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Pentagon: 34 U.S. Troops Diagnosed with Brain Injuries after Iran Strike; Soon: House Managers Begin Final Day of Argument; Democrats Launch Preemptive Strike on Donald Trump's Lawyers over Bidens; Democrats: There Are More Classified Evidence Senators Need to See; Soon: House Democrats Present Their Case For Donald Trump's Removal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 24, 2020 - 12:00   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I heard that they had X and a couple of other things but I would say and I could report that it is not very serious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you don't consider potential traumatic brain injury serious?

TRUMP: They told me about it numerous days later it had - after hits Department of Defense. No, I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: According to Pentagon eight service members who were at that base, that Iraqi base where U.S. troops are basically flown there eight service members were flown to the United States for Germany for treatment. I think they're at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Which suggests that it's much more serious than initially that we were told?

BLITZER: Nine troops who were injured are still being treated in Germany at the long scale air base. Sixteen have been treated in Iraq. They have returned to duty. One was treated in Kuwait and has returned to duty in Iraq. This is a significant development. If you heard Dr. Sanjay Gupta, on air over recent days traumatic brain injuries resulting from missiles landing and the concussions and the pounding that can cause some pretty serious damage.

TAPPER: In fact, it is something that people who work for veterans organizations and represent military organizations have been trying to get the public to understand better over the last decade or so, which is that traumatic brain injuries, TBIs, are some of the worst injuries that troops sustain.

They might not be as visible as losing a limb, but they can be horrifying, and the idea that anybody would denigrate them is not serious because they're not visible is just a display of ignorance about how significant those wounds are? Senator Santorum?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there is a balancing act that frankly I think the President is trying to - he doesn't want to escalate. This was part of the de-escalation of this very, very tense situation between the United States and Iran, that everybody thought we were going to go to World War III, and I think what he was trying to do during this time is - I don't think denigrate the injuries, but make sure that he wasn't giving the signal that the red line had been tripped again. I know the President isn't strong on diplomacy, but I think there was an attempt there in this case to try to make sure that we didn't--

BLITZER: First they said there were no injuries.

TAPPER: None at all, right.

BLITZER: None at all, everybody was fine, just fine. All of a sudden they said, well, yes, there were a few head injuries and some of the troops were flown to Germany for treatment, but now they're saying very serious traumatic brain injuries, and when you have to fly eight service members here to Washington to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for specialized treatment, that's a big deal.

SANTORUM: I'm not, certainly not denigrating the injuries that occurred and I'm sure that President was given reports that may be immediately after there wasn't any report because there were no physical injuries you're talking about and all these injuries you show up later. All of these things could be somewhat you know could be accurate, but I think the overriding emphasis, at least that I'm sure the President was getting at the time was, don't say anything, this sounds like there was casualties that's going to get us to have to respond.

TAPPER: Certainly I understand the point you're trying to make, which was this is within a larger geopolitical context of trying to deescalate a situation.

SANTORUM: And remember, this was a very intense time.

TAPPER: Absolutely. But beyond that, I think there are two points that are important for the viewers to understand. One is that traumatic brain injury is a very serious injury, a very serious wound, especially as the U.S. has been able and just technology in general has improved so that more service members are able to survive wounds, i.e., the attacks, et cetera, than would have been able to survive those same attacks during Vietnam, for example.

There is an increase in the number of cases of traumatic brain injury and it is very serious. And the second thing is, and whatever the reason is, the fog of war or whatever, we have not been told the full truth throughout this entire event starting with the attack. We were told everything - as you just pointed out, Wolf, we were told everything was fine, nobody was hurt. Then we were told well, a few days later, there were some injuries but it's no big deal. Then the President said, it's just some headaches, I don't think it is that serious, now we're finding out that a number of our brave service members who were in Iraq at the time have traumatic brain injury, and it's very serious, and whether it's the fog of war or something more nefarious, I can't say, but we've not been told the whole truth all along this path.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, "INSIDE POLITICS": One of the good things is that you mentioned that the soldiers should have been sent back to Walter Reed, and let's hope the best for them. But the protocol has changed so dramatically since the early days of the Iraq War. But now they take this much more seriously.

TAPPER: Yes, absolutely.

KING: Within the military medical community both the commanders in the field understand it better. It's not like, oh, you just have a concussion or you just have a headache. That term from the President, he was traveling in Davos, let's hope he didn't have the latest information, and that was just a bad use of the term on that day because the headaches are disrespectful.

I'm not saying that's what the President was trying to do. He was traveling that day I've covered Presidents when they're traveling. It's hard sometimes to keep on touch of information but the idea that the military takes this exponentially more serious than they did in 2003 and 2004.

SANTORUM: And that's important, it's not like these people didn't get proper treatment.

KING: And hopefully the ones who have to home here are just getting the best care they can get at Walter Reed and it's not serious. The fact that some have gone back to duty is a good thing just in the sense that the protocols now, I think we all keep in touch - I know you Jake, with veterans from those days.


KING: There are 15 years home 15 years off the battlefield who still have issues with these traumatic brain injuries.

TAPPER: Oh, absolutely.

KING: And sometimes it goes away for months and then something comes back. So it is an urgent concern in the veteran's community as you noted. I do think it is benefit of everybody including our business in the political community keep the American people - these kids are heroes and they deserve our help.

TAPPER: I'm sorry to interrupt. I just want to go to the Pentagon right now. Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne are our reporters in the Pentagon who brought us this news. Barbara, you just got out of the briefing at the Pentagon. Tell us what you know? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Secretary Mark Esper is now several days later going to start a review of how injuries and wounded troops are reported statistically through the Pentagon, keeping track of the wounded and how that information may be public?

You might reflect upon, after 18 years of war, how it is that the Pentagon still has to review this? Yes, things can always be improved. But are we in a point where there is not clear and concise reporting of America's wounded on the battlefield?

And, look, that includes what we're talking about today. Let's just stop for a moment. 34 troops impacted by this event. Whether they have been cleared and returned to duty? Whether they are still hospitalized by any stretch? This is when I say a mass casualty incident, I don't mean dead, of course, thank goodness.

I mean people who are wounded and injured both silent wound of war. But 34 American troops this is a mass impact incident by any measure, and you have to wonder how the Pentagon? How the Trump Administration might have handled it if it had not been the silent wound of war? If it had been some other catastrophic event impacting troops on the battlefield?

The pentagon, the U.S. military, has struggled for decades on how to deal with traumatic brain injury? Do you just report when someone has symptoms? Do you report if the symptoms go away, if the symptoms persist? How they are treated?

But there are protocols, and the Pentagon clearly, for the last several days, they've known and they have been public about it, that the number of troops impacted has been growing, because as time has gone by, these kinds of concussion symptoms emerge. But there is something else here.

And our own Arwa Damon saw it the minute she got to the Al-Assad base where all of this happened. U.S. troops there, yes, they fled to bunkers that protected them somewhat. But those bunkers were to protect them against mortars and rockets which are relatively - and I say relatively - lighter weight weapons.

What the Iranians fired at them was ballistic missiles with thousands of pounds of explosives. This is something that basically those blast waves hit their brains inside their skull. So they clearly didn't have protection against that kind of event, and you have to sort of contemplate whether the Pentagon now thinks they need to provide better protection?

If they can't put patriot missiles everywhere, do they need bunkers that adequately physically protect people? And again a comeback to an incident where, thankfully, people were not killed, there is not a large number of casualties, but there are 34 troops American troops impacted by this and eight of them still very much being treated. Some returned to duty, some still in Germany some flown back to the United States for additional treatment.

BLITZER: Barbara, stand by. Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, our CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst, is with us. You're the Former Pentagon Spokesman. I'm anxious to get your reaction. We're now hearing 34 U.S. troops who were at the Al-Assad air base when those Iranian missiles were launched at the United States. All of a sudden 34 U.S. troops suffered from various forms of traumatic brain injuries, and eight of them have been flown to Walter Reed here in Washington for specialized treatment.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think that certainly points to the significance of the impact of these attacks, and Barbara was right, these were ballistic missiles that do bring a much bigger punch in terms of fire power.

An official that night I was talking to in Baghdad had said that they were able to get troops, had enough warning to get them into bunkers. So you can easily understand why concussive effects might be experienced them.

I'm glad that Pentagon has taken this seriously. I'm glad that they brought them back home, and frankly I was gratified to hear the news that Secretary Esper is taking a look now at reporting requirements for these kinds of events overseas. I think that's a wise course.

TAPPER: And one other thing I want to ask you Admiral is I think that there is a - because there is such a chasm between the 1 percent of the country that serves or leave what people who serve and 99 percent of the rest of us who don't or have not, there is an ignorance about what exactly a lot of these munitions do?

People think that it's just about a bullet piercing the skin. They don't understand the idea what Barbara was tried to explain, the idea of a shock wave. That an IED, the first thing it does is could liquefy your arm.


TAPPER: And then there comes the shrapnel--

KIRBY: That's right.

TAPPER: And so that's why traumatic brain injury can be very, very serious.

KIRBY: The blast effect is incredibly important and traumatic brain injury is a physical injury. You may not see it, but it is about the brain being dislocated or being smashed up against inside of the skull. It is a physical injury and that's how it has to be treated.

The Pentagon has been working particularly in the army over the last many years to try to de-stigmatize the effects of not just post- traumatic stress but traumatic brain injuries to get soldiers to feel like it is OK to report these headaches, these effects that they're having. And so I worry when these kinds of injuries are sort of just cast off as something meaningless or not important on the effect that it might have in the army's ability to encourage soldiers to --.

TAPPER: Exactly, indeed a very important because it is - do you want to say something?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I just want point out because we've been discussing whether or not the President was trying to sort of deescalate the situation, but we should be clear that he was asked - the reporter clarified--

TAPPER: About traumatic brain injuries?

PHILLIP: Mr. President, do you believe traumatic brain injuries are not serious? And he responded, no, I don't consider them serious injuries to what I've seen. That's a pretty clear statement on the President's part, and I think it's important to point that out, because not only is it important for the President to sort of set the example about how we treat these kinds of injuries?

But he is also the Commander in Chief. This is his actual constitutional job to oversee the military, and I think a lack of understanding about these kinds of injuries is really kind of - accepting that in the President is really lowering the bar here. We've been at war for over a decade now. I think we all understand what--

TAPPER: 18 years, yes. We understand you want to--

SANTORUM: Just one quick comment is, yesterday I made a comment about social security that the President will back track. The President will say something in the next 24 hours and he will recognize the importance of it.

TAPPER: Well, whatever it is, obviously traumatic brain injury is very serious and it's not just a headache and it shouldn't be denigrated and we are and our thoughts and prayers are with these service members.

Coming up next our live special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Trump, we have new details about how his legal team is preparing to present their defense? And what people inside the White House really think of the Democrats' performance stay with us.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Today is the final day for House Managers to present evidence and make their case for the conviction and removal of President Trump. Adam Schiff closed out day 2 of his argument by imploring his Senators to remember that right matters. He's of course trying to sway Republicans to vote for more evidence, witnesses and documents.

House Managers expected to focus on the second article of impeachment obstruction of Congress then it will be up to Schiff again to try and sway as many as four Republicans to agree that more information about witnesses are needed for a fair and comprehensive trial.

Want to go straight to Dana Bash on Capitol Hill. Standing by with one of the Democratic Senators here in the case, Dana? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Anderson, and thank you Senator Chris Coons of Delaware I appreciate it. I want to ask you about something that Adam Schiff said last night, which is he really leaned into the fact that this not just may be the President who knew about the scheme, to use his words, that the administration was involved in these would be trying to get the Ukrainians to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

You and other Senators are able, as we speak, to go to the secure location here in the Capitol and look at classified information from the testimony of Jennifer Williams who is an aide to Vice President Pence. Do you have the chance to do that? I understand it's classified, but can you broadly tell me what you found in your takeaway?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I'll tell you that last night Adam Schiff, the House Manager, made in his closing argument two key points. One, that even after this scheme was revealed by a whistleblower, senior- level members of the administration continued to press it forward and that it doesn't just involve Mulvaney and Bolton, it involves a whole group of the most senior members of this administration.

If members of the Senate, having gotten access to and seen information that reinforces concerns about the significance and seniority and persistence of this threat demonstrate that they don't want more information by voting not to ask for more documents, not to ask for more witnesses, then they're not interested in the truth.

Because even since the House began its inquiry, even since they voted out impeachment articles, there's more evidence that has come forward. I never heard of Lev Parnas. We wouldn't know about Lev Parnas except he was arrested trying to flee the country.

Yesterday we got to see a whole series of texts and email messages from him even though that happened after indictment. There is a lot more to get to. There is a lot more truth.

BASH: OK, that's all public, and again I know you have to be careful, but it sounds like what you're telling me is that there is classified information available in the Capitol behind us right now?

COONS: That every Senators should seek.

BASH: Because it very clearly backs up all the notion that all of these senior officials you were talking about?

COONS: It's relevant to the impeachment inquiry.

BASH: Anything more you want to tell me?

COONS: I think the House Managers are making a very compelling case, and we're about to, tomorrow, hear the President's response. If my colleagues aren't interested in seeking, obviously, relevant information that is right in front of us, then this isn't a fair and open trial. BASH: And I want to ask you about a big chunk of the House Managers' argument yesterday, Sylvia Garcia in particular. She spent a lot of time on Joe Biden. Obviously you're a fellow Delawarean, you are enthusiastically supporting him. I've heard quietly from some of your fellow Democrats that maybe it was a little much of a rebuttal.

Yes, she spent a lot of time trying to say Joe Biden didn't do anything wrong, but why spend that time saying Joe Biden didn't do anything wrong?


BASH: How do you feel that somebody who wants him to be President?

COONS: So first, I do think it's worth repeating that this has been thoroughly investigated because he's the leading Democratic candidate in the primary field. He has had searching and thorough reviews of everything by the press doing their job.

I was struck at how much was dedicated to making that argument --

BASH: A bit too much?

COONS: -- that there is no evidence, but they may well be doing that in advance of the President's argument. If you read the briefs from the President's Attorneys, which I've done, they mention Joe Biden virtually every other page. They spend more time talking about Joe Biden than Rudy Giuliani, the President's Attorney who was centrally involved in this entire --

BASH: But was it too much given the fact that you're going to have time for questions after the President's team makes its argument?

COONS: I'll let history make that judgment.

BASH: OK. Thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

COONS: Thank you, it is great seeing you.

BASH: Thank you. Anderson back to you.

COOPER: All right Dana. Thanks very much. Let's talk about the obstruction case. Jeff, what are you expecting from today? This is the final day for Democrats to make their argument without any interruption they will be able to answer questions once the Republican side, once the President's Attorneys make their presentation.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The main point I think you'll hear from the Democrats is, Senators, this is your power we're talking about. Someday, Republican Senators, you're going to want information from a Democratic President. And if this President is allowed to stand, this complete shutdown of any cooperation that is going to - that will be a precedent that will be used to the detriment of Congress. So I think that is an argument you're going to hear today.

COOPER: Isn't so far this an example that a complete forming of Congress works? And essentially the argument that is being made by Republicans now is well, look it is just going to take too long even if we wanted to call witnesses it is just going to take too long because the White House is going to fight it, so it's not worth it, which is the calculation that the House made?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Speaking of repetition. This is a calculus they made before. The stonewalling effort has paid off for them in terms of that very argument. But it is going to be hard to defend against the number zero. Because that's how many documents they have produced. It is hard to defend against like they have produced no witnesses.

And so they have to essentially prove which is odd, they have to prove nothing today. They have to prove that actually factually nothing was given to them even though some of these documents, Anderson, were handed and foyer requests and so speaking of Jeffrey's point to thumb your nose to congressional power to say, you can't get them but I'll bring them over at a foyer release. All the more underscores the point this was a whole fail defiance of Congressional subpoenas and even voluntary cooperation from the Executive Branch.

COOPER: Ross, is there any reason, you know once this is done, this entire trial and whatever happens with it, is there any reason why on the House side they wouldn't continue to try to seek out documents?

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's a question for them, and it's something that I've been talking about. It's worth remembering that there are subpoenas that the House didn't issue, the House didn't try to enforce any of the subpoenas that it did issue, and in this intervening time, they rushed to get this done.

In this intervening time between the articles of impeachment and today, they haven't issued, the House hasn't issued subpoenas for all this potentially critical information. And, yes, it would potentially take a long time to get through the course, but you can't get to the end unless you actually start to do it.

COOPER: Well, also Jeff Toobin, I mean there might be a long time. If President Trump is reelected, is there anything to stop Democrats from having it go through the courts?

TOOBIN: Absolutely not. And remember, Don McGahn that litigation is far along. Just to give people an idea of how long this takes? The House Committee first subpoenaed Don McGahn in April. In December they won in the district court. And that's now on appeal in the D.C. Circuit. That gives you some idea of how long it takes. But they didn't go to court until I think August.


TOOBIN: They vet that subpoena set, he didn't show up and then the House did nothing.

COOPER: It remains the case that there is still a House Intelligence Committee, there is a House Judiciary Committee, and they will continue these investigations even after impeachment is over. TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Another very important point to make is that this is not a separation of powers issue like any other. Impeachments are different, and we have historical precedent to show that Presidents like George Washington, like James Polk, made clear that the House has more power.

And so, by extension, does the Senate to get documents from the Executive Branch if it is an impeachment. That's a very important point to be making to the Senate. There are Senators who have been arguing, this is just like what Obama didn't give us.


NAFTALI: Not true, Obama wasn't impeached. There wasn't an impeachment inquiry for Obama. That is a key element to this. That we should see today, I'm sure.

COOPER: Next new reporting on what the President's Legal Team is doing behind the scenes ahead of their preparation tomorrow. Stand by.


COOPER: In just a few minutes, Democrats are going to start their final day of opening arguments. They'll get eight more hours to make their case. Then tomorrow President Trump's legal team will begin. They get their turn. CNN's White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is live at the White House. So what do we know?