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Death Toll Rising in Iran Amid Protests; Driving Force Behind Protests; Battle of the Tech Giants; Trump's Packed Agenda. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:15] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Iran's supreme leader blaming the country's enemies for stirring protests and unrest there as the death toll rises.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in London with the latest for us.

What's happening, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, it is rare that we would hear from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And in this case, he has made this statement to say, quote, the enemy is waiting for an opportunity for a flaw through which they can enter, and goes on to blame those with the money, politics, weapons and intelligence, I paraphrased there, for fomenting these protests now in their sixth day. The worst really Iran's seen for eight years.

Over 400 arrested. And as you can see in that violent video there, it's claimed 21 lives now. I should point out, the nine who died overnight, six of those were in one instance around a burning police station in the Islahan (ph) province.

But, really, many are scratching their heads. This was so unanticipated. Yes, everyone knew about the economic woes and political oppression fomenting much of the anger on the youth of the street. A quarter of them don't have jobs by some figures. But moderate President Hassan Rouhani has made sympathetic noises during the beginning of the protest. He said, yes, there's a difference between protesting and rioting. But we haven't seen the hardline kind of oppressive response that we saw in 2009 in Iran against protests there, leaving many to wonder quite exactly when would the more hardline face of Iran's government be shown?

Perhaps Ayatollah Khamenei's comment is leading towards that. He says he'll say more at a later stage. But it really isn't clear at this point exactly how the moderate government of President Rouhani can negotiate with a protest movement that doesn't really have a figurehead or a leader or a manifesto. It appears to be mostly spontaneous. It is unanticipated, as I say. There is some sympathy in government circles for their demands, but it is sadly less now focused upon how widespread geographically it is and how spontaneous it's been and, more sadly, focused on the violence that could continue or even get out of control. Very hard to see how you can negotiate calm with a protest movement that doesn't actually have at this point a leader.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Nick Paton Walsh for us watching things from London.

Joining us now, Ambassador John Limbert. He was one of the last U.S. diplomats in Iran and was one of 52 U.S. hostages held in Tehran for 444 days when the embassy was taken over by Iranian students in the Islamic Revolution.

Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate your expertise on this matter.

What do you see right now as the driving force behind these protests in Iran? What's going on there?

JOHN LIMBERT, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR IRAN: John, it's diffuse. I mean this started all -- it's interesting, according to everything that I have read, it seems this started off as an internal squabble and an attempt by some -- by one faction to go after Rouhani and to embarrass him. And things got out of control. And so you had grievances, political grievances, economic grievances, grievances against the clerics, protests about corruption, all coming together, a kind of simmering resentment that had been there for a long time. And by starting off -- by starting off, they opened up a Pandora's Box of troubles.

And what's remarkable is how widespread this is. I mean look at the places like Takistan (ph) and Najaf Abad (ph) and Dolu (ph), these are small towns. And we did not see this at all back in 2009.

BERMAN: Yes, that was largely a middle class -- upper middle class demonstrations on the streets of Tehran. Thousands and thousands of people, but certainly not as geographically dispersed as we're seeing right now.

So President Trump has been talking about this, at least on social media, writing about it even this morning. The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime, is how he began this statement this morning. What's your take on the president's response so far?

LIMBERT: Well, it's something like this, words matter and tone matters. And what we say, like it or not, is going to be very carefully watched in Iran. Talking about regime change, talking about changes, I would be careful about that because you don't know where you're going to end up. You know, you not -- not everyone in opposition to the Islamic Republic is desirable or Democratic. Or if they were to end up in power, bringing something better for the country. So I think these -- these things have to be measured.

You know, it feels good to denounce the Islamic Republic. I mean a lot of people don't like it. I'm not a big fan of it either. So it feels good to be indignant and to denounce it. But I think, in this -- in this case, you have to ask yourself, what are we trying to get to? What's the -- what's the goal?

[08:35:15] BERMAN: Yes, as you know all too well personally, you know, Iran has a way of surprising the United States, not just in 1979, but it's almost like every ten years there seems to be some kind of unforeseen event. You know, protests or what not. How much control does the United States have? How can the U.S. influence the situation?

LIMBERT: Actually, I think very little. Of course we will be blamed -- whatever we say or whatever we do, the authorities there are going to blame us and they're going to call anyone who protests a foreign agent. That's why I think Rouhani's statement was interesting. It was daring in a -- in an Iranian context because he said people have the right to protest.

BERMAN: Right.

LIMBERT: But others are going to say, no, these are -- these are foreign -- foreign agents.

The problem is that the U.S., we don't have a great track record when we meddle in other peoples' internal politics. As I said, some of these groups, some of these opposition groups, who claim to be Democratic, are anything but. So I think we have to be very, very careful in the way we approach something like this. Stick to -- I would say stick to principles. Principles of decency, the principles of respect, and avoid -- by all means let's avoid sermonizing.

BERMAN: Stand up for the right to protest, you know, in a broad sense, which gives you space later on, maybe, to operate.

I should note, the Ayatollah Khamenei has already come out, as you suggested that he would, suggesting that these protests are the result of somehow enemies. The enemies of Iran getting active and wanting to meddle in state affairs.

The Iran nuclear deal has come up a lot over the last couple of days. People arguing on both sides. President Trump and his allies saying this just goes to show that you shouldn't be striking deals with Iran because of the oppressive regime. On the other hand, there are those who suggest that it's this failed promise of economic increases in a bettering of the situation for the people in Iran that didn't happen after the nuclear deal that's causing these protests. What do you think?

LIMBERT: Well, the nuclear agreement was about Iran's nuclear program. It was not -- it was never about democracy or human rights or treating people better. It would have been nice if it -- if it had. But it -- that's not what it -- that's not what it was. So you can't say, well, it was a bad deal because the Iranian regime is still -- is still treating -- not treating its people decently. That's -- that makes no sense -- that makes no sense at all.

No, in terms of the economy, the Iranian -- Iran should be, with its resources, with its oil, with its educated people, it should be a paradise. But, obviously, anything but. But it hasn't delivered. And you can argue the reasons, corruption, mismanagement, all of them -- all of them are there. And, clearly, that has created this resentment and unhappiness that we've seen so dramatically in the past few days.

BERMAN: Some of the people on the streets saying, we see this money that you're getting going elsewhere to other countries, to Yemen, to Syria, other places. We want it here.

Ambassador John Limbert, great to have you with us. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

LIMBERT: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn.


Back here, it's Google versus Amazon. How the battle between these two tech giants is impacting you. That's next.


[08:42:24] CAMEROTA: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."

President Trump back in the White House facing a daunting legislative agenda. Among his biggest challenges, a budget, an infrastructure bill, and an immigration plan for dreamers.

BERMAN: At least 21 people now dead in Iran as anti-government protests keep raging across that country. Iran's supreme leader blaming enemies for stirring unrest in the country.

CAMEROTA: South Korea proposing high level talks with North Korea next week and welcoming their participation in the Olympics next month. This comes after a rare olive branch from Kim Jong-un expressing an interest in sending a delegation to the winter games in South Korea.

BERMAN: U.S. Customs back up and running today after a two hour system outage on New Year's night. It caused long delays at the airports. The outage not believed to be malicious, unless you were stuck in the airport.

CAMEROTA: Here's me reading sports.


CAMEROTA: It will be Georgia versus Alabama in next week's college football National Championship. Georgia winning a double overtime thriller in the Rose Bowl over Oklahoma, 54-48, while the Tide rolled over Clemson --

BERMAN: That's the name of the team.

CAMEROTA: I figured since it was in rotation marks.

Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.

BERMAN: It's not real sugar. It's the stadium. CAMEROTA: Then I don't like it as much. That was 24-6.

BERMAN: All right, for more on the "Five Things to Know," go to for the very latest.

CAMEROTA: All right, it is the battle of the tech titans. Amazon and Google are fighting an ugly battle and it could already be affecting your devices at home.

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is in our Money Center to explain all of that.


CAMEROTA: Happy New Year.

ROMANS: Google's latest move in the ongoing feud with Amazon, folks, Google pulled its YouTube app from Amazon's Fire TV. Part of this increasingly bitter rivalry between Google and Amazon.

Some history here. For years Amazon has refused to sell Google ChromeCast or let ChromeCast users access Amazon Prime. So Google pulled YouTube out of Amazon's Echo in September. Amazon responded by yanking all Google Nest gadgets from its site. So now Google blocked YouTube from the other Amazon device, the Fire TV and did so four days earlier than it originally planned.

Both Amazon and Google say they want to ultimately resolve these differences, you guys, but in the meantime, the war between these companies have one clear loser, their customers. No Google product is sold on Amazon's marketplace. It's the largest on the web. And now no Amazon device can access the YouTube app, which is, of course, the biggest source of video on the web. Instead, Amazon directs customers to use the YouTube website in a web browser. Two very big titans and one little guy caught in the middle, John.

BERMAN: Kids, kids, kids. I tell you.

CAMEROTA: Honestly, they're being petulant about this.

BERMAN: They are.

All right, Romans, thanks so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Year one of the Trump White House now in the books. Will we see a more disciplined president in 2018? We'll get "The Bottom Line," next.


[08:48:46] CAMEROTA: All right, President Trump entering his second year in the White House with a lot to tackle. What will the president do in 2018?

Let's get the 100 percent certain answer from CNN's political director David Chalian.

Happy New Year, David.


Can you imagine if I actually knew the answer to that, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: If you -- listen, you are a professional tea leaf reader. So you have some ideas on what -- at least the beginning of 2018 will look like. What are you watching?

CHALIAN: So, first and foremost, there are some deadlines coming up that the president has to deal with immediately. We know that they kicked the can down the road to January 19th to fund the government, so avoiding a government shutdown first and foremost on the agenda.

You also have in March a couple of other deadlines. You have the DACA program that the president had asked Congress to sort of deal with by March for some of those DACA recipients, as well as the Children's Health Insurance Program that got knocked to March as well.

So you're dealing with some of the most contentious issues, immigration, the border wall, Obamacare marketplace, Children's Health Insurance, overall spending battles in the government, and that's all the first quarter of 2018. It sounds totally easy for this town to deal with that, right?

BERMAN: Well, and some of this is like in the next ten days.

[08:50:00] CHALIAN: Yes.

BERMAN: There is a deadline here.

Of all of those things, you can see many of them braking along party lines. Republicans will largely back the president on some things. Democrats will be in their own corner on other. Except when you're dealing with immigration right there. When you're talking about the dreamers there. That may be the issue where you see the Republican Party divisions within the Republican Party. And it's hard to tell where that one's going, David.

CHALIAN: Yes, and we -- we've seen that division play out inside the Republican Party for the better part of the last ten years, certainly in full view in the last five years. I mean you remember the debate stages in that Republican nomination race that Donald Trump won. Immigration -- the immigration divide inside the Republican Party was a huge part of that.

We will see that again. There will be some Republicans that want to get with Democrats and work out a plan here and other Republicans will want to absolutely prevent that from happening. That's the sort of anti-DACA reform Republicans. That's sort of where the Trump base and energy is in the party who don't want to see much action there. That's why the president is demanding right now that the border wall be part of the deal. CAMEROTA: All of this, of course, is set against the backdrop of the Russia probe that continues, the investigations into whether or not -- what the connection was between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia. And we now know that Devin Nunes, who had sort of been sidelined as the chair of that investigation of the House, is back and Democrats say that he is blocking some of their efforts to get answers. So what are we going to see this month with all of that?

CHALIAN: Yes. The other indication is that he's eager to sort of wrap up perhaps the House Intelligence investigation overall, which Democrats have been sort of screaming foul about right now, not feeling that they've completed their work.

Listen, it is -- it is clear to anybody watching this president, when you want to go back to your first question about sort of what year two brings in store for Donald Trumps, he's still clearly consumed by the investigation -- the Mueller investigation and the House and Senate investigations that hang over his administration. And so for as long as they go on before they're concluded, this president is clearly going to be distracted by them.

BERMAN: And, you know, look, and he's writing messages on Twitter this morning that we're not going to get into about James Comey. But he did the interview over vacation, David, where he thinks that Robert Mueller, he says, will be fair. He opens he will be fair.

I am very curious to see, over the coming days, how his Republican allies, the ones who have been attack dogs, the Jim Jordans of the world, Mike Gates, others who have been going after Robert Mueller, how they react to that. If they back off at all. I'm betting no and I'm betting that maybe the president's message on this won't be consistent over the next month either.

CHALIAN: Well, it's -- that's certainly true and it hasn't been consistent over the last year on this, John. I think there's a good cop/bad cop strategy going on here, right, that the president is sort of taking the advice of his immediate legal counsel to sort of playing nice with Mueller and he's heeding that advice for the moment.

But the Republicans are in an all-out sort of public relations war at this point to really try to undermine whatever Mueller ends up with presenting to the public. They want to make sure that that is politicized and brought into question and not just accepted as truth and fact.

CAMEROTA: So, obviously, David, 2017, the news cycle was on steroids. It was like this breathless, you know, keeping up with the chaos of the news cycle and the various tweets and the various decisions and all of that. Do you see 2018 being any different?

BERMAN: Human growth hormone.

CHALIAN: No, I don't. I think -- I think we should all buckle up for what will be a politically tumultuous year here in Washington still. Obviously, it's an election year as well. So that will ratchet up sort of how each side presents their arguments because they'll be playing for their home teams a lot.

I also think that the thing we have to really watch out for, if you really want to understand, did Donald Trump learn something from year one that he's going to apply to year two? He ended the first year with that huge success on tax reform, legislative success, and now the question is, was there something that we will see the president learn from that and applies to future legislative issues beforehand, or was that a one-off in the president's mind? I don't know the answer to that yet, but I'm looking to see what he informs us about that.

BERMAN: What do you think Democrats have learned in 2017 and do you see Democrats doing anything differently in 2018?

CHALIAN: You know, Democrats have learned that the anti-Trump energy in their party may actually be enough to make really significant gains. You saw -- that is what's fueling this turnout that we saw in Virginia and New Jersey, in the Alabama Senate special election. This is a party galvanized by being opposed to the president right now. That may not solve the Democrat's sort of long-term problems for 2020 and running against President Trump in an re-election race, but it may indeed get them through 2018, a midterm year where the president's approval rating may have a real impact on how Republicans fair this year.

[08:55:03] CAMEROTA: You have a very busy year ahead of you, David, and months. Great to see you. Thanks so much.

CHALIAN: You too. Happy New Year.

CAMEROTA: I'm going to start taking my vitamins now.

BERMAN: Do it.


"The Good Stuff" is next.

BERMAN: Antioxidants.


BERMAN: It's time now for "The Good Stuff."

Some Marines from Michigan finding dogs in rough shape while being deployed in Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We brought her back to our base and just kind of loved on her and gave her some food from there and just fell in love with her.


BERMAN: Hayden Goret (ph) says his platoon and another, which also found a dog, created fundraising pages to help bring the dogs back to Michigan. They needed almost $4,000 for vet care, medicine and the trip home. They got it done in less than a week.

This dog right here we're looking at should be in Michigan by February. Goret is hoping to reunite with her this summer.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, look at the cute little face right there. That is adorable.

BERMAN: When you're overseas in situations like that, the animals there, they can bring you such joy and such warmth in an otherwise, you know, cold situation. It's --

CAMEROTA: Oh, I bet. Absolutely. And it is a real bonding experience. And so it's nice that they'll be reunited soon.

BERMAN: And back in Michigan now, where every dog wants to be.

CAMEROTA: Do they? It's quite cold there right now.

Meanwhile, it is time for CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow. See you tomorrow.

[09:00:06] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.