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Russia Ends Cooperation; Iran Launches Missile; SCOTUS Will Hear Gerrymandering Case; High-Stakes Special Election; Women of Washington Focuses on Jeanne Shaheen; USS Fitzgerald Collision. Identified Sailors Killed. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired June 19, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:31:38] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we have more breaking news.

Russia says it will treat U.S.-led forces in Syria as air targets after a U.S. jet shot a Syrian warplane out of the sky. Russia called the move an active aggression and as a result is now breaking its agreement, it says, to cooperate with the U.S. in Syria.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr following all of this.

Barbara, why don't you lay out the chain of events and what's happened here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this statement came this morning from Moscow, from the Russian ministry of defense. So the first thing is, it's a fairly political statement from the Russian government because it comes from Moscow. They are saying that they will treat U.S. aircraft as targets if they are flying, frankly, west of the Euphrates River in Syria after this shoot down over the weekend.

Now, U.S. officials right now are saying they do not think that they are going to be targeted by the Russians. We're not going to start seeing, you know, dog fights up in the sky. But the question is, what do they really mean? What are the Russians really after now? They also are saying that they're going to break contact with the U.S. in this communications line that's been operating for months now. This so- called de-confidential line where the Russian military and the U.S. military talk to each other all day long about where they are flying in Syria so they stay out of each other's way.

The Russians have threatened this before but, again, we have seen that as a political statement, while military staff personnel on the ground essentially very quietly do continue to communicate. So the question right now is, are the Russians really angry enough about the U.S. shoot down of this Syrian warplane over the weekend that the U.S. says was threatening the forces it backs in Syria? Are the Russians really angry enough about that to start targeting the U.S.? Right now, U.S. officials say they don't think it's going to go that far, but no -- make no mistake, everybody's watching this very closely. BERMAN: Very closely. A rapidly developing series of events, starting

with the U.S. shooting down this Syrian war plane in the skies there. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Joining us now, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, A CNN military and diplomatic analyst. He served as a State Department spokesman and press secretary to the Pentagon.

Admiral, thanks so much for being with us.

Barbara Starr was telling me, this is technically, technically not an escalation in the conflict. I'm talking about the U.S. shooting down this Syrian plane to start this. But our understanding is, this is the first time the U.S. has shot down a military plane in a war zone since Kosovo in 1999. That in and of itself, forget what the Russians -- how the Russians are responding -- is a significant event.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, it's -- look, it's not insignificant that we, you know, air to air combat by a U.S. aircraft has now caused the downing of another tactical aircraft from another nation state. I -- you can't deny that, John. But Barb's right, I mean the act itself was an act of self-defense. It was something we were obligated to do for the Syrian democratic forces on the ground. We were very public many, many months ago that we were going to protect those forces if they came under attack and we did what we said we were going to do.

I also can tell you that the Pentagon hopes that this is a deterrent effect. That by having to shoot this down, which they didn't want to do, that they can deter the Syrian regime and/or the Russians from doing something like that in the future.

BERMAN: And now Russia is saying that any U.S. aircraft or allied craft west of the Euphrates will be treated as an air target. Now Barbara makes the point that could just be political talk. But even as political talk, they're pretty alarming words.

[09:35:02] KIRBY: Well, let's keep it in perspective, John. I mean the -- it was the Russians who wanted this de-confidential zone and communication channel in the first place. This was not a U.S. idea. This was a Russian idea.

Number two, they've threaten this before and then always come right back to the table or, in fact, the military actually never -- the channel actually never interrupted, even though their politicians said it would. And, number three, I mean, if they really want to take -- if they're serious about this, then that could be considered potentially escalatory in terms of the threat to U.S. and coalition aircraft. But I can assure you that the coalition leaders have the authority, they're in their rights to -- to defend themselves and their partner forces as necessary.

BERMAN: It's interesting you're making the case that perhaps these words, these political words, are in the absence of action. Their -- you know, their very existence right now shows maybe that Russia doesn't mean what they're actually saying. Other developments in that same region, though, would show just how

complicated it is. Iran, for the first time, shooting missiles into Syria. What does that tell you about what Iran is doing?

KIRBY: Well, so, first of all, I mean, this is the first time Iran's instructing to -- into Syria. I think we need to all bear in mind what Iran's real goal here is. Now they are supporting Hezbollah fighters on the ground. They are very much backing the Assad regime. They have -- their main focus has been on going after opposition forces not ISIS. They claim this is going after an ISIS cell that attacked them in Tehran. We do think that it was ISIS targets that they were going after.

And, look, you know, to the degree that there's more dead ISIS targets, I mean that's -- that's not a bad thing. But it is a far cry from saying that the Iranian action has been helpful in any way, in any way, over any long period of time inside Syria.

The other thing I think is important to note is, they did this without any -- any coordination at all. And so while luckily there was no other damage to anybody else in the area or in the air, you know, flying missiles from one state to another in busy air space is never a good thing.

BERMAN: All right, Admiral John Kirby, thanks so much for being with us, helping us understand what's going on. A lot of, as we said, alarming words over the Syrian conflict right now between the United States and Russia, but maybe the facts on the ground not quite as tense as it seems.

Thank you, admiral. I appreciate it.

KIRBY: All right.

BERMAN: All right, we have some breaking news right now of the financial sort. The Dow opening up about 60 points. This is a record high. This morning it appears to be enthusiasm over tech stocks. Interesting, the president will be meeting with tech leaders at the White House later today. Many of their companies have been seeing numbers in gains like never before. And, of course, Amazon just decided to buy Whole Foods. Delicious and perhaps order arriving for free if you're on Amazon Prime.

All right, a big test for the president. The high-stakes special election in Georgia. Voters just hours away from heading to the polls. What it means for both parties. Here's a hint, both parties are terrified. Why? That's next.


[09:41:57] BERMAN: All right, breaking news. Just moments ago, the Supreme Court announcing they will take up a major case on political gerrymandering.

Joining us live, CNN's Jessica Schneider outside the Supreme Court.

Jessica, what's this case?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this case is significant because the Supreme Court, in recent years, they've have up issues of racial gerrymandering, where legislative districts are drawn in states based on race. The court has come up with a test saying when and when that isn't constitutional. However, in this case, it's a Wisconsin case where legislative lines have been drawn on the basis of party politics. That means that Republicans who are in control of legislature after the 2010 census it's alleged that they drew these lines based on what would give Republicans the best chance when going up in different races.

So now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear whether or not drawing these lines on the basis of party politics, whether or not it's constitutional. This is significant because the case has not taken up a case like this dealing with this so-called partisan gerrymandering in more than a decade.

And what's also interesting, John, you know, President Obama, he has made this issue of partisan gerrymandering, gerrymandering in general, sort of a focus as he -- in his post-presidency. It's something that he's looking toward as we move toward the 2018 and 2020 elections. And now the Supreme Court will be taking this issue up, hearing arguments on this, to determine when it is or isn't constitutional to draw these lines based on party.


BERMAN: Very interesting. It might be a steep climb for this court, but we will see.

Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Just a few hours until polls open in the most expensive House race in history. An election with huge stakes for both parties, not to mention huge stakes for the president. Congressman John Lewis campaigned for Georgia Democrat John Ossoff over the weekend, while Agriculture Secretary and former Georgia Sonny Purdue was there for the Republican Karen Handel. And he brought with him a pretty interesting message. Listen.


SONNY PURDUE, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I know some of you out there, some of you, some Republicans may even be turned off by our president. And I don't think you are. I'm not because, let me tell you -- let me tell you, I know his heart.


BERMAN: All right, joining us now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, I have never seen a congressional race where both sides are so scared. Democrats and Republicans, I get the sense, are terrified by the outcome here. The question is why. If we can break it down, let's talk about Republicans first. What scares them so much about this race?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, losing and losing not so much about this one particular seat, but what signal the Republicans who are all up for re-election in 2018 in the House and those few in the Senate who are in tough races, what signal they take from it, what message they take from it. Right or wrong, you know this, the DNA of a politician is, when they see something that could be a harbinger of bad news, they tend to react. So if the Republican loses in what has historically been a Republican seat, even though it has trended more Democratic, less Republican, in recent years, then the fear among Republican leaders is, it's going to be more difficult to convince them to do things like finish up their job on Obamacare repeal, things like that, because the message that they are going to take is, OK, I'm not so sure if what we're doing here in Congress is right, whether or not that is an accurate message or one that is really appropriate.

[09:45:31] BERMAN: Now, on the Democratic side though, lest you think that only fear is red in this case, Democrats nervous about the message this could send too if they were to lose.

BASH: Absolutely, and that's because they are putting everything into this, John. I mean everything. The whole focus has been this particular House race. And Democrats see this as a real test as well about whether or not the anger, the anti-Trump fervor, the anti- Obamacare repeal fervor that is out there can really be harnessed in a way that matters at the polls.

And given the fact that they have been doing well in the polls, and given the fact that, as you said, so much money has been spent, particularly on the Democratic side. If they can't do it here, they're going to, you know, sort of get depressed and throw up their hands and say, where can we do it? Is this a harbinger for 2018 and not in a good way for Democrats?

BERMAN: Yes, no, it's interesting. You see the polls, you know, razor thin right now and Democrats need more than just a moral victory, the likes of which they've seen in the special elections up until this point.

BASH: That's right.

BERMAN: All right, Dana Bash, you are now the main force behind what is the hottest thing in all of the Internet right now, is the "Badass Women of Washington" series. And this week you profiled Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic senator from New Hampshire, who made a really interesting leap from operative to office holder, which is something we've seen with men in the past. I think with women it's probably more rare. And she talks about this. Let's listen.


BASH: Tell me if you agree with this, that women tend to need to be asked to run and guys just think that they should.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: When I had a group of undergraduate students in the room, I would say to them, how many of you want to run for office some day? And almost every male hand in the room would go up and very few of the young women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I worked on your campaign in 2014 actually.

SHAHEEN: A friend used to always tell me that women run for office because they want to accomplish something. They want to see a change in the hospital. They want to see something happen in schools, you know. And I do think there's a lot of truth in that.

BASH: And men run for office because they want to be in office?



SCARBOROUGH: She's run, what, like four races before she finally decided to run herself, Dana?

BASH: That's right, including the presidential race in New Hampshire of Gary Hart in 1984.

This is -- was a fascinating conversation for that reason. She ended up, after she was a staffer, running for state senate when she was 43 years old, a mother of three. And then she became the first female governor of New Hampshire, first female senator from New Hampshire. And, guess what, right now, even though there are 21 women in the Senate, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee she is the only woman. A very important committee. She is the only woman on that committee. So she has a really unique perspective.

And on that particular note that we were talking about, about having to ask women to run and women just historically have been more reluctant to come out on their own, that is a bipartisan thing. I hear that from Republicans. I hear that from Democrats. But I'm also hearing that it's changing.

Just one interesting fact. Emily's list, which tries to recruit Democrats to run, women, this time in the election cycle, last time, over 900 women said that they wanted to run. Right now, as we speak, they said that they've been contacted by almost 15,000 women. So, something changed in the last two years and it will be -- that's going to be something that I'm going to sort of focus on from here on out to see where they're going with that.

BERMAN: It will be fascinating to watch that.

All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

BASH: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: And you can see Dana's complete series online,

I get to swear on TV because of Dana, which is awesome.

We'll be right back.


[09:53:35] BERMAN: This morning, new questions swirling around the collision that left seven U.S. sailors dead. We have learned the identity of those lost on the USS Fitzgerald. What is not known is how or why the destroyer, equipped with every modern navigation technology, crashed with a huge cargo ship in a busy waterway.

CNN's Alexandra Field live from Japan where The Fitzgerald was towed.

Alexandra, what are we learning about the victims?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, these seven sailors and the rest of the crew numbering in the hundreds were headed out to the waters off the Coast of Japan on what should have been a routine operation. Instead, the USS Fitzgerald, that guided missile destroyer, returned here to the port battered. It's starboard side completely smashed in. The ship haven taken on water. Seven of its sailors found trapped inside.

There had been an extensive search when it seemed that members of the crew were missing following a collision with a container ship. Divers then went down into the ship. They found flooded sleeping compartments. That's where they say they discovered seven victims of the crash.

These sailors are all U.S. servicemen who were sent here to Japan on two or three year tours of duty. They come from all across the United States. From Maryland all the way to California. The youngest victim, just 19 years old. The oldest, 37 years old.

This is a crash that happened in the early morning hours on Saturday morning local time here in Japan. It is not clear to investigators why this crash happened, but that ship did sustain severe damage. So much flooding in the sleeping compartment where many of the sailors were still asleep.

[09:55:12] The Navy has ordered an investigation into the cause of the crash. The Coast Guard also leading an investigation into the casualties. Certainly looking into the kinds of answers that seven families in the U.S. are craving today.


BERMAN: Those lost, a cross-section of America truly and our thoughts go to those families.

Alexandra Field in Japan, thanks so much.

London on edge after an attack overnight. We are following all the latest developments. Stay with us.


[10:00:02] BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Poppy is off.

Extra police visible on the streets of London this morning with a special focus on protecting the city's Muslim community.