tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN December 31, 2019 2:00pm-3:00pm PST
andy cohen. anderson and andy. follow me on facebook, instagram and twitter at jake tapper and tweet the show at the lead. cnn, happy new year and i hope 2020 is a great one for you. thanks for being with us. our coverage on cnn continues right now. happening now, embassy attacks. protesters besiege the embassy and scaling walls and storming gates forcing a lockdown. and tonight a powerful response as u.s. helicopters and forces move in and there is a new threat from president trump. open to witnesses. key republican senators susan collins speaks out about the looming impeachment trial and criticized not only house democrats but also senate majority leader mitch mcconnell. game-changer. chuck schumer said new revelations about the hold on aid to ukraine are a major shift in the impeachment case against president trump. we'll talk this hour to one of the reporters who broke the story maggie haberman of the
"new york times." and kim's next move. a major speech by kim jong-un is just hours away. and the dictator has just announced he'll reveal a new strategic weapon in the near future. wolf blitzer is off today. i'm brianna keilar. this is a situation room special report. a powerful show of american force in the iraqi capital where apache helicopters are flying over the u.s. embassy following a violent attack by demonstrators protesting recent u.s. airstrikes. the embassy was placed on lockdown as hundreds tried to storm the compound, smashing windows and throwing rocks and starting fires. president trump is holding iran responsible and said the country will pay what he calls a very big price for any deaths or damage. and tonight a senior administration official tells cnn that the white house is very concerned about the situation escalating. we'll talk about that and more
with congressman john garamendi of the armed services committee and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. first let's go to cnn white house correspondent boris sanchez. the president has been following all of this from his mar-a-lago resort there in florida. >> reporter: that is right, brianna. as you mentioned we have new reporting that indicates that white house officials are very concerned about the situation at the embassy in baghdad. it is something they're following very closely. their fear that we could see an escalation tomorrow. an escalation of hostility worse than today on new year's day. president trump scrambling a response today but at least part of the focus remains on impeachment as he launched a fresh new attack against house speaker nancy pelosi. tonight president trump weighing a large response blaming iran for the attempted siege of the u.s. embassy in baghdad writing, quote, iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost or
damage incurred at any of our facilities. they will pay a very big price. this is not a warning. it is a threat. the president leaving his golf club after less than an hour this morning to address the erupting situation. protesters scaling walls, forcing the gates and setting fires inside of the heavily guarded compound while diplomats were trapped inside. a backlash against american airstrikes that killed dozens of members of an iran-backed militia group in iraq. the iraq prime minister and the president according to a state department spokesperson guaranteeing the safety of u.s. personnel inside the embassy. republicans senator lindsey graham who golfed with the president on monday tweeted that he met with trump and other officials about the raid today writing that trump is determined to protect americans adding, quote, no more benghazi, a
reference to the to 12 attack that killed ambassador chris stevens and three other u.s. nationals. but critics argue that the trump foreign policy has left the u.s. in danger. senator chris murphy scathing on twitter. the attack on our embassy in baghdad is horrifying but predictable. trump has rendered america impotent in the middle east. no one fears us. no one listens to us. america has been reduced to huddling in safe rooms hoping the bad guys will go away. what a disgrace. all of this as president trump continues to hammer house speaker nancy pelosi on his impeachment. tweeting, they produced no case. so now she doesn't want to go to the senate. she's all lies. most overrated person i know. trump also claiming that democrats will do anything to avoid a trial in the senate in order to protect sleepy joe biden. >> brianna, back to the embassy in iraq, the president made the
benghazi comparison on twitter a short time ago writing the anti-benghazi. white house are encouraged by the talks but they are ready for anything, brianna. >> boris, thank you so much. in west palm beach, florida, for us. i want to bring in arwa damon from istanbul and the u.s. is sending in additional forces, this includes apache helicopters to help protect the embassy. you could give us the latest? >> reporter: yeah, and they're also going to be sending in another unit of marines to try to bolster security at the embassy itself. this is what we understand is happening on the ground right now. the iraqi counter-terrorism units have finally moved in and secured a perimeter around the embassy itself but at the same time those protesters are still there, currently smaller in
number but they've set up tentss and based on what they are saying, they plan to stay. hezbollah, that shia militia group put out a statement saying this protest was as a result of anger, but also to send a message to the united states that they can quite literally march through all of the checkpoints, not get stopped and end up at america's doorstep. now this group is saying that these protests as they are putting it are open-ended. they don't plan on going anywhere until the u.s. actually leaves. so concerns that the situation could possibly escalate are very valid at this stage. especially given that the iraqi government doesn't necessarily seem like it could do much to control the situation, brianna. >> thank you for that report. and another republican senator is voicing concern about majority leader mitch mcconnell's vow to work with the white house on president trump's impeachment trial defense.
cnn congressional reporter lauren fox is here with more. and lauren, this standoff is continuing between nancy pelosi and mitch mcconnell. we're now hearing from susan collins who has not always stood with the president. >> that is right. and she sounds open to getting witnesses on capitol hill. although, she is sounding like mitch mcconnell to me. she's basically arguing what she needs to hear is the case from both sides an then make a determination and that is what the majority leader has been saying for the last two weeks. now susan collins did express frustration with both republicans and democrats that some folks aren't sounding all that impartial as they prepare to become jurors in this impeachment trial. here is what she said. >> it is inappropriate in my judgment for senators on either side of the aisle to prejudge the evidence. i have heard democrats like elizabeth warren saying that the president should be impeached, found guilty and removed from
office. i've heard the senate majority leader saying that he's taking his cues from the white house. there are centers on both sides of the aisle who to me are not giving the appearance of and the reality of judging this in an impartial way. >> and this, brianna, sounds a lot like what we heard from lisa murkowski, a republican from alaska. but another person who has an independent streak when it comes to the votes. sometimes she doesn't always vote with the party. but lisa murkowski also saying she had concerns about the way that mcconnell was going about this. >> so what is the time line now? how is this all going to play out, do you think? it is hard to pin down lawmakers when we ask about this. >> that is right. and i've been talking with leadership aids every single day
asking is anyone talking or communicating and the answer we're getting really is that this will all pick back up once lawmakers return to washington next week. we know that the house of representatives will be back next tuesday. that is the earlier that we could see them voting on those house managers an the earlier we expect nancy pelosi could dispatch the aurrticles of impeachment to the senate and whether that happens is a huge open question and might take some time for lawmakers to return, have some conversations. ask about the holidays and recoup in what happens next with the senate trial. >> they are fully on vacation. it is like everything is nuts and they are just timeout and we'll do it when we come back. lauren fox, thank you and happy new year. so let's get more on this with john garamendi of california, a member of the armed services committee. sir, thanks for joining us. >> good to be with you, brianna and happy new year to you and everybody out there. >> happy new year to you. the president at this point is
blaming iran for the storming of the american embassy compound in baghdad today. at least getting through one of the walls. he said, quote, iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost or damage incurred at any of the our facilities. they will pay a very big price. this is not a warning, it is a threat. that is -- that is essentially like a red line there. what do you make of what he has tweeted there. >> well the president does have the responsibility of protecting american lives at that embassy and other places in the region. no doubt about that. the question is how best to do that. certainly the military, the marines and others need to be prepared. they need to be reinforced and apparently that is happening. simultaneously, the iraqi government needs to get its act together and provide the protection that is required not only to the american embassy but every other embassy in the area. so there is two different tracks that need to be pursued here.
but brianna, all of this was totally predictable. we knew when the president ended the iran nuclear deal and began his maximum pressure campaign that it would result in pushback by iran, not necessarily by the iranian government, but by its proxy forces and that is precisely what is happening today. one of the proxy forces attacked the air base where americans were and then the united states went after the hezbollah militia backed by iran and now we're seeing the tit-for-tat. now they're going after the american embassy. and all of this was predicted over and over -- over the last two to three years. so here we are. the president must protect the embassy. no doubt about it. >> the republican certainly lindsey graham said the president is committed to making sure there are, as he puts it,
no more benghazi and president trump is calling this the anti-benghazi. how worried are you this could escalate to something in that category? do you think that people will have to evacuate? >> well, i'm certainly not in -- anywhere near there. the reports available indicate that the embassy is presently secure. that there are additional military marines and as you've already said apache helicopters in the area providing protection services. i don't think we're going to see another benghazi. we certainly would pray and hope that does not happen. beyond that, let's understand that this is a movement by a very specific militia organization that first attacked the americans at a iraqi facility and then they were attacked and now they're
responding once again by going after the u.s. embassy. it appears to be a small thing. simultaneously -- >> well, sir could i ask you about that because arwa damon said there are several shia militia including the one that the u.s. targeted. is that your understanding. there are several. there are several members of several militia participating in this. >> i don't know that. i do know that the principal militia that we attacked is -- is apparently the leader, there may be others. keep in mind there are many militia operating in iraq. most of them backed by iran and operating with instructions from iran. a major problem for the iraqi government that has been trying to incorporate those militia into its armed forces. with very limited success. once again, this is not
something that was unanticipated. the protest going on at the embassy, of course, is a result of the attack that we did on the hezbollah militia. we need to also understand that iran is in trouble in iraq. that there were street protests over the last almost two months now, very violent street protests in baghdad against the influence of iran. so it is a very unstable situation. one in which is now being played out at the american compound. i think it will settle down. i believe that the iraqi government has already dispatched troops into the area to bring it under control. i don't know what is going to happen with the ongoing protests, street protests by the anti-iran forces and the
anti-corruption forces in baghdad itself. so it is a very unstable situation. one in which the government of iraq is destabilized and, in fact, there has been a -- a retirement of the leadership and a new leadership will have to be put in place in the iraqi government. so, yes, it is intense and trouble some and it is dangerous. >> congressman john garamendi, thank you for joining us. >> thank you. up next, senate leader chuck schumer calls the latest "new york times" revelations about the freeze on ukraine aid a game-changer and next i'll speak with with one of the correspondents who wrote the story, maggie haberman of the "times." so, we got jean-pierre. but one thing we could both agree on was getting geico to help with renters insurance. ♪ yeah, geico did make it easy to switch and save.
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senate democratic leader chuck schumer calls "the new york times" latest revelations about the ukraine aid freeze a game-changer. the times in depth article details events that took place during the trump administration 84-day freeze in military aid while the president demanded announcement of investigations to help him politically, veekss into joe biden and his son. and joining us magy haberman and
a cnn political analyst. great story, maggie, and in particular you describe this very dramatic scene in the oval office where the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the then national security adviser john bolton, they're basically teaming up to urge president trump to release aid to ukraine. and they're making the case that this is good for america. it almost sounds like an intervention, maggie. >> to an extent, brianna, this meeting which we had not been reported before, that we learned of, showed that the national security apparatus both was putting on more of a united front than i think we had understood before and what we troor -- trying to do with the piece is understand what happened during this roughly three-month period. they were putting on this united front and appealing to the president in terms that they thought he could understand or would be receptive to. so for instance, mark esper, said to the president, that this is really money that comes back
to the u.s. anyway. and he was talking about it in sort of strictly transactional terms. they did describe it as the right thing to do for the country repeatedly and i think that they felt very strongly about it. i think on the one hand you had budget officials and some advisers to the white house and the president who saw their role as carrying out what the president wanted and trying to find a way to accommodate that and then others like bolton, like mark esper and pompeo who worried this would create broader problems. >> how significant is it that president trump chose to disregard what they were telling him and hold this aid up to ukraine even as he was having this fierce opposition from the top aides and advisers. >> one of the things that we learned as we were reporting is the degree to which people who are saying, who learned of both the aid hold and the phone call
that the president had in his efforts to try to force the investigations or an announcement about investigations was some of them were saying they either didn't know the fact there were parallel tracks happening or when they learned of it, they didn't connect the two and didn't think they were related. so i think that is depending on exactly how much the president knew, how much rudy giuliani knew and a couple of other key advisers at that point. and we're not going to know that unless people testify before congress which they've all been prevented from doing and i don't expect that to change at this time. maybe at some point it will. but i don't see it. i think that we have seen the president repeatedly overrule his advisers and that is not uncommon with presidents. they get advice from people who work for them but ultimately they are the president. but the fact this set off alarm bells from career officials who worked in previous administrations or dealt with aide issues before, that, i think, is part of the larger question of why this went down the way it did. >> the president started this day, maggie, tweeting about
impeachment. he was accusing the democrats of trying to avoid a senate trial to protect joe biden. is he on the same page with the senate majority leader in terms of a strategy going forward here? >> it is a great question. i think if you go purely by what the senate majority leader like the president tweeting this much. i think the answer would be no. how the senate trial will go ahead, they have not been on the same page throughout. although a number of the president's advisers tell me that the president does understand mitch mcconnell's logic which is that he doesn't want witnesses. the president has made clear he does want witnesses and i think you're seeing that now. we don't know how much of this is the president digging in on witnesses or him just trying to push a bargaining position for republicans in general as you have mitch mcconnell and chuck schumer for the democrats trying to figure out the parameters of a senate trial and whether there would be witnesses or not. but we do know that the president has seen this as a
chance to be exonerated and he wants to bring out a bunch of information that he thinks could be damaging to democrats so i expect him to continue pushing for that, even if that is not where this goes in the senate. >> maggie, thank you so much for joining us to talk about your story. >> happy new year. >> happy new year. and coming up, protesters attack the u.s. embassy in iraq and what will it take to diffuse the tensions. and a look at new year's festivities where it turned 2020 in athens. you're watching a situation room special report. (man) you take care of yourself. (elderly woman) oh, thank you so much. (elderly man 1) i'll be alright. (man) ok.
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we're keeping a very close eye on the situation in baghdad where protesters attacked the u.s. embassy today and president trump has just now threatened iran tweeting that it will pay a very big price for any lives lost or damage incurred saying that is not a warning, that is a threat. let's bring in our experts to discuss this. and i want to read this entire tweet because it is pretty much
laying out a red line for what that is worth for president trump. he said iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost or damage incurred at any of our facilities. they will pay a very big price. this is not a warning, it is a threat. happy new year. sean, obviously, you're a national security expert and also served in iraq as a marine twice. you were deployed there twice, right. tell us what your response is to what is going on and also to the president's tweet. >> well, when i read this tweet, it kind of makes me think that oftentimes when the president is making a decision that is arguably the right decision to make with regards to foreign policy and national security issues, oftentimes he makes the sipp worse with a tweet. look, i think that when it comes to the process by which we got to the point where the president made the decision to carry out these airstrikes, sure there are people who may argue that is the wrong thing to do but we had a history with this particular militia group and we recognize in the last several months they had been attacking u.s. military
and coalition forces so one could argue it was the right decision to make. now the tweet, the tweet is in this case is one in which the president is seeking to in a very kind of juvenile way escalate and exacerbate tensions ongoing with iran. i think what this does on the ground is it puts our u.s. military forces in more danger because it is often the case that iran will react to these sort of things. these militia groups will react. so i think what the president did here is he had an opportunity to make a decision that i think the national security community could certainly get behind. but the tweet certainly doesn't help with regard to the safety and security of our troops on the ground. >> i'm sure the white house is hoping that this doesn't escalate. although it seems clear between u.s. strikes, responding to injuries of u.s. service members, this is sort of a back and forth at there point. how concerned are they and how does the president's tweet maybe divide between some of his top
advisers? >> officials i've been speaking with and my colleagues who cover the white house say that the white house is very concerned about the situation there on the ground with the embassy. things may have calmed down a little bit but the concern is that when it is daylight again tomorrow, that the situation will be tense. and so this situation is far from over. and what is interesting about the president's tweet is he does not want to -- want the u.s. to look weak. it is very clear that he doesn't want to look like he's just standing on the side lines letting this happen. but at the same time this is a president who doesn't want an escalation with iran and doesn't want a proxy war with iran inside of iraq. if he had it his way the u.s. wouldn't be in iraq. so he's seem to be walking a fine line and officials i'm speaking with, while they won't say what they are looking at, they say we want things to go back to normal and the situation to calm down. we're looking at con -- contingency but we don't want an
escalation here. >> and you've been on lockdown there. what is it like for americans who are there? >> well from firsthand experience i would tell you that it is terrifying. but i could also tell you that the diplomats that have been locked down today probably want to get back to work. the diplomats have been doing functions like monitoring the protests, some of which were anti-iran in iraq over the past several months. but coming back to the president's tweet, intelligence matters every day. is really, really matters when there are ongoing threats to diplomats not just in baghdad but elsewhere in iraq and in the region where we have american stations. you looked at a country like lebanon where there are also iranian proxies. typically in these situations there are several kind of concurrent lines of effort and the first instance the intelligence community is working hand in hand with the state department and with the department of defense to identify ongoing threats to american personnel. the pentagon and the state
department are working to identify any additional resources that are needed to protect our diplomats both u.s. resources and host nation resources. and the state department is asking on an ongoing basis whether it needs to draw down personnel anywhere in iraq or the region. so when the president makes any kind of comment right now, it is typically vetted by intelligence professionals to ensure that it does not escalate the situation because, again, this is a live high threat environment. >> the president, michael, is obviously consumed on twitter today by impeachment as well. he's been talking about this and republican senator susan collins is open to having witnesses but said it is premature to decide on witness before evidence is presented which certainly comes from what we're hearing from mitch mcconnell. how do you interpret her comment? >> i think there are two things going on here and they are somewhat related.
the first is that susan collins is in a tough re-election campaign and so she wants to be able to show some independence particularly from the majority leader that she's going to question to some extent what he's done. it remains to be seen whether she will be inand do anything different than the majority leader as you just pointed out, it may well be she'll follow him and so this expression of concern may turn out to be ill loosery and we're discovering yet again that the president doesn't have a defense against him. he is pointing at joe biden and saying, joe biden should be on trial. but the real trial here is about the president. it is about donald trump. and whether he abused power and obstructed congress and you can't keep pointing the finger at other people. sooner or later and i think it is sooner, the trial will be about trump and whether or not he abused power and obstructed congress. >> stand by for me if you will. we have much more ahead. coming up, new details about the suspect jailed on hate crime charges after the attack on a
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. tonight we're learning more about the suspect in the weekend machete attack at a rabbi's home outside of new york city. i want to bring in sara sidner on this story. and the suspect we've learned actually served briefly in the marine corp? >> reporter: yes, very briefly. we want to show you the mug shot of grafton thomas we have just received. we also can confirm he did indeed serve in the marine corp but for a very, very short time. he enlisted in 2002. but then his service record said he left less than two months later. but he did manage to list it in this handwritten resume that his attorney showed to reporters. in that resume which was undated he describes himself as highly motivated and said that he has mental discipline and survival skills and that he's good with team work. those are some of the attributes in his handwritten resume. his attorney said he long
suffered from mental illness and not a hate-filled person but a disturbed person. federal prosecutors don't see it that way. he is now charged with 11 counts including attempted murder, burglary and five counts, federal counts, of hate crimes. we should also mention that there were some things that federal prosecutors and investigators found that they mentioned in the paperwork they sent to court saying that they saw references to adolf hitler in journal writings also so-called nazi culture, the star of david and swastika leading them to believe this is an anti-semitic attack. and there is a reference to the black hebrew israelites and a couple of weeks ago in new jersey, the attack on the kosher market there was a link to someone who may have been involved in that movement as well. now authorities are saying also that this is the 13th anti-semitic attack in the last few weeks. there is a move now from the
a.g. to go forward with a task force to try and deal with what they see as a real and present problem. we also were able to speak with abbey shmull ganz, the habad told us he's spoken to two of the victims, one of whom was the son of the rabbi rottenberg here whose home was attacked. >> as he was coming up from the basement, he heard commotion in the house and he opened up the door from the basement into where he was and he -- the assailant went and slashed the knife and hit him on his forehead on the side of his skull. miracles, think about a 15 inch weapon meant to inflict trems harm and got a couple of stitches and was sent home. >> reporter: the rabbi is surprised, he called it a
hanukkah miracle that more damage was not done. almost everyone has left the hospital with the exception of one person who was very severely injured. and we should also mention this community is resilient and they are going forward with their daily lives. but they are in fear. brianna. >> of course they are. we've heard that over and over. sara sidner in monsey, thank you for your report. coming up, will north korea unveil a new weapon in the new year. we have details of a major announcement by dictator kim jong-un. it's a thirteen-hour flight, that's not a weekend trip.
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ahead of his traditional new year's speech, kim jong-un has told top level party officials that north korea will reveal a strategic weapon in the near future. brian, a big announcement from kim jong-un with possibly more to come. >> right. we're really just minutes away from kim jong-un giving his new year's day address around which there have been some ominous warnings. the dictator just had his news agency float out that warning of a new weapon. officials in washington are watching closely to see what kim has to say about his denuclearization talks with president trump. >> reporter: a dramatic countdown to the new year in pyongyaonyongyang followed by f. [ speaking in foreign language ] that comes with a more
threatening countdown to the new year from kim jong-un as the dictator dons a white tunic. warns of imminent action and according to state media, he says ominously that the world will witness a new strategic weapon. the leader has been foreshadowing drastic measures from his wants aren't met. >> kim has said the end of his year is his deadline for an agreement and he's not getting an agreement, so he's promised us a surprise. >> reporter: a senior trump administration official tells cnn they're closely watching the korean peninsula for that surprise which analysts say could include some dark possibilities. >> that could be long-range missile test. another icbm test which has been on hold for at least a year. so that could be one. the other could be that he declares that he will walk away from negotiations. >> reporter: and we could find
out within hours when kim makes his customary new year's day speech often an occasion for him to make a grand entrance and a major announcement. how would america respond to a provocation like a long range missile test by north korea? the adviser didn't give details only saying thest is prepared to take action. >> we have a lot of tools in our tool kit and additional pressure can be brought to bear on the koreans. >> reporter: kim has been seemingly building to this for months with a steady stream of provocations. his diplomats cutting short a meeting with officials in october. the regime launching a series of long range projectiles. kim recently made a show of riding a white stallion on north korean's storied mount. often a signal of a big decision looming. and trump and the north koreans have exchanged insults. once again calling him rocket
man. >> kim jong-un is frustrated because what he has been demanding is he wants the sanctions lifted. there are various indications showing they are suffering under the sanctions. especially the elite. >> reporter: tonight analysts are worried about the dangers ahead when trump and kim may try to salvage a nuclear deal and their personal relationship. >> i do worry about miscalculation from kim jong-un that could lead to escalation. i worry also about just a bad deal from the united states perspective that we essentially buy into a very weak denuclearization process and give kim more than he deserves. >> reporter: in the meantime, if north korea does test a long range missile or engages in another provocation in the coming days, the trump administration has a series of military show of force options it's approved including flights of bomber aircraft over the korean peninsula or military drills of ground weapons. let's hope it doesn't come to
that, but it might. >> and in the midst all of these ominous warnings, has there been any actual communication between the u.s. and north korea recently? >> trump's national security adviser robert o'brien was asked about that in recent days. the two sides have not talked face-to-face since october but o'brien says there are channels of communication open. let's hope they're using some of them tonight. this speech coming up in the next hour or so is going to be crucial. >> all right, brian. we know you will be watching. thank you. coming up, new details of new u.s. deployments to the middle east as the u.s. embassy in baghdad comes under attack. she wanted to move someplace warm.
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for small prices, you can build big dreams, spend less, get way more. shop everything home at wayfair.com happening now, trump's new threat. the president is warning iran will pay a very big price after protesters attack the u.s. embassy in iraq. we're learning about growing concerns within the white house that tensions could escalate if the hours ahead. inappropriate. a moderate republican senator says both parties are wrong to prejudge the president's impeachment trial. but susan collins is signaling she would support a deal by democrats and a potential break from her party's leadership. overrated. president trump takes aim at nancy pelosi and the democrats as the year of his impeachment comes to a close. he's ringing in 2020 with a new twitter rant. and pelosi's power play. we'll show you how the speaker is flexing her muscle as she
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