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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Two Rockets Land In Baghdad's Heavily Fortified Green Zone; Source: U.S. Concerned About Iranian Proxies In Region; Doesn't Buy Iran's Argument They Aren't Responsible For What Proxies Might Do; Questions Surround Ukrainian Plane Crash In Tehran Just Hours After Missile Attacks; Senate Democrats Eager To Start Impeachment Trial; Senior Administration Official: Message from Iran Was Missile Strike Would Be Their Only Response to Death of Soleimani; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is Interviewed About the Senate Briefing on Trump's Iran Strike. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired January 8, 2020 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
We begin tonight in a far different place than we left you last night, and that is a good thing, plain and simple. Iran's signal that its missile strike on two bases in Iraq, housing U.S. forces was the limit of their response, the American killing of General Qasem Soleimani.
They apparently offered a way out and this morning, President Trump took it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.
No American or Iraqi lives were lost, because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces and an early warning system that worked very well. I salute the incredible skill and courage of America's men and women in uniform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: This is, obviously, a very welcomed development, no matter where you might stand politically or how you view America's role in the Middle East. Last night, we were staring into the abyss. Tonight, we aren't.
That said, if, in fact, President Trump took the off-ramp here, the question remains, was it from a highway that he, himself, built, with his decision to kill General Soleimani. A highway he didn't need to build.
The administration has yet to publicly offer evidence to support his claim that the killing stopped imminent attacks on Americans. They did, officially, brief members of Congress today behind closed doors, but from the sound of it, for some members, Republican and Democratic, it did not go well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. GERRY CONNELLY (D-VA): Without commenting on content, my reaction to this briefing was, it was sophomoric and utterly unconvincing. And I believe more than ever, that Congress needs to act to protect the constitutional provisions about war and peace.
REPORTER: What can you say about the rationale for the strike on Soleimani? And also, the idea of whether there were imminent threats?
CONNELLY: I believe there was no rationale that could pass a graduate school thesis test. I was -- well, utterly unpersuaded by about any evidence about the imminence of a threat that was new or compelling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, quite a few Republicans differ with Congressman Connelly's assessments. Lindsey Graham for one who said, quote: I find this whole idea that somehow the national security team did not have a good basis to hit this guy ridiculous.
Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee called the briefing, quote, unacceptable, disgraceful, and very insulting. Again, those are Senator Mike Lee's words, Republican Senator Mike Lee.
Now, he said at the outset he supports President Trump and then he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): I had hoped and expected to receive more information outlining the legal, factual, and moral justification for the attack. I was left somewhat unsatisfied on that front. The briefing lasted only 75 minutes, whereupon our briefers left.
This, however, is not the biggest problem I have with the briefing. Which I would add was probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate. What I found so distressing about that briefing was that one of the messages we received from the briefers was, do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran, and that if you do, you'll be emboldening Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, in a moment, we'll be joined by another lawmaker who was in the room, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. This all comes with the house set to vote tomorrow on a resolution that would force President Trump to end hostilities against Iran without congressional authorization, which Senator Lee now says he has not seen, but is open to considering, which is not to say there's widespread bipartisan skepticism of the intelligence. Senator Lee and his colleague, Rand Paul, are outliers within the GOP.
Mostly, there's bipartisan division, not unity or even rough consensus on how the president's handling this. In part, that's due to how polarized the country is now.
But keeping 'em honest, it's not like President Trump was trying to unify the country in his address today when he blamed much of the crises on President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Iran's hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013 and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Then Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: But just as a factual matter, what the president said there is not correct. The money was actually Iranian money for U.S. weapons frozen in the late 1970s, which was unfrozen under the nuclear deal, which the president's own intelligence officials say Iranians were abiding by, which does not mean that they can be trusted now or that General Soleimani wasn't a brutal killer with American blood on his hands. It doesn't mean, either, that there was ant good reason to kill him or that future military action against Iran wouldn't be justified.
It only means that President Trump had a chance today, a chance today to keep it between the lines, between the lines on some really serious stuff. But for some reason, he chose to paint outside those lines.
We'll talk more about it in just a moment. First, though, CNN's Jim Acosta has some late new reporting on how last night unfolded behind the scenes.
Jim, talk more about what you're learning about how close the United States came to a counterattack last night.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, talking to my sources, to my colleague, Pam Brown and also to my colleague Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon, we're getting an understanding as to what was going on behind the scenes as the president was weighing whether or not to retaliate against Iran last night. We're told by administration officials that, yes, the president was considering striking back at Iran when these missiles were fired, but they were waiting to see what the casualties looked like on the ground.
And the other thing that was happening behind the scenes, Anderson, is that Iran was using these back channels. They were going through intermediaries like the government of Switzerland and some other countries, as many as three countries, from what we understand, to essentially tell the U.S., tell the Trump administration that they were essentially done for the night. And based on that information coming into the White House, the president decided to pull back and not launch a counterattack, which obviously could have had devastating consequences.
Now, getting back to what you were just saying a few moments ago about these senators coming out of this briefing with administration officials, like Senator Mike Lee, who was just hot coming out of that meeting, I will tell you, I talked to a Republican source familiar with this briefing to senators, who said that the posture, the attitude coming from the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and other administration officials who were briefing these senators was essentially, don't question what we're doing. Don't second-guess what we're doing. And obviously, that doesn't go over well with senators.
COOPER: And was the White House surprised at all about the size and scope of the Iranian attack?
ACOSTA: It sounds that way, Anderson. And one of the things we're picking up on this evening, and I think it's fascinating, is that both the Joint Chiefs chairman, Mark Milley, and the Defense Secretary Mark Esper are both saying publicly this evening that they agree with this assessment that Iran was actually trying to not only destroy property at these bases but kill U.S. personnel.
We were hearing from our sources -- CNN was hearing from our sources earlier in the day, there were some officials saying, well, perhaps the Iranians had intentionally missed so as to not draw a counterattack from the U.S. But from what we're hearing over at the Pentagon, there were top officials, including the Joint Chiefs chairman, who were very much convinced that the Iranians were trying to kill Americans in this attack.
And so, it may have been an amazing stroke of luck that no American service members were killed, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
More now on the briefings. We mentioned Senator Chris Murphy sat in on it. He joins us now.
Senator Murphy, you heard from Senator Lee earlier. He also called the briefing today, quote, unacceptable, disgraceful, very insulting.
I'm wondering how you would characterize it.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I mean, I don't know that I would use all the same words, but it was fairly extraordinary, to hear the administration tell Congress that we can't debate war and peace. In fact, the Founding Fathers, as Mike Lee pointed out, vested that power solely in the legislative branch.
And you know, this idea is regularly trotted out by the administration. It was echoed by Mitch McConnell on the floor of the Senate yesterday, that if you're criticizing the administration's policy when it comes to war overseas, that you're somehow doing damage to the country or to our troops. That's just absolutely ridiculous. And I'm not going to let this country slide into war again like we did in 2003, when the Bush administration bullied opponents of that war into silence.
The other problem, though, and frankly the bigger problem with the briefing today, was that there was no evidence of an imminent and specific threat. And I can't get into the details. But that was fairly shocking to many of us, the lack of evidence of an actual, imminent, immediate threat, because without that, the president doesn't have the authority to take military action without coming to Congress first.
COOPER: The president, over in the past couple of days, has said that they were planning a very major attack, I believe that was the phrase he used at one time, in a speech.
Can you say if that is accurate or not?
MURPHY: Well, I think a lot of us worried when the explanations shifted over the weekend. Some administration officials were using the word "imminent," others weren't. Some people said it was days, others said it was weeks.
I mean, that all started to sound a little suspicious, if there was a set of facts that underlied this decision.
No, Anderson, I can't get into the details, but I can definitively say that there was not evidence presented of an imminent attack. And, of course, that's what the administration was telling us all weekend.
And you know, when you're not straight with the American people about why you go to war, about why you risk American lives, it's devastating to the credibility of the federal government, of the president, and, you know, ultimately, of Congress, as well. And that's why many of us were very worried coming out of that briefing today.
COOPER: Can you explain, you know, Mike Lee was saying in the nine years that he's, you know, been in -- been on Capitol Hill, he's never seen a briefing as bad as that. What was so different about it? Was it -- I mean, were you able to ask questions? Did you have a question to answer? Was it just not specific? Can you elaborate at all?
MURPHY: Yes, I mean, I've been in a lot of very bad briefings. So I'm not sure where I would rank this one. But it was -- you know, it was insufficient, first of all, in the sense that we've waited six days to get a briefing. All 100 senators were in that room, as far as I know. And the administration stayed there for an hour and 15 minutes and then got up and left.
Only about 15 senators got to ask questions, and they apparently had to be somewhere else. I mean, I'm sorry, that's not taking your responsibility seriously to report to Congress if you can only give all 100 senators about 75 minutes.
And then, with you know, the lack of specific details around the threat, to me, I think was a signal that the intelligence doesn't exist, but the alternative isn't really helpful, either. That they had the intelligence and they're not telling us.
So, yes, it was insufficient from a number of standpoints and, you know, I can see why both Republicans and Democrats are walking out of that briefing, you know, angry.
COOPER: We mentioned the divide that we've seen amongst some Republicans based on Rand Paul and Mike Lee.
I want to play something that Senator Lindsey Graham said about Senator Lee and Senator Rand Paul being dissatisfied with the security briefing. So you'll hear Senator Graham first, then Senator Paul's response to him on Wolf Blitzer's program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think they're overreacting, quite frankly. Go debate all you want to. I'm going to debate you. Trust me, I'm going to -- I'm going to let people know that at this moment in time, to play this game with the War Powers Act, which I think is unconstitutional, is whether you mean to or not, you're empowering the enemy. I know you don't mean to, but live in the real world here.
So, debate all you want. This is a constitutional democracy, but get ready for a lively debate.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): You know, I think it's sad when people have this fake sort of drape of patriotism and anybody that disagrees with them is not a patriot. He believes in this unitary theory of the executive that presidents can do whatever they want. The only way you can stop them is by defunding a war. That's not what our Founding Fathers said, it's not what the Constitution says, and he insults the Constitution, our Founding Fathers, and what we do stand for in this republic by making light of it and accusing people of lacking patriotism. I think that's a low gutter type of response.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It sounds, Senator Murphy, like that Lindsey Graham was kind of echoing the message that you were told in the briefing about don't debate this.
MURPHY: Yes, that's right. And it's just a ridiculous argument that gets trotted out every time that the hawks, the neoconservatives want to go to war. They tell us that if you criticize our path to war, that you're being unpatriotic.
I mean, frankly, that's insulting. And it belies the fact that our troops are actually fighting for us and protecting us overseas and to protect our right to disagree with each other and to speak our minds.
The reason, though, Anderson, that we want the ability to debate this is because many of us think this was a very bad decision to escalate the war in a way that is already accrued to the detriment of U.S. national security. I mean, let's just be honest about the fact that today, Iran has restarted its nuclear program, on their way to a potential nuclear weapon. Our troops are getting kicked out of Iraq. The counter-ISIS mission has stopped.
All of that is a consequence of what happened on Thursday. And so, we want the chance to debate this in the United States Congress, because we believe, as the people's representatives, we need to write a policy that has gone very wrong.
COOPER: Senator Murphy, appreciate your time. Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up next, two top White House advisers on today's presidential address and why this president cannot seem or to or not interested in uniting the country, even in a moment like this.
Later, an airliner goes down in Tehran at the height of the crisis. Tonight, the deeply troubling questions about what exactly caused that airliner to go down and whether someone made it happen or was an accident.
COOPER: Breaking news tonight. A senator who spoke with the president telling us the president appeared ready to launch a counterattack if there had been even one American casualty. Also, a source telling us that Iran reached out through at least three back channels to signal that the strike they launched was only one.
The president did not speak of either in his address today. He did talk about things that everyone can agree on, namely that what appeared to be a march to war now seems to be on hold. However, he didn't leave it there. He attacked President Obama. In fact, he criticized all presidents going back to 1979.
He also said little to persuade anyone who didn't already support him that the confrontation with Iran is something worth rallying behind, which is what presidents traditionally do. It's also ironically what presidents have traditionally had to do less of.
That's because in a crisis, Americans tend to rally behind any president in any part until now.
Our next guest, David Frum, has a column on the subject today in "The Atlantic". He writes, quote: The United States finds itself in the dangerous situation of having a president in power but without authority.
David Frum also famously helped craft President George W. Bush's State of the Union address that became known as axis of evil speech, the members being Iraq, North Korea and Iran.
Joining us as well tonight, another distinguished White House senior adviser, David Axelrod, who served in the Obama administration.
David Axelrod, just looking at the president's speech this morning, clearly not rushed. His team had all night to prepare. Key military officials standing there behind him.
How do you think he handled the moment?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, it was -- this was a moment where you had a nation that was on war footing. And he was there to deliver good news, which was, he was taking -- we were taking a step back, both sides were taking a step back. It was a moment for national solidarity and relief.
And he could not refrain from taking shots at his predecessors, and particularly, President Obama. We've become accustomed to this. The question is, why? Why does he do that?
I think he sees some political advantage to flaying Obama any chance he gets. And there may be some sense of envy, because Obama left as a highly regarded president. And you know, Donald Trump's about -- ratings are everything for Donald Trump, and I think that it bothers him. And he feels like he needs to tear his predecessor down.
But it was a missed opportunity on a day he should have had nothing but good news for the American people.
COOPER: David Frum, I'm trying to think of instances where this president has really reached out to people who did not vote for him or may not have voted for him. And I can't really think of many. In your piece in "The Atlantic" today, you said, quote, a president who writes off half the country can't expect to garner support from a crisis of his own making. I mean --
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: This president has insulted the state of California. He says he hates the state of New York. He says Baltimore is a rodent and rat infested mess. He said that Chicago is a disgrace to the nation. He has described Atlanta as a disgrace to the nation.
And just in the immediate aftermath of the targeted killing of General Soleimani, the president retweeted one of his most fervent supporter who said that the Democratic leadership in Congress were the equivalent of Iranian terrorists.
The person who is jockeying for the job of replacing Mike Pence as his running mate in 2020, former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, said that Democrats mourn the death of Soleimani, which no Democrat has done. And when challenged on that said, well, they've regretted it. And the two people who most conspicuously regretted it are members of Trump's party, Rand Paul and Trump's favorite it have host, Tucker Carlson.
So the president, it has never even occurred to him that this is part of his job. He thinks his job is to put on makeup, raise his chin, go on TV, and say things. And then the people should applaud. And if they don't, it's their fault and not his fault.
COOPER: David Axelrod, we mentioned, you know, Senator Mike Lee today is saying that the closed-door Senate briefing was un-American and completely unacceptable, given that the administration suggested that Congress shouldn't have a role in approving Iran military action and essentially shouldn't debate this. Were you surprised to see him and Senator Rand Paul speak out? I mean, Lindsey Graham dismissed them as libertarians and essentially outliers.
FRUM: Look, the administration's -- I'm someone who's -- sorry.
COOPER: Go --
FRUM: Two Davids.
COOPER: Yes, David Axelrod, go ahead, and we'll get David in.
AXELROD: No, look, I think that if you were going to -- if you were going to identify two members of the Republican caucus who were likely to dissent, it would be them. But look, they raised an important point, which is that there are constitutionally shared powers here, that Congress does have responsibilities and they ought to be treated with respect.
And, you know, one of the -- you talk about building solidarity in the country, but it's also important to build solidarity for governing purposes. And bringing in the other branch, both Democrats and Republicans and sharing the burden of these decisions, is an important part of that. And it's a huge mistake to treat the Congress as they're treating the Congress here.
COOPER: David Frum, I mean, on that point, it is remarkable to think, you know, having experienced what we all experienced in the run-up to the Iraq war in terms of the use of intelligence and just the lies that have subsequently been revealed about, you know, what the public has been told about the war in Afghanistan for quite some time, which, you know, revealed in "The New York Times" recently, an extraordinary history of lies, just as it was in the Vietnam war -- the fact that Lindsey Graham is arguing that old argument of, just, even discussing this is giving comfort to the enemy.
[20:25:07] I mean, that's -- that's a line that's been used time and time again for decades.
FRUM: Look, General Soleimani is a blood-soaked murderer. No one regrets his death and his death was overdue and there was no way he was going to die peacefully and he shouldn't have died peacefully.
That said, the administration's account, you don't have to know anything about the intelligence. It's obviously not true.
It's -- look, one of two things were true -- they are claiming, this is a person who is at the top of the Iranian chain of command. And also, that there is an imminent attack. If the attack is imminent, killing the guy at the top of the chain of command doesn't stop it. If the United States had been able to kill Osama bin Laden two days
before 9/11, that wouldn't have stopped 9/11. The operation was underway. If the killing the guy at the top of the chain of command can stop the operation, the operation is by definition not imminent. It's still in the planning phase.
So their explanation can't be true. That doesn't mean the decision was wrong. But given -- if you believe in the decision, you could give a truthful explanation for it, including that this man owed the United States a blood debt. That would be an answer that many Americans would accept.
But what they're saying now is, you can't accept it, because it's obviously not true.
COOPER: Yes, David Frum, David Axelrod, appreciate it. Thank you.
Up next, a live report from Iraq, where there was actually in Baghdad today, the latest on that in a moment.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hours after President Trump told the nation that, "Iran appears to be standing down," the Iraqi military says two rockets landed in the Green Zone of Baghdad, which houses the U.S. embassy. No casualties reported.
The CNN team in Baghdad says it heard sirens from inside the Green Zone, as well as two explosions. We should note that there had been numerous rocket attacks in the area in recent months, even before the killing of Qassem Soleimani, and it's not exactly clear who fired the rockets.
CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Erbil, the northern Kurdish region of Iraq, near where some of last night's missiles struck. So, Clarissa, talk about the situation there tonight?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it's very quiet here tonight, but I have to say, it was extremely eerie to be flying in to Erbil at night. The airport was essentially deserted. Ours was one of the only flights that was not canceled, because one of the missiles that fell in Erbil actually landed within the perimeter of the airport.
This is, obviously, extremely important place strategically for the U.S. It is the heart of the fight against ISIS. A lot of Special Forces operatives working in and around this area. That fight is now frozen, but we did notice in our hotel, roughly a hundred, if not more, U.S. military contractors, they had essentially been evacuated from places like Baghdad, also from the Balad Air Base amid fears of continuing attacks.
The assumption was that Erbil was the safe place to send people, but Iran sending a powerful message last night that no place is essentially beyond the reach or completely secure from the reach of their missiles, Anderson.
COOPER: You know, you talk about this as being kind of frozen. Obviously, things can, unfortunately, thaw out quite quickly. There are still -- I mean, you can't understate the tensions between the United States and Iran, that still exist.
WARD: And -- absolutely, the tensions are there, and I think you're going to continue to see them exploited, particularly through the situation here in Iraq. This is an easy move for Iran going forward, to try to play on the divisions between Iraqis and the U.S.
You know, you mentioned before that we've seen a lot of rockets go into the Green Zone, and we have. But given the events that have transpired in the last 24 hours, it's hard not to see this through the prism of essentially passions running high, with supporters of the various Shia militias that are loyal to Iran, they're looking for revenge. They feel anger. They feel resentment. They want to see U.S. forces leave. And that is what Iran has ultimately said its real goal here is.
These missiles last night were essentially a strategic gesture to show strength, to save face. But the real goal, according to their own rhetoric, is to try to push U.S. forces out of this region entirely. That is not going to be a short-term prospective, Anderson. That could take years, and believe me, they are willing to play the long game here.
COOPER: Clarissa Ward, thank you. Be careful.
For more on the standoff with Iran, the President's use of national security-related intelligence, I want to bring in Leon Panetta. Mr. Panetta served as both CIA director and Defense Secretary under President Obama.
Secretary Panetta, first of all, your reaction to the administration's overall handling so far of the Iranian missile strike and the pushback from some members of Congress.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR AND DEFENSE SECRETARY, OBAMA ADMIN.: Anderson, I think it's very difficult to try to understand what is the overall strategy of this administration in the Middle East. It's very confused. The President has talked on both sides of the fence, talked about withdrawing from the Middle East, talked about forever wars, talked about the need to let those countries deal with their own problems.
And at the same time, we are now building up our forces in the Middle East and we are virtually on -- continue to be on the brink of war in that area. I just think that the handling of this situation has been very confusing.
The justification for why they went after Soleimani has been mixed. There have been different reasons presented. There's no clear evidence of an imminent threat that was involved here. And I think all of that raises a lot of questions about just exactly how we are going to proceed with regards to this crisis in the Middle East.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, it doesn't -- I'm just not clear on what the administration's policy is to Iran. I mean, there's -- clearly, there were some in the administration, Bolton and perhaps Pompeo, who wanted and may still want regime change. Obviously, the President has talked about getting troops out of Syria, out of Iraq. Is it clear to you that there is a policy?
PANETTA: No. I think if there's any history regarding the wars in the 21st century is that they've come about because of miscalculations, of poor judgment, of not understanding the intelligence, and somehow assuming that power alone could resolve these issues. That's the history of the wars we've been in. And we're in the process of repeating all of those same mistakes now.
I think the President tried, essentially, to bully Iran into negotiations with the United States. And Iran, to some extent, is trying to bully this President to get out of the Middle East. Both have failed. And yet, you know, I don't see much changing, although we had a pause last night, and thank God for that, in terms of whether or not we were going to go to war. I don't see anything changing right now in the relationship between the United States and Iran and that spells trouble for the future.
COOPER: How concerning is it that the administration is essentially telling members of the Senate, telling a room full of all of the senators, don't discuss this, don't debate this, because it's emboldening an enemy.
PANETTA: In my experience, that's unheard of. If you're going to go and brief the Senate with regards to a national security issue, your job is to present the truth to that group of senators and let them know exactly what has happened and the justification for any action that took place.
To then go there and lecture a group of senators about what they should or should not say or what they should or should not do, is asking for trouble. And you heard that trouble today with the senators who came out and reacted to that briefing. The purpose of those briefings is to build support with the Senate and with the Congress.
You're in the process of being on the brink of some kind of conflict in the Middle East. You need the support of the Congress, if the United States is going to take any steps in that part of the world. And not to bring the Senate on to your side, but instead, criticize them for opening their mouth, I think, was just a serious mistake in terms of the ability of this administration to try and get their support.
COOPER: We had David Frum on earlier, who wrote a piece in "The Atlantic." Essentially, one of his points was how President Trump basically is only speaking to half the country. He's only speaking to the people who, you know, voted for him, who he believes will vote for him again. And that was just very evident today in, you know, this moment of potential national unity and national kind of relief. He, you know, chose it to kind of lay it on -- attack President Obama and, you know, presidents going back to '79.
PANETTA: This President, and one of the things that's concerned me from the beginning of this administration, was not only rejecting the values of the presidency and how you behave, but failing to try and unify the country behind the president's policies.
He's almost deliberately tried to split this country apart and continues to do that, continues to only speak to his supporters, instead of trying to reach out and bring all of the American people into supporting what the administration is doing. He is -- he's wrapped up in a political campaign, almost a continuing political campaign.
And in that mind-set, all he cares about is whether or not his supporters continue to support him. And he continues to appeal to them, rather than being big in that office and reaching out to all of the American people. I think that's a serious mistake.
COOPER: Secretary Panetta, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much.
PANETTA: Thank you.
COOPER: Up next, a deadly mystery, was it an accident or just perhaps something worse that led to the plane crash in Tehran that killed 176 people only hours after the Iranian missile attack.
COOPER: There's growing concern over the cause of that Ukrainian airliner crash in Tehran only a few hour after Iranian missiles crashed into American positions inside Iraq. Authorities say all 176 people aboard the Boeing 737 were killed. What we don't know is whether it was an accident or something more sinister.
With us now, Mary Schiavo, a CNN Aviation Analyst and former Inspector General for the Transportation Department. She's now an attorney for victims and families in transportation accidents, including those involving Boeing. Mary, based on what you've seen so far, what stands out to you? Are there clues to suggest what may have happened?
MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think the thing that stands out to me most of all was a change in the position. At first, there was a comment that it could be an engine, engine failure, et cetera, and then people changed their minds. And I think that probably suggests that what they looked at was the ACARS data, the data that is transmitted by the aircraft itself.
And it had a normal takeoff, climb out. It had good altitude gain, had good ground speed, and then all of a sudden it went completely silent and no more data transmission, obviously, that suggests something very catastrophic and probably not an engine failure.
COOPER: And it appears as if there wasn't a mayday call?
SCHIAVO: That's right, highly significant as well, because with an engine failure, there are very established and trained for procedures. The pilots have fire bottles, which they will set off to put out to extinguish a fire in the engine. They'll call air traffic control and request emergency clearance. The routes will be cleared for them and they'll head right back to the airport. No mayday call suggests whatever happened, happened instantaneously and catastrophically.
COOPER: It's said to be, I think, a difficult airport to fly in and out of. It requires training, apparently, from what I've read, that these pilots were experienced with it.
SCHIAVO: I see no indication that the pilots had made errors flying into and out of the airport. And if they had a problem, for example, gaining altitude, we would have seen that on the flight radar data, and it doesn't look like that at all. It got, you know, fine climb, altitude, ground speed, and it looked like a completely normal takeoff.
COOPER: The fact that there was military activity in Iran, you know, the missile attacks into Iraq, it's obviously either a coincidence or, you know, there is some linkage there in some way.
SCHIAVO: Well, statistically speaking, when an airplane literally explodes in the sky when you have an in-flight breakup, especially with a fire, statistically, it has usually been a missile, a bomb, or an explosion. But there are a few notable exceptions.
TWA 800 back in 1996 was a center fuel tank explosion. And Chalk's Oceans Airways was a wing coming off. And there is -- and air wing is directive on this plane for the wing attachment. So there are notable exceptions for mechanical failures, but usually it has been explosion, bomb, missile when a plane falls from the sky.
COOPER: And you know, always we talked about the black box. The Iranian government has said they will not turn over the black boxes, which apparently have been located, and won't work with either the U.S. government or with the manufacturer, which I believe is Boeing. Again, one can read that with as -- there's nefarious reasons for that or, you know, distrust and other political reasons.
SCHIAVO: Or unfamiliarity with how an Annex 13 International Civil Aviation Organization investigation really works. And that is you deliver the black boxes securely and safely to a black box lab that is capable of downloading and really identifying and working with the data. They don't routinely just give them back to the manufacturers. They get them to the lab.
Now, the best labs are, of course, in U.S., Canada, France, Britain, Australia, and others. So if I was certainly leading the investigation, I would want to call in one of these black box lab experts if I wasn't going to use the NTSB. But, according to the Annex 13 ICAO guidelines, the country of manufacturer of the aircraft is a part of the investigation, so that would be irregular. You know, certainly, they could call in Canada. They have a great investigation bureau. And there were so many Canadians onboard. That would make sense.
COOPER: Yes, that would. Mary, appreciate it, thanks. More to learn, obviously.
SCHIAVO: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still holding on to the two articles of impeachment passed in mid-December. Ahead, the state of play tonight on their transmission to the Senate.
COOPER: I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time". Chris?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: How you doing, Coop? We're taking it from simple to complicated tonight. We have lawmakers on both sides who are very upset on -- about these briefings today. Why? Simple, if it's such a simple case, why hasn't it been made? Why hasn't the President given us a stitch of proof of why this was necessary?
Because if we don't learn from the process, the process will be repeated and this kind of brinkmanship is no way to do diplomacy, it's no way to keep the country safe. So, we're going to go through that, we're going to have the experts from the region say why they believe this isn't over and we're going to look at that plane crash, what's worth speculating on, what is not.
COOPER: All right, 6 minutes from now. Chris, I look forward to it. Just ahead with the showdown with Iran now on old or maybe at least now a pause. Attention on Capitol Hill turning to impeachment and the question, will House Speaker Nancy Pelosi send the articles of impeachment to the Senate as early as tomorrow? We'll look at that, ahead.
COOPER: Even Senate Democrats appear ready for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to release the articles of impeachment, voted on last year. With her fight against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell over trial rules at an impasse, several Democratic senators today told CNN it's time to begin the trial, hopefully next week, according to Senator Chris Murphy.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein told "Politico," "The longer it goes on, the less urgent it becomes. So if it's serious and urgent, send them over. If it is, don't send it over." Phil Mattingly joins us now from Capitol Hill. So, now that the Speaker is starting to face criticism from inside her own party, what are your sources telling you about her next steps?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, it's remarkable in a building, the Capitol, where just about everything leaks out, sometimes within minutes from closed-door meetings and briefings, that no one really knows what the Speaker plans to do. Even her closest advisers, her closest leadership members don't have an explanation or an answer as to when the articles will head over.
But you hit on a key point here. Senate Democrats are running out of patience. I'm told multiple Democratic senators have told Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to communicate to the Speaker that the time is now to transmit the articles. The idea of holding them for a period of time has served its purpose.
Obviously, more stories have leaked out. John Bolton is willing to testify, if subpoenaed. That has been effective to a degree and effective in setting a message about what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to do.
But what one Democratic senator told me today, Anderson, we have reached the point of diminishing returns. This needs to come over now. The expectation is still that they will likely come over this week, but no one knows for sure.
COOPER: Tomorrow the House votes on an Iran war powers resolution. Is that expected to play into this at all? I mean, how is that expected to play out? And could it impact the Speaker's decision on impeachment?
MATTINGLY: Anderson, one of the most interesting elements of this entire week is how much really members in both parties, in both chambers have tried as best they can to separate these two issues. They understand the gravity of both of them, they understand the necessity of dealing with both of them, but they are trying to keep them separate.
The war powers resolution tomorrow, which would halt Iran -- would halt the U.S. from hostilities towards Iran, unless they came back to Congress, will pass and it will pass overwhelmingly. But at this point, keeping it separate from impeachment, Anderson.
COOPER: Phil Mattingly, thanks very much. Appreciate it. The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?
CUOMO: All right, thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Prime Time." The question, is it really over? The President still hasn't provided you a stitch of proof this country had to take out a general right now.