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Gas Attack Kills Dozens Including Children; Military Commander Says North Korea Solution Must Involve China; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 4, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: White House is pushing back, saying that's not true, or whether they are actually close to his campaign, like Paul Manafort was, who was his campaign chairman, and the White House tries to pretend that he had nothing to do with the campaign, so the White House really isn't credible on that either.

But those are two completely separate issues, John. And I can understand politically why Trump is trying to do this because they are feeling the heat, they are feeling like their agenda is completely being quashed by what they have done up until now and his campaign have done up until now, which is why they're under investigation, but that needs to be the focus of the House Intel investigation, the Senate Intel investigation, and it is the focus of the FBI investigation, which is what Trump -- the Trump administration should be really worried about.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Now you're hearing more and more calls, including from Senator John McCain, for an independent, fully independent --

CARDONA: Yes, I think that would be appropriate. I think that would serve everybody, including the Trump administration, the best.

HARLOW: We have to leave it there. Thank you all very much. Maria Cardona, Kevin Madden, Jackie Kucinich.

CARDONA: Thank so much.

HARLOW: Still ahead for us, incredibly horrifying images coming out of Syria this morning, a gas attack reportedly costing dozens of lives, hundreds injured, including 10 children have died. We're going to have an update on the situation in Syria next.


[10:35:46] HARLOW: All right. What you're about to see is horrifying. In northern Syria, helpless, crying children, victims of a suspected chemical attack. Activists say airstrikes there hit a city in Idlib Province just hours ago.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and these airstrikes, they gave off what witnesses on the ground are saying was a poisonous gas. Dozens of people are now believed dead, including at least 10 children.

I want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon.

Arwa, you spent so much time in the region. CNN now hearing from perhaps doctors on the ground there, getting a sense of what's going on? What are you hearing?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. CNN spoke to a doctor in a nearby village who basically rushed to the scene. And remember, doctors inside Syria, they've seen horrific things, but he was still choked up and breathless, very emotional during this conversation, describing how the entire floor of the hospital was filled with these helpless patients, people choking, children choking from what seems as if it's at least an invisible killer.

This is a country that has already been through so much and this is not the first time that there has been this type of an attack in Syria. You'll remember back in 2013.

HARLOW: Of course.

DAMON: The horrific images that came out after that chemical attack that took place. This is a population that has been desperately waiting for anyone to come save them.

HARLOW: But that was the red line, right? That was the red line, supposed red line back in 2013, and yet it was crossed, and yet further action was not taken by the Obama administration. Knowing that the Trump administration's, you know, current stance is not to focus on pushing Assad out of power, what's going to change for the Syrian people? And do they have any faith in America to help?

DAMON: They have this small, little glimmer of hope that probably is just the hope of desperation that America will somehow charge in on a white horse and save Syria from more than it's already been in. But to your point and the red line that was crossed in 2013, this is not just about a red line being crossed. It's about the fact that America all of a sudden looked very weak, and that was one of the key turning points that really saw the radicalization of the revolution.

Yes, we were seeing signs of it before, but it was really after 2013 that these extremist groups were able to go in and say, look, the West, these modern democracies that you want to have materialize themselves inside Syria, they're not supporting you, they're watching you get gassed. They don't care.

This attack, if it also is allowed to take place without any sort of accountability, is only going to perhaps push people towards even more extremism. There are repercussions to inaction that it feels as if world leaders do not appreciate, and there are repercussions to the wrong kind of actions that world leaders do not appreciate.

BERMAN: We still have yet to hear a response from the Trump administration. What we do know is that the Trump administration has now said that removing Bashar al-Assad is no longer a priority, that it is up to the people of Syria. That in it of itself is a big shift.

Arwa Damon, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it. HARLOW: Thank you for the reporting.

BERMAN: All right. President Trump says he will go it alone against North Korea if China won't help, but the general who oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal overseas has a different suggestion. He says China must play a role.


[10:43:29] HARLOW: All right, there you see Vice President Mike Pence speaking to this group of CEOs, a lot of big bank CEOs, a number of CEOs gathering at the White House. We're expected to see the president walk in at any moment. Of course we'll bring that to you when it does begin. But you've got big named CEOs, Citibank, Mastercard, Deloitte, just to name a few.

Meantime, the president getting major push back on his claim that he can go it alone in dealing with a very provocative North Korea. Of course, he said that in the "Financial Times" interview over the weekend that essentially if China won't deal with North Korea, then we, the United States, will.

Well, now this morning, the head of U.S. Strategic Command flatly contradicting that before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said, quote, "Any solution to the North Korea problem has to involve China." All this as President Trump gets ready to host his Chinese counterpart.

BERMAN: Joining us now, Christopher Hill, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, also Iraq, also a former assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us. You heard the president suggests that if China is not willing to help, the U.S. could go it alone in North Korea. You think that's a bad idea. Why?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA AND IRAQ: Well, I think it's kind of a nonstarter. And frankly, I think his purpose in saying that was to kind of focus Chinese attention with the upcoming summit with Xi Jinping. Obviously, there is no dealing with this issue without China. If we're successful with it, you will see that China's fingerprints are all over the solution. So, clearly, we have to work with China, and I think the fact that he's having him at Mar-a-Lago for some -- you know, over 24 hours suggests that the Trump administration understands that as well.

[10:45:06] HARLOW: Who do you think comes into this meeting at Mar-a- Lago on Thursday with a stronger position of power? Who comes in feeling more confident and secure, President Trump or President Xi?

HILL: You know, ironically, the American president tends to be a stronger figure than the Chinese president. That is, the American president has a lot of power that the Chinese president has to delegate to his central committee and other apparatuses of the communist party. So I think the American president is in better shape. Secondly, I think we have pretty good allies in the region -- South Korea, Japan -- and I think we're taking some steps that do not directly involve China, although I do hope we try to work with the Chinese on them.

And one of these key steps is to put this very modern, very sophisticated, antiballistic missile system in South Korea, the so- called THAAD system, the Thermal High Altitude Area Defense System. The Chinese are very worried about that. Its radar system can go deep into China, and yet there's not a lot they can do about it. So I think the president goes in it with a strong hand.

I think the issue is he's going to have read up -- study up on his briefing book because this is a complicated situation.

BERMAN: You know, the president wants to improve markets for U.S. goods. Obviously, he campaigned to a certain extent for the last 16 months before his presidency against China. And before these meetings, he wrote the meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one and that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at alternatives.

You know what can the president actually offer China to win concessions?

HILL: Well, I think he needs to make clear to China that if they want access to the U.S. market, they need to think in terms of being sustainable, and some of these trade deficits have not been sustainable. And the Chinese take kind of a long view on trade, so I think he can make the case that if they want to continue this, they need to look to make sure their markets are accessible.

You know, China has a very growing middle-class market in China, so there is some reason for U.S. to be looking to China as a major source of U.S. exports, airplanes, et cetera. So I think there are some prospect here. You know, if you go back in history, if you look at our relations with Japan in the '80s, you can see that there's a lot of concern that it was all one way, and, you know that has changed. So I think over time, we'll be in better shape.

The issue is do we really want a no kidding trade war which I think could damage both sides and I don't think -- it definitely not on our interests.

HARLOW: Ambassador, thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.

HILL: Thank you very much.

HARLOW: All right, again, we're waiting for the president to speak in front of the CEOs, but we've got to talk a little bit of basketball, because of course you saw what happened last night. UNC making history. The school dropped in a dramatic fashion. Will they get redemption? Check out its crazy finish next.


BERMAN: President Trump with banking and financial CEOs. Let's listen to what he has to say.


MODERATOR: I know you know a few of the people in this room.

TRUMP: I do. I do, all the killers from New York. I'm looking at all those competitive -- those great, great talents; great builders.

MODERATOR: I have to give you the heads-up that Ivanka chaired one of the sessions before this. Tough act to follow.

TRUMP: She's tough, very tough.

MODERATOR: Yes. Vice President Pence listed some of the amazing accomplishments that have taken place since your election and your 75 days in office. The stock market has had almost unprecedented sustained growth; unprecedented confidence for our manufacturing sector and other business sectors, leading to massive private sector investment and job growth.

You have gotten rid of regulations that were unnecessary and were job- stifling. You have strengthened our borders and strengthened our military. You've nominated a great Supreme -- superb Supreme Court justice, amongst many other things.

How does all that feel?

TRUMP: And we're getting unbelievable credit for what we've done, other than the mainstream media which gives us no credit whatsoever. But we are getting tremendous credit. And if you look at the real estate industry, the mining industry, the farming industry -- if you look at any of the major industries, you see what's going on.

TRUMP: In fact, even today I was very happy as I read this morning early that our trade deficit with others has gone down very considerably in the last short period of time. It's having a big impact. And as you know, I'm meeting with the president of China on Thursday and Friday in Palm Beach, Florida. And I think we're going to have a very interesting talk.

We're having -- I have a lot of respect for him. I've spoken to him numerous times. But we have to do better, because our deficit with China, as you know -- $504 billion. That's a year.

MODERATOR: That's incredible.

TRUMP: That's enough for a lifetime. Even Steve would say that.

But that's a year. So, we're going to have a great meeting. I'm sure we're going to have a fantastic meeting. And we're going to talk about a lot of things, including, of course, North Korea -- a problem. And that's really a humanity problem. So we're going to be talking about that also.

MODERATOR: You have made it a driving force of this administration to bring in the best minds we can from the private sector, to listen intently to them, and to take decisive action. How important is that? And how important is it to reform government to bridge the gap between the private and public sectors?

TRUMP: Well, I did. I brought you. I brought Gary Cohn. I brought a lot of very great people. My friend Steve is helping us out. We have a super-star committee of 22 people, and every time somebody calls me I say, "Steve, put him on." "No, we want to keep it at this level," you know, the heads of the biggest companies, they all want to be on our committee. Right, Steven? But Steve likes to keep it very small.

But they will go off and they'll disappear and we'll put others on, but we've had some great meetings and we've all learned a lot.

One thing that did come up, and it came up yesterday, was Gary -- where's Gary? Is he here? Could you bring me that chart, please? Do you mind? Let me see that chart.

So this was just something -- this is sort of incredible. That's so beautiful.

(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: No, not quite.

This is -- to build a highway in the United States -- now, this was just done yesterday. I saw it for the first time. I said, you know, I'm speaking to some of my friends who are builders, really great builders. And they've gone through the process. We've all gone through it in New York. We call it the zoning process in New York.

But you start up here, and this is anywhere from a 10- to a 20- year process. You have -- is it 17 agencies. You have hundreds and hundreds of permits. Many of them are statutory where you can't even apply for the second permit until six months go by. The process -- so this is to build a highway. This is a simple highway.

And these are the agencies. So it's 17 agencies. How many different steps is it?


TRUMP: Sixteen.


(UNKNOWN): Twenty-nine different statutes; five different executive orders that all apply to this process. This is indicative. So this is not a specific project, but this is the type of process that a government -- this is a state government would have to go through to permit a highway federally. This is just federal, not state, regulations.

TRUMP: So it can take anywhere from 10, if you're really good, 10 years to 20 years, and then they vote and you lose. They don't want it. And it costs sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars just to go through the process.

Thank you very much. That was a great job you did. Be careful. Don't fall. I don't want to have you fall. You'll be a big story in the paper if you go down.

So, I just saw that yesterday. Gary Cohn walked down and he showed it to me. And -- for no reason. I said, "You have to do me a favor." But a lot of you, you're such pros, some of the best pros in the world sitting in this room. You understand it. It's a process.

Now, I've always liked it because it gave people that could go through that process an advantage, like Jerry (ph). But it gave us an advantage if you could get through the process. But getting a building approved in New York is a horrible, horrible thing. And that's nothing compared to when you get into the highways and the dams. They don't even talk about dams anymore. You know, hydropower is a great, great form of power. We don't even talk about it because to get the environmental permits are virtually impossible. It's one of the best things you can do -- hydro. But we don't talk about it anymore.

So, we've come to a halt. We have a tremendous person that we put in charge of EPA, Scott Pruitt, who is an environmental person. He wants clean air. He wants clean water. But he doesn't think it takes you 26 years to get a permit to build a building and to have jobs, at which time those companies are usually gone out of business, et cetera.

So, we're really speeding up the process. We're going to try and take that process from a minimum of 10 years down to one year. I said, "Can't we make it four months? Can we do it in four months?" And there is a certain logic to that, but we'll be satisfied with a year. But it won't be any more than a year.

TRUMP: So we have to build roads. We have to build highways. We're talking about a very major infrastructure bill of a trillion dollars, perhaps even more.

And when we have to do our jobs -- I mean, if we say we're giving to New York City hundreds of millions of dollars to build a road some place, it doesn't help if they can't start because it's going to take seven and a half years to get the permits. Even to redo a road takes years to get the permits. You have you a road that's there and you want to do redo it and you have to get new permits for the kind of asphalt you're using, the kind of concrete you may want to use.

And if we're going to give all of this money -- you know, there was a very large infrastructure bill that was approved during the Obama administration, a trillion dollars. Nobody ever saw anything being built. I mean, to this day, I haven't heard of anything that's been built. They used most of that money -- it went and they used it on social programs and we want this to be on infrastructure. I'm working with Steve Roth and with Richard LeFrak, two friends of mine that are very good builders, they're great builders and they know how to get things done, they know how to cut red tape and we're going to give them the advantage of having what we have.

I see Elaine is here, so -- is so important too -- is doing an incredible job, by the way, secretary of Transportation. And Elaine will be working, but we're going to set up a committee headed by Steve and Richard and we're going to cut a lot of red tape. But we don't want to say -- send a billion dollars to New York and find out five years later the money was never spent because we're going to be very strong that it has to be spent on -- on shovels, not on other programs. And in the last case, a lot of it was spent on other programs.

But we're going to say if you don't spend the money -- if you don't start -- if you have a job that you can't start with 90 days, we're not going to give you the money for it because it doesn't help -- it doesn't help us and we're going to be very strong on that. They have to be able to start within 90 days.

MODERATOR: Mr. President, we have some of the great business leaders in the country here. If it's OK with you, they have a few questions if that's...

TRUMP: Sure.

MODERATOR: Great. TRUMP: Hello, Jerry.


He didn't have to say his name. He was ready to say his name. We know. We know Jerry. Jerry Speier (ph), everybody.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you're doing a great job and we're all really grateful to you for the sacrifices you're making. I hope you heard that.

TRUMP: That sounds much better.


QUESTION: I think from New York's point of view, we send a lot of money into the economy. As a number of people have said, it's over a trillion dollars. We're worried we're going to have a problem with Congress with...

TRUMP: With the deductions, right?


QUESTION: That too. But we're worried about various programs that help the city. The city's doing fine right now, even the Yankees are doing fine. But what we're really concerned about is the future (ph). Do you have any advice for us?

TRUMP: Well, look, I love New York, and you know, in some ways we're all lucky that I'm from New York because New York has unique problems, so does Los Angeles, so does Chicago. You know, there are places that have unique problems.

One of the problems that you have is debt and deductibility. It's a big one because a lot of the states who don't have debt or have very little debt, like in the case of Mike Pence where he did such a good job in Indiana and it's a AAA-rated bond, one of the strongest in the country. And you know, deductibility is not that big of a deal because they don't have that much to deduct. And over here, you know, in New York when you look at what's going with us, we don't know in terms of the municipality and in terms of the state, we don't know if it can even make it if you don't have that. Are people going to buy?

So it's a very big problem and the problem I have is that there are many places throughout the country that are the exact opposite position and they consider that a gift to the state and a gift to the people and we know New York does things that a lot of people don't read about. You know, you look at what -- the money that they contribute to our economy, to our country and people don't know about that. They don't maybe want to know about that.

So you do have -- I call it a tale of two cities. You have different -- different interests, but I am watching over everybody, Jerry. You're in good hands, OK?

[11:00:00] You're in good hands, believe me, you can tell the people of New York. Even though I didn't win New York State -- I should have won New York State, but I didn't.