tv At This Hour With Kate Bolduan CNN January 3, 2020 8:00am-9:00am PST
hello. i'm wolfe blitzer in washington. we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. we're following major breaking news outs of the middle east. the world is on edge right now. iran is vowing harsh revenge for the killing of general soleimani who died early this morning in a u.s. air strike in iran. as leader of iran's elite revolutionary guard core, he was considered by many to be the country's second most important person. he had just arrived in baghdad when the convoy he was traveling in was struck by a u.s. drone near the airport. another iranian leader and several officials backed by tehran were killed in the air strike. iran's supreme leader now promising retaliation. meantime, secretary of state mike pompeo tells cnn that general soleimani was actively
developing plans to attack americans in the region, making the decision to take him out, in his words, all the more urgent. >> president trump's decision to remove soleimani from the battlefield saved american lives. it was a big action as he described it that would have put dozens if not hundreds of american lives at risk. we know it was imminent. this was an intelligent based assessment that drove our decision-making process. last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack, that he was working actively, was disrupted. >> we have team coverage of this breaking story. let's start with cnn's ryan brown. he's over at the pentagon with new information. what are you learning? >> that's right, wolf. sources are telling some of our cnn colleagues, jim sciutto, pam brown, and dana bash that a little bit more about the information that led to this strike. the threat.
secretary pompeo declined to get into the specifics. he had been traveling to multiple countries and a senior administration official saying that he had come back to baghdad in order to plot follow-on attacks in the wake of those militia attempts to storm the u.s. embassy, follow on attacks against u.s. personnel and u.s. interests so that the eminence of this was determined to be significant. and that the plot was maturing and that's why the u.s. decided to strike when it did. of course, this comes after a series of rocket attacks against military installations that the pentagon has blamed soleimani and iran for, including one which killed an american contractor. we're being told by defense officials that the u.s. military in the middle east has raised its force protection levels out of concern of a potential of a terrorist attack, something they don't typically do unless there's real intelligence
leading that up. so the u.s. bracing for a possible retaliation from iran or some of the militias closely aligned with tehran. >> there's still about 5,000 u.s. troops in iraq right now, but there's still thousands ooh u.s. military contractors and u.s. diplomates and others on the scene. what advice are they being told right now? >> tens of thousands of troops stretching from egypt to pakistan that have been placed under this new force protection guidance. the u.s. has recently deployed troops to the middle east. some of that deployment based off a perceived threat from iran. hundreds of marines were sent to the embassy compound and another battalion of para troopers were sent to kuwait with thousands
more being told they could be deployed to the region giving this increased threat. >> yeah. ryan brown, stand by. i know you're working your sources over at the pentagon. i want to go to kaitlin collins. what are you hearing, first of all, from the white house? >> well, so far, we still have not heard from the president in person yet about the strike, but we did see that statement from the pentagon last night saying that it was carried out at the direction of president trump who later began tweeting and he's continued to do so throughout the morning defending the decision to strike. he said general soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of americans over an extended period of time. he says he was plot to go kill many more, but got caught. he goes on to say he was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, although not citing where he got that figure
of millions. and the president continues to say, quote, he should have been taken out many years ago. so you're seeing the president continue to move to defend this. we're also hearing more about how this process played out. our questions have been about which members of congress were notified about this beforehand. we know the gang of eight did not have a formal briefing on this as of last night when news of this strike broke. but there is one member of the senate who said he was informed days before this strike was carried out and that's lindsey graham who happened to be here at mar-a-lago over my shoulder with the president on monday and tuesday. listen to what he said about conversations he had with the president about this potential operation. >> i was briefed about the potential operation when i was down in florida. i appreciate being brought into the orbit. i appreciate president trump letting the world know you cannot kill an american without
impunity. we will stand up for our people and that is an essential message. >> so lindsey graham was aware. still no formal briefing for the gang of eight. and we're waiting to find out more about when that briefing will happen. right now, wolf, we are not scheduled to see the president until at least 2:00 p.m. there is essentially a hold on any appearances by him, although he is expected to fly to miami in several hours for an event there. so there is a chance we could hear from him. other than that, we're waiting to see what the administration says next, wolf. >> yeah. i wouldn't be surprised if we do hear from him in some sort of address to the nation. this is a critically important moment right now. we're going to get back to you. cnn's arwa damon is on the scene for us in the iraqi capital. arwa, what's the latest that you're hearing? >> well, wolf, i think a lot of people really here still reeling from all of this, especially
given that it took place on iraqi soil. the iraqi caretaker prime minister has said this isn't just a violation of iraq's sovereignty, but that he has said that it is an act of aggression against iraq itself. we have been talking a lot about the killing, the targeted killing of soleimani, but also in that convoy was a prominent figure for iraq. and that is the number two commander of what's known as the popular mobilization force. this is a shia paramilitary force that was formed in response to isis sweeping through iraqi years ago. the number 2 abu mahdi al muhandis is the number two leader. he was also killed in this same
strike. his group, this paramilitary umbrella group is part of the iraqi security forces. so from baghdad's perspective, this also took out one of its key military leaders and this strike was carried out by a country that was meant to be an ally of baghdad. at a time when the iraqi parliament, also because of these rising tensions between washington and tehran was set to debate and begin drafting legislation surrounding the u.s. troop presence in iraq. for quite some time now, iraq has been begging washington and tehran to stop using it as a proxy battlefield. this strike by the u.s. has just pushed iraq and the region into unchatered territory. >> there was a statement from the iraqi government condemning
this u.s. drone strike that killed this iranian spy you master and there's some suspicion and some concern that maybe the iraqi government now will ask the u.s. to get out to remove those remaining troops. is that at all realistic? >> it's very realistic, wolf. look, particle many was already on a deadline to a certain degree to begin drafting a bill that would basically be specifically about how to remove troops from iraq. it was unclear, if you had asked me this yesterday, whether or not that bill would have passed. i think right now that dynamic has shifted. it's very difficult to see how washington repairs its relationship with baghdad moving forward, not just in terms of the u.s. military troop presence here, which is really becoming a very serious source of contention, but also politically speaking, how does america and
iraq move forward from all of this and what does it mean for the broader stability, for the fight against isis, if and when the iraqi government does demand that those u.s. forces leave? >> yeah. they say the iraqis say this u.s. action was a violation of iraqi sovereignty by going into the baghdad international airport, launching those drones and killing qasem soleimani and his associates. we're going to get back to you, arwa. cnn's rahmin is in tehran for us right now. what is the reaction so far on the ground in tehran to what has happened in baghdad? >> so far, i can tell you that here and there across the country in more than 800 cities and towns, people are rallying behind this ruling theocracy. lots of people are supporting
the southern republic of iran at the expense of america. and they are calling it the terrorist action committed by america. and they say trump has done the biggest miscalculation ever. so this is what's going on in the streets against america. while at the same time, the latest development unfolded is that iran's supreme national security council has issued a sort of a statement to say that this miscalculation committed by trump administration is historic and american administration bears all the responsibility of all consequences of this miscalculation. so it means unwanted consequences such as resurgence and reemergence of diasch isis
in the region is the responsibility on the shoulder of america. from now on, daish in the region is direct responsibility of america according to the statement issued by supreme national security council. >> so a very, very dangerous situation right now. rahmin, we're going to get back to you in tehran. we're covering this story from all angles. general soleimani's role in expanding iran's reach and influence was certainly enormous over these past two decades. now that he's been killed by the united states, there's great anxiety over what will happen next. let's go to our chief international anchor, christian amanpour. first of all, explain the significance of general soleimani's death. >> well, wolf, you can imagine, this side of the pond away from
where you are, the reaction is very different than it is in the united states. where a huge amount of defense of this action is being weighed. now, over here, people are not shedding any tears for qasem soleimani. they say that he has been the main military arm and the foreign policy strategist, if you like, of an adversarial regime. whether it is what they did to prop up severely the government of bashar al assad and prevent him from falling to the popular resistance in syria, whether it is supporting hezbollah in lebanon, whether it is the hoothies in syria. they know that he has played a very major iranian nationalistic role. and that happens to be against the united states for the most part. they also know that it was qasem
soleimani who mobilized in the absence of any other iraqi resistance and given the entire you u.s. military presence withdrawn under president obama, it was qasem soleimani who mobilized the defense of iraq from isis back in 2014 and as many have said was the only thing standing between isis when it took over moosul in the north and baghdad. so it is a really, really difficult situation that the united states has got itself into right now. and that iraq is facing right now, as well. the national security council of iran has just finished its meetings. myth logically, always spoken of by name by the americans, weirdly, qasem soleimani became sort of a mythical figurine sort
of the way the united states was talking about him. they have to avenge his death. we will wait to see what that looks like. but you and i know, as we've been in that region many times, that the iranians and particularly the force that he led have their tentacles and their very powerful networks all over the region. and the united states and u.s. allies have their troops and interests and bases also spread over that exact region. so this is, you know, a collision that we'll wait to see what the impact of it might be. >> what do you make of secretary of state pompeo saying on cnn just a little while ago this morning that this was all about saving american lives, the u.s. decision to send those drones into the baghdad international airport and kill soleimani? >> well, look, cnn is coming out with its own reporting on this. you've been talking about jim
sciutto, dana bash and the others who have pentagon sources and others telling them perhaps even congressional sources what evidence that they have been briefed on. and cnn is saying, according to these sources, that they discovered, the americans, that soleimani and the quds force were planning elaborate attacks against u.s. interests in the region. the thing about this is, is that this has been going on in a sort of -- for want of a better word, tit for tat, cat and mouse situation between the united states and iran ever since president trump pulled out of the iran nuclear deal and he and his you administration, mike pompeo, john bolton, crafted this strategy of maximum pressure. that was initially an economic strategy. and it didn't work in the way that the u.s. wanted it to work. they hope that the regime would fall or they hoped that it would reign in the regime's foreign policy actions.
it didn't. now they've moved to a military targeting of iran and i think it's important to remember that. this is not an attack on one man, no matter how that is being portrayed. it is an attack on the nation of iran. this is not like killing osama bin laden when he was a nonstate actor or al baghdad, the chief of isis, a nonstate actor. this is escalating against one of the most powerful members of a regime. so it's a decision and the question is is it proportionate? and i think every question that should be put to every single american official including the congress people is what is the plan? what is your strategy? what is the plan? what's your strategy?
it has to be asked over and over again. you saw in response to the killing of that one american private contractor, you saw the u.s. embassy in baghdad being breached. was the u.s. administration prepared for that? and you saw the consequences that an ally, iraq, we'll see what the street dictates to put through parliament a complete reversal of the relationship whe with the united states to potentially get the u.s. forces at least to be ordered out of the united states, whether it happens out of iraq, whether it happens or not, we'll see. if it does happen, that was soleimani's goal, to get u.s. forces out of iraq and out of the region. so we are some somewhat difficult unchartered territory and president trump who is very,
very unwilling to start a war in the middle east will wait to see if this action is something that is considered a beli and whether it escalates and de-escalates. >> and we'll wait to see if he makes a public statement at some point in the coming hours. christian, thank you very, very much. coming up, we're going to have a lot more on the breaking news we're following. we're waiting to see how iran will respond after the u.s. takes out its top general. what will the global ripple effects be? we'll ask someone whose advice five u.s. presidents on middle east policy. we'll be right back.
already dangerous situation in the middle east, iran now voiing what they're calling severe revenge in response to the u.s. drone strike that killed the powerful iranian military commander major general qasem soleimani. for two decades, he led the ee lead quds force of the guard corps, a branch responsible for the intelligence military operation outside iran. joining us now ambassador dennis ross. he serve dollars as a middle east adviser to five u.s. presidents, most recently advising president obama on iran and other issues. ambassador ross, dennis, i should call you, thanks so much for joining us. what do you think the iranian response will be to the killing of soleimani? >> well, there will be a response, not just because they're saying it, but because he was part of the core of the regime, the right hand man in
many respects to the supreme leader. having said that, this is also someone who doesn't like direct military conflict, always looks at the idea of using proxies and indirection. while i expect there to be a re-tamation and a response, i don't assume it's going to be immediate, to begin with. i don't assume it's going to be direct, necessarily. i think they will focus heavily on trying to mobilize domestic sentiment within iran. they crushed what were the demonstrations recently. killing, you know, estimates are they killed at least 400 people, maybe many more, and the fact is i think now they're going to try to mobilize passions, national sentiment. soleimani was portrayed as someone defending iran from
isis. so i think you'll see a dramatic funeral, i think it will be parts of an effort to in a sense create broad support for the regime and lay a basis on which to justify whatever actions they take. i think in the near term, the reality tore steps they will take will be within the region. i'm in israel right now. one of the things the israelis did was announce they were closing a ski resort today. i think they're anticipating that there could be attacks by the -- again, fought by the iranians, but by hezbollah or by shia militias coming out of syria. i think all states in the region should be tripling their security measures. even qatar, which has a different relationship with iran, has a large american base there. i think they should be concerned. sooner or later, i think they will try to attack soft american targets, as well. my guess is knowing them, they will now look at president trump as someone who is not just an
enemy, but someone that they would like to embarrass. you will recall that they acquired a similar kind of view with jimmy carter. they wouldn't release the hostages in advance of the election. they sought to embarrass jimmy carter. i think we will see the iranians look for some opportunity sometime in the coming months to take actions that would embarrass the president. >> that is an interesting point. we just got auto statement from the iran islamic guard core and he says general soleimani's influence in iran and neighboring countries was enormous and he said america and zionist will receive a crushing response for his death. he said soleimani's death will further strengthen this resistance front and will not halt the struggle of muslims against americans and the zionists adding it injected new blood. you say the israelis are concerned right now about
potential iranon proxies, hezbollah and lebanon, for example, taking action again israel? >> look, i think the israelis will be concerned about hezbollah, but i thinken they'll be concerned about the islamic response, they will focus on all those who carry out acts of terror or launch missiles or drones into israel. they will certainly be heavily focused on kind of a higher level of vigilance right now. but it won't only -- even though the statement is americans and zionists, this is a traditional slogan for the islamic republic of iran to follow back on that. so while i think that may also be something they may seek to address in terms of attacks, i think one of the things they will try to do is -- greater instability in the region and say this is the american fault. when the statement of the supreme national security council in iran said we would be responsible for the consequences, i interpret that
as being more trouble throughout the region and in an effect trying to lay that at the american doorstep. >> in addition to the israelis, very quickly, how concerned should the saudis, the bahranis, others in the region be right now? >> i think they should all be tripling their security protection measures. i think they -- where the u.s. is coordinating with them, they should focus on that. although i have to say, i think we're going to see more indirection, the use of militias. i think the iranians will try to create an impression of deniability even while they send a message that's unmistakable that somehow near behind it. >> ambassador dennis ross, thanks so much for joining us from tel aviv. appreciate it. coming up, president trump facing some backlash here in washington for not telling lawmakers the air strike was coming. why were top members of congress
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questions yes, ma'qasem soleimani. she says the u.s. air strike, in her words, risks provoet advocating further danger and violence, american cannot afford to have tensions ka late to the point of no return, she writes. joining us now, for director of iraq policy and now president trump's director on national security council. thanks very much, congressman, for joining us. how concerns are you right now about the possible consequences of this attack, what happens next? >> thank you, wolf, for having me. i'm very concerned about the ze consequences coming out. i've worked on iraq policy for a number on of years. i've tracked soleimani for a number of years. i'm very aware of the american blood on his hands. but right now, i'm first and foremost concerned about the
americans in the region and what we can do going forward. >> maybe you can clarify this. you worked in the obama administration. over the years, he was seen as being directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of american troops in iraq and elsewhere. clearly, during the eight years of the obama administration, there were opportunities to kill him. was that ever seriously considered? >> well, during my time there, that was not something that was seriously considered. i can't speak for other times at the white house in terms of their deliberations. but certainly from my own end, when i thought through all these different consequences, you have to think through what is actually going to make americans safer? sure, there were a lot of threats that we face from a number of different angles, whether it was the shia militia groups, most recently the work that i did with the counterisis fight. but we have to think through what is actually going to make us more safe and that is
something that i think the calculus given the retaliation that we know is coming under way, that is something that is very much in question. >> secretary pompeo says dozens and maybe even possibly hundreds of american lives were at risk. what do you need to hear directly from the trump administration in the coming days to justify this attack? >> well, we need to understand that this isn't going to be just this one incident here. we're going to have a retaliation against us. so what i need to hear and understand is what was the intelligence leading up to this decision, what factors did they consider and to what other types of steps we could have taken short of going after qasem soleimani would have been able to deter thegs types of attacks they say were imminent. and going forward, what is it we're doing to protect our personnel in iraq, in lebanon, throughout the region, as well as how are we going to be
postured going forward. i understand that they're saying their job was to stop this im pending attack, but we also understand that this action they have taken is going to spur many more potential attacks against us. so i need to hear from them why they thought this was a calculation that was going to make us safer, because certainly right now i don't necessarily see it that way. >> what does it tell you, congressman, that republican senator lindsey graham, he's the chairman of the judiciary committee says in recent days down in mar-a-lago, he was briefed on this attack by the president but senior democrats, including the members of the so-called gang of eight, were not? >> well, i think that this is a really important sign of a breakdown there between the executive branch and the lawyer legislature on an issue that should not be about partisan politics at all. having worked in afghanistan before, having worked in the situation room, i always said the last place partisan politics belong is in national security.
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mitch mcconnell will speak from the sfeet for the first time. withholding aide from ukraine are coming to light. emails reviewed by the website just security shows that a top white house budget official made it clear that the order to halt the aid came directly from the president. the senate minority leader, chuck schumer, using the emails to justify his demands for witnesses during the upcoming im you peachment trial in the
senate saying, and i'm quoting you now, the newly revealed unredacted emails are a devastating blow and witnesses we've requested. these emails further exposed serious concerns raised by the trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president's decision to cut off aid to ukraine to benefit himself. joining us now, our senior congressional correspondent amanu raju. what is the expectation about what they will say about the impeachment and the u.s. air strike? >> i just asked mitch mcconnell whether he had been briefed about the air strike and he said he would address, quote, that issue on the floor. when he does open up the senate chamber for the new session starting at noon eastern time. so expect him to address that. and also expect him to address the standoff that's been looming between him and democrats that were moving forward on this impeachment trial. democrats have been demanding a deal up front to get witnesses
to agree upon, to get those documents released. but mitch mcconnell says those decisions should be punted until afterwards. there should be opening arguments and after that the senate can vote on bringing decisions or witnesses forward. mitch mcconnell has made it clear he is not going to go forward until the house goes over its articles of impeachment, those two articles that passed the house late last year. instead, he plans to move forward on the agenda, president trump confirming judicial nominees, i'm told he's open to moving the north american trade agreement, as well. and expect chuck schumer to address the floor after making his demands clear, as well. >> how significant are these emails? could they potentially move the needle as far as some of the centrist republicans are concerned? they need several of them, a few of them, at least four, maybe five or six, in order to get witnesses to appear in a senate
trial. >> yeah, that's right. 47 democrats unite, they need 4 republican toes break ranks, to vote, to get those witnesses, to get those documents. at the moment, we are not seeing any mass defections happening. some centrist republicans like lisa murkowski of alaska, susan collins of maine, have expressed concerns about mitch mcconnell coordinating with the white house. and other republicans, including one from iowa told me yesterday she's not there yet on demanding witnesses and certainly not calling for these documents. so mcconnell has his conference in mind. >> these coming days will be critical, indeed, on several fronts. manu raju, thank you very much. coming up, reaction to the strike now pouring in from around the world. also from moscow, much more right after this. [sneeze and sniffles] are you ok? yah, it's just a cold. it's not just a cold if you have high blood pressure. most cold medicines may raise blood pressure.
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we continue to follow major breaking news out of the middle east right now, iran vowing harsh revenge for the u.s. after president trump ordered an airstrike that killed a top iranian official. qasem soleimani was in the special operations unit. he died as the convoy left baghdad international airport
this morning. oren liebermann is on the ground in lebanon. he decided to cut short his visit to greece today. what more can you tell us about the concern in israel for possible iranian-backed military action against israel? >> reporter: wolf, it would be very easy to see a situation where iran decides not to retaliate against the u.s. but instead points its anger, it's retaliation here in israel, the u.s. maj u.s.'s major ally in the region. that's why benjamin netanyahu cut short his time in greece. it has to be noted there are no restrictions or limitations along the northern border. praise for donald trump's decision to carry out the death
of qasem soleimani has been echoing around the world. >> the united states has the exact same right for self-defense. qasem soleimani is responsible for the deaths of many american citizens and innocent people. president trump deserves all the credit for acting quickly, swifting, forcefully and decisively. they sta israel stands with the united states for security in the united states. >> reporter: the prime minister decided to stay quiet because they didn't want to upset the proxies in the region. israel knows well the force it has or it could come from iranian proxies in syria. there are options here, israel is well aware of them and that's
why the appropriations staff issiis i handling this very carefully. >> reporter: iran is weighing in on saying the strikes will lead to grave consequences. tell us what you're hearing. >> they are weighing in because russia has a unique relationship with iran. it provides the country with diplomatic support, venues like the security council, it provides weaponry and support to iran as well, fighting side by side with iran and its proxies on the ground with syria where both russia and iran are backing the success in that war. he's visited russia on at least one occasion and coordinated delivery to weapons russia sold to iranians. also a point person on the ground in syria that the russians would have dealt with. there's been a reaction from the russian foreign ministry saying
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welcome to our viewers here in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer in washington. in moments we'll hear directly from the senate majority leader mitch mcconnell. senator mcconnell telling cnn last hour he will address the president's targeted airstrike overnight which has so dramatically turned up the tensions with iran. tehran promising revenge, what its military force is calling a crushing response after the united states used a drone to take out iran's top general qasem soleimani. the president tweeting that soleimani killed thousands of americans and was