government essentially proceeds going forward with hundreds and hundreds of people who breached the Capitol that day, who threatened the lives of Mike Pence, who were chanting for Nancy Pelosi's head, and so now some accountability and some justice.

KEILAR: All right. I'm going to have you guys standby. We have so much more to discuss here with our breaking news next, including reaction from a key member of the House January 6th select committee. We have Congressman Jamie Raskin standing by to join us live.



KEILAR: We have some new reaction right now to the breaking news, the leader of the far-right militia group, the Oath Keepers, found guilty of seditious conspiracy for his role part in the January 6 insurrection.

I am now joined by a member of the January 6th select committee, Congressman Jamie Raskin. Sir, thank you so much for making the time for us right after we heard about this verdict. What is your reaction?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, The house and the Senate, of course, had voted that the former president, Donald Trump, incited an insurrection against the union. And here, we have a conviction of a jury of his peers against the leader of the Oath Keepers that he was guilty of the crime of seditious conspiracy, which means conspiracy to overthrow or put down the government of the United States or to interfere with its laws.

So, I think that the character of January 6th is now finally sinking into the whole country. I mean, this was a series of events that was designed to overthrow a presidential election and essentially topple the constitutional order and replace it with something else completely different.

And so I am excited that the jury system and the judicial system is working. I was pleased to see that they had a very fine grained and subtle approach to analyzing the different charges. Stewart Rhodes was found guilty of certain offenses. He was acquitted of others. And the same was true of the other defendants. And so it shows that the American system of justice is actually working.

KEILAR: How do you see this relating to the work that the committee, that the January 6th committee is doing? Do you see this as validating the work? RASKIN: Well, the committee, in looking backwards at these events, was concerned with the whole pattern of trying to overthrow the election and substitute for the peaceful transfer of power, Donald Trump's seizure of the presidency. And within that macro offense against American democracy, hundreds or perhaps even thousands of individual discrete crimes took place.

And the people who are guilty of those crimes are being tried for them. And many of them are pleading guilty, others of them are being found guilty and it's a painstaking, laborious process. But that is what the rule of law and the system of justice is about in a democratic society. There needs to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual defendant is guilty of the particular things that he or she is charged of.

So, I would view as a vindication generally of the work of our committee, but, of course, the other half of our work is forward- looking. What do we need to do to fortify American democracy against coups, insurrections, political violence and electoral sabotage in the future?

KEILAR: What message does the verdict -- what message do you think the verdict should send to former President Trump but also to his political allies in Congress, some of which you served with in the House who have downplayed what happened on January 6th?

RASKIN: Well, Donald Trump has already repeatedly dangled the likelihood that if he were ever to returned to the oval office, by any means, that he would provide pardons. He would pardon the January 6th defendants. And, of course, his political subculture now treats the January 6th defendants as political prisoners rather than the people who beat our police officers over the head with confederate battle flags and Trump flags and destroyed federal property and drove the House and the Senate out of their chambers in a mob action by domestic violence for the first time in American history. So, these people have proven themselves to be enemies of the constitutional order.

So, I don't know that Donald Trump will be moved to do anything other than sort of return to his idea of offering pardons to people who were guilty of committing crimes during the course of events that he set into motion himself.


KEILAR: There's a former Oath Keepers spokesman who told your committee he worries a Trump 2024 run would see Trump try to whip up a civil war amongst his followers using lies and deceit. That was a quote. And you know that there are many people out there who are sympathetic to these defendants who think that this was -- and folks have said this publicly, they think that this was all just sort of in the bag for the government. They believe the DOJ is corrupt. They are not going to be convinced by these verdicts. I wonder if you think these verdicts are a deterrent to sympathizers or if you think it might make a martyr of these defendants as well.

RASKIN: Well, I certainly hope that it will work as a deterrent to people who were considering trying to overthrow the government of the United States and to get a president to use violence and subversion of the constitutional order to impose martial law and then to oust the democratic constitution that we have got.

But I think your point is correct. We have to remember that Donald Trump and the forces of chaos and vendetta and authoritarianism are still very much out there. And the democratic constitutional order has held. I think the election that we just came through was a very positive thing in terms of the vast majority of the American people trying to stand up for democracy and freedom and the constitutional framework.

But the point remains that there are those people who want to turn the people who beat up our police officers and smashed our windows and stormed the Capitol into martyrs and they would like to treat them that way. That has been the history of authoritarian and fascist coups all over the world that the people who engage in an attempt that is stopped by the constitutional regime are somehow turned into martyrs in order to try to make it succeed the next time.

And so I will just tell you that the people on the January 6th committee, I think the majority of people in Congress are standing strong for constitutional democracy, just like the vast majority of Americans are too. And tonight is a night when we can celebrate the workings of our systems of justice and the rule of law.

KEILAR: Congressman Jamie Raskin, thank you for your time this even, Congressman Jamie Raskin with the January 6 committee.

So, we have much more on the breaking news ahead, more on the verdicts in the Oath Keepers' trial, including two members found guilty of seditious conspiracy and what it all means for the Department of Justice now.



KEILAR: We have some breaking news just into CNN, the U.S. Senate taking a major step toward protecting marriage rights in the United States.

CNN's Melanie Zanona following that story for us from Capitol Hill. Melanie, tell us about the vote here.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. This was an absolutely historic moment on Capitol Hill and a rare show of bipartisanship. This bill had been gaining steam ever since this summer when Roe v. Wade was overturned and when Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that same-sex marriage might be under threat yet.

Now, this bill went it outright legalize same-sex marriage in every state, but it would require states to recognize legal marriages in other states. So, it would protect the rights of both same-sex marriages and interracial marriages. But the votes were not always there, Brianna. Democrats had to worked behind the scenes with Republicans. They agreed to make some changes to the bill in the Senate version and they even delayed the vote until after the midterm elections in hopes that if there were political pressures facing GOP senators, that that would be alleviated after the midterms.

And, look, it appears to pay off because just now, the Senate voted with a support of a dozen Republicans. So, this is absolutely historic. Now it heads to the House. We are expecting a big bipartisan vote there. 47 Republicans voted on a similar version earlier this summer. That vote is expected next Tuesday and then it will head to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature. Bri?

KEILAR: Which he, of course, will sign. Mel, thank you so much for taking us through that.

I want to bring Kasie Hunt back in here and Nia-Malika Henderson. Nia, what does this mean for same-sex couples and what is it also going to leave wanting?

HENDERSON: Yes. I think it's a mixed bag. You talk to folks to some folks on the LGBT committee and they say this doesn't really address the underlying fear, which is that the Supreme Court could overturn the right to same-sex, which Clarence Thomas seem to allude to in the Roe v. Wade decision.

So, this bill, as Melanie talked about, it doesn't actually guarantee the right across the country to same-sex marriage. It doesn't say that same-sex marriage is equal to heterosexual marriage. It essentially says it is left to the states, right? So, if Mississippi at some point wants to say that same-sex couples can't get married in Mississippi, and imagine this is a world where the same-sex marriage law is overturned and Supreme Court decisions overturned, Mississippi could essentially do that, right? I mean, that is what this law is saying. It is protecting the 35 states that say, listen, gay people don't have a right to marriage. It is protecting that, but it's also protecting the 15 states that say that same-sex marriage is equal to heterosexual marriage.


So, I think it is sort of a mixed bag. I don't know that LGBTQ people are as happy with this as they were with the Supreme Court decision, for instance.

KEILAR: Yes. And, Kasie, when you look at this, and, of course, yes, to Nia's point, this is mixed and it creates sort of an economy of perhaps same-sex couples, at some point, needing to go to another state if they do want to get married and to come back for that to be protected in their state.

12 Republicans in the Senate though here and 47 House Republicans, Melanie mentioned before, voted on a similar measure. How do you see where Congress is on this? HUNT: Well, Brianna, I think the important thing to underscore here and the goal of what these bill supporters were trying to accomplish is to make sure that states that perhaps want to make this decision not to allow same-sex marriages in the event Obergefell is overturned, as Nia was saying, still would be forced to recognize marriages that have been made in other states in America, so that LGBTQ couples don't necessarily have to live in as much fear that they will not be able to enjoy the protections that they believe they have because of their marriage.

And I think it is very interesting. And one of the things that I think is worth underscoring from a political perspective here is that Democrats made the decision, and Nia mentioned this, they decided to put it off until after the midterm elections to try and really actually get this done.

There is a lot of cynical politicking that is often done in Washington where one party or the other will try to force an issue ahead of an election because they know it makes it harder for a opponents, but at the end of the day, it may not actually be the best for the people who stand to benefit from the legislation. It is just better for people who are trying to keep seats in Congress or win more seats in Congress.

And to the credit of the people who backed this in the Democratic Party, they worked very hard and very quietly behind the scenes, they worked very hard to make this something that was supportable by Republicans who otherwise might have been in a tough spot. And that included saying, okay, you know what, we are not going to do this until later.

So, I think it's important to give some credit to the way that Democrats handled this because it really, I think, helped ensured that they were actually able to get something done on this, to get some additional protections here, obviously, in the wake of the fear that was sparked by the overturning of Roe versus Wade.

KEILAR: Yes. And, Nia, it's a really interesting point that Kasie is making their case about what Democrats did. What do you think?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, I don't know again that this actually addresses the issue, right? This isn't a bill that says same-sex marriage is equal to a heterosexual marriage. It just doesn't say that. It essentially says the states still have the power to discriminate against same-sex couples and not issue a marriage license. If you're in Alabama or Mississippi or any of these other states who might may want to discriminate against same-sex couples and deny them the right to marry, this bill is saying, that is fine, you can do that, but you would have to recognize somebody who is married in New York or Massachusetts or something. So, I'm not sure that this is going to win a lot of praise from folks in the LGBT community wanted, particularly activists.

KEILAR: Yes. Maybe an essential protection for it's not something that makes them feel very good, for sure.

Nia, Kasie, thank you so much to both of you.

And we are going to be speaking to our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, former D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was brutally attacked by Capitol rioters on January 6th. We will get his reaction to the verdicts, next.



KEILAR: The breaking news this hour, verdicts just handed down in the trial of five members of the Oath Keepers in connection with the January 6th insurrection. Two of them, including leader Stewart Rhodes the founder of the Oath Keepers as well, convicted on the very serious and also rare charge of seditious conspiracy.

I do want to get reaction to this from CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Michael Fanone, who is, of course, a former D.C. Metropolitan police officer who was badly injured on January 6th. He's the author of the essential read, Hold the Line. Mike, thank you so much for being with us to react to these verdicts. What do you think?

MICHAEL FANONE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I hope it serves as a wake-up call to many Americans who don't fully appreciate the significance of January 6th and what the ultimate intention of many of these insurrectionists was that day. Now, we have individuals who were found guilty of seditious conspiracy. And I think it should be clear that their intention of that day was to subvert democracy and overthrow the U.S. government through force.

KEILAR: Is this enough? It was interesting hearing -- you heard one of the lawyers. I know you were on air listening to a couple of the attorneys for some of these Oath Keepers who were trying to put a shine on this, like it was some good and some bad, but these are serious charges, seditious conspiracy. What did you think about this? Is this enough for you?

FANONE: No. I mean, it is most certainly not enough for me.


That being said, I mean, with regards to defense attorneys, that is their job. I mean, they are going to put a spin or a shine on anything. But as far as me, you know, I think this is a good start. This is a building the foundation into what I think ultimately many Americans are looking for, which is accountability on behalf of the former president and his allies for their participation in this seditious conspiracy.

KEILAR: Yes. I think it is hard to put a shine on this when you look at these charges. We're looking up to 20 years in prison for seditious conspiracy for Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs. What do you want to see?

FANONE: I mean, to be honest, I really don't care how much time they would serve in prison. I think the charges in and of themselves should serve as a presentation or an example of what took place that day. I am looking for, again, accountability at the highest levels of that conspiracy. And I see Stewart Rhodes and his associates as really at the low end of that conspiracy.

KEILAR: Well, what message do you think that say former President Trump and also his allies, including in Congress who have downplayed the January 6th insurrection. You voted for Trump yourself in 2016. And I know listening to your experience confronting some of these Republicans who have deny your experience has been one of the most frustrating hurts for you here, for yourself and for the country. What do you hope they take from this?

FANONE: I will be honest with you, Brianna. I don't care what they take from it. Again, this is a nation of laws and what I am looking for is individuals who broke the law to be held accountable. I think what many fail to recognize or understand is that we have -- there are only two sides to the January 6th insurrection. You have Donald Trump and his allies and the hundreds of individuals who he sent to attack the Capitol on January 6th and then you have everyone else that stands for, you know, their oath to this Constitution, whether as citizens or as public servants.

And so why that has become so difficult for us to recognize, I don't know other than the fact that I think many people are simply indifferent to what is happening right now. But I believe we are involved in a battle between Donald Trump and his allies and the United States government. And, unfortunately, we have members who are beholden to Donald Trump who are elected members of our government, which makes things, I think, even more confusing for many Americans.

KEILAR: Mike, it is important to get your perspective on this. We appreciate your time this evening, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and former D.C. Metropolitan officer, and also the author of the book, Hold the Line. Michael Fanone, thanks for being with us.

FANONE: Thank you.

KEILAR: And ahead, China is cracking down as rare protesters against COVID lockdowns rage across the country. We are going to talk about it with key White House official John Kirby. He is standing by to join us live.



KEILAR: We are following China's crackdown on mass demonstrations against the ongoing restrictions enforcing Beijing's zero COVID policy as the country faces a record number of cases. These are the largest protests that China has seen in a generation.

CNN's Selina Wang is in Beijing for us.

So, Selina, authorities are moving to crush these rare protests. What are you seeing? SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Brianna, what we are seeing is

authorities using repression and surveillance and individual intimidation. There are even reports from some protesters that police have been visiting their homes. Police have also been blanketing areas where protests have already erupted. I was at the protests in Beijing earlier this week and when I went back the following day, it was completely quiet, eerily quiet with police as far as I could see into the distance, an extremely massive amount of police cars.

What is chilling, Brianna, is that some of this intimidation, it is playing out in broad daylight. We are talking people stopping people in the streets of Shanghai and forcing them to delete content from their phones. And also checks to see if people have installed VPNs that could be used to get around China's firewall because that is needed to access banned apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram.

A detained protester also told us that when he was detained, police had collected their fingerprints, retina patterns, before releasing them. Now, what is important to remember is that the key purpose of China's giant security apparatus is too precisely prevent social unrest like this from happening. To stop the momentum in its tracks it appears to be working.


Protests, they have become smaller and more scattered since the weekend. A video show police breaking up an attempted protests violently on Monday night in Hangzhou, a video showing a woman being dragged away, screaming -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Selina Wang with the very latest for us from China, thank you for that report.

And joining us now to talk more about this as well as some other topics, we have the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby.

John, thank you so much for being with us.

You are obviously keeping a close eye on what is happening in China. The administration has asserted that the U.S. supports the rights to peaceful protest. But will the U.S., specifically, call on the Chinese government to stop detaining and harming protesters? Will it go for that stronger language?

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Well, part of -- part of standing up for peaceful protest is, in fact, make it clear that we don't want to see protesters physically harmed, intimidated, coerced in any way. I mean, that is what peaceful protest is all about and that is where we have continue to stand up.

Whether it is China, Iran, or elsewhere around the world, I think we have been pretty consistent and pretty clear about what we expect government to do when there are protesters peacefully trying to make their voices heard. KEILAR: I mean, you mentioned Iran. It does seem that the U.S. is

having tougher rhetoric for Iran than China. Why is that?

KIRBY: It's not about tougher rhetoric. I think we, again, we've been very consistent about the right of assembly and peaceful protest. Now, in Iran's case, you know, you had a young woman who was killed in the presence, or, in the custody I should say, of the morality police. So we did issue some sanctions to hold the regime accountable for the very violent way they were treating their citizens.

We are going to watch this closely, Brianna. I am not going to get ahead of where we are, but as I said yesterday, we are watching this real closely and our expectations are that the people will be able to peacefully protest there in China. These rules, these issue policies, that bother them.

KEILAR: There are a significant new report from the Pentagon, it shows that China is expanding its stockpile of nuclear warheads at a much quicker pace than the U.S. had expected. There's a senior defense official that says this raises questions about what China's intent will be in the longer term.

What questions does it raise for you about China's intent in the longer term?

KIRBY: Well, without getting into intelligence assessments or inventories about the Chinese nuclear arsenal, we have watched for sometime as the Chinese have increased their arsenal, both nuclear and conventional. We have watched as they have built more ships. We have watched as they became more aggressive and try to integrate their military services to a finer degree than they were before.

All this is concerning, which by the president has made it clear that China is going to remain a significant challenge for us in the Indo Pacific. It's why he was very frank with President Xi at the G20 just a week or so ago about our concerns from a security perspective. So, we're going to watch this closely.

More importantly, we are going to continue to work with allies and partners in the region and outside the region to address larger concerns, security concerns, that we have. Whether that is our allies in Japan or South Korea or, quite frankly, with the French.

President micron is going to be here tomorrow for a state visit and we know that issues of China and the Indo Pacific and security concerns there will be top on the agenda.

KEILAR: John Kirby from the White House, thank you so much for being with us this evening.

KIRBY: My pleasure.

KEILAR: So, still ahead, Team USA prevailing in a must-win match at the World Cup, defeating Iran after days of political tension between the two countries.



KEILAR: Well, the United States is moving on at the World Cup, beating Iran today in a thrilling showdown that had huge consequences off the field as well as on.

CNN's Don Riddell is on the scene for us in Doha, Qatar.

So, Don, walk us through what happened.

DON RIDDELL, CNN HOST, WORLD SPORT: You know, it was just an absolutely extraordinary occasion, so much going into this both on and off the field, as you say. We've been talking about the political backdrop and tensions surrounding this game all week.

But for the United States, it was just an incredible performance and they deserved it. That is Christian Pulisic, their star player, really putting himself on the line to get the ball over the line in the first half. In the end, that was the only difference between these two sides.

The Americans had to win, they did, if the Iranian's equalize in the second half, the USA would have been out and Iran would be going through the knockout stage. But as it stands, the Americans are going through and they are going to face the Netherlands on Saturday.

KEILAR: Don, how serious -- I mean, we see it there, Pulisic's injury. How serious it is it?

RIDDELL: Well, we don't know for sure. He was taken to hospital. It has been made clear that he wasn't hospitalized, but he was taken to hospital and there are some scans, we understand, an abdominal injury. He was able to play for a couple minutes after apathy came off in the second half and he didn't feature at all.

Of course, U.S. soccer fans will be praying that he is fit and able to play for Saturday, because he was the difference between the two teams today. It either doing so well in this tournament, they're so organized and tight. They don't concede goals, but they don't score money either.

They haven't really got a top striker. So if it wasn't Pulisic, they would be going to the knockout round so they will be desperately hoping he's back and able to play against the Netherlands.

KEILAR: Don, we can't ignore Iran. The team is going to head home. We understand, we can't ignore Iran. The teams going to head home. There's been some reports that they were threatened after not singing their national anthem in an earlier match.

RIDDELL: Yeah, I mean, the Iranian team has been dealing with an awful lot. Do they support the demonstrators back home? Are they pro- regime? They've really been put in an impossible position. One of their former teammates was arrested the other day for spreading propaganda. We understand that he was released on the eve of this game.

But we cannot imagine what these guys have been going through. A lot of the Iranian players are based overseas, and so they're not all going back home, but yes, I imagine they would've been rattled with the threat of their families.

KEILAR: We see them singing today, but maybe not with enthusiasm.

Don, thank you. I'm Brianna Keilar in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.