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tv   The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer  CNN  January 7, 2020 3:00pm-4:00pm PST

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administration officials defend the intelligence calling it persuasive and insisting they were forced to kill iran's top general because an attack on americans was imminent. mcconnell's message. he announces he has the votes to begin president trump's impeachment trial. will be calls as democrats demand. we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." significant new developments in the crisis with iran including a closed door briefing that's just ended for eight key members of congress on the intelligence the president trump administration is using o justify the targeted killing of iran's top general. the president himself is hardening his line on iran saying we are prepared to attack if we have to and that the country will suffer consequences if it does anything it
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shouldn't. talking about iran. we're also following a major development in president trump's looming impeachment trial in the u.s. senate. the majority leader sayse has theotes needed to start the proceeding without any witnesses who democrats see as an essential part of a fair trial. we'll talk about all of this with senator chris murphy of the foreign relations committee. our correspondents and analysts are standing by. first, straight to the white house. jim acosta is on story for us. the president and his team are saying there was absolutely no choice. attack on americans was just days away. >> reporter: that's right. they are wrapping up a meeting with the gang of eight on capitol hill. the lawmakers are mostly tight lipped coming out of that meeting a short while ago. the trump administration is providing the public with
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conflicting explanations for the president's claim that the strike on qassem soleimani prevented an iminnoceminent attd the president adding more anxiety declaring that the u.s. is ready the strike if iran retaliates. >> he was a monster. >> reporter: with u.s. troops on high alert for iran to retaliate after the targeted killing of general qassem soleimani, president trump is beating the drums of war vowing to respond if tehran hits back. >> if iran does anything that they shouldn't be doing, they're going to be suffering the consequences. we're prepare tod to attack wp president appear to walk back his warning that u.s. forces could destroy iranian cultural sites. >> you know what, i like to obey the law. they kill our people. they blow up our people and we have to be very jengentle with their cultural institutions. >> reporter: he depended taking
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out soleimani. >> we had tremendous information we'd been following him for a long time. we followed his path for those three days. they were not good stops. we didn't like where he was stopping. we saved a lot of lives. >> reporter: mark esper is also talking tough. >> we're not looking to start a war with iran but we are prepared to finish one. >> reporter: with democrats demanding the administration provide proof. >> ticking time bomb, imminent threat. is that what you're saying? >> i think the threat was being orchestrated by soleimani. that's what he was doing on the ground both in baghdad and damascus and elsewhere. i think it was only matter of day, certainly no more than weeks. >> reporter: esper clarified that to a matter of days at a
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pentagon briefing. >> i think it's more prepared to say days. >> reporter: that was more specific than what mike pompeo said. >> you need look no further than the days led up to the strike taken against soleimani. >> reporter: the president claimed he didn't know about an unsigned letter from a u.s. general that appear to signal that american forces were pulling out of iraq. that letter confused iraqi leaders who had just voted to ask american military to leave the country. >> i understand it was an unsigned letter. this is the right point. >> reporter: democrats are pouncing on the president's handling of the crisis with joe biden saying mr. trump can't be trusted. >> all we have heard from this administration are shifting explanations, evasive answers. repeated assertions of an imminent threat. neither the american people, allies or no one around the world seems to be taking his
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word for. >> reporter: on impeachment the president dismissed an offer from john bolton to testify at mr. trump's trial. bolton wouldn't have much to offer despite top administration officials testifying otherwise. >> that will be up to the lawyers and the snaenate. we'll see how they feel. he would know nothing about what we're talking about. >> reporter: the white house hasn't been transparent with the public since the kuilling of soleimani. a deputy defense minister treattrea tweeted he met with the president and his son-in-law on monday to discuss security issues in the region. the problem is and you're looking at it right here, the saudis released the photos well before white house acknowledged the meeting took place in a pointed statement that organization criticized the administration saying it's disturbing to see that the government of saudi arabia have more transparency than the white house about a meeting that the
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president has in the oval office. moments after the statement was released the president tweeted about his meeting and we were just mentioning a few moments ago the pentagon had a briefing today. the state department had a briefing with those two secretaries but we have not had a traditional white house briefing in more than 300 days despite the possibility of war and the president being removed from the office. no briefings over here at the white house. >> thank you very much. let's go over to the pentagon right now. barbara starr is working her sources for us. you have some mu new reporting that u.s. forces in the middle east are on high alert. how close is the united states to war with iran? >> reporter: at that pentagon press conference defense secretary mark esper made clear his two top priorities on this right now are protection of u.s. forces in the region and ensuring they are fully ready to fight, if it comes to that.
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>> i think we should expect they will retaliate in some way shape or form. either through their proxies as they have been doing now for how many years and or with by their own hand. we take this one step at a time. we're prepared for any contingency and then we'll respond appropriately to whatever they do. >> does the u.s. have any responsibility or obligation to also deescalate or is that in your view solely in iran's court? >> we reached the point where we had to act in self-defense. we had to take appropriate action. at this point the ball is in their court. what they do next will determine what happens in the subsequent move. >> thank you. let's go to capitol hill right now. a select group of lawmakers have been getting briefed on the
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intelligence behind the decision to target iran's top general. our congressional correspondent is joining us right now. what are you picking up, phil? >> this is the highest level briefing that can be given to congressional leaders. we had two administration, at least two administration officials up here meeting with those leaders. the director of the nsa and joseph mcquire. this bipartisan briefing for people including nancy pelosi, chuck schumer, mitch mcconnell, the chairs and rankings is it becomes amid continued questions for democrats about the decision to strike qassem soleimani in iraq earlier this week. democrats have raised serious concerns about the intelligence that led to that attack. they have raised serious concerns about whether there was a strategy to come after that attack. we were sitting outside the meeting that was taking place in a classify room. none of the leaders say anything at all which is somewhat par for
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the course. they are not allowed to discuss these meetings. they are not allowed to talk about the intelligence. this meeting comes before all senators, all members of the house will get their own briefing from top administration officials tomorrow. republicans have stayed very closely behind the president on this action making clear qassem soleimani was a terrorist, in their words. somebody who needed to be taken out. the big question going forward is twofold. what happen next and two what about the intelligence. one of the questions i've heard from members of both parties is the administration sent up a classified war powers notification. that notification, according to members in both parties i've spoken to didn't have the type of information that those members believe should be classified. it all goes into the idea that members aren't sure they are getting the type of information they should be getting. the administration will keep that effort going tomorrow in those briefings. >> the impeachment trial in the senate is also looming. the senate majority leaders mitch mcconnell says he has the
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votes that set the rules for the trial without democratic support. how significant is this? >> reporter: no shortage of historic things going on. it's significant for this particular reason. senate majority leader mitch mcconnell who has 53 republicans have been able to keep them in line to move forward on this. back in 1999 the clinton impeachment trial, this initial rules resolution was bipartisan. passed 100-0. the impasse between mcconnell and schumer over whether or not to have witnesses set in place at the beginning of the trial has not broke. because of that and because mitch mcconnell was able to keep all republicans in line with his proposal, he's willing to move forward on a partisan basis. it would allow for both sides, the house managers and the white house defense team to file briefs. thep they would give presentations and then senators would ask questions of both teams. after that point either the managers, defense team or senators could ask for witnesses, could ask to subpoena
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documents. schumhochumer wanted those thin the beginning of the trial. it's clear mcconnell is willing to move forward to get the trial started. still don't have the articles of impeachment. we'll hear what speaker pelosi he has her plans are. >> we'll wait and see. thank you. let's talk about all of this with chris murphy of connecticut. senator, thanks so much for joining us. let me get your reaction to all the news that's unfolding. the defense secretary says it was only a matter of days before soleimani was going to carry out what the president insists would have been a very big attack against americans. have you seen any intelligence to support that claim? >> none. i know that the eight leaders were briefed today but it's very
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irregular to be five days after a massive u.s. military attack on a foreign government and to not have that information shared with members of congress. there's no reason why members of congress and the american public should be in the dark for this long. the administration's burden, is not just to produce evidence of the imminence of this attack but also to explain why this level of provocative non-strategic escalation was necessary. there's all sorts of ways the u.s. military games out protecting our assets from possible attack. you harden your defenses. you go after the other country or group's military. they knew it was going to unleash a fury of down side consequences to the united states that we're seeing today. i think secretary esper has to decide at one point they're
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saying that this attack was necessary in order to prevent future attacks against the united states and today esper are saying they anticipate new attacks being launched against the united states. attacks that might be happening as we speak. i think the administration is just sending confusing signals left and right. we're all looking forward to this briefing tomorrow. >> i know you have seen some of the intelligence that's been made available to members of congress, but you'll be formally briefed by trump administration officials. give us the most important specific question you want answered. >> i want to understand why they felt that assassinating qassem soleimani was the necessary step and whether they had gamed out all the disasterous consequences that have already accrued to the united states. setting aside the inevitable military reprisal from iran. we already had iraq order all of
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our troops out the country or take steps to do so. iran restart their nuclear weapons program. nato suspend their anti-asisis mission. that's a set of disasterous consequences for u.s. national security. they need to explain whether they anticipated those consequences and what they are going to do to stop this from descend descending into a march toward war. >> mark esper says they are not looking to start a war but are prepared to finish one. iran will respond to what it perceives as state terrorism on the part of the president of the united states. how do you deescalate all of this and avoid a war? >> let's talk on this notion of
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finishing war with iran. the reason we're in this mess is because we still have 5,000 troops in iraq who haven't been able to finish a war with iraq in iraq that started in 2003. the idea that anybody in the department of defense thinks you could finish war with iran, a place that's twice as big as iraq where a counter insurgency will exist forever just denies the reality of the middle east. there's got to be a diplomatic path at some point. there's got to be an off ramp that the united states offers iran. right now that doesn't exist. there's no high level communication between the two sides. if that doesn't occur very soon this may well lead to a conventional war or a war involving other allies in the region like israel that will be potentially catastrophic. >> on saturday you tweeted this. the moment we all feared is likely upon us. an unstable president in way
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over his head, panicking with all his experienced advisers having quit and only the sycophanic amateurs remaining. the former u.s. ambassador to the u.n. nikki haley was on fox last night and she said this. listen to this. >> you don't see anyone standing up for iran. you're not hearing any of the gulf members. you're not hearing chinchina. you're not hearing russia. the only ones that are mourning the loss of soleimani are our democratic leadership. no one else in the world. >> kwhawhat's your reaction? >> that's ridiculous and unfortunate she would choose to use those words. i believe it should be a u.s. priority to disable and weaken iran but everything this administration has done has accrued to the exact opposite
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result. iran is more powerful in the region. they are closer to getting a nuclear weapon than when donald trump became president. they were dmot finot firing roc when he became president. now they are. iran is more powerful today. the reason i'm so critical of this president. the reason i'm so worry about letting him continue down this policy and path towards war is because everything he has done has made iran more menacing in the region. that's the reality. >> thanks so much for joining us. >> thank you. just ahead, we'll have more on the closed door iran intelligence briefing that just ended for key u.s. lawmakers. does it show the imminent threat the trump administration forced it to kill iran's top general?
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president trump says his decision to kill to iranian general, qassem soleimani, saved a lot of lives. his administration has yet to publicly reveal any evidence proving an attack was iminnoceniminnocenminent. as you heard the president said qassem soleimani was plotting a very big, very bad attack against american soldiers, against american diplomats. congressional leaders, eight of them, have just been briefed behind closed doors. have you seen any intelligence that gives credence to the claims that such an attack was imminent? >> i have not. i have no reason to believe that's true. >> tell us why. you're going to get formal briefing tomorrow together with all of your colleagues in the house and the senate.
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tell us why you don't believe it's true. >> when you look at the circumstances of the strike, there's nothing to back it up. there were no warnings to congress, which there should have been. the only statement we had was the secretary of defense vaguely warning about we're prepared to protect ourselves proactively if necessary. no intelligence running around here in congress or in washington leading anyone to believe there was some imminent threat. there are times reports saying it was business as normal with qassem soleimani, nothing new. the president was given options and chose the most extreme in a way that looks impulsive and uninformed and not much thought going into consequences. >> what do you say to the defense secretary, mark esper,
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who said an attack that would be launched against american diplomat, against american personnel was only days away. >> he's going to have to produce evidence for us to accept that. i think it's very dubious in nature. >> at this briefing tomorrow, if you have a chance, what would you ask these top administration officials on the strike? >> i think i'd want to know, what was new about this particular visit to baghdad by soleimani who had been there many times and has been tracked by the united states intelligence for many occasions. what made this one different? if they want to assert because he was plotting something really big, they'll have to provide evidence of that. i don't know that we're going to accept that sight unseen. they will have to provide s
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substantiation. >> you heard mitch mcconnell say he has enough votes necessary to start an impeachment trial in the senate without an agreement on witnesses. is it time for the speaker to turn over those two articles of impeachment to the senate? >> i'm going to leave that judgment to hear, wolf. i will say that i supported her with holding the articles over the holiday break in other words the try to buy some space for chuck schumer and mitch mcconnell to work out an agreement as had been worked out in the previous impeachment trial of bill clinton back in 11 1998. unfortunately, that fell through. mitch mcconnell is willing to do anything at any time to prevail, including hear an impeachment. i think that's a very sad day for the united states senate.
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i think, frankly, it creates the impression this will be a sham trial with a rigged hearing. >> congressman, thanks so much for joining us. >> thank you. just ahead, does u.s. intelligence show an attack on americans was just days away as the trump administration now insists. new tough talk from the pentagon as the defense secretary says the u.s. isn't looking to start a war with iran but is prepared to finish one. go to hilton instead of a travel site and you'll experience a whole new range of emotions like... the relaxing feeling of knowing you're getting the best price. and the magic power of unlocking your room with your phone. i can read minds too. really? book at hilton.com and get the hilton price match guarantee. and i recently had a heart attack. it changed my life. but i'm a survivor. after my heart attack, my doctor prescribed brilinta. it's for people who have been hospitalized for a heart attack. brilinta is taken with a low-dose aspirin. no more than 100 milligrams as it affects how well brilinta works.
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talk of war as american
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forces go on high alert in wake of the targeted killing of iran's top general and threat of harsh revenge by iran. we're getting word that ten rockets have hit the air base which houses a lot of u.s. troops in iraq right now. it looks like this may be the beginning of iraqi retailuation f -- retaliation. >> it's possible. rocket attacks have become a staple for the pnf particularly in western iraq. this is has how that been acting under the last couple of months. we don't know a lot. this could be an uncoordinated attack or could be something larger. could be the beginning of a series of retaliatory strikes. clearly demonstrates the degree to which they do feel emboldened to retaliate and the degree to
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which u.s. forces in the region have got to make sure protections are in place. >> if this is the start of iranian retaliation for the killing of the iranian general, ten rockets going after base in iraq where a lot of u.s. troops, potentially, could result in a further escalation especially if american troops are killed or injured. >> if this is part of that response, it's coming a lot sooner than had been thought. experts said once the burial and funeral services is when we might start to see responses. they could come in different sizes and places. this is sudden, direct. this would be no mistaking what the reaction of this is to. the u.s. said iran have two choices. they can escalate which in the words of the national security
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adviser, would be a mistake, or they can come to the table. the trump administration said the killing of qassem soleimani was an effort to deescalate. no one who knows anything about iran believes that qassem soleimani would deescalate. this is very much ramping things up. that option of having iran come to the table which is what they said the second option was, today it was announced that the u.s. had rejected the visa of the foreign minister. to date we have fnot seen much detail around the intelligence that led to killing of qassem soleimani. that briefing just ended on capitol hill. >> i want to go to fred in tehran. we don't know where the rockets came from. we don't know who is responsible but what are you hear frg ting
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the iranians? >> reporter: well, so far as far as that attack is concerned, we haven't heard anything from the iranians yet. it is an interesting development that's going on there. the iranians since that targeted killing of qassem soleimani took place, they are certain signs that the iranians have been giving and telling us. senior adviser to the supreme leader was saying there would be a response by the iranians. a military response and that response could be against military targets. obviously, as you mentioned the air base is one of the largest military targets with u.s. troops there in all of iraq. to a certain extent that would fit the bill. the iranians also were quite keen to show that despite the fact that qassem soleimani was this towering figure for their military specifically for the revolutionary guards, the
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foreign operation wing and generally someone who was almost a legendary figure among the iranian military. the iranian also were very clear and very keen to point out that the revolutionary guards was not just qassem soleimani. they nominated a successor quickly and that successor said there would be revenge and there would be revenge against the u.s. military and this was something planned that the supreme leader was on board with. again, we don't know if that's necessarily the case that this could be the start of that but also, wolf, the ie yaranians we saying they're not in a rush to do this quickly. they say this would happen over a period of time.
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could this just be the beginning. could there be other things that take place. we know what the ultimate goal is. the u.s. will leave iran. he said he thinks it's the beginning of the end of america's presence in iran. it's much too early to tell whether this is part of that. >> stand by. we're getting statement from iran's islamic revolution guard corp. saying it's it the u.s. air base with tens of missiles. this is an you are jenurgent ba iranian television. what are you hearing over there arwa? >> reporter: well, what we do have from one paramilitary commander who is based not too
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far away is that ten rockets were fired. we don't know at this stage if any casualties were caused. according to this source the barrage that he had been hearing has ended. we don't know at this stage if there were any casualties. it's worth noting that the air base does not just house u.s. forces. it's a massive, sprawling complex where you also have the presence of the iraqi security forces themselves. also worth noting this is a location that has been hit in the past. it is potentially one of the targets that would be on a target list for the iranians, not just in the sense of what they are able to fire at it in the way they are saying that they have but also because of the presence of these iranian
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backed paramilitary forces here. the u.s. military has, if you'll remember, suspended its anti-isis operation and training missions because they want to be focused on forced protections. these types of attack even though they did take place in the past, not necessarily in this kind of intensity or under these circumstances with significantly high intentions that are taking place right now. it's too soon to tell if this is the beginning of something bigger or if this is just perhaps the testing of the waters to see what kind of a reaction there will be. most certainly we have been hearing over the last few nights various different reports of r mortars being fired toward the green zone. those landed just at the southern gate of the base.
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we have been seeing a slight up tick in activity over the last few nights. no significant reports of casualties in any of those attacks. we're waiting to try to get more information as to where exactly inside the air base these rockets may have hit and if there were any casualties caused by this. >> this could be the start of the iranian retaliation for the killing of the iraqi general. barbara starr is over at the pentagon. you heard the breaking news. the islamic revolutionary guard corps said it hit the u.s. air base with tens of missiles. what are you hearing from your sources at the pentagon? >> officials are behind closed doors. we believe they are on classified conference calls between washington and baghdad trying to determine what is happens. complicated by the fact that the pentagon shut down early today
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because of what was supposed to be a major snowstorm. it's very tough at this hour to get information. there's several things that frame the discussion right now. if these are rockets that may be one set of circumstances. those relatively short range. generally fired by iranian supported groups inside of iraq. if this does turn out to be some kind of an attack at multiple locations, we don't know that yet, if it turns out to be short range ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, we don't know that either, that's a significant ramp up by iranian forces and the iranian regime. that is what we're looking for. what kind of weapons have been fired. who fired them and how many bases in iraq did they fire against? this has been the concern that the iranian regime would engage in that kind of retaliation. right now what you have to
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remember is this is essentially u.s. forces under attack inside iraq. you have military families desperately concerned for information about their loved ones. you have the military here in washington trying to figure out what is happening. it's going to be very important one can think for the trump administration to come out and talk to the american people about what may be happening. we're not getting that at this hour and it's the middle of the night in baghdad. they are dealing with whatever they are dealing with. the real question is how far has iran gone in firing weapons against u.s. forces and right now we don't have a firm answer to that very critical question. >> we don't have any firm
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information about casualties or damage at this u.s. air base in iraq. this is a dramatic development. jim is joining us. mike pence was there in november, two months ago and the president himself visited the air base in december 2018 to visit with u.s. troops around christmas. while the president the other day returning from florida to washington didn't mention this base specifically, he did say this. we have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that's there. it's cost billions of dollars to build. we're not leaving unless they pay us back for started to launch rockets at this air base where there's a lot of u.s. troops and other foreign troops and if there's considerable damage, casualties, you know it will lead to u.s. retaliation. >> for sure.
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i've been to the base as well. it's an enormous facility. i'm hearing from inside iraq and in washington that the base is under some sort of attack. the key question is the degree. as barbara noted the difference between this being ballistic or cruise missiles or rockets because of size and damage of those weapons but also who would be the perpetrator. if it's the rockets, more likely iranian proxy. if it's missiles, that's more likely to be come fing from ira. at this point the military is trying to assess while focusing on keeping the many u.s. forces based there safe. still in the assessment mode at this point and the difference between those two would be significant. regardless, whether it's a proxy or iran proper, this would appear to be an iranian retaliation for the soleimani
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assassination which u.s. forces in the region and iraq have been bracing themselves for. there's some speculation iran might bide its time and might keep its powder dry. if this turns out to be what it appears to be it shows that retaliation was swift. also we should be aware that one day's retaliation doesn't amount to all of the retaliation because iran has enormous resources at its disposal. if you were to take in sum total the attacks carried out by iran or proxies in the last several months, it runs the gammet. you had mines placed on oil tankers in the persian gulf. you had a bomb on base that killed the u.s. contractor. you had the surrounding protests and attacks on the u.s. embassy. now you have the u.s. bracing for the possibility of some sort of cyber attack. iran's capabilities range broadly and if this is a rocket
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attack or a missile attack this would be one in a spectrum of possibilities that iran might threaten and carry out. >> let's go to tehran. fred is on the scene for us right now. ed, i take it iranian television is broadcasting what they are calling a crushing response to the u.s. aggression? >> reporter: yeah that's exactly what they are saying. i think that's really significant that the revolutionary guard corps, specifically, is already taking responsibility for what happened. it was one of the interesting things i've heard over the past couple of days. one of the things that really angered them a lot about the targeted killing of qassem soleimani was the fact the u.s. openly took responsibility for it. it was one of the things that
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the foreign minister said today they killed qassem soleimani and then they took responsibility for it. the iranians saying that made it an open aggression as they called it against iran. therefore, they say they felt they needed to do a response to that. now, apparently, this does seem to be part of that response. the revolutionary guard we're getting this from press tv which is one of state run news television networks here saying the irgc has warned the u.s. of more crushing responses in case of new aggression. it does seem to make it look like this is a response to the killing of qassem soleimani. that is a banner that's on press tv and the irgc is saying it will target any jeregional stat that becomes a platform for u.s. aggression and that was a second banner that was reading. this does seem to be a very, very significant development and from what we're seeing in the early stage, does look like this
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is one of the responses to the killing of qassem soleimani. whether or not that's it, no one knows. what i can tell you is i think it was two days ago the head of the revolutionary guard corps said there would be a strategic retaliation seeming to indicate it would be over a longer period of time and he also said it would be over a vast geography. chances are this could be the beginning. >> looks like this is the start. let's go to the white house. i take it the president is already being briefed on this. >> reporter: they are aware of this over at the white house. this president now faces a very critical test. he will face the biggest question of his presidency and that is whether to retaliate and how severely to this apparent iranian retaliation and we're going to have to wait and see what happens in the days ahead and the hours ahead.
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the white house just put out a statement in the last several minutes. this is from the white house press secretary. it says we're aware of the reports of attacks the on u.s. facilities. the president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team. that's all in terms of a comment. you can look back to what the president was saying earlier today when he was sitting down with greek prime minister. he was forewarning the iranians that if they were to retaliate, if they were to strike back, seek vengeance for the killing of qassem soleimani, that there would be reprisals. there would be retribution. he said there would be severe consequences. now the president has drawn his own red line. he didn't use the words red line but he did that in the oval office earlier today. the question will be whether the president enforces that. the other thing we should point out is the president is familiar with this air base and so are
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officials over here at the white house. the president visited this air base december 26th of 2018. he was paying a visit to soldiers there on the base for christmas a couple of years ago and so it's possible, you're seeing some vid yoef that right he right here. less than a couple of years ago. it's possible the iranians were well aware of this and perhaps entered this into their calculations when trying to surmise what would be the best way to get the president's attention. the president's attention has been gotten by the iranians. this is exactly what many foreign policy and national security analysts feared here in washington. a lot of democrats have been talking about over the last 72 hours that the president by targeting soleimani has set this chain of events into motion and the question is whether the president will be able to get on
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top of it and handle it without this blowing up into just a full blown military conflict between the united states and iran which is obviously not something the president campaigned on. he campaigned these kinds of conflicts. >> arwa damon is in baghdad for us right now. i know you're getting information on this, but it looks like it's the start of an iranian retaliatory strike against the united states for the killing of qassem soleimani, the iranians putting out a very strong statement saying that this potentially is only just the beginning. they say that this will be the islamic revolutionary guard corp. is warning the u.s. that this is just the beginning of a crushing response in case of new aggression. what are you hearing over there
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in baghdad? >> reporter: just very scant information at this stage. all we really can confirm is that it does seem as though the al-assad air base has been hit by at least ten rockets. let's look at the context at which all of this is happening, wolf. there's been all sorts of mixed messaging about whether or not the u.s. military is going to be withdrawing. there was that whole debacle over the letter that was inadvertently sent to the iraqi government that made it seem like the americans were beginning to pull out. and you had very strong statements from the u.s. side from the secretary of defense, from president trump, about how the americans were not withdrawing. president trump has been threatening sanctions on iraq. and those threats, those positions, have had a reaction from a number of iran's proxies in iraq saying that if america doesn't withdraw, they are going to be creating a resistance
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force to try to go after the americans, to try to force that to come around. it could very well be, wolf, that in reaction to the u.s. so far at least saying that they are not withdrawing just yet at this point in time that those forces on the ground or iran itself because remember their goal is also to get the u.s. military out of iraq. the goal, both for iran and for its proxies in iraq, because one of the main groups, paramilitary groups leader was also killed along side qassem soleimani, is to try to force the americans and foreign forces to leave. is this something of a first warning of what is to come, perhaps, to try to push the americans in that direction? we're not entirely clear at this stage. but one thing has been made very clear, wolf, ever since the americans decided to take out
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soleimani and abu mahdi al mu happen disand that is they threw iraq into this battle that's been brewing for some time, and this is a country that's been begging to be left out of it. obviously it is far too late for that. and iraq is in a very difficult position because if u.s. forces stay, this type of violence most certainly is something that we can expect to be seeing. but of course if u.s. forces leave, the country's vulnerable to the likes of isis. but again still trying to get a lot more information at this stage, but suffice to say this is a country that right now is on edge and things might be beginning. >> i want to bring back jim sciutto. let's not forget this is just a little air base or a little military facility, this is the major u.s. air base in iraq. there are sophisticated aircraft there, helicopters, a lot of u.s. troops. this is the air base that the
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president referred to as a billion-dollar air base, billions of dollars that the u.s. spent developing and building this air base, if in fact the revolutionary guard corps launched these air strikes as they're claiming they did, this is a big deal. >> a lot of personnel and a lot of equipment means a lot of targets, sadly. i will say that there is a natural momentum to cycles of escalation of something like this. that's something that senior military officials expressed to me in the past several days that they're concerned about, tit for tat it has a speed of its own. and the pitch of that can rise very quickly. and we've already seen that in the last week or so, right? you had an iranian attack on a base killed a u.s. contractor. you had the attack on the embassy. you had the u.s. killing of soleimani, and now you have what appears to be an attack on a u.s. base there. the other point i will make is this, wolf, part of the threat
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assessment, and this comes from our panel, prior to the decision to kill soleima was precisely an iranian threat to u.s. bases in the region including al-assad. and there was particular attention to the movement of what are known as grad missile trucks. they're basically pick up trucks with rocket launchers on the back of them, the movement of them close to bases. if this turns out to be a rocket attack, it could be the kind of attack that the pentagon was concerned about before launching the decision to kill soleimani. it could be. and we know that al-assad was one of the bases they were concerned about prior to this. >> let me take it to barbara starr at the pentagon. i don't know if they're releasing more information over there. i assume a sophisticated u.s. base like this has patriot air defense missiles, an iron dome to deal with these kinds of rockets. we've seen a lot of that going on in israel as you know. but what are you hearing, barb? >> if it's rockets, they do have
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some equipment to try and sense that they are coming in. i think the bigger question as you are mentioning about patriot batteries, if the iranians were shooting cruise missile, short range ballistic missiles, those are the kind of targets that a patriot missile defense battery would go after. and that's why they have really increased the number throughout the middle east of those very sophisticated anti-air systems. so, that would be a big concern. i think it's just important -- we don't know the exact framework of everything that is transpiring at this hour. we do no iranians are claiming credit for this rocket attack on al-assad, very significant. we don't know if there's casualties, equipment destroyed, we don't know if they were able to stop the rockets. we just don't have enough detail right now and that may be the most concerning thing to the pentagon and to the u.s. military overseas as they scramble to deal with this situation. they're going to be looking at
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the radars. they're going to be looking at signals intelligence, satellite feeds. they will be looking right now at every single piece of information they have trying to determine if anything was fired from inside iran which would be that very significant escalation or if the electronic intelligence they get shows them that these were rockets fired nearby by iranian supported militias. this is really right now chasing the intelligence, chasing the high-tech information that they have to try and determine what they can find out about all of this. >> fred is in tehran for us. fred, this is not a proxy that the iranians claim were responsible for launching these rockets into this u.s. air base in iraq. the islamic revolutionary guard corps on iranian television is claiming responsibility. >> reporter: yeah, yeah. they certainly are. i think that's something that's very, very significant because of course this is the branch of the iranian military that qassem soleimani was very much a part
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of and very much one of the leaders of. he was the ed had of the foreign operations wing of the irgc. and i think exactly what barbara is saying is going to be one of the key questions. what kind of weapons were used in this? were these simple unguided rockets that were used or were these potentially maybe smaller ballistic missiles or even cruise missiles. one of the things, wolf, that military figures in iran have been telling me is they've been saying that their ballistic missile program and cruise missile program is something they've seriously invested into and something that has become more and more sophisticated over the years. so, if the iranians are trying to send a message that they can not only wage a conflict against the united states using their proxy forces in other places, but also do this in a more conventional way as well, then that certainly could be weapons of choice that the iranians might use. so, i think barbara is absolutely right to point out that one of the key questions is certainly going to be where did these rockets initiate, were
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these potentially possibly cruise missiles, were these things fired over a longer distance, possibly even from iranian soil. that would certainly be significant for iranians as they're trying to show cas their capabilities that they have not just using militia forces but more conventional forces like for instance long distance rockets as well. and it goes back, wolf, to one of the things that the iranians have been telling me, senior military commanders have been telling me. they said there's definitely going to be a response after the killing of qassem soleimani. they say that is going to be a proportional response. now, what that is is something that's obviously very much tup for grabs. qassem soleimani was such an important figure for the iranians that a single target would not be enough to avenge his killing. >> this is a very dramatic development right now. the iranians claiming
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responsibility for the launching of rockets at the al-assad air base inside iraq. we don't know the damage. we'll see what the u.s. does next. aaron ber net is going to pick up our special coverage. >> this is cnn breaking news. >> good evening. i'm erin burnett. iran taking credit for an attack on an air base in iraq. they are based there. this is according to iran state run press television, the al-assad air base. that is the one we're talking about. it is 120 miles west of baghdad, hit by ten rockets. according to what we understand, tens of rockets. we are trying to get the details and the information. and according to the white house at this moment, the president has been briefed on this counterstrike. we have a team of r standingy from around

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