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North Korea Launches Projectile; Suspected Chemical Attack in Syria; McConnell Starts Clock on Nuclear Option; Advertisers Drop "The O'Reilly Factor". Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Hours after a stern warning from the White House, North Korea launches what's believed to be another missile. What options are on the table and what's behind the cryptic response from the U.S. secretary of state?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And there is seething anger around the world after a suspected chemical attack in Syria that killed dozens. We'll warn you this is graphic content. In fact, yes, we want to give you a chance to be able to step away, especially the children, step away. Who and why -- why is the White House blaming the previous administration on this? Another, you know, very interesting response from the White House on that.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

This is a pivotal week for the president to reset everything.


BRIGGS: It's about foreign policy. Move aside health care, and Russia connections and wiretapping.

It is April 5th, 4:00 a.m. in the East. Good morning to you, everybody.

The White House facing renewed threats on two fronts this morning, from two of the world's most serious trouble spots -- a new missile launch from North Korea and a suspected chemical attack targeting civilians in Syria.

First, North Korea, which fired a projectile in the waters off its coast. U.S. believes it was most likely ballistic missile. It's just ahead of the president's Florida summit with Chinese President Xi.

ROMANS: Mr. Trump's first top agenda for the meeting is to curb Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The launch, this launch, came moments after a senior White House official issued a dire warning about North Korea's nuclear program, declaring, quote, "The clock has now run out and all options are on the table.'

For the very latest, I want to bring in CNN's Matt Rivers live for us in Beijing -- Matt.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. and South Korean defense officials believe that this missile that was fired was an intermediate-range ballistic missile. It was launched around 6:15 in the morning Pyongyang time. U.S. officials said they tracked it for just under ten minutes for about 60 kilometers or so before it fell into the sea. This is the second ballistic missile test that the North Koreans have conducted so far this year.

And both tests, U.S. officials say, have been making progress because of how these missiles were launched. They use solid fuel and were launched from the back of a truck. That, of course, means that these missiles are mobile. They can be hidden easier and therefore, are harder to track because they can be fired at short notice. So, progress being made.

However, we should note this was not the test that some experts were expecting. We know that the North Koreans are trying to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States and we were also seeing satellite imagery that was indicating that there could be a nuclear test very imminent. But this test this morning appears to be neither of those.

ROMANS: So, Matt, reaction from the U.S. to the missile launch was, I mean, interesting to say the least. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with this, with this, I think, 27-word statement. I want to read to it you in full.

"North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

Many are wondering what he means by this. Is he trying to talk tough or is he refusing to give North Korea the attention he thinks they are trying to grab? Is there something else going on there? What's the reaction to that abrupt statement from the secretary of state?

RIVERS: Well, this was certainly a very different response than what we've seen from past administrations. We know the Trump administration says it wants to handle North Korea in a different way.

I spoke to one expert here in Beijing who said, look, the North Koreans have fired this kind of missile before. Yes, they're making progress, but this is an intermediate-range missile. They've done it dozens of times in the past. So, this could be the administration just not taking the bait, not giving the North Korean the attention they're seeking.

Two senior U.S. officials told CNN they weren't meaning to be provocative with the statement, but that they're not going to respond every time North Korea does something like this. And so, that's certainly one view there. This is a different sort of statement.

But this statement is also very vague and it gives no further indication of what the administration's policy on North Korea is going to be. That to some people is concerning. They are looking for more details and they are not getting any so far, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Matt Rivers, thank you so much for that, in Beijing for us this morning.

To discuss the latest developments in North Korea, Dr. Peter Layton joins us live via Skype now from Brisbane, Australia, where he is a visiting fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute.

Good morning, sir.

You've heard Matt Rivers' report. You heard the response from Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state. We just heard just this week that president of the United States says, you know, gave warning to China, you can fix the problem with North Korea, do it or we'll do it ourselves.

Can the U.S. fix this on its own?

PETER LAYTON, VISITING FELLOW, GRIFFITH ASIA INSTITUTE: I think to a certain extent, yes, and to a certain extent no.

I think that the president is right that certainly China can help with this. Bear in mind that China seems to be able to, if you like, ramp up provocations from the North as it wishes. So, I think China has found that North Korea is a useful bargaining chip, if you like, so that it can manipulate the North Koreans to do as it wishes to irritate the United States and the West.

[04:05:14] So, I think that -- and I think that the Chinese foreign minister recently said that North Korea and China are still as close as teeth and lips and I think they're using North Korea to talk or signal at least.

BRIGGS: So, short of taking a unilateral military action in North Korea, which one would assume we will not do, what can the United States do to curb North Korea's nuclear program?

LAYTON: I think that I would start to reverse this, and before I talk about that, first up, there are no easy options here. The economic sanctions have been tried and failed. The six-party talks have tried and failed. A major war doesn't sound very appealing.

So, there's no easy choices out there. Anything that America does, the Chinese and the North Koreans will certainly ramp up the rhetoric about.

However, we are reasonably confident that Kim Jong-un wants the missiles and the nuclear weapons to ensure that he survives and stays in power. So, I think we should reverse this and make the deal, if you like, he survives as long as he stops the missile and nuclear programs. His survival depends on him stopping.

So, therefore, I would reverse it and focus on Kim Jong-un other than the actual test themselves.

ROMANS: Interesting, because it seems like he's -- by all accounts, he's a megalomaniac who say this is all about him.

Let me ask you about this meeting this Thursday in Florida between the Chinese president and the president of the United States. Do you think this young administration of the United States can use that meeting to try to, you know, forge some ground, forge some progress on the North Korea issue. What do you suggest the United States -- the president of the United States say to President Xi?

LAYTON: I think that forcing Kim Jong-un to stop the missile and nuclear test, you need a two track approach. The first one is to focus on removing him out of power unless he stops, and there's a range of ways of possibly doing that on a unilateral basis. Secondly, as far as the Chinese are concerned, the Chinese can certainly assist in removing Kim Jong-un also.

And I would suggest that the president try to link the atrocities of North Korean regime and in particular the idiosyncrasies of its leader to Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping has been trying to project a pleasing image to the world and appear as a global leader in charge of a responsible country. By linking themselves so closely to the North Koreans, though, that soft power message starts to look untrue.

BRIGGS: Peter Layton from the Griffith Asia Institute -- thank you. We'll check back with you next hour.

Now to Syria where suspected chemical weapon attack killed dozens of people, many of them children. The pictures we'll be showing a little bit difficult to look at, folks. We warn you.

Overnight, Russia backed up Syria's claims the rebels are responsible, despite global leaders blaming the Assad regime. The U.N. Security Council takes up the massacre in an emergency session today.

For the latest on what happened, let's bring in CNN's Muhammad Lila from Istanbul, Turkey.

Good morning to you. What do we know connects the Assad regime to these chemical weapons attack?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Dave. Unfortunately, we don't have that information simply because there are no international independent monitoring groups on the ground that can determine exactly what happened. But today is expected to be a very important day. There's an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting and there's already talk of a draft resolution in place that would condemn the Syrian government for its role in this chemical attack.

Now, in terms of the number, we know that at least 70 people have been killed. That includes women and children. More than 100 people wounded.

And, you know, these images that we have been broadcasting on CNN, Dave, just to bring our viewers up to speed, there was a discussion about whether or not we could show that footage because it's so graphic. But we just decided in the end that it is important for people out in the world to see the horrific nature of this attack.

But just so that our viewers know what they are looking at on screen right now is just a small percentage of the actual footage that's out there. There is so much more that we've had access to that it's simply so gruesome and so graphic that we can never broadcast that.

Now, the Syrian government denies and rejects accusations that it was involved. It says through the Russian ministry of defense that it was simply targeting a weapons depot and there were some chemical compounds in that weapons depot.

[04:10:03] And as a result of that targeting, those chemical compounds were released into the air. But again without international groups on the ground, it's nearly impossible to determine which version of events is true. What is true is that innocent civilians have been caught in this conflict for more than seven years and they continue to pay the ultimate price as both sides battle back and forth -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Certainly some imminent action required on the behalf of the international community.

Muhammad Lila, thank you, sir.

ROMANS: At least 70 killed and doctors there -- doctors telling CNN they think that number will be much higher and they have hospitals that are full.

President Trump placing some of the blame for the Syrian attack on President Obama. In a statement, the president called the attack on civilians, including women and children reprehensible, but he added, "These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a red line against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing."

This comes during a high-stakes diplomacy by the administration. The Syrian attack is all but certain to come up when Jordan's King Abdullah visits the White House today.

BRIGGS: First, though, statements by President Trump lie in the face of past tweets that he said or begging President Obama to do nothing against the Assad regime in Syria. More on that later on.

The Senate majority leader ready to end debate on Neil Gorsuch's nomination tomorrow. Will he stand by his commitment to change the confirmation rules if the Democrats filibuster?


[04:15:33] ROMANS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell starting the clock on the nuclear option in the showdown over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Right now, Democrats have the 41 votes they need to filibuster or block a full vote on the Gorsuch nomination. Senator McConnell has now scheduled a vote for Thursday to test that filibuster. If Democrats hold the line, McConnell plans to declare filibuster of Supreme Court nominees can be stopped with 51 votes instead of 60.

BRIGGS: McConnell needs a majority of the Senate support to make that happen. So, Vice President Mike Pence will be standing by to break tie. If not all 52 Republicans support the nuclear option. McConnell says he's confident that he has enough support to make the change. A full Senate vote is expected Friday.

And this debate showing no signs of stopping. We're looking live, 4:16 a.m. Eastern Time, Senator Jeff Merkley talks about the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, doing anything they can to slow down Republicans and their momentum. But it appears nothing at this point can or will stop his nomination to the highest court in the land.

ROMANS: All right. We'll continue to monitor those live pictures, live action from the floor.

A stunning prediction from an influential Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman Joaquin Castro telling CNN, some key players in the Trump camp could be in big trouble for their contacts with Russia. Castro's comments coming after Democrats were briefed on intelligence reports that their embattled Chairman Devin Nunes reviewed at the White House two weeks ago.

Listen to Congressman Castro sounding an ominous warning to the Trump administration.


REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: My impression is I wouldn't be surprised after all this is said and done that some people end up in jail.


ROMANS: That's quite a charge. We are told the House Intel Committee has agreed to call FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers back to testify again but no date has been scheduled, Dave.

BRIGGS: The rhetoric is out of control on both side. The Senate Intelligence Committee has started interviewing witnesses for its own Russia investigation. Republicans say they might talk to Susan Rice following reports she requested the names of Trump associates picked up on surveillance. Rice, President Obama's national security adviser, denies ever using government secrets for political purposes.

A federal appeals court ruling success called a game changer for gays and lesbians. The decision by the 7th Court of Appeals in Chicago says the 1964 ruling on discrimination extends to sexual orientation. It stems from a lawsuit by an Indiana college teacher Kim Hively, claiming she was denied promotions and eventually let go because she was a lesbian. The 7th Circuit is the first appellate court in the country to rule gays and lesbians are protected from workplace bias under the civil rights law.

ROMANS: All right. Growing list of companies dropping ads from the highest rated show on cable news. An avalanche of advertisers pulling back amid reports of numerous sexual harassment settlements involving FOX News host Bill O'Reilly. We're going to show the companies and tell you what the network is saying about it, next.


[04:23:13] ROMANS: All right. The very popular show, "The O'Reilly Factor", is facing a growing advertiser revolt. Twenty-one companies now are pulling commercials from the FOX News show amid a scandal involving the host Bill O'Reilly. It follows a report about five settlements with women who alleged sexual harassment or verbal abuse by the anchor.

The advertisers come from a wide range of industries. We're talking BMW, Allstate, Bayer, Mercedes-Benz. There are likely even more companies that have done this privately, we're told, without any fanfare but just privately pulling their advertisement or moving their advertisements to some place else on that network.

The decisions signal potential of financial damage for "The O'Reilly Factor". Most of he company say they find the allegations disturbing and are monitoring the situation for future decisions. The big question now: will FOX do anything about it? "The O'Reilly Factor" is the most popular show on cable news and most highly rated on FOX News Channel.

The top ad sales executive at the network tells us, quote, "We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about the O'Reilly Factor. But at this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other FNC programs."

"O'Reilly Factor" is an incredibly profitable, profitable brand.

BRIGGS: More than $400 million since 2014.

Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", will join us shortly to discuss the fallout of these allegations.

But meanwhile, more than 53 million people in the Southeast facing the risk of severe, potentially dangerous storms today.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

Pretty impressive severe weather set up for us across the Southeast here. The culprit locked in across the Central Plains. And this storm system pushes in now toward the east. It's drawing pretty good patch of Gulf moisture associated with this. We have very cold air back behind it.

[04:25:00] And right at the confluence right there between the warm front pushing through the region, the cold front entering the region, the highest risk for severe weather exist across this area. And notice, this highlighted region is home to about 53 million people.

And the threat zone extends from Florida all the way into parts of the Ohio Valley. Notice the area indicated in red on a scale of one to five, a four there for a significant and the severity of some of these storms in place from Birmingham, towards Atlanta, out towards Chattanooga, eventually into Columbia, South Carolina. These cities at a high-risk here, at least moderate risk for severe weather going in towards the afternoon hours, where tornadoes certainly going to be likely, widespread across some of these regions.

Early on in the morning could see a line of thunderstorms that could be tornadic and then back again into the afternoon hours. Second round of wet weather could move to the region. And behind this, very unseasonal air mass in place where snow showers could fall across parts of the higher elevations of the Carolinas -- guys.


BRIGGS: All right. Pedram, thank you.

Two global crises drawing unusual responses from the Trump administration. How the White House and State Department reacted to the latest trouble in Syria and North Korea.