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Deadly Chemical Gas Attack in Syria; White House Response to Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria; Advertisers Pull Out of Reilly Show Over Sexual Harassment Allegations; Texas Bill Reopens Abortion Debate; House Intel Committee Ramps Rump Russia/Trump Investigation. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 4, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00:] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: One doctor from Idlib tells CNN 500 wounded patients covered the floors of one hospital. Entire families are dying of asphyxiation, foam covering the mouths of mothers and their children.

Let's go to CNN correspondent, Jomana Karadsheh, there covering the story out of Syria.

Jomana, the pictures, we remember that back in 2013 when the Obama administration blamed Bashar al Assad for the chemical attacks then. What do we know about who is responsible for this?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, according to activists in the Idlib Province, they say the attack was a result of an air strike that hit the center of this town at about 6:30 a.m. local time, just as people were waking up, just as they were starting their day. Now, according to multiple activists, the Syrian opposition, several countries including the United States, they are blaming this attack on the Assad regime. We've heard from the military who released a statement denying they carried out a chemical attack. They are blaming this on terrorist groups, as they called them. This is a term that the Syrian regime has used in the past to describe rebel groups. We've seen reports on Syrian state media that appear to be a response to these allegations saying that there was an explosion at a poisonous gas facility in Idlib Province but they're saying that it was a facility that was used by the rubbles and all those people that we've spoken to today, the accounts of eyewitnesses coming out from that town have indicated that this attack came from the air, that it was an air strike. We've spoken to doctors and medical workers who have also spoken to CNN today describing those really horrific and chaotic images, as you've seen in the images that have surfaced throughout the day that are so difficult to watch. Some of those medical workers are also saying that the international community shares partly some of this blame here, saying that if it wasn't for the silence and the inaction and that no one has been held accountable for these atrocities that keep being committed in Syria and those red lines that are crossed over and over again, saying that if it wasn't for that, we would not be seeing these attacks repeated time and time again -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: So how is the White House responding?

Jomana, thank you so much.

Let's move on to that piece out of Washington here. Senator John McCain, first of all, responded to the atrocities in Syria saying on CNN he has seen this movie play out before.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZSONA: Barack Obama said that they would have a red line, they crossed it and he did nothing. And Bashar al Assad and his friends, the Russians, took note of what Americans say. I'm sure they took note of what our secretary of state said. Just the other day that the Syrian people would be determining their own future themselves. One of the more incredible statements that I've heard.


BALDWIN: Barbara Starr is live for us at the Pentagon.

Barbara, we know Republicans have been criticizing the Obama administration for the red line. What about the current administration? How is the White House responding?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, nothing at all from Donald Trump today in public on this. The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, spoke to reporters off camera and pretty much, as Senator McCain said there, you might think you've seen this movie before. A lot of outrage. No indication the U.S. plans to take any action about it. In fact, the press secretary saying -- I just want to quote a little bit of it -- "These heinous actions by Bashar al Assad's regime is a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution." And so taking a shot there at President Obama, who certainly came in here for a good deal of international criticism for establishing that red line and then letting Assad walk right past it.

Earlier today, the British prime minister, Theresa May, saying there's no place for Assad in a stable Syria.

But the U.S. secretary of state has been saying since last week, not so much does Assad have to go any time soon.

Have a listen to what Rex Tillerson said.


REX TILLERSON, SECREARY OF STATE: Long-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.


STARR: Decided about the Syrian people. That's been widely meant and interpreted that the Trump doctrine, if you will, is to no longer push for Assad to be removed from power. And this now becomes the new bottom line. Mr. Tillerson was at the State Department earlier today standing next to Jordan's King Abdullah, and was shouted questions by reporters who wanted some kind of action from the secretary of state to this atrocity, and you will see from the video we're showing now, the secretary of state simply didn't have anything to say about it at all.

So where we are? We have another U.S. administration being outraged, but no indication of taking any action about any of this. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow in New York. No indication of action there.

And it is certainly the people of Syria, the children of Syria suffering so much in their own country right now -- Brooke?

[14:35:39] BALDWIN: Barbara, stay with me.

Control Room, you were seeing Theresa May made a statement, the prime minister of Britain?

She said Assad has to go. That's been her position, which, as you've pointed out, given what the administration has said, is in stark contrast.

Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

STARR: Sure.

Coming up next, FOX News star, Bill O'Reilly, the center of a sexual harassment scandal. Now several advertisers are pulling their ads after new allegations of harassment and abuse. Wendy Walsh, a psychologist, who was a regular on his show, now says she was a victim. Her story, next.


[14:40:43] BALDWIN: This latest sex scandal to hit FOX News is now dealing financial damage to the network's most popular show, "The O'Reilly Factor. So far, at least five businesses, Mercedes-Benzes, Hyundai, BMW is keeping their advertising off of O'Reilly's primetime show. He's the center of five different settlements with women who allege sexual harassment or verbal abuse.

CNN senior reporter for media and politics, Dylan Byers, has been all over this.

The ads are a huge financial part of the story, but I want to begin with the women you're talking to in the FOX room. Reportedly there's a culture of fear. They wanted to call H.R. What are you telling you?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA & POLITICS: Right, Brooke. We all remember last summer when FOX News' chairman and CEO Roger Ailes was outed amid a litany of sexual harassment allegations. There was a pledge from 21st Century FOX that had zero tolerance for sexual harassment or any behavior that made employees feel uncomfortable. There was a sense of renewed faith that steps were going to be taken. Nine months later, we have the network and parent company backing Bill O'Reilly and they recently re-upped his contact, despite the fact that "The New York Times" reported, over the course of more than a decade, O'Reilly and the company have paid out $13 million to at least five women who have accused him of either sexual harassment or verbal abuse. That has created not just a culture of fear that they bring the attention to the networks. It's also created a sense of disappointment in how the company has handled that case. And so talking to the women inside the company or talking to other women inside the company, there's a real sense of frustration and anger here about the workplace environment.

BALDWIN: And then the whole piece -- these are major companies pulling out their advertising dollars out of this show. What sort of impact do you think and might there be more?

BYERS: Well, certainly there will be more and in terms just to give you an idea of how fast this is moving, we're now up to eight and potentially nine advertisers that have pulled out. And by the way, I should just caution here, many advertisers are pulling out of Bill O'Reilly's show. They are not pulling out of FOX altogether. So in a sense the financial implications are less than they might have been. That said, there's a ground swell here and it's hard to see how other advertisers will look at Mercedes-Benzes and BMC and these other companies pulling out and not have to reassess their own strategy going forward. There's sort of a campaign of public pressure here, advertiser pressure here that could force FOX News' hands, force them to reassess what they do with the O'Reilly show.

BALDWIN: Dylan Byers, thank you. Keep at it.

BYERS: Thanks, Brooke.

[13:43:57] BALDWIN: Coming up next, the House Intelligence Committee picking up its investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties with Russia. Now the ranking member, the Democratic, Adam Schiff, who has just talked to Wolf Blitzer, said they are back on track. That's ahead.

Also, the White House making a new push on health care. But Speaker Paul Ryan says they are not close to a deal just yet. Don't want to make up any artificial timelines, he says. Where is the Republican Party on this new effort to resurrect talks? We'll talk about it in a moment.


BALDWIN: Let me tell you about this bill moving forward in Texas. It's reopening the battle over abortion. Opponents of the bill fear it would allow doctors to withhold information about defects they find in a fetus and allow them to keep silent about abortion. This would stop so-called wrongful birth lawsuits. It is controversial.

Elizabeth Cohen is here, our senior medical correspondent.

Elizabeth Cohen, you've spent time exclusively with this mother who made headlines four decades ago. What's the story now?

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: She's back in the headlines again. Georgia Biggs set a precedent 40 years ago. Her case showed that if a doctor missed a devastating birth defect while the woman was pregnant, the parents could later sue to try to get money to help raise that child. The bill that you mentioned that's going through the legislature right now, that would get rid of that precedent.


UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: Let me hold your hand.

COHEN (voice-over): Leslie Jacobs can't see or hear her mother.

(on camera): This is your only entry into your daughter's world?


COHEN: To held her hand?

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: To hold her hand.

COHEN: When you were pregnant with Leslie, you got sick?

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: I just really didn't feel too well. And then I had this sort of rash.

COHEN (voice-over): It was 1968. The rubella virus was widespread.

(on camera): You had the symptoms of rubella?

[14:49:57] UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: Yes, I did.

COHEN: But your doctor didn't diagnose it?

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: No. My doctor did not run the test.

COHEN (voice-over): Leslie lost her sight, needing 13 surgeries her first six years of life. She said she would have aborted to spare Leslie's suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: I love Leslie with all my heart. But I would never have let her suffer like this. Ever.

COHEN: There is no way I would have made a decision other than to have had an abortion.

(on camera): You think Leslie's birth was wrong?


That was good.

COHEN (voice-over): Now 48 years later, Biggs is once again stirring the abortion debate. The Texas Senate has passed a bill doing away with such wrongful birth lawsuits. That's where a parent sues saying they would have ended the pregnancy if the doctor had made the correct diagnosis.

STATE SEN. BRANDAN CREIGHTON, (R), TEXAS: There are no wrongful births. COHEN: Senator Brandon Creighton sponsored the bill.

(on camera): Mrs. Biggs and others think you're trying to get at abortion.

CREIGHTON: I think this bill could reform tort reform and promotes a culture of life.


I wonder how the Senator would have felt had he been in my shoes, had he stood over her bed and watched her suffer.

You feel that wind? Ah.

COHEN (voice-over): Creighton says families like Leslies don't need to worry, there are other ways to sue to hold doctors accountable for mistakes.

The legal authorities tell CNN that is incorrect. Without a wrongful birth law, families like Leslie's would have no way to recover damage payments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Other women need to know what they're facing. They have a right to be told, be diagnosed and understand what the risks are involved for that child.

COHEN: In the end, it's not about money for Biggs. About her daughter's life of suffering, something she says politicians could never understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: They don't love her. They don't love her. I'm the one who loves her. I'm the one who should have made the decision.


BALDWIN: Elizabeth, wow.

First, the bill itself, this Texas bill, where is it, is it likely to pass? What sort of opposition are they facing?

COHEN: Well, it's gone through the Senate and there's a hearing scheduled for this week in the House of representatives in Texas. While there is opposition, there is great concern among critics that it will pass and then families nowadays like her family would not have any way to get money to help raise the child that was born who they think shouldn't have been born.

BALDWIN: But isn't there -- there is also some concern that if this bill passes -- and we're talking about defects in utero, if a doctor sees it, might lie to the patient?

COHEN: Right. So there's a concern that a doctor who is against abortion might see on a test or on an ultrasound a terrible defect but would keep mum about it because they wouldn't want the mom, the parent to have an abortion. And with this precedent, if the bill gets rid of that precedent, the family can't sue. That's what legal experts tell us. If the doctor lies, there may be no repercussions to lying. That's the big concern, that it would allow doctors to hide things from mothers.

BALDWIN: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for sharing your story.

Coming up next, a major development among the U.S./Mexico border involving illegal crossing. A dramatic shift in the numbers. And the questions we're asking, does the Trump administration gives credit.

Also new this afternoon, the House Intel Committee's ranking member tells our own Wolf Blitzer his investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia is back on track.

Stay with me.


[14:58:27] BALDWIN: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We begin with two more important meetings between the associates of President Trump and Russian officials. One of those meeting on this secluded island off of Africa connected to Vladimir Putin and Blackwater Security Firm's Erik Prince who has given money to the Trump campaign, has ties to the Trump campaign. Also, Erik Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education. As far as this web of connections between Russia and President Trump's associates appears to grow even larger with the revelation that Russian tied to recruit Carter Page. He didn't know they were spies. He coordinated with the FBI. This is a couple years before he joined the Trump campaign. All of this to say, the troubled House Intelligence Committee hits the reset button on the investigation into Russia's election meddling. They scrapped their meetings last week but they are on today.

Let's begin with Manu Raju, CNN's senior congressional reporter, up on the Hill for us.

At the meeting, Adam Schiff saying that they are back on track. Is that right, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're hearing that from Republicans as well. One of the key developments that occurred over the last couple of days has been an agreement on the witnesses at the House Intelligence Committee will actually interview as part of this investigation into Russia and any ties that may exist with the Trump campaign. We are told that people such as Paul Manafort, Carter Page, former Trump advisors, like Roger Stone, all on the list of witnesses to interview. Now the question, will any of these be public --