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Dozens Reportedly Killed In Syria Gas Attack; Senator McCain On Trump's Foreign Policy; Trump's Secretary Of Everything: Jared Kushner. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 4, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:32:40] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. We're following breaking news out of Syria. Dozens of people reportedly killed, including at least 10 children. Hundreds of others injured and these numbers are very preliminary. What caused this? Right now, it's seen as a gas or chemical attack. CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon with the breaking details. The pictures that we are seeing this morning are harrowing and really point to the worst of intentions.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. These pictures horrifying, indeed, as they emerge from Idlib in northern Syria. Now, this is an area where regime and rebel forces have fought for years. We don't know who is responsible for this yet but what we do know is the Assad regime, for years, has dropped barrel bombs on its own people in this area, often filled with chlorine gas, a weapon of terror that can cause the kinds of respiratory symptoms and distress that you see in some of these pictures emerging from the area. So we don't know who but we do know who has done it before.

This comes a couple of days, of course, after the Trump administration gave the world a signal that it will no longer try and push Bashar al- Assad from power. The question being raised now, is this paving the way for the Assad regime to act with impunity even more than it already has? A very serious matter because when the U.S. says it's not going to push Assad from power it basically steps aside and perhaps, in the view of some, gives him the ability to carry out these kinds of attacks.

It is something that is going to be very difficult for U.S. forces. They train other militaries around the world in human rights and if the U.S. doesn't step up on this human rights question it's hard to see what may come next -- what kinds of attacks may come next -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Barbara, thank you for spelling it all out for us this morning. Joining us now is Senator John McCain of Arizona. He is the chair of the Armed Services Committee. Good morning, Senator.


CAMEROTA: What should the U.S. response be to this apparent chemical or gas attack on the Syrian people where we know, at this hour, 11 children have been killed under the age of eight?

MCCAIN: You know, we've seen this movie before. It was when Barack Obama said that they would have a red line and they crossed it and he did nothing. And Bashar Assad and his friends -- his friends, the Russians, take 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 I've ever heard given the involvement of Hezbollah, of the Iranians, of the Russians, and of course, the barrel bombing and precision strikes by Russian aircraft into hospitals in Aleppo.

[07:35:32] So I'm sure they're encouraged and know that the United States is withdrawing and seeking some kind of new arrangement with the Russians, and it is another disgraceful chapter in American history --


MCCAIN: -- and it was predictable.

CAMEROTA: So, Senator, what do you want to see President Trump do?

MCCAIN: I want him to say -- I want to hear him say we're going to arm the Free Syrian Army, we are going to dedicate ourselves to the removal of Bashar Assad, we're going to have the Russians pay a price for their engagement -- the Iranians and Hezbollah also heavily involved. All players here are going to have to pay a penalty and the United States of America is going to be on the side of people who fight for freedom and we will not sit by and watch chemical weapons being used to slaughter innocent women and children.

You might remember when the pictures were smuggled out before by a wonderful man named Caesar of those who were victims of chemical attacks. Didn't we learn a lesson when Barack Obama refused to do anything?

CAMEROTA: Senator, that is completely different than what the administration is saying. I mean, you just paraphrased what Secretary of State Tillerson said about "The long-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people." And then, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley went further, some say. She said, "Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out."

MCCAIN: Well, I -- the United States of America is known to help people who want freedom and democracy. But no, none of us are arguing for American troops on the ground there to fight against Bashar Assad, but we certainly believe that we can fight ISIS and we can help people who are struggling against this incredibly -- one of the great brutal dictators in history -- Bashar Assad and his minions.

There was a front-page story in "The Washington Post" yesterday about the torture of thousands and thousands and the murder of thousands and thousands in Damascus. I mean, this -- these are war crimes on the scale almost unmatched since Nazi Germany or Pol Pot.

CAMEROTA: So why isn't the Trump administration saying any of that?

MCCAIN: You're asking the wrong guy.

CAMEROTA: I mean, what do you see as the Trump doctrine for how to deal with these issues internationally?

MCCAIN: I don't see any doctrine right now. I do have great confidence in the national security team around the president. Mattis and Kelly, and our new director of national intelligence Dan Coats, and McMaster. And I hope that they will develop a strategy, stand up, and give the president the advice and counsel that I believe he needs and he could get from that team.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Senator, if I can paraphrase what I've heard out of the Trump White House, basically it's that sometimes when you upset the apple cart in, say, Iraq or Libya, there are other bad repercussions, so maybe the devil you know is best to live with.

MCCAIN: Well, that contradicts everything the United States of America has stood for throughout our history, particularly the 20th century. It was Ronald Reagan that gave assistance to the Afghans, who were able to prevail and get the Russians out of their country. This is -- this is -- we stand for freedom and we help people who are being persecuted and murdered.

That does not mean we send the Marines. It does mean there's many ways of assisting, including the court of public opinion. One of the things that won the Cold War was Radio Free Europe. So we just seem to be without a message that has resonated for the last century and should be in this century, and that is the United States of America stands for freedom and help the oppressed and the murdered and those who are being under assault as the people of Syria are today.

CAMEROTA: One last question on this, France. Other countries are trying to tackle this today. They are so appalled by what we're seeing in the aftermath of these pictures so France is calling for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Ambassador Nikki Haley has just been named as president of that for the month of April. So do you think that there is any possibility of the U.S. coming together with allies and actually taking some action against Syria?

[07:40:00] MCCAIN: The Russians have veto power in the Security Council so you'll hear a lot of rhetoric and a lot of -- a lot of great sloganeering from New York, but it requires American leadership. That's the one lesson we should have learned over the lack of leadership or the Obama administration's "leading from behind." When you lead from behind bad things happen. So it requires positive, dynamic, American leadership. And I want to emphasize again, not American troops but American assistance, both morally and materially.

CAMEROTA: OK. Senator, I want to move on to other news of the day and that is, as you know, the Trump White House has talked about what they see or what they say see as a controversy of the former national security adviser Susan Rice unmasking a name -- someone on team Trump -- that was somehow caught up in some incidental collection of surveillance. They say that this is a controversy. It shows that she has done something wildly out of the bounds of normalcy. Is this business as usual for a national security adviser to ask for names to be revealed -- an American name -- if she wants to know more or is this some sort of controversy?

MCCAIN: I think the circumstances indicate that there's a possibility that that request could have been politically motivated but we need to get to the bottom of it. As I've said and I'll probably say many more times because I'm kind of boring, this is a centipede -- a shoe will drop every few days. The latest, the meeting in the Seychelles. Look, this is a requirement, in my view, why we need a select committee in order to get through all this because there's lots more shoes that are going to drop. I can't make a judgment on what I've just heard. She did have the authority to do it. What was the motivation for doing it, I think, is the question.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, what we've heard from the reporting is that if she saw a masked name that said American number one had these conversations with Russians at the same time that President Obama had imposed sanctions, wouldn't that arouse some curiosity on her part?

MCCAIN: All I can say, Alisyn, is that I don't know enough to reach a conclusion except to say this is another aspect of this multidimensional scandal. Look, this is one of the bigger ones that we have seen in a number of years and that's why we need this select committee to get to the bottom of it. I have great confidence in Richard Burr and Senator Warner of Virginia, but the dimensions of this require a broader scope if we're going to get to the bottom of all of it.

CAMEROTA: Well, but do you see the scandal as the possible connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians or do you see the scandal as Susan Rice asking for names to be unmasked?

MCCAIN: I think one side views it as a scandal on that side and the other -- the other side. That's why we need an overall look at it. I think that the dimensions of it are large. It's far -- if, indeed, there was names revealed, that -- those could collectively be held accountable, too. The connections with the Russians -- would you and I read a novel that said somebody flew to the Seychelles to meet with a Middle Eastern intermediary with a Russian? I don't think so.

CAMEROTA: Well, you're talking about "The Washington Post" reporting this morning about Erik Prince, who is the brother of Betsy DeVos, who flew to the Seychelles for some sort of secret, as it's described, meeting that was arranged by the UAE. What do you make of that, Senator?

MCCAIN: I make it as another shoe and another aspect of this unfolding drama that is going to be with us for a long time and that's why we need an overall investigation of all aspects of it and it's hard for me to draw conclusions from yesterday's headlines.

CAMEROTA: But when you told CNN's Manu Raju -- I just want to give you an opportunity to clarify.

MCCAIN: Yes. CAMEROTA: When you said that if Susan Rice did this it would be "a dereliction of duty" do you still feel that way?

MCCAIN: If -- no, if she did it with the intent of revealing these names for political purposes, I -- I've got to add the end of it, too -- if she did it for political reasons. You can only find that out with a thorough investigation of all the circumstances surrounding her finding out this name or names and the way that it was used.

CAMEROTA: Meaning an independent investigation?

MCCAIN: Yes, yes, yes. I've called for it for some time --


MCCAIN: -- and eventually it will happen.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about how the Senate is now poised to use "the nuclear option" to get Judge Gorsuch onto the Supreme Court. Are you comfortable that these rules, this precedent, will be broken and forevermore then it will just require a 51 percent majority instead of 60, as had been the case?

[07:45:08] MCCAIN: I think it's a dark day in the history of the United States Senate. It's going to happen and it's interesting that Republicans were dead set against it when my former colleague Harry Reid invoked it with the judges, but now it seems to be OK. What we should have done is what we did in 2005 and that was a group of us got together, 14 of us, and said look, we won't filibuster except under extraordinary conditions. And now, we're so polarized now, including between the two leaders, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, that there's no communications anymore.

But look, if you can do this with 51 votes, what do you think the next nominee is going to be like? And then what do you think is going to happen when eventually the Democrats are in the majority in the Senate, and that's going to happen sooner or later -- I hope later.

CAMEROTA: But the tables always do turn. Senator John McCain, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY. Nice to see you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.


CUOMO: Fun fact, today is Equal Pay Day. What does that mean for women in the workforce and what Ivanka Trump is saying about it, next.


CAMEROTA: OK, it's time for CNN Money Now. Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is in our Money Center. Christine, today is Equal Pay Day. Tell us what that means for all of us.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the significance, to earn the same amount as their male counterparts make in one year, women have to work one year and part of the next year, too. That extra time ends today. Women earn about 80 cents for every dollar men make according to the Census Bureau. That works out to be a little more than $10,000 less per year. For a 20-year-old entering the workforce it amounts to $418,000 over a 40-year career.

Now, the gap has been slowly narrowing over the past generation. At this rate it will be 44 more years before pay is equal between men and women in America, even longer for African-American and Hispanic women -- a lot longer. The issue here is not that women chose lower-paying occupations. Even in the same job categories men make more. Women working full-time in engineering earn 82 cents to every dollar a man makes. In education, 78 cents. In sales, 67 cents. And look at this in law, one of the worst disparities, just 56 cents.

Experts disagree on why women, on average, make less. How to fix it, equally difficult. Some say Congress needs national standards on pay transparency because so many companies keep all of this pay data private. Others say more support for working parents, men and women. But let's be honest, they hit their peak at work at the very moment they're also growing their families.

[07:50:13] The movement to close the gap getting lots of support from high-profile women today, including Ivanka Trump, tweeting just moments ago "#EqualPayDay is a reminder that women deserve equal pay for equal work. We must work to close the gender pay gap!" -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much, Christine. Appreciate it. Speaking of Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner very much in the spotlight. He seems to be secretary of everything. Right now he's in Iraq but he's got a big to-do list back at the White House. What exactly is Kushner's role and is he the right guy for any of these jobs, next.


CUOMO: All right. President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law is Jared Kushner. He's presently in Iraq with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He's attending meetings, he's meeting Iraqi leaders, he's learning about this job he now has. Kushner's plate filled with a variety of domestic and international issues. Is he the right guy for any of this?

Let's discuss with executive editor of "Bloomberg View," author of "Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald," Tim O'Brien. And, CNN contributor and "Vanity Fair" writer, Emily Jane Fox. Good to have you both here this morning.

You dig into who Kushner is, you talk to his business associates -- people who know him -- they'll say standup guy, smart guy, precocious guy, good to deal with when you're doing these development deals. No inference that any of the things he's doing right now is anything he's done before or that he's particularly well-suited for it. Do you find the same?

TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "BLOOMBERG VIEW," AUTHOR, "TRUMP NATION": Well, I -- that's just empirically true. By all accounts, he's a bright young man but the only things we have to judge him on at this point, I think, are two things. What happened when he took over his father's real estate business and he made a rash and possibly disastrous purchase of 666 Fifth. He overpaid for it. The building has to get worked out now and it's a big of a ball and chain around the Kushner family's portfolio.

[07:55:05] Step two is what's happened since he's -- since he's come to White House. Trump has had a chaotic first 100 days. Jared Kushner was meant to be a person in that process who would be a trusted adviser, help Trump make good decisions. But mostly what we've gotten out of that is a lot of back and forth and not good basic management in a purely nonpartisan, non-ideological way just around the process.

And now, on top of all that you're giving him a massive portfolio. You're giving him the Middle East, you're giving him the overhaul of the federal government, and you're essentially turning him into a jack of all trades for his father-in-law. And I think really the only thing at this point that recommends him to the job is the fact that he married the president's daughter.

CAMEROTA: Emily, it's also hard to understand what his role is versus, say, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. So, for instance, this morning Jared Kushner is in Iraq. Why isn't Secretary of State -- what's he doing differently than the Secretary of State would?

EMILY JANE FOX, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, WRITER, "VANITY FAIR": I think the biggest difference is that he is family and for Donald Trump there's no greater qualification for any kind of job than being family. And so I think he is overstepping the bounds of a typical White House adviser but Donald Trump wants his family to be the one advising him. There is really no greater trust than someone who is related to him.

CUOMO: So what's the downside? You have your Secretary of State. You know, this is a little bit of tasty intrigue. Is he taking over for Tillerson? We don't have any real indication of that. There doesn't seem to be great coordination on any level in this White House. But him being a son-in-law, why is it not a good thing to have someone you trust who's a smart kid -- you don't have to question his loyalty -- he's there and we don't assume he's going to set policy, right?

FOX: Well, I think that that's a fair assumption to make. I think, as sources have explained to me, he's not making policy here. He's really just a CEO of the United States of America basically. He's flat handing (ph) with foreign leaders, he's taking trips when he's asked. One person who was really close to him during the campaign explained it to me as this. Donald asks him to do something and he says yes. And I think that's why you've seen him amass so much power so quickly because President Trump is really interested in having him in all these meetings and really wants his take on things. Is he qualified to give that advice? I don't think we've seen that qualification yet.

CAMEROTA: One Republican told us yesterday -- he was on the show -- a Republican lawmaker who said that basically the role that he serves -- as Jared Kushner serves -- is to be Trump's ears in the room. So then he comes home and says to President Trump OK, here's what I got. Here's what I learned. You're going to want to do -- say this perhaps or handle this in this delicate way. That he's that and that's a good role. That you understand why President Trump would trust him to be that. But then it does beg the question of so, is that different than what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to be saying to Iraq? Are they going to be speaking out of two sides of their mouths? What is the different role?

O'BRIEN: Well, and look, you had John McCain on in your previous segment. He said he's not sure there is a Trump doctrine when it comes to foreign policy. If you want a test case projecting forward of why Jared Kushner might matter, let's put North Korea on the table. If North Korea does another missile launch what is the chain of command in this White House for assessing how to respond to that? Is Rex Tillerson in the loop, is Nikki Haley, is Jared Kushner? Who's the first one to get to the president?

The president, himself, is deeply ill-informed on foreign policy and he's a rash decision maker. Who regulates him, who gives him good advice? Probably the first person in that mix is going to be Kushner and is Kushner going to be a good first glance. That's still an open question.

CUOMO: Well look, hopefully, you always want an adviser who's smart enough to know what they don't know and we'll see. You know, 36 years old -- you know, it isn't 56, but it's not 26, so you give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt there. But, you know, if we judge by what we have seen, this notion that Kushner and maybe his wife, you know, Ivanka, could be a modulating device seems to have fallen woefully short unless Kushner and Ivanka agree with all this crazy tweeting that the president is doing, you know, distracting from the agenda and highlighting the Russian interference investigation. What's your take on that?

FOX: I don't think that they agree with everything and I think that they do voice their disapproval. Everything that --

CUOMO: But they may have shown zero effect on getting him to do anything differently than what he wants to do that.

FOX: I think that they know better than anybody else that their father or father-in-law is going to do what he wants to do and they know the limits of their power more than anybody else does. I think people often overestimate what their power is, but I think that they're more realistic about the control that they have over the president.

CAMEROTA: What do you think of that, Tim? What is Ivanka's role, as well, in this?

O'BRIEN: Well look, both of them grew up with fathers who were larger than life, to a certain extent, fragmented families because of their father's mistakes, and they've both had to learn to grow up around that and live with it. I think they're both very controlled personalities but they're also a little out over their skis. I'm sure -- who wouldn't give up on some of the opportunities they're getting, but that's a separate issue from whether or not they're qualified to be sitting in the --