tv CNN Newsroom With Fredricka Whitfield CNN January 4, 2020 9:00am-10:00am PST
hello again. i want to welcome our viewers in the u.s. and around the world. thank you so much for joining me. i'm fredricka whitfield. right now, thousands of u.s. troops are making their way to the middle east. a tense 48 hours after a u.s. strike killed a top iranian general in iraq, mourners are pouring into the streets of iraq and baghdad to honor iran's
qasem soleimani and nine others who were killed thursday in baghdad. iran's ambassador to the united nations telling cnn's erin burnett that killing soleimani was an act of war. >> they started a military war by assassinating, by an act of terror against one of our top generals. so what else can we expect iran to do? we cannot just remain silent. we have to act and will act. >> president trump says the strike was aimed to prevent a war and that escalating tensions between the two nations. he defended his decision to kill soleimani at a rally last night. >> he was plotting attacks against americans but now we've ensured that his atrocities have been stopped for good. they are stopped for good. i don't know if you know what was happening, but he was planning a very major attack, and we got him. [ cheers ] >> meanwhile, those 2800
american troops on their way, getting ready for any retaliatory attacks abroad. we have a team of reporters around the world covering all of the details now. let's begin with cnn's fred pleitgen. fred, iran is saying the u.s. made a grave mistake. >> reporter: you're absolutely right, fredricka. hassan rouhani, the president of iran, said that while he was visiting soleimani's family and talking to soleimani's daughter and said he doesn't believe the u.s. knows how grave of a mistake they have actually made. in that same meeting which was one of the focal points today, at least publicly in iran, the daughter of qasem soleimani asked, how are you going to take revenge for a father and rouhani said, don't worry, everybody will take revenge for your father. so certainly that is one of the key things that the irans are saying, there is going to be some sort of response but on their own terms in and in their own time. iran's supreme leader visited
the family said and said that the iranian nation was very much indebted to the family of qasem soleimani and said that he believed that qasem soleimani was killed, as he put it, by the most villainous people, the u.s. government. so clearly the iranians quite angry at the situation at this point in time, and again, speaking a lot about a possible response. it was quite interesting to hear president trump speak there saying that qasem soleimani's rein as he put it had been ended and that attacks had been prevented. one of the things the iranians are saying is that the quds force is going to continue to operate even after qasem soleimani's death. it wasn't an organization that was dependent on him even though he was a very large figure, but a successor to him has been named and he says the operations won't miss a beat. now, the iranians are saying they're in no rush to respond to the assassination of qasem soleimani. they believe that time is on their side and they say with their proxy forces in this region, they can obviously threaten the american presence
in iraq, in syria and of course in various other countries in the middle east as well. finally, one of the things that the iranys have consistently been saying not just since this event but really since this maximum pressure campaign of the trump administration, they said they don't want this to escalate into a full-on war between these two nations but they've also said they would be ready if a war does happen. one of the things that they point to there are the advances in their ballistic missile program which they say is more dangerous than it has ever been before. >> fred pleitgen, we'll check back with you. cnn's barbara starr is learning about new possible next steps. barbara, what are you learning? >> reporter: fred, to followup on what fred pleitgen was saying out of iran, the u.s. is keeping an eye on that ballistic missile and believe it's been ramped up.
that doesn't mean iran would launch an attack but they have the capability to do it and the u.s. is watching that closely and believe iran's supreme leader will make the final decision of a time and place of iran's choosing if it wants to launch a retaliation, and that is why these additional u.s. forces are going to the region, very much to be on site to protect u.s. embassies, u.s. assets as the u.s. keeps watch. president trump's top military adviser, general mark milley, not ruling out a possible retaliatory attack from iran. when compelling intelligence in recent days showed qasem soleimani, a top iranian military commander, planned to attack u.s. targets in the middle east, the trump administration made the decision to kill him, according to millie. the u.s. decided to act because of the size, scale and scope of the planning by soleimani,
milley said. is there a risk now to u.s. safety in the region? damn right there is risk, he told reporters, but to deal with that risk, the u.s. has stepped up its defenses and plans to send thousands of additional troops to the middle east. new video showing the bloody aftermath of the u.s. drone strike near baghdad's airport. u.s. intelligence learned that soleimani was planning specific attacks on u.s. interests in multiple countries including u.s. personnel, a congressional source briefed by the trump administration tells cnn. defense secretary mark esper and the secretary of state, mike pompeo, flew to mar-a-lago on sunday to brief president trump on the intelligence. when the u.s. learned soleimani was in baghdad, president trump decided to order the attack despite concerns by some in the administration about potential iranian escalation.
these images obtained by cnn showing the wreckage of soleimani's vehicle after a u.s. drone targeted it as it left the airport. pompeo telling cnn the strike saved american lives. >> there was, in fact, an imminent attack taking place. the american people should know that this was an intelligence-based assessment that drove this. >> reporter: now, there's still plenty of controversy about how imminent an attack might have been based on the intelligence the u.s. had at the moment, but from the pentagon's point of view the strike was absolutely necessary, they say, and those u.s. troops will be in place to mitigate any risk. fredricka? >> barbara starr, thank you so much from the pentagon. so as the u.s. steps up its military presence in the region, officials are worried about the potential for retaliatory attacks from some iranian proxies. cnn international security editor nick peyton walsh is in beirut for us. nick, is this a matter of when
an attack is to happen as opposed to if? >> reporter: i think certainly, yes, you're right about that, and the question is of course if this is an attack or if there is some kind of more strategic, more unexpected pay that iran has planned to make its presence felt in the region that may not necessarily automatically include violence. i think the biggest probability is there will be some sort of attack against u.s. allies or assets in the middle east. the question is when. now, there is a strong possibility that proxies or those allies of iran may be used in the immediate aftermath, perhaps at the end of the mourning period for qasem soleimani under way at the moment and expected to last into the early stages of next week. they may choose to do something immediate to show their anger and show iran's presence across the region. a western intelligence official i spoke to in the hours after the attack said they were concerned that possibly iran might spread its funding to its
proxies across the region which would diffuse and disperse the threat and make it harder for the u.s. to work out exactly where it might come from. that same western intelligence official also pointed out the threat of cyber attacks too, something iran has been investing heavily in and something that could possibly pose a risk to the u.s. homeland certainly. you have to point out two other interesting things that we learned about the threat that seems to have caused the united states to act against qasem soleimani. now, state department officials said they're worried about threats against military and diplomatic personnel in syria, iraq, and lebanon where i am right now. there's really only diplomatic presence here in lebanon at the beirut embassies so that narrows what they may have been concerned about. you have to ask yourself if the u.s. was aware of these plans and you heard in barbara's report that action perhaps had
to be taken, surely they could still be taken out. that's something possibly the u.s. is weighing at the moment right now. i should point out generally speaking for those debating about the quality of the intelligence ahead of the decision to kill qasem soleimani, you have to remember that the u.s. was already under attack by iran resulting in air strikes against the military held responsible for that. some argue there's been a 40-year covert war between the u.s. and iran. the broader question is whether this marks a whole new era. i think many feel iran will have to make its presence felt in the region. it will probably use proxies and pressure allies. many are looking to israel to the south of where i am which is very much under the potential targets of rockets fired maybe by hezbollah, the military and political faction here in lebanon, long-standing conflict between israel and lebanese.
that could flare and could be catastrophic if it did happen and i think many on both sides don't want that to occur. you have to ask yourself too, fred, iran's situation here has all resolved around its nuclear program. the rest of the world pretty much says they're looking to get a nuclear weapon. does this attack against the most preeminent military commander change the balance of those in command and make them rush for a nuclear weapon? some calculations suggest that they might be able to achieve a bomb in a historiy, mayy hurry, year's time. there may be something happening behind closed doors here, unclear, but i would look to that as well as part of how we see the threat evolve to u.s. interests and u.s. allies across the middle east here as iran begins to respond to this extraordinary attack against one of its key commanders. >> nick peyton walsh, thank you so much for a very comprehensive reporting there. appreciate it. so present protests in the middle east to division on capitol hill, the killing of iran's top general setting off
shock waves in washington. why lawmakers are not seeing eye to eye, and the fallout over who was notified about the operation and who wasn't. plus, the trump administration reportedly keeping new ukraine emails secret. details next. whatever happens out there today, remember, you have the hilton app. can the hilton app help us win? hey, hey-we're all winners with the hilton price match guarantee, alright? man, you guys are adorable! alright, let's go find your coach, come on! book with the hilton app. expect better. expect hilton.
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in that attack, and the country is threatening the u.s. with what it is describing as a forceful revenge. the u.s. is now sending thousands more troops to the region as it braces for the possibility of retaliatory attacks. republican congressman will hurd says the u.s. did what it had to do. >> and the fact that people want to act like the iranian government is the victim in this case is to me outrageous, and yes, this is going to potentially get worse before it gets better, but what is the alternative? sit and do nothing? let our embassy get attacked once more? let our troops be attacked even further to allow the iranian government to continue to oppress their own people. they killed 1500 people who were unarmed peacefully protesting in their own country. this is not a government that is a rational government that can sit down at a negotiating table. >> i want to talk it over with
sabrina siddiqui from "the wall street journal" and bob bare, a former cia operative who served in iraq. good to see both of you. sabrina, you first. how might iran exact revenge? it is threatening that it will be forceful. >> well, it's too soon to say and i think there are a lot of questions in terms of what comes next that are really contingent upon the scale of the iranian response and there are a lot of concerns here in washington certainly among members of congress that this administration doesn't have a strategy in the short term much less the long term for how to proceed depending on the response from the iranians, but it's important to note that when this president came into office he really ushered in these renewed tensions between washington and tehran. he inherited a nuclear accord that by all accounts was working
that iran was compliant with according to independent inspections, and he also then renewed hostilities not just by tearing up that deal but by designating iran's revolutionary guard as a foreign terrorist organization despite the council of experts and of course re' reimposing sanctions on iran. it remains to be soon at a time when the u.s. is potentially bracing for much worse. >> bob, that was a very out in the open public killing of the iranian general and the iraqi, iranian deputy, head of the immobilization forces. what was likely weighed for the u.s. to carry out the mission the way it was versus in a more stealth clandestine way? >> well, it couldn't as a matter of fact. we don't have the assets on the ground in baghdad to assassinate
a figure like this who's well protected, well known. it's a lot easier to pick up his movements with intercepts and kill him with a drone. it's what we're very good at and that's the way it was done. and he was a public figure. let's don't forget he had a lot of people around him with cell phones that were using them. people at the airport were probably on cell phones saying he's arrived. this was a fairly easy target to hit. by the way, the israelis could have gotten him numerous times over the last decade, but they were too worried about the repercussions and they declined to. they had him in their sights and they could have killed him but it was too dangerous, too risky, and they avoided it. >> sabrina, reaction coming globally. some european allies are expressing concern. china is weighing in as well. how much influence can the
global audience excerert right ? >> it really depends and one of the challenges is that president trump has offended a lot of the traditional u.s. alliances when it comes to the global stage and it's important to note that allies in europe as well as other countries who had signed onto the iran nuclear deal were very much still part of that pact and had urged the administration not to walk away, so it's not entirely clear how much support he will be able to cultivate, what kind of coalition he will be able to put together if this does escalate. you also had jeremy hunt, a conservative member of the u.k. parliament say that the u.s. and iran are playing a very dangerous game of chicken. so there is a lot of concern coming from the international community. i think right now everyone is in a wait and see mode to really see how iran responds, but there is a lot of concern about whether or not the administration has the good will that it would need from the international community to really meet this test when it
comes to what comes in the coming days. >> the consequences are being seen very differently too from capitol hill to the white house. senator chris murphy weighed in and of course you heard from the president. listen. >> the question we have to be asking ourselves today is whether qasem soleimani is more dangerous to the united states alive or dead as a martyr who whether now rally the iranian government and iranian proxies around the region to do even greater harm to american interests. >> bob, how do you see it? is he right? >> his removal is going to make no difference in terms of the threat to the united states because iran uses proxies, mainly lebanese. they have groups in south america. they have them in the united states and in detroit, and these proxies will continue to answer
to the supreme leader. if he says hit now, they will. believe me, they can hit the united states, africa, anywhere they want, europe. it's just a matter of whether the iranians truly want to escalate or avoid a confrontation with the united states. right now it's in their court, what they're going to do. we can just hope that they're not going to respond to this and this may quiet down. >> we'll leave it there. thanks to both of you. appreciate it. the white house defying a court order. the trump administration refusing to release emails about military funding for ukraine. who they were between and why it all matters. i use rakuten to get cash back in-store and online. or anything i want to buy is going to be on rakuten. rakuten is easy to use, free to sign up and it's in over 3,000 stores. i buy a lot of makeup. shampoo, conditioner. books, food. travel.
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welcome back. i'm fredricka whitfield. democra democrats in the senate say the case to call witnesses in president trump's impeachment trial has gotten stronger and now "the new york times" is reporting that the trump administration is refusing a court order in which the white house discussed freezing u.s. aid to ukraine. haley bird jins oins me. what else do we know about these emails and why the white house is refusing to release them. >> the white house says it reveals the deliberative and presidential communications process and it would interfere with that. that is their argument. democrats are responding by saying this just emphasizes the
need for witnesses in the trial. senate minority leader chuck schumer has called for both of the two officials involved in these emails to testify in the senate trial and he has met pushback from senate majority leader mitch mcconnell and republicans who say -- who argue that the house should have taken the time to go through the courts and get testimony from witnesses. both of these officials refuse to testify in the house impeachment inquiry and house speaker nancy pelosi argued at the time it was not the house's job to wait out the president while they were, as she called it, stonewalling in their investigation. >> which underscores how they came up with the article of obstruction of congress. those requests were refused and the argument for democrats is this adds fuel to the fire. fascinating stuff. haley byrd, thank you so much. some people called him a hero. others called him a ruthless
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commander led an elite branch of the islamic revolutionary guard corpse. he was one of the most powerful people in the middle east and his death raises questions about the future of the region. nick robertson is in riyadh. most americans were not familiar with soleimani until friday so how did he become such a powerful force while also remaining largely unknown to the rest of the world? >> reporter: yeah, he really was the spirit of iran's proxies throughout the region, bringing in the weapons, the money, currying their favor, directing them to kind of expand iran's ideology throughout the region. he kept a low profile for many years because he was wanting to operate below the radar, but this is somebody who became battle hardened and battle tested soon after the iranian revolution.
iran's most revered and feared commander, qasem soleimani, leaves a gaping hole in iran's war-fighting machine. the foremost fighter killed in this devastating rocket strike was both the brains and the brawn behind the proxies loyal to ayatollahs across the middle east. he began his war fighting in the 1980s, a young man in his 20s rising rapidly through iran's military ranks in the brutal iran-iraq war. at least half a million troops were killed. chemical weapons used by both sides. soleimani emerged battle tested, battle hardened, a hero. soon after, becoming a commander in the irgc, iran's islamic revolutionary guard corp. within a decade he is risen
again to head the irgc's elite quds force. following the u.s. invasion of iraq in 2003, soleimani became iran's point man, directing and disbursipersbursing funding to proxies killing u.s. forces. a signature of their attacks in the early days was the deadly ied's designed to pierce u.s. humvee's armor, spraying troops inside with molten copper. in 2007, u.s. commanders had soleimani in their crosshairs in iraq but didn't pull the trigger. the next decade, as war escalated in syria, soleimani was instrumental in keeping syrian dictator bashar al assad in power. long before russia came to assad's aid, soleimani, now a major general, was to be seen striding the battlefield, directing iranian forces. he had become tehran's vital
overseas visionary, aligning the theocracies expansionists by directing proxies in iraq, syria, yemen and their massive partner, hezbollah in lebanon. tehran had cultivated soleimani's image at home. the supreme leader, in a rare display, awarded him high military honors. the regime was reinforcing his status as not just a war hero but a national hero. there is no one with his iconic status waiting in the wings to replace him. iran is weakened without him. they have replaced him with his deputy but he doesn't appear to have that same charisma. think of soleimani in this wa, , he was the point man from tehran to moscow to convince the russians to get involved in the
war in syria. he wasn't just a battlefield commander. he was so much more. >> nick robertson, thank you so much. let's talk further about all of this now with cnn contributor and co-author of the book "agent storm", tim lister with me now. good to see you, tim. just on that point that nick made, what kind of impact might the killing of soleimani have on the entire region since he was involved in so many things? >> i think a huge impact because there was no one quite like him in the iranian apparatus. he had been the leader of the quds forces since 2003. he knew people throughout the region. his connections with hezbollah in lebanon with the various shia militia in iraq, he had no peer. he was also very charismatic. they used to call him the goat thief because he would go behind enemy lines and bring goats back for his soldiers to eat. he was a war hero but he had this understated charisma about him. consistently in iranian polls he
was up there as the most two or three most popular people in the country. >> what ia journey because the u.s. worked with the quds force for a very long time and he was very much involved in that. what happened? >> this was way back just after 9/11 because they had a common enemy, the taliban, and the iranians were offering basically to help the americans but soleimani was strategic and said let's not do a full frontal assault on the taliban. let's work on helping the taliban's enemies which is what they did. they joined forces to supply the northern alliance which eventually helped in ousting the talib taliban. then a couple years after that came the axis of evil speech by george w. bush and all bets were off and since then they've been absolutely on opposite sides. soleimani has always been iran's
point man when it has come to challenging the u.s. across the entire region. >> so it was taliban, al qaeda and now it's isis that is a great nemesis, not just of the u.s. but the world. so what might this takedown do? how might it impact the battle against isis? >> i think you have to look at iraq as not a failed state but a rapidly failing state. it's had three months of protests on the streets. the prime minister resigned. they haven't found a consensus figure to replace him and now you have attacks on the u.s. presence in iraq which have been going on for some time. 11 different rocket attacks, one american death. the american force there is after this going to come under a lot of pressure from iraq which is exactly what happened before the rise of isis. additionally, next door you have 500 u.s. forces in syria who are as vulnerable. >> so you even see the u.s. troops that remain, 5,000 or so
in iraq, will now be in a more self-defense kind of mode? >> i think they're going to be looking in the rearview mirror. the ability to have that cooperate against a renewed isis threat. there is still an organization with a massive underground presence and plenty of money and there are plenty of signs that they are regenerating and that requires a thorough counter-terrorism effort on the part of the iraqis and americans. >> when iran says forceful relation, retaliation, do you see that iran's ballistic readiness is anywhere part of that component? >> that would be part of the intelligence assessment, but there are plenty of reports that iran has moved short range ballistic missiles into iraq under the custody of its allies inside iraq. they have a huge ballistic missile arsenal, but i don't think we should forget that through the quds force iran can operate almost anywhere in the world. in the past they've gone after
israeli interests for example, in thailand, india, south america. they've also got a presence with hezbollah in africa. this is a global organization. >> its tent cals are far reaching. >> they will bide their time and look for targets of opportunity but not just in iraq or syria, they could be anywhere. >> tim lister, always good to see you. thank you so much. coming up, what would happen if president trump refused to show up at a debate. >> maybe i'll just debate a recording or a hologram or something. >> former mayor pete buttigieg weighs in on that, plus the latest democratic fundraising numbers, next. ♪ ♪ this simple banana peel represents a bold idea: a way to create energy from household trash. it not only saves about 80% in carbon emissions... it helps reduce landfill waste. that's why bp is partnering with a california company: fulcrum bioenergy. to turn garbage into jet fuel.
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2020 race heats up. joining me right now, salena zito, national political reporter for the washington examiner and "new york post." happy new year. >> happy new year. >> could this crisis withvoters their final decisions on who they want to select? >> absolutely. i think that foreign policy for the most part has been maybe fourth or fifth on the list of the important things that the democratic candidates have been talking about and not high on the list, not because it's not a high priority but because it's not been something that's been pressing. so it could change. iowa always tends to be volatile towards the end so, you know, it could make a change within these candidates, but also a lot of these candidates tend to be
against america being in another war. and so it might not have as large an impact in a primary race as it will as if this continues into a general election. >> well look, i mean, obama, part of his campaign was not endorsing the war in iraq and for now president trump, he too said it would be his mission to get u.s. troops, get americans out of endless conflicts, and now here we are. >> right. and we're in a really weird position, right, because we don't know what's next. we know what just happened but we don't know what the long range response is going to be. trump has gone outside of republican orthodoxy to not want to be invested in long range wars, but i don't think any of
us know what happens next. is that where we're heading or was this a one off. >> right. let's now look at some fundraising numbers because that is a big focus for many of the candidates. take a look, sanders leading democrats. however in general they all are behind trump, the incumbent, with $46 million in re-election campaign funding. so give us an idea, how much does this money make a difference for these candidates, particularly now just 30 days away from the first contest in iowa? >> i think the disadvantage is they essentially have to start over once they win the nomination. but i don't think democrats lack in enthusiasm in terms of donating. and while they are all donating for different candidates at this moment, the rallying cry in
particular among progressives and liberals and the more left of the party is essentially whoever the nominee is, we're going to get behind them and support them because they want to beat trump. so i think that in the end it's pretty much going to be neck in neck come october, come september, whoever is the democratic nominee and/trump are all going to be raising a ton of money. >> all of these candidates are being dotted with some interesting questions while on the campaign trial and just recently former mayor, pete buttigieg, responded to a question, what would you do if president trump refused to debate, and this is what buttigieg said. listen. >> i can't make the president do anything, but i'll say this, if he refuses to show up and debate his challenger, it would be a tremendous display of weakness on the part of a president whose
weakness has been demonstrated in many ways over the years. if it goes that far, i don't know, maybe we'll be creative. maybe i'll just debate a recording or a hologram or something. >> selena, does anybody think that would actually happen, that a sitting president would not show up to debate his democratic challenger? >> well, it's not like trump hasn't done that before. he did it in the primaries in 2016, and it only made him more popular with the electorate. he has demonstrated, whether you like him or not, the ability to blow up institutions and blow up protocols that we typically do whether he's campaigning or whether it's policy, and has been able to be successful in doing that. i think at the end of the day he probably ends up doing at least one debate just because i don't think he can resist not being
there and talking about what he's been successful at. but make no mistake, whether he shows up or not, it's not going to change his supporters' minds. >> salena zito, thank you so much. >> thanks so much. the united states bracing for retaliation after the killing of iran's top military leader. is a cyber attack imminent, and what other ways could iran impact the united states? we'll talk about that next. and, before beyonce, before lady gaga, linda ron statstadt the first female pop icon. "the sound of my voice" airs tonight at 9:00, right here on cnn. i don't keep track of regrets.
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law enforcement agencies around the country are on high alert as iran promises harsh revenge following the death of its top military general. u.s. officials are preparing for retaliation overseas as experts warn of potential iranian cyber attacks in the united states. joining me now to discuss, a former secret service agent and cnn law enforcement analyst, good to see you, jonathan. so, does iran pose a significant threat to american computer systems, in your view? >> yes, they absolutely do. i just want to bring a little bit of greater context too.
we're not just talking about our traditional network systems here when we talk about a cyber attack. at risk is also the operational technologies that control machinery and in other systems beyond a traditional network. so what are we facing here? iran is formidable in cyber space and launching cyber attacks is nothing new. the u.s. and iran have been volleying back and forth with cyber attacks for years. recently the u.s. had launched a cyber attack against iran's systems. so they have become a very challenging opponent. they have very sophisticated systems that they can utilize in their tool set of a cyber attack, and they have a history of attacking u.s. systems. they have attacked our financial systems, critical infrastructure. and i think it's important for the viewers to understand when we talk about a cyber attack with iran, the end state, the objective, isn't to ex full trait data for a financial gain.
it's to disrupt and undermine the credibility of financial systems in critical infrastructure. so to that point, manufacturing, the financial sector and anything that is associated with critical infrastructure remains a target of opportunity for an attack. >> so then knowing that, what are the things that we all need to be doing to prepare ourselves for a potential cyber attack? >> well, fred, it comes down to awareness and understanding what a cyber attack does and how it impacts our lives. the challenge with any type of cyber attack is that there's no pile of burning rubble to know that we have just been attacked, and that construct is something that the iranians have become very adept at leveraging to undermine the credibility of u.s. systems. that's their end goal. they're taking a long play approach to undermining credibility. at the end of the day they're
going to try to sow a psychological effect amongst u.s. citizens in terms of any type of cyber attack. how do you prepare? individuals need to understand that this could happen to them. businesses need to be prepared by ensuring that they are well versed in the attack methodology that comes out of not only iran but their proxies, and that they have policies and procedures such is incident response plans, business continuity plans. all of this is solidified right now. iran is telegraphing what they are going to do. we need to be prepared for it. >> jonathan, thank you so much for that. appreciate it. >> thank you. some stuff talk after this week's air strike on qasem soleima soleimani. the iran ambassador to the united nations calling the attack a violation of international law, so how should the u.n. respond?