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Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on January 5, 2020

Pompeo: U.S. will "do our best" to release Iran intelligence
Pompeo says administration will "do our best" to release intelligence on Iran 08:19

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (@SecPompeo)
  • Gen. David Petraeus (Ret) Former Commander in Chief of Central Command, former CIA director
  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida (@marcorubio), Foreign Relations Committee
  • Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut (@ChrisMurphyCT), Foreign Relations Committee
  • Tom Perez, DNC Chair, (@TomPerez)  
  • David Martin, CBS News Chief National Security Correspondent @CBSDavidMartin
  • Holly Williams (@HollyMAWilliams) CBS News Foreign Correspondent   

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington. And this week on FACE THE NATION, the conflict between the United States and Iran escalates dramatically after the U.S. targets and kills a top Iranian general. Iran is about to retaliate and President Trump says if that happens, the U.S. will hit back, quote, "Very fast and very hard."

Plus, new CBS Battleground Tracker numbers show a familiar face now on top of the 2020 field in Iowa and New Hampshire.

There has been dramatic reaction around the world this weekend following the U.S. drone strike that killed Iran's top military general, Qasem Soleimani. President Trump stayed out of public view Saturday, following his statement that the administration saw their action as an act of de-escalation.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But late Saturday, the President took to Twitter to promise a staggering response if Iran retaliates, saying, "…if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets…we have targeted fifty-two Iranian sites…" and "…we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!" The U.S. is sending more forces to the region, and around the world security has been heightened on American facilities and installations, and Homeland Security officials warn of potential attacks on U.S. infrastructure.

We'll talk with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as two influential Senate voices on foreign policy, Florida Republican Marco Rubio, and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, who's called Soleimani's death a shocking assassination. Former CIA Director and Retired General David Petraeus will also be here.

All that and more, is just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. In Iran today, tens of thousands are paying their respects with a massive funeral procession for General Soleimani. Iranian officials have ramped up their threats of retaliation, warning that they may target three hundred American-affiliated sites for potential military response. And this just in: The Pentagon announced that the U.S. has paused its efforts in the fight against ISIS due to a need to protect U.S. troops in the region. CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams joins us from Iraq. Chief national security correspondent David Martin is at the Pentagon. David, let's start with you. What preparations is Iran making to respond?

DAVID MARTIN (CBS News National Security Correspondent/@CBSDavidMartin): Margaret, I spoke to a U.S. defense official just a short time ago, and he says that Iran, among other things, has brought its ballistic missiles to a higher state of alert. And he told me, and I want to read this so I get it correct. "It is unclear whether Iranian military movements are intended to better prepare to defend themselves or to be better prepared to execute strikes." When I said to him that sounds like we're on a razor's edge, he said yes. And the tension in his voice was palpable. We are at a dangerous moment, probably, the most dangerous moment of the Trump administration.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Holly, Iran, this morning, saying that they may look to restart their nuclear program. That's a long-term threat. What David's describing is an immediate one. What is happening on the ground?

HOLLY WILLIAMS (CBS News Correspondent/@HollyMAWilliams): Well, Margaret, people in this part of the world are bracing for something. Iran has made it crystal clear that it wants revenge. But, of course, we cannot know how or when that might happen. The U.S. military here in Iraq is on high alert. We've already had two rocket attacks yesterday, close to Iraqi military bases, where U.S. personnel are also working. And Kata'ib Hezbollah, that's an Iraqi militia group that has backing from Iran, it has warned Iraqi government security forces to stay away from U.S. military bases here in Iraq beginning this evening. Also today, Iraq's parliament is holding an emergency session, where pro-Iranian lawmakers are calling for the roughly five thousand U.S. troops based here in Iraq to be ordered out of the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David, Qasem Soleimani crafted this playbook of using proxy forces to do Iran's dirty work outside the country. But what you're describing is the state of Iran itself preparing to take action. What is the U.S. preparing for?

DAVID MARTIN: Well, you-- you saw the President's tweets. He said that if Iran attacks Americans or American assets, they have identified fifty-two targets. That number fifty-two, apparently, represents one for each hostage taken when a mob stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran nearly forty years ago. And he also said they would include high-level targets, presumably, he meant leadership targets, and targets that are important to Iranian culture. Now in most military operations, cultural targets are off limits. So this was a very extraordinary threat from the President of the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Holly, Qasem Soleimani directed mass murder. Are there people in the region who are actually celebrating?

HOLLY WILLIAMS: You know, it's interesting, Margaret, when it comes to regional reactions. Israel is pleased. The Israeli government has praised President Trump for his, quote, "Decisive action." But when it comes to other countries, even those that feared and loathed Qasem Soleimani when he was alive, they seem to be concerned about the repercussions of this assassination. Take, for instance, Saudi Arabia, arch-foe of Iran. It is urging restraint and says it's worried about escalation. We also spoke with two Iraqi lawmakers today. They are not friends of Iran or its influence in this country. In fact, they are very supportive of the U.S. military presence here. But they told us they are frustrated by American actions and fearful that Iraq is going to turn into a battlefield for a proxy war between Iran and the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Holly and David, thank you.

We turn now to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Good morning to you, Mister Secretary.

MIKE POMPEO (Secretary of State/@SecPompeo): Margaret, good to be with you. Thanks for having me on the show this morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does eliminating Qasem Soleimani take out the specific plot that you say was an imminent threat?

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, we made the right decision to take out this terrorist. He not only caused enormous death and destruction throughout the region, killed hundreds of Americans over the years, but had done so in the past couple of days, killed an American on December twenty-seventh. We watched him-- we watched him continue to actively build out for what was going to be a significant attack. That's what we believed--


MIKE POMPEO: --and we made the right decision.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But on this specific threat--

MIKE POMPEO: As-- as general-- as General Milley said--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --has it been eliminated?

MIKE POMPEO: There-- there are constant threats. We've been-- we've been under threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran, since at least 2015, when the previous administration made the mistake of entering that horrific nuclear deal and gave money and resources to this regime. The threats remain and we'll continue to take action to respond to them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So Iran can still carry out that specific threat you described as imminent.

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it still imminent?

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, we continue to prepare for whatever it is the Iranian regime may put in front of us within the next ten minutes, within the next ten days and within the next ten weeks. We are-- we are focused on delivering a strategy for the American people. We're going to get it right in a moment. But we're more importantly going to get it right over the days and weeks and months ahead. We have put Iran in the position it has not been in before. It is under enormous pressure. And we are con-- continuing to be successful at denying them the resources to conduct precisely the types of campaign that we're confronting as a direct result of what happened over the past eight years before we came into office.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Up until this point, the U.S. had avoided specifically targeting and taking out top--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --Iranian military leaders. Were all of the President's national security advisers in full agreement that Qasem Soleimani needed to be killed?


MARGARET BRENNAN: Complete agreement across the Cabinet?

MIKE POMPEO: It was a collective decision. It was intelligence analysis that doing nothing created far more risks than the action that we took.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But doing nothing isn't the same as saying, specifically, Qasem Soleimani needed to be killed.

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, there was unanimity that we were making the right decision that day.


MIKE POMPEO: It was based not only on this intelligence, but you need to look-- look no further than the days that led up to this. Qasem Soleimani led and orchestrated a Kataib Hezbollah attack on an American that killed an American.


MIKE POMPEO: There was sound and just and legal reason for the actions the President took and the world is safer as a result of the bold action the President Trump took.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump is saying that there are fifty-two sites that the U.S.--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --would target if Iran retaliates. How is that consistent with what you say is your message of de-escalation?

MIKE POMPEO: Entirely consistent.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Threatening to bomb mainland Iran?

MIKE POMPEO: The Iranian leadership needs to understand that attacking Americans is not cost free. Setting out conditions that say these are our expectations, these are the things that America is expecting from you. And if you don't do them, the cost will be clear and-- and direct. And we have an obligation to speak to the Iranian leadership clearly and directly so that they understand that America is prepared, that we will continue to keep the American people safe, that we will reduce threats throughout the region if they take certain actions. So they are entirely consistent. The entire strategy has been one of deterrence. To convince the Iranians that it would be so costly and to support the Iranian people so that they could see that what their leadership was doing was-- was destroying their country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But they're not backing down--

MIKE POMPEO: We've been-- we've been very effective at this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think that this will make them back down? Isn't this such a threat to Iranian pride to have one of their most powerful leaders killed?

MIKE POMPEO: Qasem Soleimani--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does this force them--

MIKE POMPEO: --killed hundreds of Americans. To take a terrorist off the battlefield does not increase the risk of terror. The risk of terror is increased by appeasement. That's what the Obama-- Obama-Biden administration did. It's what President Trump will never do, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He also killed thousands of people in the region. He-- he directed mass murder, but--

MIKE POMPEO: Hundreds of thousands--


MIKE POMPEO: --a massacre in Syria. Absolutely true.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But does this mean other Iranian leaders are now potential U.S. targets?

MIKE POMPEO: We're going to do everything required to keep the American people safe.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That sounds like a yes.

MIKE POMPEO: We're going to-- we're going to do under President Trump what he has directed for months. We're going to execute our national security strategy and convince the people of Iran that we're-- are with them--


MIKE POMPEO: --and the Islamic Republic regime leadership that-- that their terrorism will not benefit them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Iraq this morning has been carrying out some votes and debate over the presence of U.S. troops. And now the question is if-- if Iraq legally requires that-- this is what they're looking at, U.S. troops to leave, will the U.S. comply?

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, I don't want to speculate about what the Iranian-- Iraqi leadership will do. We'll watch. We're following very closely what's taking place in the Iraqi parliament. Make no mistake about it, the Iraqi people, too, are protesting, but not against America. What you see on TV--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But this is the Prime Minister--

MIKE POMPEO: --is happening-- is happening at the direction--



MARGARET BRENNAN: --who is talking about this right now.

MIKE POMPEO: The-- the-- the-- having the--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --expelling five thousand U.S. troops.

MIKE POMPEO: The acting prime minister of Iraq, who resigned, because of massive Iranian interference in his own government's ability to execute sovereignty and independence for Iraq. It's why he left. And it is the United States--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the Iraqi parliament has now voted to prove it.

MIKE POMPEO: It is the unite-- it is the United States that is prepared to help the Iraqi people get what it is they deserve and continue our mission there to take down terrorism from ISIS and others in the region. That is in defense of the Iraqi people and is good for America, too.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So I hear you saying the U.S. wants to keep those troops there and will work on that. What are you doing diplomatically behind the scenes to try to de-escalate?

MIKE POMPEO: Well, it's not just behind the scenes. We're doing some of it publicly, too. The message--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have reached out to the regime--

MIKE POMPEO: The message is--


MIKE POMPEO: --that we're-- we're-- the Iranian leadership, including my counterpart, knows precisely what President Trump believes, wants, and desires and is demanding from the Iranian leadership. Make no mistake about it. But it's not just the last few days, Margaret. It's something we've been working on for an awfully long time. We've built out an enormous coalition, Gulf States, Israel. We built out a maritime coalition. We've got an air defense initiative that is a multi-country effort.


MIKE POMPEO: We've flowed American forces. But we've had forces coming in from our European friends and partners as well and the Canadians. This is a multi-country--


MIKE POMPEO: --global diplomatic effort--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But for the first time since World War II--

MIKE POMPEO: --to deter Iran--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the U.S. has now taken out a foreign military leader on foreign soil.

MIKE POMPEO: He's a terrorist.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is-- maybe, but this is a significant action. Do you really believe that Iran's going to sit down, negotiate now?

MIKE POMPEO: Depends how smart they are. It depends how much they take seriously what President Trump has communicated. If they take it seriously, they'll do the right thing. They will not continue to threaten not only Americans, but the entire region. The instability they have created for our ally Israel, for our partners, the Saudis, our friends, the Emiratis, all of these countries, Soleimani and his band of Merry Brothers have been a negative influence in the region for an awfully long time. And they are thankful for the action that American took.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. The details of the threat that you describe as imminent, and it sounds like you are also saying is ongoing, have not been shared with Congress. The details that were transmitted yesterday were kept classified. When will the American people know why President Trump decided to do what he did?

MIKE POMPEO: Well, Margaret, those aren't the same thing. You said they had been kept from Congress and kept classified. They have been shared with Congress. The congressional leadership has certainly seen it. Those members who have come back will get to see most all of that same information. I don't think any reasonable American elected official would see what President Trump and I and Secretary Esper saw and conclude that we could have done anything but the action that we took. And--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But will that be declassified and--

MIKE POMPEO: --and we will--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --explained to the American public?

MIKE POMPEO: --and, Margaret, we will do our best. We understand the obligation to share with the American people why it is we're taking the actions we can and we will do so. President Trump has done so in tweets. I've done so in messages. I'm sitting here with you today articulating why it is in America's best interest, the action we took. As for specific pieces of intelligence, you and I both know I was the director of the CIA. There are things you simply cannot share. There are valuable information streams that we must protect. We will need them in the days and weeks ahead. And we will never present the risk to the United States by putting at risk that valuable information.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But to be clear, that threat continues to exist? That plot?

MIKE POMPEO: There-- there remain enormous set of risks in the region and America's preparing for each and every one of them. That includes not only the threats from the proxy militias in Iraq, but in the region more broadly along every vector, including cyber.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Pompeo, thank you for joining us this morning.

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, thank you very much for having me on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in one minute with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio. He's standing by.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Joining us now is an influential member of both the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, Florida Republican Marco Rubio. Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-Florida/@marcorubio/Foreign Relations Committee): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Overnight, Iran's military has been readying ballistic missiles across that country here at home. Homeland Security is also issuing a terrorism bulletin. Do you believe now that America is safer after carrying out the strike against Qasem Soleimani?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, I believe that Iran was on the verge of scaling up the attacks that they were aiming against the United States, probably through surrogates in many places, not just in Iraq, but in Syria as well. And the United States had to take action in order to prevent that from happening and to make very clear what would happen if they undertook further attacks down the road. We-- we were the subject of, I believe, over ten or eleven rocket attacks just since October. It was made very clear to the Iranians what would happen and to the IRGC, that Soleimani headed, what would happen if a single American was killed. That happened. They crossed that line. And if you don't enforce the consequences, they won't believe it. And they'll continue to ratchet it up. And as far as the missiles are concerned, I believe they're probably dispersing them because they fear that a U.S. counter attack would come. But that's not unusual. And it's not the first time we've seen them take these sorts of actions. And, by the way, the fact they even have ballistic missiles tells you why the Iran deal was so flawed. It provided them billions of dollars--


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: --that they were able to use to fund all that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But, Senator, Qasem Soleimani was responsible for directing mass murder. There aren't a lot of people in this country mourning him. No one's disputing that. But the idea of taking this to the level of escalation in a cycle that was already growing in threats of taking out one of Iran's top leaders has many asking if the administration has a strategy in place to follow up so that there isn't a cycle that further escalates.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Yeah. You know I keep hearing that about the strategy. Here's the strategy. We are there for an anti ISIS operation and to support the Iraqi government, by the way, at the invitation of the Iraqi government. The Iranians don't want us there and they are threatening to kill Americans. The President of the United States has an obligation to protect those Americans. Soleimani was a threat. He was not there on a diplomatic visit. He was there on a terrorist mission.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you concerned though about what the strategy is here? Overnight, President Trump issued a threat on Twitter to bomb fifty-two sites in Iran. What is the administration's strategy? Has it been explained to Congress?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I think-- yes. At least I understand it. And it's-- it's called self-defense. The United States has five-- over five thousand military personnel in-- in-- in Iraq. And-- and, of course, additional personnel in Syria who are under direct threat, not just from Iran, but from their proxy groups. And Iran needs to understand that if we are attacked, whether it's directly by the Iranians or through these proxy groups, we will respond. This President has shown, he's not gonna get a lot of credit for it, but tremendous restraint after eleven rocket attacks, after everything that happened in the shipping lanes, after the-- the mines that they placed on those ships after the attacks against Saudi Arabia. He has shown tremendous restraint in not responding to those. But now, we have reached a new level, and it was time to enforce the crossing of these red lines.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, do you think the-- the President's failure to follow up on his past threats against Iran, to carry out some kind of action against all the things you just laid out that Iran was doing, did that force his hand on this? Is that what you're suggesting?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: No, what I'm suggesting is that the Iranians at the end of day do cost and benefit analysis. And for whatever reason, they calculated that the benefits of these continued attacks through the use of these proxy groups, what the benefits of that outweighed the costs. And it was time for the President to reset that analysis for them. And he did through this strike and through the strike last Friday as well. And so it was an important moment and had to happen. But here's the bottom line. The President of the United States--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why did it have to happen though, Senator?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: --had actionable, reliable intelligence.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I-- I think there are a lot of people--

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Because the President United States had actionable--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --concerned and want to know and you are in a position to perhaps shed some light here. What was the imminent threat? That's the language the administration is using, to Americans.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, and here's the-- yeah. So, when you gather information like this, it's highly sensitive. It cannot be disclosed at this time without also putting a danger. Our sources, our methods, losing actions-- access to future intelligence of this kind. But here's the bottom line: if the President of the United States is presented with information that there is an imminent and credible threat that could cost the lives of not a couple of hundred potentially hundreds, if not thousands of American servicemen and women and other personnel in the region the President has an obligation to act. Any President would have an obligation to act. And this President did.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What was so particular to this intelligence, though I know you can't get into details, but Qasem Soleimani had been carrying out attacks on U.S. interests for decades and this had been happening in the weeks prior. What was so specific that caused the President to take this specific action? How do you justify that to the American people?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, again, it goes back-- justify, I think the question is how would you justify not acting on even the possibility that Americans could die?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you know what the threat was?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Because I can tell you the President does not act. Yeah, not only I know what the threat was, I know what the threats are and have been for months. Again, I refer you back to a tweet, to-- to my tweets going back to May of last year when we talked about this. This is not something overnight that woke up one morning and said, let's-- let's start attacking Americans. This is an ongoing pattern of escalation in which they use proxy groups to carry out what they believe are deniable attacks.


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: They can kill Americans.


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: They can deny it was them. But we know it was them. They know we know it was them. Everybody else knows it was them. Some of these countries around the world pretend it wasn't them so they don't have--


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: --to get out of the Iran deal. But everybody knows it was them and they think they can ratchet that up without consequence. They thought they could get away with it because--


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: --you know, we're distracted by our domestic politics because we're so divided internally, we're not going to do anything about it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You say you know the threat, but it can't be shared at this point with the American people or broadly with Congress. I want to ask you, specifically, that something you did share. You tweeted that Qasem Soleimani was plotting a coup in Iraq. What did you mean by that?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Absolutely. If you think about what his strategy is, his strategy is to put in place a government in Iraq-- in Iraq, friendly to the Iranians, almost a puppet state, so they can turn the entire country of Iraq into a platform to attack American interests around the world. This is not about governance. It's not about us putting in place someone in Iraq that we want. It's about his desire to put in place a government and leaders in Iraq that allow him free reign to use Iraq as a--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So not a-- not--

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: --as a platform to carry out attacks against the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So more of the same, the U.S. and Iran jockeying for powers? What you meant. Um--

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: No, but, in this case, there wouldn't be any jockeying because he would be-- he wants the control, he wants to have leaders that are friendly to him, expel us, and then they can use Iraq as a base of operations in combination with Syria and Lebanon to continue their expansionist desires in the region and to drive us out, and-- and to threaten our allies.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you actually think Iran's going to stop doing that now that Qasem Soleimani's dead?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, I think that Iran now has to sit there and say we are-- well, how far are we now willing to go when we know that our adversary is far more powerful than we are? That in the end if there is a war--which I do not want. I'm not advocating an invasion of Iran. I'm not advocating we bomb Tehran offensively that we take action or invade them or anything of that nature. I am saying that it has to be clear to the Iranians that if they take actions against the United States directly or through these proxies, we will hold them responsible and we will act. And if that is not set in stone and they do not believe that then Americans will die, then we will be in danger. If that calculus does not exist the Iranians will act against us--they will kill as many Americans as they think they can get away with. And-- and we have to make them understand that we are serious when we say we will do things if they act. Everything the President is warning about is all defensive. He is not saying, Congress, I need a hundred thousand American troops to invade Iran. That's why all this talk about war powers and congressional authority is so silly. President's not talking about invading Iran. He's talking about responding to anything Iran may do in the future. And the President has not only the full authority to do that, but an obligation to do that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Rubio, thank you for joining us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Coming up next, we'll hear from a key Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, responding to the Republicans. That's Connecticut's Chris Murphy. He is here with me, and we'll get to talk to him in just a moment. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION in a moment. Senator Murphy is here, and we will also get to speak with General David Petraeus, former CENTCOM commander who led U.S. forces in Iraq, where he faced off against Qasem Soleimani, his top regional adversary.

And new poll numbers from Iowa and New Hampshire. There has been some movement at the top. Details ahead.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We're joined now by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, good to have you here. Good morning.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY (D-Connecticut/@ChrisMurphyCT/Foreign Relations Committee): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard Secretary Pompeo and Senator Rubio say that if Qasem Soleimani had not been killed, there would have potentially been hundreds of Americans who would have been casualties. Do you believe that there was an imminent attack?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: Well, first, it's incumbent upon the administration to present that evidence to Congress. But even if there was an imminent attack and there are always threats being presented to U.S. forces in the region by Iran and Iranian proxies, the responsibility is on the administration to prove to us that by taking out the second most powerful political figure inside Iran, they are preventing more attacks rather than inspiring additional attacks. The reason that the Bush administration and the Obama administration did not green-light the execution--


SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: --of Qasem Soleimani, despite the fact that he was carrying out attacks on U.S. forces, is because they believed, ultimately, that would get more Americans killed. And you can already see the consequences of U.S. security in the region with, as you have noted, the beginning of the process to expel American forces from Iraq.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We know that there was some notification given to Congress. You heard Senator Rubio say he knew what the threat was, but couldn't share it. Who in Congress actually knows what happened?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: So my understanding is that there was no consultation with Congress before this strike. That is in violation of the War Powers Act. And there has been very limited communication since then. I would hope that we will get a full briefing, but that briefing not only has to talk about the intel behind the attack--


SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: --but why it was absolutely necessary to take this dramatic escalatory step. We do not generally execute high-level political figures of sovereign nations, in part because we know that that opens a Pandora's box--


SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: --it may expose American officials to assassination, but also because we know that, ultimately, that might get more Americans killed as it like the will in this case.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The administration had designated the part of the IRGC that Soleimani ran as a terror group, which is sort of the cover that you heard Secretary Pompeo referred to in saying he was a terrorist as well. That argument doesn't hold up to you.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: Well, he does not have authorization from Congress to go to war with Iran. And this potentially sets us on a course to do just that. Listen, this administration's Iran policy has been a disaster from the very beginning. Iran is more powerful today than at the beginning of the Trump administration. They have restarted the nuclear program. They have more influence in places like Yemen and in Syria. And now they are on the verge of launching potentially disastrous strikes against the United States. That is a disaster from the beginning to the end of this administration's policy towards Iran.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Just a few minutes ago, you said execute Qasem Soleimani. And on Twitter and on camera earlier this week, you used the word assassinate. Technically, that's prohibited under U.S. law. You chose that word for a reason. It's politically loaded. Why do you think that is needed here?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: Well, I don't know any other way to describe it. This was the intentional execution of a high-level official in a sovereign nation. Qasem Soleimani is an evil man. He has absolutely ordered the murder of hundreds of Americans. But he is a high-level representative of a foreign government, a foreign government with a military that could-- that could strike at American civilians and American service people. The question is why didn't the administration look at other means to try to stop this attack from happening? Reporting suggests that his own military leaders were shocked--


SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: --that the President chose an assassination versus more targeted strikes against other Iranian or Iranian proxy assets in the region.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Which is why I thought it was notable when the secretary said that all Cabinet members had agreed and top national security advisers. I want to ask you, because you-- you've been critical of whether this was legal for the President to do this and, specifically, this authorization of military force debate. I spoke with the former Obama administration, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. I'm sure you know him.


MARGARET BRENNAN: He used to be general counsel at the Pentagon. And he said this: "…direct engagement of a senior military official of another nation is harder to justify under the AUMF," which is your part of-- your argument. But "having said that, under existing Office of Legal Counsel opinions, it's plain the President had constitutional authority to use lethal force against General Soleimani as vital national interests were implicated. Therefore, no congressional authorization was required." That's the former Pentagon lawyer, a Democrat. Why is he wrong?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: So, in this case, the President has the burden of explaining to the American public and to Congress why the strike against Qasem Soleimani was necessary to prevent future attacks against the United States. There is a general understanding that to prevent future attacks, imminent attacks, you can take action without Congress. The contention here is that by assassinating a high-level Iranian official, that you are actually going to inspire and create more attacks against the United States, not actually prevent those attacks. And so that's the burden of--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But so they could argue, though, that--

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: --proof that he has.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that by imminent, they meant ongoing. Qasem Soleimani was always targeting U.S. interests.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. So, it-- it was always imminent.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: So, that-- so, if that's the case, that isn't an imminent attack. If this is just the same set of threats that have existed to the United States personnel in the region for the last seven years--


SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: --then in that case, then the administration absolutely has the responsibility to come and get an authorization from Congress before taking action against a sovereign nation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know there are a lot of people listening who will hear that and say, yes, particularly in the military, that'd be great if Congress did something about the AUMF. But, look, they haven't because when they get their own party's leader in the Oval Office no one wants to do something that's actually going to constrain the powers of the executive.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: Right. But, listen, the President is bound by what Congress gives him the authority to do. The-- the framers of the Constitution didn't give him the ability to start a war just because it was hard to get authorization from Congress. The framers wanted us to have the power because they were worried about exactly what's going on now. The President, by pulling out of the Iran deal, has set into a-- a motion--

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is the AUMF from 2002.


MARGARET BRENNAN: There was the entire Obama administration. You're saying the reason nothing was updated to this point is what?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: The-- the risk is much greater today. Right? That-- when President Trump came into office, he set into motion a series of blind, escalatory measures with Iran that now have us on the precipice of war. And if he is contemplating taking future military action against a broad set of threats to the American public, then he has the responsibility to come to Congress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And he'll veto any authorization, if there was one, that's put in legislation and sent to his desk, you know that.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: Well, again, he can't act without authorization from-- from Congress unless he is responding to an imminent threat. And he has the responsibility now to prove to us that this was, in fact, an imminent threat. Again, the-- the worry here is ultimately this is going to get more Americans killed. And the very fact that we are watching the Iraqis expel the United States from-- from Iraq so that we can't carry out the fight against ISIS, right? Which is in many ways a more grave threat to American interests in the region than Iran--

MARGARET BRENNAN: That may not be a final decision, yes.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: --than Iran is. I think it is proof that this ultimately may accrue to the detriment of American national security interests.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Murphy, thank you for coming in--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --and talking to us today. We'll be right back with retired General David Petraeus.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Joining us now is former Obama administration CIA director, retired General David Petraeus. Good to have you here. Good morning.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS (Retired) (Former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command/Former CIA Director): Good to be with you, Margaret. Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Qasem Soleimani was your adversary when you were running CENTCOM.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: And a very, very capable one.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What was your thought when you heard he'd been killed, the first thought?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, a surprise, to be candid. We'd never gone after him before, although I hasten to add that he never dared set foot inside Iraq to my recollection, when I was commanding the surge, nor in the time that I was the commander of U.S. Central Command. He only really became visible in the way that he has in more recent years after the Arab Spring, supporting the murderous Bashar al-Assad in Syria and then very actively supporting the Iranian-supported militia inside Iraq that were helping to contend with the Islamic State invasion of Northern and Western Iraq.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He openly traveled.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: He did. He did selfie--

MARGARET BRENNAN: He had an Instagram account.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: --selfies on the front line. Yeah, he was on social media. But, of course, that was a period when he was helping Iraq go after the same enemy that we eventually helped Iraq defeat. And make no mistake about it, those militia and the Iraqi security forces could not have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq without our enabling forces, our drones, our precision munitions and our intelligence and advice.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There's been a lot of talk over the past few days that both the Obama and the Bush administrations had looked at targeting Qasem Soleimani and deemed it too risky. You just said that was not the case when you were in your position.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: During the-- during the periods that I was in Iraq and in Central Command. I can't talk about what we might have discussed when I was the CIA director some years later. But, certainly, at those times, we just didn't have the opportunity. It never rose to any real consideration, even for me, much less taking it back to Washington--


GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: --which we certainly would have done. Well, again, we had never had him on the X, as you will--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It just-- it wasn't the opportunity. It's not that it was too risky.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: He-- he was in Iraq and my understanding is, prior to the surge there was an episode where we detained some Iranian advisers and so forth, which we had to release actually under pressure from Iran through the president of Iraq. But that was just prior to the start of the surge.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard Secretary Pompeo on this program say that it is entirely consistent for the President of the United States to threaten to bomb Iran, fifty-two sites, specifically. That it's consistent with trying to de-escalate.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that credible--



GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It certainly doesn't sound it.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: What has happened here, I think, is frankly, that we lost the element of deterrence. The component of deterrence that was seen as American will. Our drone-- a hundred-thirty-million-dollar drone is shot down, did nothing significant response. Five percent of the world's oil production taken out of operation. Numerous attacks on shipping and then attacks on our forces. Ultimately, of course, killing an American and wounding four of our soldiers. So, ultimately, the-- the President appears to have decided that it was necessary to take an action to shore up deterrence--


GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: --to show that we were not going to accept this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does this to that?


MARGARET BRENNAN: Does this deter?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, the-- you know, we will have to see. Again, the question is now, what will Iran do? Will they dare to respond directly with Iranian missiles against our forces, our embassies, our bases, our shipping or what have you? Or do they continue to operate through proxies, which I am pretty confident they will do. And then, again, what is the scope of that? And the bigger issue is one you actually got to this a bit with Secretary Pompeo. But I think the real question for the United States is will there be a diplomatic initiative that says, okay, look, this is not headed in a good direction. We truly do want to de-escalate. Everyone is going to lose if this continues to ratchet upward. Can we now sit down and talk about getting back to the nuclear agreement, with addressing the concerns that the administration has had--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're saying there needs to be a strategy?


MARGARET BRENNAN: A follow-up strategy?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, and again there does. And the question is, is that there? And I am-- I, obviously, don't know.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we didn't get an answer to that question.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: And, again, we'll have to see how that plays out in the days and weeks that lie ahead.


GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: But I'm sure that the equivalent of the National Security Council in Iran is working very hard to do all the calculation and to determine what would the U.S. response be having seen that the U.S. is willing to take a very significant action. I mean it's impossible to overstate the significance of the attack that takes out Qasem Soleimani and the number two militia leader in Iraq as well, who also never dared to set foot in Iraq during the surge after we've missed him and he escaped. So this is bigger than bin Laden. It's bigger than Baghdadi. This is the-- the equivalent in U.S. terms of the CIA director, CENTCOM Commander, JSOC Commander, and presidential envoy for the region, for Iran. And-- and the most powerful figure in Iran for the solidification of the Shia Crescent and also the operational commander of the actions that they were pursuing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And if another country had taken out, even one of the individuals you just listed there, how would the U.S. interpret that? An act of war?

DAVID PETRAEUS: Again, these are definitions. I mean were we not at war already? I don't know. I-- I'll leave that to the constitutional scholars and so forth. The same with whether the Article Two of the Constitution--


DAVID PETRAEUS: --gives the President the authority to do what he did.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Iran's revolutionary regime, you heard Senator Murphy say, they're stronger now than they've been. Economically, they're really on the ropes.

DAVID PETRAEUS: I-- I don't think that's entirely accurate. I mean their economy is in dismal shape.


DAVID PETRAEUS: The people are demonstrating on the streets and in unprecedented numbers since the revolution against the economic deprivation, the lack of employment opportunities and the plummeting of their quality of life. So, they're not-- by the way, they're not that invested in the kinds of Iranian adventures that have been funded and-- and carried out by the Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force under the leadership of Qasem Soleimani.


DAVID PETRAEUS: They understandably want-- they care about themselves and their families and they're not that happy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what I have had other military officials say to me is that all may be true. This may be a blow to the regime. Financially, they are struggling, but that the United States may be underestimating the brutality the regime is willing to take to keep-- keep themselves in power that this is not a tip towards regime change.

DAVID PETRAEUS: Oh, I don't underestimate that at all. There are two million Basij militia, they're called. These are thugs with pipes on the streets that will clear the streets to the extent that they can. That's in addition to the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Armed Forces and Ministry of Interior Forces. So, again, this regime is not going to go quietly into the night. I don't think this leads to regime replacement or-- or some kind of failure of the regime or that's not to be expected. The question is what does the regime do in response to the killing of Qasem Soleimani?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Last question. It's a quick one to your question. How does it end?

DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, this is the reason I was asking about what is our strategy from here. Do we have a diplomatic initiative to reach out? It's not quite enough, I don't think, to say, well, they know how to reach us. I think we should actually be trying to reach out through intermediaries first, of course, as we have in the past, and then trying to come to some kind of agreement about how to get back to the nuclear deal that was had its strengths, as well as some shortcomings, to be sure, and then address the other legitimate grievances and issues that we have about militia activity, support and the missile program.

MARGARET BRENNAN: General Petraeus, good to have you here.

DAVID PETRAEUS: Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in a moment with Democratic Party Chair Tom Perez. And we'll look at some brand new Battleground Tracker polls out this morning.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to campaign 2020. Our CBS News Battleground Tracker shows another shift at the top of the polls. We surveyed two early contests this week. In Iowa, Senator Bernie Sanders now shares the top spot with twenty-three percent support, along with former Vice President Biden, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar follow with sixteen and seven percent respectively. The rest are three percent or below. In New Hampshire, Sanders is also on top. He comes in with twenty-seven percent support, compared to Biden at twenty-five percent, Warren at eighteen percent, Buttigieg at thirteen, and Klobuchar at seven. There is more detail on the poll on our website at

In the three months since he suffered a heart attack, Sanders has solidified his support. Our Anthony Salvanto tells us that Sanders' rise is due in part to some liberal supporters of Elizabeth Warren's moving his way, also, his core of support is strong and steady, as opposed to others whose campaigns have seen more volatility. We want to note that Sanders also came in on top with fundraising among Democrats in the fourth quarter, raising almost thirty-five million dollars, just under ten million more than his closest competitor there on the fundraising front Mayor Buttigieg. The Democratic field now stands at fourteen candidates after former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro quit the race this past week.

For a closer look, we turn to the chairman of the Democratic Party, Tom Perez. Good to have you here.

TOM PEREZ (DNC Chair/@TomPerez): Always great to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you make of these polls?

TOM PEREZ: Well, we have a deep bench and it's a fluid field. And this is not new for the run-up to New Hampshire and Iowa. We've seen it in 2007 with-- in 2008 with President-- then-Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. And what I see are the following: Fluid field because we have a deep bench. The enthusiasm is off the charts. 2008 was the high water mark for participation in Iowa. I am confident we're going to surpass that because there is so much energy across everywhere. And I'm equally confident that at the end of the day, we are going to come together around a nominee. I don't know who that is.


TOM PEREZ: And I think the fact that we have such fluidity is a source of excitement. And-- and that's why it's so important for us to understand the-- the first-- the-- the four early states constitute about five percent of the delegate count. They're an important five percent, but only five percent. And so this is a marathon.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It is a jump ball at this point still.

TOM PEREZ: I would agree.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So for-- for this week, though, we-- we saw Julian Castro drop out.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We know with this next debate stage, Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, they're not going to be on it--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --Andrew Yang. They're all campaigning hard, though. Why do you think minority candidates haven't gotten more traction in the way that meets your standard to stand on that debate stage?

TOM PEREZ: Well, I was very sad when Kamala Harris left the race. As you know, she qualified for the December debate stage, and I'm confident she would have qualified had she still been in the race for January. And--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Her issue was fundraising.


MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm asking you about the people who are still in the race.

TOM PEREZ: Yeah. No, I understand. And, you know, I-- I take a back seat to no one in our commitment to making sure our-- our field is diverse. And we've had so many people and so many candidates of color who've been in the race throughout. And whoever win--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But this next debate stage is all white.

TOM PEREZ: Well, we don't know yet because we still have a number of days left. And so we'll see who makes the debate stage. But here's-- for me, the most important thing is we've created thresholds now, and-- and these aren't new thresholds.


TOM PEREZ: And, you know, those who say that we've somehow done a disservice or have-- have made it harder for candidates of color, I-- I disagree with that. The candidate who's going to-- the candidates who make the debate stage are the candidates who do the best job of working across the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton--


TOM PEREZ: --Barack Obama, all of them qualified-- and would qualify--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But are you looking--

TOM PEREZ: --with these debate criteria.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're saying you could see some new entrant to the-- perhaps January debate, but are-- are you actually suggesting that you might revisit these standards for the future debates, to allow for more diversity?

TOM PEREZ: Well, again, if-- if your question is should we lower--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But they have more the fighting chance.

TOM PEREZ: Again, the-- the stand-- the-- the debate threshold right now is-- is quite low. It's-- it's quite fair. Nobody who has been at below five percent a month before the caucus or primary has ever won a caucus or a primary. And so what we have done is to make sure we've set a fair bar. It's the most inclusive bar ever.


TOM PEREZ: And then you have to demonstrate progress. And the candidates who are at the top of the field right now are the candidates who've been able to amass support among the wide array of our diverse--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, essentially, you're not changing.

TOM PEREZ: Well, again--


TOM PEREZ: --we're-- we're-- we're-- you have to demonstrate progress here. And, again, the candidates who you saw there--


TOM PEREZ: --are the candidates who have been able to demonstrate that progress. And that means that they are showing support in communities of color.


TOM PEREZ: You can't win the Democratic primary--


TOM PEREZ: --if you don't have strong support in communities of color.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're not changing standards to make the debate stage for February, for March, for April.



TOM PEREZ: --we don't know what the standards are for February, March, or April, but if you're asking me should we lower the debate threshold--

MARGARET BRENNAN: I didn't say lower. I said change.

TOM PEREZ: Well, we-- as you move throughout the debate process, you always-- you-- you have to raise the bar because we will see people who have voted--


TOM PEREZ: --as of February. And so we will assess then and then make those judgments.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So Bernie Sanders, we-- we just showed the war chest that he has built. He's taking in a lot of small dollar donations. In the past, you've said you wanted to kind of incentivize grassroots money raising. So does that mean that the DNC would prefer that as the chief way for a candidate to fund a campaign not by comparison what Mike Bloomberg is doing, which is self-finance.

TOM PEREZ: Well, actually if you look at all the candidates who are in that polling that we've just showed, what we're seeing is that there has been-- Democratic fundraising, Democratic candidates for President, and the DNC, have actually outraised Trump and the RNC--


TOM PEREZ: --in 2019. That's wonderful.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're fine with self-financing--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --when it comes to Mike Bloomberg's strategy.

TOM PEREZ: Pardon me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mike Bloomberg's self-financing.

TOM PEREZ: Well, that's up to Mayor Bloomberg. He has-- he had decided that. And the voters will figure out and will decide whether they believe Mike Bloomberg is the candidate. What I'm excited about is we have more-- and-- and it's not--


TOM PEREZ: --I applaud Senator Sanders.


TOM PEREZ: All the candidates had been making tremendous progress in grassroots fundraising.


TOM PEREZ: We had more new grassroots donors in 2019 than in 2017 and 2018--


TOM PEREZ: --combined.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --we-- we have to leave--

TOM PEREZ: That's good for the party.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --we have to leave it there. We want to have you back again.

TOM PEREZ: Would love to.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We have a lot of news today. We're going to be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us. Next week, we'll be talking with Gary Cohn in his first Sunday show appearance since leaving the Trump administration. For FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Bren

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