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tv   The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer  CNN  January 3, 2020 3:00pm-4:01pm PST

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soleimani was planning imminent attacks against americans and it has escalated tensions as iran is vowing revenge. thousands of additional u.s. troops are being deployed to the middle east as we speak. home alert for potential threats in the united states and considering updating its terror advisor. first, let's bring in alex. we're hearing u.s. officials targeted soleimani because they said there was direct evidence he was planning to kill americans. >> and attack was imminent. >> we heard from national security advisor, robert o'brien, who said qasem soleimani just arrived in baghdad where he was killed and came from damascus, where he had been planning attacks against u.s. forces and diplomats. since this killing happened, the major question has been, why
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now? the car carrying iran's most powerful military commander destroyed beyond recognition from the missile strike drone overhead, confirmation coming quickly the ruthless and cunning quds force commander qasem soleimani was targeted and killed. attacks against u.s. targets planned by soleimani were imminent though the trump administration has yet to provide any evidence. the chairman of the chiefs of staff say there was compelling evidence soleimani was planning significant violence in days and months, adding damn right there is risks to the u.s. in that region and we would being negligent if we didn't take action. >> he was plotting to take big action he described it to put hundreds of americans lives at risk. it was imminent. this was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our
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decision-making process. >> reporter: the apology sending around 3,000 more troops to the region, adding to the beefed up presence that followed violent protests at the u.s. embassy at baghdad. hundreds of u.s. service members have been killed by soleimani's actions according to officials and thousands more maimed by improvised devices in iraq. u.s. officials tell cnn soleimani was planning more attacks against u.s. targets at multiple places across the region highlighted more than usual. >> we watched intelligence flow in at the work he was doing to put americans at risk. >> reporter: 62-year-old soleimani joined after the iranian revolution in 1979. for over 20 years he had been at the head of its shadowy quds force straiting terrorist attacks in the middle east and around the world and supported
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and directed proxy forces of hezbollah against israel and isis and also committed war crimes against sunni muslim civilians. the trump administration says they approved the attacks but the killing of soleimani left the u.s. presence in doubt with powerful forces demanding eviction of the americans, the iranian prime minister calling the attack a flagrant violation of the u.s.-iraq security agreement. >> the apology has raised the forced protection level for troops in the middle east meaning they believe those attacks likely and troops in italy put on alert and american citizens have been told to leave iraq immediately. the question of an iranian response to this attack is almost certainly not if but when. >> everybody is brassicing for t and the response to that will be critical as well.
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now to president trump and his public remarks about his order to kill soleimani. boris is traveling with the president in florida. the president seems to be trying to tamp down the fears of war with iran. >> reporter: that's right, wolf. the president saying he carried out this strike in order to prevent a war, not start one. also saying they should have been carried out a long time ago, and citing a specific imminent threat from iran, plan apparently to attack u.s. interests. the president did not give very many specifics about that plan. we are learning the strike was in the plan some time, however talks to carry it out ramped up at mar-a-lago, the president holing a meeting with top advisors and military brass and friendly lawmakers apparently told in that meeting there was very robust debate, the president hearing flat out hesitation from some of his
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close advisors what kind of retaliation the u.s. might see from a strike and the broad policy of the united states in the middle east. we were told the president was adamant about carrying out this strike and even defensive and we heard some of the remarks he made to reporters this afternoon. listen to more of what he said. >> last night, at my direction, the united states military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number one terrorist anywhere in the world, qasem soleimani. he was plotting sinister attacks on diplomats and military personnel. today, we remember and honor the victims of soleimani's many atrocities and take comfort in knowing his rein of terror is over. we took action last night to stop a war.
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we did not take action to start a war. if americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified and i am ready and prepared to take what ever action is necessary, and that in particular refers to iran. >> wolf, the president is taking criticism for bypassing congress on this strike. there are questions by democratic lawmakers about the legal justification he used to carry out this strike. we should tell you the president is speaking to a group of evangelical supporters in miami. we're monitoring that. robert o'brien, national security advisor said on a call that the administration stands ready to talk to iran without any pre-conditions. they have been rebuffed. we should point out the united
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states was rebuffed by iran to these potential talks well before assassinating this top general, wolf. >> thank you very much, down in florida. let's go inside iran where leaders are vowing a crushing response to soleimani's death. on the ground in tehran for us, president trump says he's not seeking a war with iran. what are you hearing from the iranians? >> reporter: the iranians are extremely angry, wolf, especially the iranian leadership. we heard from the top leader who said there would be revenge and quite frankly said despite the death of qasem soleimani he obviously hailed as someone who was a freedom fighter for the iranians, despite his death, the quds force he commanded would continue the way it had before. this is a force that not only consists of qasem soleimani,
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even though he was a giant figure in that, but it has top generals who had the same battle experience qasem soleimani also, being in iraq and places like syria and lebanon. the iranians say this won't stop and there will be revenge, the supreme leader saying that and foreign leader and iranian president also saying they believe the u.s. would be responsible for any retaliation that would take place. where could that take place? i'll tell you what, one iranian former commander once said, look, the americans need to understand at every single base in the united states, there is a group controlled next door. it could happen anywhere in this region and in many forms and not clear when they would retaliate. there are three days of mourning scheduled in iran, some already took place, probably going on
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the next couple of days and a big event on sunday in qasem soleimani's hometown. iranians already plotting. the supreme leader himself cheered a leader of the national security council. >> this is an extremely tense moment. fred will get back to you. now, to the top democrat on the armed services committee. thank you for joining us. let me get your immediate response. the president said he took this action to stop a war and not to start one. what do you make of that? >> what has happened has been an increased acceleration and escalation in our anticipation of iranian attacks. rather than stopping a conflict, he's accelerating the conflict. i think that's essentially what general millie said, he'd be irresponsible if he didn't prepare for the consequences as they see them.
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the iranians have a political as well as a geopolitical reasons to do that. soleimani was very popular and of major import in iran. in addition they have to maintain their presence and sway in areas and regions they control. the chairman of the joint chiefs also says there was clear evidence that soleimani was planning a significant campaign of violence against the united states. do you have any reason to doubt the general? >> i don't have any reason to doubt general millie. the issue is how best we could have reacted to disrupt that plan. the question was the assassination of soleimani the best to disrupt that plan. >> the consequences of taking out soleimani is this heightened
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tension, escalation. you spoke about the theory of revenge by the iranians, the concern not only in iraq and iran, but throughout the region and worldwide about a possible response by the iranians. that, i don't think was effectively factored in. >> when do you expect to personally be briefed by the administration. some of your committee staffers have already been briefed this afternoon. >> we hope by tuesday, when we reassemble for the senate sessions that will get a detailed highly classified briefing. we don't know yet the critical facts they relied on because it is highly classified. we have to have those facts in order to establish the credibility this was imminent and no effective alternative other than taking out soleimani. >> what information do you need to see, senator, from the administration, to determine
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specifically this strike was justified? >> i have to see what the proposed targets were, the plans, as detailed as possible, and what role soleimani was playing. was he simply the general coordinator or was he so intimately involved in every operation that his absence would stop them. in fact, i think it's been pointed out previously, if these plans were so detailed and intimate and evolved, there's no reason to suggest they can't be put forward by someone else, maybe not with the same skill but there's an infrastructure in the quds force that the idea of just taking soleimani out will make the problem go away i don't think holds up. >> in 2005, senator, you and i were in iraq, general john abizaid, then the u.s. military's commander of the central command, and we spoke extensively.
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did you ever think then in 2005 when we were in fallujah or other places, that iraq would be such a disaster? >> i did not. we were cautiously hopeful and many many days ahead that would be difficult but we thought we would see some progress. i returned to iraq about a year ago and there was some improvement, but what has happened and i think the studies pointed out, particularly the major commission study of the department of defense and army, that the real winner in the iraq war was iran. they were able to assert themselves into the political process and military affairs of the country so distinctively now they have great leverage there. you also have heard from some of your reporters, at least threats by the prime minister and other
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parliamentarians to evict the u.s. forces. they have the right to do that and we're only there at their discretion. that's something else the iranians will try to use, their political influence as well as their tactical operational skills. >> all right, senator jack reed, thanks so much for joining us. >> thanks, wolf. u.s. officials are on alert for possible revenge attacks by supporters. how and when? i will speak to president obama's former national security, susan rice, and discuss the consequences of the deadly attack on iraq. robinhood believes now is the time to do money.
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we're following the breaking news on the significant killing of iran's top commander. president trump insisting he ordered the attack to stop an imminent threat, not to start a war. joining us is former security secretary, susan rice. thanks for coming in. let's talk about what the president said a little while
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ago. he said the u.s. should have killed general soleimani a long time ago. was that ever under serious consideration during your tenure during the obama administration? >> during my tenure as national security advisor we didn't have the opportunity, to my knowledge. had we had the opportunity, we would have given it obviously very careful consideration weighing the pros and the cons. frankly, then as now, it's not clear that when you look at the strategic landscape and the costs and consequences of such an action whether the benefits outweigh the real risks. the most important thing, wolf, we took these serious situations under careful consideration. we would way deliberately the risks and benefits and considered the second and third order consequences and most importantly, we would have made very sure before we took such an
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action that would undoubtedly lead to escalation we put in place preparations to protect and defend american personnel in the region. >> you new clearly, qasem soleimani was responsible for hundreds of deaths of u.s. military personnel in iraq? >> he was indeed. as the bush administration reported there was an opportunity and serious consideration was given to it. at the same time, as we experienced during the obama administration, in the early stages of our involvement in iraq, the iranians were very active targeting american personnel with very dangerous weapons. that fell off after 2011 and escalated again in recent months as pressure on the iranian regime increased in president trump's maximum pressure campaign. >> clearly, in recent days, the u.s. had the intelligence where qasem soleimani was and the
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military capability, drone strike, of killing him. did president trump do the right thing? >> that's a very complicated question. i am doubtful ultimately it will prove to be the right thing. in the first instance, any of us familiar with qasem soleimani and the extraordinary blood on his hands, has to be happy to see him off the battlefield. he was a murderer and terrorist of the first order. having said that, whether we and americans around the world are safer as a result of his targeted assassination than they would have been had we pursued other means to deal with what was purportedly the imminent threat at hand. i am not sure about that. i am not sure as i look at this there are other ways to de-escalate this situation. president trump saying i did this to stop a war not to start it seems to imply he gets all the votes in this and the
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iranians get a serious set of votes. there's no question in my mind they will retaliate in a very serious way in a time and place of their choosing and maybe multiple times and multiple places. the question then is what will president trump do? will he respond as well, in which case this esscalatory cycle increases and risk of war gets greater and greater? or does he back down and if he backs down the iranians will interpret that as an ability to push further. either way we're down a path of conflict. >> are americans safer today than two days ago? >> i don't think so. a plot, if you believe the president administration, they have not given statements to congress. >> they are briefing right now. >> the members you interviewed today, senators and members of
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congress relevant on these key committees, they don't know the specifics behind the intelligence. we have to wait and see. even if it were the case there were imminent plots under way, how to deal with that is not a black-and-white issue. taking soleimani out doesn't mean those plots can't proceed. >> how worried are you. what capability does iran have right now to seriously threaten the united states? >> that's absolutely the right question. if you look at how iran is postured in the region, they have infinite opportunities through militia to attack us, syria, lebanon, libya, the whole gulf where we have large military installations, as you know, all throughout the gulf region. afghanistan is another place where the united states could be
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targeted by iran. there's a whole shipping lanes of the persian gulf region, which are now potentially active war zones with real risks to the global economy. then, of course, wolf, as you and i know, iran has cells, proxy cells and direct cells it can control it can light up in europe, in latin america, in africa, and even perhaps in this united states. the risk to american civilians as well as diplomats and military personnel now throughout many regions of the world is much heightened. >> is it fair to say that qasem soleimani was the conductor of this ability of iran to spread its influence throughout that entire region through iraq, syria, lebanon, down near saudi arabia, in yemen, he was the orchestrator of that? >> he was an orchestrator but he wasn't a one man band. that's the problem. there is no way i can envision
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iran take this hit and decides, never mind, we'll just stand down. i think the survival of the regime and its leadership prominence in the region, and its own mind depends on a strong forceful reaction. that's how you get this escalatory dynamic. somebody has to back down or this will go to a place that's going to be quite dangerous and concerning. >> do you trust what you're hearing from the trump administration right now, the initial information about the intelligence assessments? >> wolf, i wish i could. this administration, sadly, tragically, has a record of almost daily misrepresenting the facts. telling false hoods about issues big and very small. it's hard to have confidence on the face of their representations. i'd like to see the evidence. i'd like to see the details behind the information that apparently led to this attack.
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certainly what qasem soleimani has done and iran's record, would support what the administration is saying, not the least in the recent context but one cannot be certain without seeing the facts. >> basically, we haven't seen this intelligence yet and very limited intelligence shared with some staffers and intelligence committee, very limited information. do you expect administration officials right now are lying? >> i'm not prepared to say that. i hope certainly not. if they were lying about something of this magnitude, i hate to think of the consequences for the united states. but as i said, given their track record one can't be certain, as one would hope to be in a context like that the commander in chief and his top lieutenant are giving us the whole story. >> do you agree with leon panetta, former defense secretary, the u.s. is closer to outright war with iran than in 40 years? >> i think that's correct.
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>> you think it's realistic? >> i think it's very much a risk now. never in the last several decades have we or they taken an action quite so provocative and explosive. we have leadership on both sides that had made quite clear that they're not backing down, at least in the foreseeable future. >> susan rice, thank you for coming in. a very difficult moment in u.s. history. just ahead, more on president trump's ordering of the killing of qasem soleimani. you're pete nocchio? oh, the pic? that was actually a professional headshot. i'm sure that's it, yeah. i, uh, i think i've lost a few pounds recently too. i'm actually doing a juice cleanse. wait! you don't... (glass breaking) (gasp) ah! oh...! with geico, the savings keep on going. just like this sequel. 15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.
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we're learning more this hour about the deadly u.s. attack on iran's top military commander as officials are demanding revenge. saying general qasem soleimani was planning military attacks on u.s. and this was said on cnn earlier today by mike pompeo. >> he was actively plotting big actions, he described it, that would have put hundreds of american lives at risk. this was an intelligence assessment that drove our intelligence process. >> you've done a lot of
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reporting on it. >> that's quite the wording. he said as he described it and deliberately did not go into detail about what sparked this u.s. action there. was he saying there the u.s. heard conversations by soleimani that they intercepted those conversations and based on the fact they knew where he was but substance of the attacks he was planning. this should send alarming signals to iran the u.s. has good intelligence penetration of iran senior leadership, the most senior leadership in the case of soleimani. remarkable today. they know we're listening an how we're listening and take measures to make sure we're not listening to them but still remarkable intelligence coup on the part of the u.s. >> you used to work in the
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national security. do you believe the public should trust what we're hearing from the trump administration? >> the problem is we are in a credibility problem because they have lied about so many things large and small. it's entirely plausible they have this strong intelligence that does establish there was an imminent attack and this was an appropriate way to take it. i don't think americans should do that. we often ask congress to stand in the shoes of the american people. what we expect to enforce that legitimacy is to give full and candid briefings to committees and want to see bipartisan statements by democrats and republicans to say they themselves have examined the underlying intelligence and fully briefed and confident whether or not they are agreeing with the policy decision they are confident this administration is being honest
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by what the against says. >> our former fbi general counsel and legal analyst, says the pentagon and white house and justice department all signed off on the strike, a legitimate decision, act of self-defense. >> what did they sign off on? we have heard multiple different theories what the justification was? immense? 2002 authorization for force in iraq? for the lawyers on the outside it's hard to assess this exactly and critically important to the legal analysis is understanding what the intelligence was. what was this threat? how imminent was it? what does it mean? iran and soleimani have been persistent threats a long time. they need to be more forward leaning. >> interesting because for a long time the president has been critical of the u.s. intelligence committee not only publicly but privately and this
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time he said he trusted what he was hearing from the u.s. intelligence communities. >> the president has denied specific against when it didn't fit his interests at the time, for instance the intelligence community testified publicly iran was complying with a nuclear deal. that was its intelligence and the president said otherwise. u.s. intelligence said north korea is expanding, not shrinking its nuclear program in the presence of the president's diplomatic efforts and he won't accept that. here, he has chosen to accept iran's attacks. in the past you would have more chance to question, you would have a white house press briefing and question a spokesperson for the president about the depth of their knowledge about it. beyond the president's uncomfortable witness the truth on a number of issues. he denied it in some cases. he's accepting it here.
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why? was it his confidence or fit his interests at the time? >> what do you think, susan? >> i think that's the question, if he is acting on actual intelligence or molding the world advantageous to him. will we now engage in a cycle of escalation that leads us to engage in a hot war with iran or can this be deescalated. the president of the united states is not a long term strategic thinker and this really is incredibly perilous. >> how worried should americans be about proxy attacks in the united states? >> we should be focused on it and all the levels of government. they need to move out and make sure they understand what the situation is and that they're taking prudent steps to address likely threats.
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>> soleimani in the past did threaten attacks on the u.s. homeland. whether they could carry it out is a separate story but have made threats. >> this is the kind of thing that could prompt that. federal and state authorities amping up as iran vows revenge against the united states. eritrade mobile app so you can quickly check the markets? yeah, actually i'm taking one last look at my dashboard before we board. excellent. and you have thinkorswim mobile- -so i can finish analyzing the risk on this position. you two are all set. have a great flight. thanks. we'll see ya. ah, they're getting so smart. choose the app that fits your investing style. ♪
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. following urgent new efforts
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to protect americans at home and overseas as iran vows revenge for its top military commander in a drone strike for president trump. a former fbi special agent and cybersecurity expert. what are you hearing from u.s. authorities about concern that iran might strike against u.s. targets either here or abroad? >> first of all, here, the u.s. knows iranians and some of their proxy groups, hezbollah in particular, have a network of people who are here and other countries, some fund-raising and some caught in the past doing surveillance what the u.s. believes were essentially intelligence efforts to gather information on vulnerable places that could be attacked should this day come, should there be a hot war between the united states and iran.
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there might be somebody watching the coverage might decide to carry out an attack not directed by the iranians but inspired to do that. that's one of the things you see today in new york and cities, and the subway is a concern, everything is vulnerable. the fbi an police departments are keeping an eye on. >> i take it the iranians have a pretty sophisticated cyber warfare capability? >> they do. while there is no actionable against at this time, american people should be prepared should iranians want to launch a cyberattack, which would absolutely come into their homes and businesses here in the united states. iran has indicated this time and time again. an attack on a saudi oil field, attack on a las vegas casino and upstate in new york and financial institutions in new york city. they've already been implicated in meddling in the 2020 united
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states election. we have to be prepared for some sort of cyber event that could affect -- >> don't they know if they were to do that against the united states the u.s. has a pretty good cyber warfare capability as well? >> they absolutely do. understand, it's low cost, high impact and high visibility. because it's done online there's that element of deniability. we didn't do it. someone else did it and easily trace it back to a number of actors here. >> and with the help of this administration and the president denying these attacks, it can work for you sometimes. >> are they bracing -- do you think the u.s. authorities -- you've been doing a lot of reporting, have been on this for a quick immediate response from the iranians or play the long game? >> there's a possibility of both. iranians are funding these proxy groups in the middle east.
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the u.s. is well protected in iraq but in other places there might be more vulnerabilities. they will find opportunities to attack. they will do it now and do it long term. for them it's a very long game. >> this is a serious situation unfolding. stick around, more on the breaking news, the top iranian commander killed by the u.s. this is my body of proof. proof i can fight moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. proof i can fight psoriatic arthritis... ...with humira. proof of less joint pain... ...and clearer skin in psa. humira targets and blocks a source of inflammation that contributes to joint pain and irreversible damage. humira can lower your ability to fight infections. serious and sometimes fatal infections, including tuberculosis, and cancers, including lymphoma, have happened, as have blood, liver, and nervous system problems, serious allergic reactions,
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tonight, president trump says the deadly u.s. attack on iran's top military commander was justified was qasem soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister new attacks against americans. we're joined now by the former u.s. attorney cnn senior legal analyst. pete, you actually prosecuted one of soleimani's deputies who was plotting an attack right here in washington, d.c. a few years ago. what did that experience tell you about what authorities need to be on alert for right now? >> well, it tells you a number of things. you know, people have been speculating about the kinds of things iranians thimight think about doing. based on my experience, i know they have done these things even without extreme provocation they have gotten with the killing of soleimani. one of your guests just a few minutes ago talked about financial services, a cyberattack on financial services institutions. and the hacking of a dam in
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upstate new york. the infrastructure of a dam. those cases were both prosecuted by my office when i was united states attorney. so those are real things they have thought about doing with respect to the thing you just mentioned, the quds force and people associated with the quds force we charged a few years ago were responsible for a plot to assassinate in washington, d.c. the saudi ambassador to the united states of america. and they sought to do it by using a bomb in a famous restaurant that you probably been to that i can't get a reservation to. by means of working with a dea drug informant, someone who was a drug informant for mexico. that tells you a few things. even though it seems like an outlandish plot, the person pled guilty to it. and it tells you the iranians of capable of doing things to the united states or at least plotting to do things to the united states. they want to do things to the united states. they are prepared to do things with, you know, other sort of far fetched partners in those things. and people were pretty surprised
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about that plot back in 2011 and 2012. it shows they have the capability and willingness to do things like that in a dramatic way on american soil. back at a time when you didn't have this level of tension between the united states and their government. and you didn't have, obviously, one of the most sensational actions by the united states with respect to soleimani. so they can do it. they want to do it. and what i imagine is happening right now around the country between fbi offices, national security division, is if they have low grade or medium-grade investigations about potential plots or associations between people that they had been targeting and folks at the irgc or the quds force, that they are ratcheting up their investigation of those things right now to prevent any harm from coming forth in the future. >> and that plot, over at cafe milano in washington, d.c., they wanted to kill the then-saudi ambassador to the united states. but they wanted to blow up the whole place and in the process, wind up killing 100 to 200 to 300 americans who might have
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been in that restaurant. >> yeah. they appeared from what we knew from the plot, not to care about the collateral damage even though their main target was a saudi ambassador. they also thought about doing things thereafter with respect to certain embassies in washington. they never got close to accomplishing it because turns out that the mexican drug trafficker with whom one of the plotters was associating was -- was a confidential source of the dea. that's why we were able to uncover the plot, disrupt the plot, and hopefully with respect to ongoing activities by the iranians that may have been in motion, may be accelerated now because of the killing, that you have people who are again still surveilling them prop alreaerly >> so you would agree this is a very, very dangerous moment, right? >> yeah, i think so. and it's because, in part, based on those other cases we talked act that the iranians are willing to and capable of doing things you might not think of. you know, there was a lot discussion about this case we have with respect to the bowman dam. it's not the biggest dam in america. not the most important piece of
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infrastructure. they weren't ultimately capable of raising or lowering the dam. but it looked like something that they're thinking about and experimenting with. and who knows how far they've come since then. >> as usual, thanks very much. more news right after this.
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stay with cnn as we follow the rising tensions and the potential consequences of president trump's order to kill iran's top military commander. join me for special weekend coverage this sunday. i'll be anchoring special coverage starting at 5:00 p.m. eastern on sunday. also, on sunday, i'll be hosting a cnn special report. the trial of william jefferson clinton. looking back at the last presidential impeachment. that airs sunday night,
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9:00 p.m. eastern. only here on cnn. thanks very much for watching. i'm wolf blitzer in the situation room. you can follow me on twitter and instagram at wolf blitzer. tweet the show . erin burnett "out front" starts right now. >> next, breaking news. president trump claiming he took out iran's top military leader because he was planning a, quote, very major attack. tonight, iran's ambassador to the united nations responds. he's my guest. plus, americans on high alert around the world. just how serious is the threat to the united states tonight? new details about the president's impeachment trialmetrial. has the iran attack affected the entire timeline? let's go out front. and good evening, i'm erin burnett out front tonight the breaking news. iran promises military reven against america. the top iranian official in the united states speaking to me tonight with that vow that

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