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Steve Bannon Removed from National Security Role; Surviving the Horror of Syria's Chemical Attack; How Will U.S. Respond to Syria Chemical Attack?; Trump: I Don't Think Bill O'Reilly Did Anything Wrong. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 06:30   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What did you think of that?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I noticed the absence. Mostly just because when there are so many people in the room, you start looking at when the vice president is staffing an interview with the president, you notice who is not there.

[06:30:04] I wouldn't over-read it. Bannon often comes in and out of meetings that he wants to be in or doesn't want to be in. I'm not really sure this is one, candidly, he wanted to be in.

But, you know, there is no -- it is no secret that he and Gary Cohn are not exactly brothers in arms on issues. Infrastructure is Gary Cohn's.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But the timing of it, you know, we heard yesterday that Steve Bannon, some would say, had sort of a demotion and that hadn't happened yet when you were there or did you talk about this with the president?

HABERMAN: No, it literally happened five minutes after -- broke five minutes after.

CUOMO: You had reported on the speculation about it some weeks ago.

HABERMAN: We had. My colleague Peter Baker and I had an assisting role in this, had reported that there were discussions going on about a revamp and a change to that executive order that had done the shift in terms of -- including restoring the downgraded seats. It was not clear at the time what would happen with Bannon, but that change was actually expected, I think, a week after that initial report. That was four weeks ago.

It's really worth remembering, the president has been chewing on some form of this, of a change and back to older order on the NSC almost since the moment he signed the initial executive order. That first weekend, there were two. There was that executive order about the NSC, and then there was the one about immigration, and the travel ban, and he was more upset about the blowback over the NSC order than he was about the fall-out from the executive order and immigration, at least initially. CAMEROTA: But, David Gregory, do we think that Steve Bannon has been


DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, appropriately sidelined from the National Security Council. I can tell you from my conversations that H.R. McMaster was very concerned about how there were people excluded, including the DNI, and how Steve Bannon was included in the national security principals meeting.

Again, you know, this sounds like a lot of process, but this is vitally important in terms of bringing in all the strains of information, for decision-making on national security. There is still concern by McMaster and outside allies of his about the fact that Bannon and Jared Kushner have this innovation group that can bleed into national security and foreign policy, working kind of on a parallel track on nationalist or other national security policies.

So, I don't think this story is over, but this was certainly a restoration of order. You know, it's a good sign, I think, that the president realized, look, I got to listen to some of these folks I have put in place who want the system to work properly.

CUOMO: David Sanger, final word from what you think we should expect today coming out of China. Do you think it will meet up to the hype and expectation of some type of result?

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, one quick thing on David's point there. You now have a National Security Council that looks like the institution has traditionally looked like. You got all these people coming in to blow up old institutions or change them, and what you ended up with was something more like Brent Scowcroft's National Security Council. He was the national security advisor, of course, with George H.W. Bush.

On the Chinese, I think day one is going to be inconclusive. I think you'll see the Chinese come in and offer a lot to the U.S., including probably investments in the U.S., figuring that that's the way to get on President Trump's good side. I'm not sure you're going to see very much result, but it is just a first meeting in a very long relationship.

CAMEROTA: Yes. David Sanger, David Gregory, Maggie Haberman -- thank you for sharing all of the reporting with us this morning.

CUOMO: All right. We've been talking about Syria because of this latest tragic event. CNN is on the frontlines of what is a brutal civil war, talking to survivors of a chemical attack that killed more than 80 people. The victims in their own words, next.


[06:37:26] CAMEROTA: Now to the horror in Syria. The Trump administration facing a critical international crisis in the wake of that chemical attack that killed more than 80 people, at least 20 of those victims were children. CNN's Ben Wedeman spoke with survivors of this attack as they were

being treated across the border in Turkey. We want to warn you, these images are very difficult to watch.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the latest of a long series of horrors that is the war in Syria. Early Tuesday morning, the town of Khan Sheikhoun was rocked by explosions. And, suddenly, there was pandemonium.

Hundreds, including many children, struggling for breath, foaming at the mouth.

What exactly happened Tuesday morning isn't clear. The result, however, is.

For the lucky who survived, like 55-year-old Aisha Tilawi (ph), now in a Turkish hospital, the memories return.

"There was an airstrike," she says. I saw yellow and blue. We felt dizzy and fainted."

Akhmed Abdul Rahim (ph) still has trouble breathing or reconciling Tuesday's events.

"I don't know what happened to my children," he says.

Turkish teams in full chemical suits are deployed in no man's land to wash down those coming to Turkey for treatment. While a Turkish mobile lab for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons detection heads across the border.

Thirteen-year-old Masin Youssef (ph), Aisha's grandson, is back on his feet at the hospital, but the trauma has seared his soul.

"I saw the explosion in front of my grandfather's house," he recalls. "I ran to their house bare foot. I saw my grandfather sitting like this, suffocated. Then I became dizzy."

How many of his relatives were killed? "Nineteen," he responds.

(on camera): The Syrian civil war is now into its seventh year. It's left hundreds of thousands of people dead. This was not the first chemical attack, and it probably won't be the last. All these years, diplomats and politicians have talked and talked, but people continue to die.

[06:40:07] I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, on the Turkish-Syrian border.


CUOMO: All right. So, anybody with eyes and a heart knows that this is wrong, but it's important to hear the first line of Ben's piece. This is the latest in a long line of attacks just like this. The last one in 2013 had so many more victims that looked and felt just like the ones you just saw, and it led to nothing by anyone in the international community that had any meaningful impact of change. So, it leads to the same question today. What can be done?

Let's discuss this right now. We have our CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

And the context matters here. Everybody is feeling it right now. We felt it back then. Nothing happened.

In your opinion, what are the legitimate options on the table for something to be different this time?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, everybody has been waiting to see how an immediate foreign policy crisis would affect the Trump administration.

And President Trump showed how it affected him to the world yesterday at the Rose Garden, talking about these babies, talking about these children, the women, the civilians who were killed in this horrific manner that he said was an affront to civilization and an affront to us all, calling it a heinous crime. And basically saying that he had done a 180 on Syria and Assad, talking about lines that had been crossed, many, many lines, including beyond a red line.

He kept doubling down on his outrage. He didn't back down when people asked him about it. He just kept going on about how bad this was.

And that in conjunction with what his U.N. ambassador has said at the Security Council that we might have to do something ourselves if the U.N. won't, what his vice president said that all options are on the table, what his secretary of state said that we believe that there is no doubt that Assad did perpetrate this, and the Turks now have said that the autopsies, along with the U.N.'s WHO, prove that this was a chemical weapons attack.

So, Chris, it is true that we've seen this before, but the one in 2013 was the biggest one. In the interim, there's been lots of chemical weapons attacks and things like that. Nothing like this one, again, four years later --

CUOMO: Right.

AMANPOUR: -- which is a nerve gas.

And so, there are options that are being suggested for a punitive limited measure taken against Assad. Not a regime change. Not an invasion. But for instance, taking out airfields, disabling the planes, they are the only people who fly these planes and drop these barrel bombs full of this stuff.

And so, there are options. Israel has shown it has conducted these kinds of options when its own interest are being threaten by Assad during this war, and other people have believed that unless some punitive measure is taken, yes, this will happen again.

CAMEROTA: So, Christiane, is there a sense that the international community, the leaders who have spoken out about this in the U.K., in France, in Israel, the U.S. now, that they will come together and do something this time?

AMANPOUR: Look, we just don't know. We see the president of the United States was very moved and very angry and announced himself very changed, and, frankly, put down a marker.

When the president says that this crosses even way beyond a red line, when the president of the United States says that, the rest of the world listens. They watch and want to know, well, then what?

And if this is not followed up, then it will give a worse signal because it's happened again, than the original 2013 red line that was not followed up.

And so, it's true that the rest of the world hasn't wanted to intervene in this war since it started seven years ago. But today, across the world, you can imagine the headlines are this, and world leaders around Europe and elsewhere are really strong in their condemnation and in suggesting that something might happen if it is proved, et cetera.

So --

CUOMO: How meaningful is it, Christiane, that Russia seemed to have just had a little bit of change in position? Originally, they were towing the Assad line. Oh, they hit a rebel munition dump, and they had chemicals there. That's what this was, or wasn't Assad.

Now, they just put out a statement that was crossing the wire that says, this was a horrific attack, this is a terrible thing that happened. They are the critical piece, right? Because if you are going to do air strikes on strategic positions, they have very capable jet fighters in the area that can complicate that situation. They have to be on the same page, don't they?

AMANPOUR: Well, all of that is absolutely true. And the problem, of course, is that it's massively complicated since Russia occupied the vacuum left by the international community over the last several years.

So, yes, that does make it very complicated, and there will be claims and counterclaims. We've seen this before. Russia desperately backing its ally, Assad, and the rest of the world wanting to do something, but throwing up its hands saying, well, actually, we can't because this is the status quo.

However, there is a way, experts say, and military experts say of just the U.S. and its allies, potentially taking a limited punitive attack.

[06:45:06] And first starting by getting absolute proof that this was by Assad and then getting consensus among the allies to do something and avoiding Russia's area or its infrastructure or its military.

CAMEROTA: OK, Christiane, thank you very much for giving us all of that context. Nice to talk to you as always. CUOMO: All right. Another story to report on this morning, shaking

up the media world and maybe beyond. Advertisers are pulling out, but President Trump entering the O'Reilly fray, defending his friend. The president said O'Reilly is a good man.

How does this figure in to this sexual harassment scandal? Next.


CAMEROTA: The world's best golfers set to tee off for round one of the masters.

Andy Sholes has more on the "Bleacher Report".

Hi, Andy.


You know, Dustin Johnson is the number one golfer in the world, but now, he might not be able to compete today because of a back injury. Johnson fell down some stairs and landed on his back in his rental home yesterday.

[06:50:01] His manager said he is receiving treatment, but his status now up in the air for the Masters. The good news for Johnson is that he is in the very last group to tee off today. He is going to get going if he plays at about 2:00 Eastern.

All right. For the first time ever, one of the most popular events of Masters week, the par three contest was canceled yesterday. Severe storms wreaking havoc on the course. Now, not going to be raining today for round one, but it is going to be very windy. They're expecting gusts approaching 40 miles per hour.

So, Chris, I would not expect to see a lot of scores in round one. A lot of guys will be out there trying to survive the conditions.

CUOMO: Yes, yes. That's how you win. You got to just beat everybody else.

Andy, thank you very much.

So, dozens of advertisers are distancing their brands from Bill O'Reilly. But perhaps the biggest booster of FOX News and O'Reilly is standing firm and saying he believes O'Reilly did nothing wrong. Our media gurus discuss the impact of the president, next.


[06:55:01] CAMEROTA: President Trump defending FOX News host Bill O'Reilly against accusations of sexual harassment. The president told "The New York Times," quote, "I think he shouldn't have settled; personally, I think he shouldn't have settled", meaning years ago. "I know Bill. Bill's a good person. I don't think Bill did anything wrong."

Let's discuss with Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES", as well as our media analyst Bill Carter.

Guys, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: So, the president and Bill O'Reilly are long-time friends. They go to baseball games together, or they did at least until the president -- until Donald Trump won. Is this shocking that the president would defend his friend?

STELTER: On one level, it's still shocking. Even though it doesn't seem surprising because of the relationship, it's still shocking to see a sitting president weighing in on a controversy like this, coming to the defense of someone who has not been receiving much defense or much support, frankly, from anywhere else.

CUOMO: Especially because of his new role, right? It's one thing for his friend to step up and say he is my friend. If he says he didn't do anything wrong, I believe him.

Well, he is the president of the United States. This is an Awareness Month that we're in right now that was --

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Right, sexual assault.

CUOMO: You know, that was announced by the president. And he can't know the truth of the matters asserted. Now, we know he is comfortable with that, Bill. He is comfortable going out and saying I'll be proven true later.

CARTER: In the same interview he is comfortable saying someone is a criminal, the same exact interview with no presented evidence. At the same time he says this guy isn't -- didn't do anything wrong despite the fact of settlements.

CUOMO: Right, except the dynamic with these harassment claims and, again, I've seen them go both ways where there's specious suggestions or where they're true and un-vindicated. But it's all about credibility. These women don't want to come forward. They think this is exactly what's going to happen is they're going to say something happened, and everybody is going to say you're lying, and they can't prove it.

CARTER: And the president, of course, had, what, 13 women accuse him of sexual improprieties, all of whom he said were lying. He also defended Roger Ailes and said he was a good guy. So, he clearly doesn't necessarily believe women when they come forward.

STELTER: I think it's interesting that this is a reminder about the "Access Hollywood" tape. It's a reminder about those allegations against Trump.

One of the women who has spoken out about O'Reilly has been represented by the same attorney, represented some of the Trump accusers. I think more broadly, this gets to the idea of tribes, tribalism in this country. Viewers love Bill O'Reilly and are still tuning in for his show. Even

if they've heard about the allegations, even if they do care, they're still watching O'Reilly because he is their guy. He is part of their tribe. President Trump, in some ways, benefitted from the same sort of partisan tribalism. People heard about the allegations against him, accepted it, and were able to look past that where.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, there are a couple of facts that I think are important. As you all know, I worked at FOX for many years.


CAMEROTA: I have no idea whether bill O'Reilly is guilty of this or innocent. He never exhibited any of this to me, but I know for certain there was no anonymous hotline. In Bill O'Reilly's statement --

STELTER: Oh, that's his defense right there --


CAMEROTA: He said no woman ever called the hotline that has been set up at FOX. There was no hotline that anyone at FOX was ever aware of.

STELTER: So, you are saying it might have been buried in page 100 of the manual for employees, and it was not something that --

CAMEROTA: That's the purpose of a hotline. If it was the best kept secret in the building and you couldn't find it, it doesn't serve as an effective hotline. No one --

STELTER: Other former FOX anchors say the same thing to me. What is FOX talking about? What is O'Reilly talking about?

CAMEROTA: It didn't exist in our consciousness. That's one of Bill O'Reilly's defense and fox's defenses, they need a new defense.

CUOMO: Look, what would happen if this became a truly dismissible claim. This went to court is one thing. He has to deal with something else, which is the optics of being part of the face of FOX News, and these advertisers stepping out, you know. This is bad for FOX because they only have so many slots to fill.

CARTER: Exactly.

CUOMO: So, if they don't want their money attached to Bill O'Reilly, it's going to hurt them. The question is will that be enough to move their big star?

CARTER: How much and for how long? Moving the ads around, which is what they're doing now, is a short-term dodge because the ad rates for O'Reilly are the highest on the network. So, you can't just place them all over the place. You are going to lose something eventually in that.

But the thing is O'Reilly is such a big figure for them, and he is their signature star. The biggest risk for them is not that they would lose him, but that they would lose their viewers who would say you can't cave to them, you can't give in. They've always been a give no ground network. If they give ground, they lose something, and they're never going to give ground.

STELTER: FOX does not respond to public pressure, peer pressure in the way that other companies do.

CUOMO: When the ratings don't move, it gives you confidence in your corporate position. You know, yes, the advertisers are going, but they could come back. If his ratings are flat or maybe even a little higher, I think that's going to have influence as well, as much as the advertisers.

CARTER: The shows around him, he does help all the shows around him.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. If the ratings stay as they are, they have no reason other than their public posture that they were cleaning house.

STELTER: Exactly. What the owners of the company want FOX to be, what kind of company do they want FOX to be. A lot of advertisers are speaking because increasingly these big companies are trying to be more conscious, trying to have more social responsibility.