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Secretary of State Tillerson Meets with Russian Foreign Minister; Pentagon Might Propose Sending Ground Troops to Syria; The Bleacher Report; President Trump's Chaotic First Month; Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 06:30   ET


[06:30:00] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Transatlantic partners that the United States stands behind them on sanctions on Russia -- over Russia's involvement in Ukraine and so that point the White House has said that Russia must get its troops out of Crimea and in the past 24 hours or so the Kremlin has said not so fast. So another point of contention. This meeting with Lavrov just one of many that Rex Tillerson will be having today but this by far the most important, potentially the most contentious as well -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Nic, raised by the Russians but still an interesting question. What will a position of strength mean for the United States when it comes to Russia? We'll check back with you in a little bit.

We're also following breaking news, Malaysian authorities have now arrested three people in connection to the apparent assassination of the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Police say a woman identified from these surveillance pictures at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport is now in custody as is her boyfriend. Now a different woman was arrested Wednesday at the airport. Kim Jong-nam died after apparently being poisoned.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Very mysterious. Obviously we will follow that. Meanwhile, is the U.S. considering sending ground troops into Syria? The plan the Pentagon might send to President Trump, next.


CAMEROTA: CNN has learned that the Pentagon may propose sending U.S. ground troops -- combat troops into northern Syria to speed up the fight against ISIS.

Joining us now is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr along with CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Nice to see both of you this morning.

Barbara, what have you learned about this --


CAMEROTA: -- plan to possibly send combat troops to Syria and why now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Alisyn, you remember that President Trump told the Pentagon he wanted some ideas for how to speed up the fight against ISIS within 30 days. That deadline is coming up at the end of the month so the Pentagon now working on a number of ideas. They want to say it's short of formal options but they are working on these ideas. And one of them is in fact to send a number of U.S. conventional ground troops into northern Syria.

This would be very different than the special operations that are there in small teams right now doing training and advising. This would shift the mission to give the U.S. a role in ground combat.

So the question is, will they put this in front of President Trump and will he decide to accept it because it would fundamentally change the risk calculation? It's very dangerous business there. It would be more U.S. troops. They would have to be protected and more risk to U.S. troops. That's always a big question for the president. How much risk are you willing to accept?

CAMEROTA: Barbara, very quickly, do you have a sense of how many ground troops?

STARR: Well, I don't think we know yet but it's going to -- I mean, I don't think it's going to be in the tens of thousands but once you begin to put some number on the ground then it begins to multiply very quickly. You know, you have to have protection forces for them. You have to have support. You have to have air cover. In the Middle East especially there's really no such thing as just putting a few troops on the ground.

CAMEROTA: Spider, what do you think of the risk calculation with this plan?

MARKS: Alisyn, you know, Barbra really nailed it. The issue becomes what is the objective of the insertion of these forces? Clearly I think there are a couple. One is to shore up our relationship with Turkey. Turkey as you realize has been carrying a heavy load in northern Syria. And there is a real volatile mix of Kurds, anti-Assad forces, and we can't allow, as Barbara suggested, for this mission to creep and grow and expand.

Really this is it. It has to remain a very focused mission against trying to deter and then to defeat. Two different mission sets. Just to further deter and then defeat. Moving into the direction of trying to defeat ISIS. We can't have a discussion about what's going to happen with Assad. We can't allow that to occur. Clearly that's an objective but we can't put that on the table right now.

And then if you move over to the east in what's taking place in Mosul clearly what you now have done has bounded this caliphate that ISIS has put into place and you begin to squeeze it in a little bit more allowing the Iraqi forces up north and in Mosul to continue to achieve success there, get a foothold, reclaim that city and then the United States supporting Turkey in northern Syria. This really can become a much larger mission increasing the risk

calculation. It's exactly what it's all about.

CAMEROTA: Barbara, I guess what's curious is that President Trump during the campaign as a candidate expressed great disapproval at the way things had gone in Iraq. He -- you know, as you know, often said that he never supported the war in Iraq. It's hard to know exactly when he started to be very opposed to it but still he often said that it was misguided.

And so do you have a sense, Barbara, of does Defense Secretary Mattis, is he inclined to do this plan of sending ground troops to Syria?

STARR: Well, what we know about Secretary Mattis from his long career on active duty, he is somebody who is willing to send troops into battle but only if there's a clear objective and a clear strategy and that may be a challenge for this White House to do that, at least until they have a functioning National Security Council. The question right now is, is that very thing. What is it that you're trying to accomplish?

As a candidate Mr. Trump was very critical and said he would essentially smack ISIS much harder than the Obama administration had but when you start to look at your options, how are you doing to do that? Can you really increase the number of air strikes? Is there any suggestion that the U.S. isn't doing as many air strikes as it can? Takes you back then to the only other option. Action on the ground. Ground troops. If the Pentagon puts that in front of Mr. Trump they will spell out and Secretary Mattis will spell out in detail all the risks to U.S. troops to the U.S. military.

[06:40:10] And it will be President Trump's very critical decision about whether he personally is willing to sign off on it and willing to sign off as president to send those troops into battle.

CAMEROTA: Look, Spider, I mean, I think it's fair to say that if it were easy to wipe out ISIS somebody would have tried it before.

MARKS: Right.

CAMEROTA: This is going to be a challenge any way you slice it.

MARKS: Yes, it will. And you have to compare what we are doing now relative to what we're suggesting will take place coming forward. You know, with special operations, you have the ability to do a very precise strike, a very limited target. That might be a kill or a capture mission, so you're in very precisely and you're out very precisely.

When you put ground forces on the ground, as Barbara described, you now have a multidimensional kind of application of force. It's air, it's ground, there's a lot of intelligence support that must provide self-protection. Then you've got all the logistics. You've got all the medical support. You've got, you know, lines of communications from where you might establish sanctuary locations and then support operations on the ground. This becomes a much larger footprint but I mean, that's what our

military does and we do this.


MARKS: Our military does this better than any other military in the world and we understand what those risk calculations are.


MARKS: It really belongs to the president as to terms of what is the objective that we're trying to achieve? Can we measure that and then can we say yes, we met that objective and it's time to do something else?

CAMEROTA: Spider, Barbara, thank you very much for all the reporting and analysis -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. A month into the Trump presidency and there is chaos. What does it say about the president's leadership style, the people he has around him? We have a Trump biographer ahead who's going to explain to you why he is not surprised.


[06:45:34] CUOMO: President Trump deciding to break away from another Obama tradition, one that usually happens around March. What is it? Coy Wire has more in the "Bleacher Report." Give it to us.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: All right, Chris. President Trump has declined ESPN's request to fill out a March Madness bracket for the NCAA tournament. You see, President Obama had made it tradition to host an ESPN crew each year and have some fun, fill out a men's and women's bracket. We can all follow along with it and you can find actually two of those brackets at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. According to the "Washington Post," though, the White House is looking forward to working with ESPN on another opportunity in the near future.

A familiar face in last year's NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, 22-year- old Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard, currently ranked 44th in the world, and she recently rocked the world of one of her biggest fans. She made good on a bet with a 20-year-old Missouri student John Goehrke on Twitter during the Super Bowl. She tweeted that she knew Atlanta would win when they were up 21-0. And John tweeted, hey, if the Patriots win, we go on a date. She agreed. And we all know the Pats came back and last night Genie met John in New York for the payoff. She paid for John's flight and his hotel. They sat center court at a Nets game. And how about that, Genie tweeted, lesson learned. Never bet against Tom Brady, but John sure is a lucky guy, Alisyn. The two actually made it kind of a decent looking couple, wouldn't you agree?

CAMEROTA: They did make a decent looking couple, although I felt there was a little awkwardness between them.

WIRE: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I think they need to get to know each other a little bit better.

WIRE: He was so nervous, Alisyn, it was very plain.

CAMEROTA: That's adorable.

WIRE: All right.

COOPER: All right, Coy. Thank you.

WIRE: You're welcome.

CAMEROTA: So there's been chaos, there's been some infighting, there's been some controversies. These are words that the critics are using to describe President Trump's first month in office. What does it say about his leadership style. We discuss with someone who has studied Donald Trump for decades, next.


[06:51:28] CAMEROTA: President Trump's first month in office filled with a flurry of executive actions and some chaos and controversy.

CNN's Tom Foreman takes us through the first four weeks.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid the rush of his first 100 days, President Trump is talking policy.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration remains very focused on the issues that will encourage economic growth.

FOREMAN: But problems are frequently blocking out that message, creating a picture of a White House in chaos.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.

FOREMAN: It started on day one with the unproven claim of a record inauguration audience, which when challenged produced the wildly quotable statement.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Our press secretary gave alternative facts to that.

FOREMAN: Then the president himself chimed in, insisting while he won the electoral vote, he gathered fewer popular votes in the general election only because of illegal voting.

TRUMP: There are millions of votes in my opinion.

FOREMAN: Again, no proof and on it goes. A meeting with Mexico fell apart amid sharp words. A raid in Yemen went tragically wrong. The president insisted terrorism is running so out of control.

TRUMP: It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported.

FOREMAN: When that claim was disputed, he issued a list of underreported incidents which took heat, too. The president fired the acting attorney general for not enforcing his travel ban.

SPICER: She was rightfully removed.

FOREMAN: Only to have the courts halt the ban anyway.

Even as he has struggled to get his promised repeal of Obamacare rolling in earnest, the president has attacked Democrats for trying to slow down approval of his Cabinet members.

TRUMP: They could move faster on the other side, I will say that.

FOREMAN: Only to see his choice for Labor secretary withdraw his nomination two days after the ouster of his National Security adviser amid concerns about ties to Russia. And for all that, he found time to fire a Twitter rocket at Nordstrom's for pulling his daughter's merchandise, which a top aide urged people to buy anyway, which another aide suggested was not the right move.

SPICER: Kellyanne has been counseled.

FOREMAN: Certainly all new presidents face challenges, but in the first 100 days, Bill Clinton passed a federal budget and signed the Family Leave Act. George W. Bush ushered in No Child Left Behind and started work on big tax cuts, and Barack Obama launched the economic stimulus and laid the groundwork for Obamacare.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


CUOMO: All right our next guest says President Trump's management style and character flaws are squarely to blame for what is being seen before us all.

Joining us now Michael D'Antonio. He's the author of "The Truth About Trump."

Make your case because the other side will say, no, no, no. This has all been hoisted upon Trump by all the challenges in the world and all the political enemies and the media.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, DONALD TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: Well, where are the challenges that aren't self-inflicted? This is a president whose got one nominee down in flames. He has his National Security adviser now resigned. There are aides from the White House going around saying almost crazy things about alternative facts and Sean Spicer says the president believes what he believes rather than saying well, here is the factual basis for the so-called voter fraud.

This is all a president who's producing a show about a president. It's not actually a presidency where grave matters get discussed.

[06:55:05] CAMEROTA: I don't know, Michael. I just spent yesterday in Columbus, Ohio. I went to interview a panel of people who support Mr. Trump. They have all along. They see a man of action. They see somebody who in the first week just, you know, took action to build the wall with Mexico. They see the travel ban. It didn't go as well as he wanted but he took action and he's still taking action. They don't think that it's over. They think that he's going to take another bite of that apple.

They see all sorts of executive action. They see that he's trying to come up with a plan to fight ISIS in the first 30 days. They like his Supreme Court pick. You know, all sorts of things.

D'ANTONIO: Well, so many of these should have been in place before he even arrived. You think of what President Obama did prior to coming to office where he had his economic recovery plan in place and that was a massive undertaking intended to end the Great Recession. Donald Trump has arrived without a health care plan, with -- if he's developing a plan to defeat ISIS, what was he doing back in August when he was talking about how he was going to actually accomplish those?

CAMEROTA: He wasn't in office yet.

D'ANTONIO: Well, but every president -- every person running for president has a whole policy apparatus in place before they arrive. And I think part of this is that he burned just about everyone. You know, you see John McCain out there criticizing the administration now and I can hear a little voice in the back of his head saying, how do you like me now? Because this is the president who belittled him. He did the same to Lindsey Graham. Now these men have real power.

CUOMO: Well, look, there's a real portion of this country that was desperate for something different. They decided that Donald Trump was that thing. They wanted him to be disruptive. They ain't going to sell him because that would be selling out their own hope. And we see that in panel after panel.

CAMEROTA: But it's not just that they're not going to sell him out. It's not just that they're -- they like it.

CUOMO: Right. But --

CAMEROTA: They like --

CUOMO: I don't know how much of that. I mean --

CAMEROTA: He's shaking it up. They like that.

CUOMO: I don't know how much of that -- I mean, you know, I live in a county that went decidedly for Donald Trump. And those people have hope and they're not going to say, yes, you're right, boy, is he messing things up? Because that's an admission that their own hopes are fading but this --

COOPER: And they don't feel that way.

CUOMO: But it goes to style. I don't know yet. I mean, his numbers are so negative in polling that it's hard to say that, you know, there's an even split. People love and don't love. I think it's more complicated. But it comes down to his style.

D'ANTONIO: Well, I don't --

CUOMO: That I think is creating some of this. Yesterday the Flynn situation is bad. We don't know the facts. There's a transcript out there that we may or may not get to see but as each day goes on and the facts come out this looks more and more bizarre and he comes out with a statement where he says Flynn is a good man. It was the media that did this to him.

Now you flag that as, ah, here's a beautiful demonstration of what Trump is at his best and his worse. How so?

D'ANTONIO: Well, at his best he's loyal to people but at his worse he throws them under the bus. So Flynn got fired. You have to interpret that as a dismissal and then the next day he is promoting this idea that he is a good man. That was because Trump can't admit that he made a bad choice. So, you know, if it reflects on him personally then he's going to tick one attitude. If it's throwing the guy under the bus because he lied that's another.

You and I think are in the same county and the people I talked to yesterday said there's a Russian ship off our shore? What is going on? What is the president going to do about it? Nothing.

CAMEROTA: You have studied him for years. You wrote the biography of him. So what has surprised you in these first 30 days?

D'ANTONIO: It surprised me that he is moving this fast. This amount of chaos is extreme even for Mr. Trump. You know, he -- it's almost like the guy writing the headlines for the tabloid newspaper the night before and saying well, what crazy thing can we put on the front page to distract everybody from yesterday's story. We can't even remember the nutty thing that happened after the inauguration. It's shocking.

CAMEROTA: We have a list. This will help. In Mr. Trump's first month here are some of the things. His National Security adviser has just resigned. His Labor secretary nominee withdrew yesterday. The federal court had blocked his travel ban. The Obamacare he said that he would immediately, you know, repeal and replace it in his first however many days that has been stalled. He has a complicated relationship with allies like Mexico and Australia. Discussed his North Korean missile launch in a public restaurant setting, and then has continued to talk about voter fraud that has never been proven.

D'ANTONIO: Well, we now have the spectacle of psychiatrists going on other networks and the "New York Times" debating his diagnosis. Now I think it's crazy to do that. To say well, this is what he is.

CUOMO: No pun intended. D'ANTONIO: No pun intended. But the fact that we're talking about

it, step back a minute and say less than a month in we're talking about whether the president is stable? This is -- this is serious. This is not just the game of watching Donald Trump.

CUOMO: Probably, ultimately, unhelpful.

D'ANTONIO: Terribly unhelpful.

CUOMO: I think that essentially it's something a soft scientist that kind of talk that you talk about. Stick with the facts. Show what he does and what he doesn't do. People will decide.