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Trump Launches Military Strike Against Syria; Putin Slams "Trumped Up" U.S. Strike In Syria; Pentagon Reports 59 Tomahawk Missiles Fired Into Syria; White House Official: Some Lawmakers Briefed Before Strikes. Aired 5:30-6a ET
Aired April 7, 2017 - 05:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[05:30:00] LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: However, there's a very obscure -- I think it's 1923 or 1925 act against chemical weapons that all nations were signatories to after the great World War I, where chemical weapons were used en masse -- where nations basically signed up to say we'll never allow this to happen again. If we see it happening we will step in and stop it. And I think that's what Ambassador Haley --
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Right.
HERTLING: -- was citing in the U.N. the other day. There's a third piece, though. Russia signed an agreement in 2013 when they did take responsibility for Mr. Assad, saying we will contribute to assisting getting rid of the last remaining chemical weapons inside of Syria. They did not do that. Secretary Tillerson used that against them last night, basically saying they were incompetent or complicit in not doing that.
So all of these things will contribute to the debate in Congress. There was not a War Powers Act, certainly, which sometimes ties the hands of a president. All of those things are going to be factored. But you do have a Republican Congress and Senate that are both going to be supporting President Trump on this, as well as the support on the world stage.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: We will get the answers to how Congress is feeling for everyone on NEW DAY. Coming up on NEW DAY we'll have several members of Congress on to discuss these strikes -- Congressman Seth Moulton, senators Ben Cardin, Marco Rubio, Tim Kaine, and Cory Gardner.
CUOMO: All right. We have a lot more breaking news coverage. We're still getting information about what was the effect of these 59 Tomahawk missiles launched to get a specific Syrian airbase. When this special of edition of NEW DAY returns we'll have more information.
[05:35:45] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CAMEROTA: We are following breaking news for you. Leaders around the world responding to the U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for Assad's deadly chemical weapons attack on his own people. The strikes targeted an airbase that housed war planes, airfields, and supply bunkers. It's the first direct military action taken by the U.S. against the Syrian regime in the country's six-year civil war.
Russian T.V. releasing this video of the damage left behind the strikes. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the strikes "Trumped up." He has suspended a 2015 agreement preventing mid-air incidents between coalition and Russian air forces. France and Germany issuing a joint statement moments ago, saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bears full responsibility for the U.S. airstrikes.
Joining us now is CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. She is live in London. Christiane, tell us the world's reaction thus far.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really significant. Obviously, the allies are supporting President Trump. In fact, in the words of the British Defense secretary, he basically called it as it is. This is the first major test confronting President Trump. The Assad regime's use of chemical weapons, i.e, weapons of mass destruction, which are banned under international law. And, therefore, President Trump's reaction was to deter any further use of such weapons and that they would continue, altogether, to try to change the situation in Syria to make sure that those kinds of weapons are not used again.
And the allies are beginning to, once again, talk about Assad must go. Not the same kind of chorus that we heard years ago but all of a sudden, as Tillerson has said -- the U.S. Secretary of State -- that somebody who does this kind of thing to their own people has no role in future government.
Interestingly, though, is the Russian reaction because while they're angry, while they've called it, you know, illegitimate, while they've called it an act of aggression, the Russian Foreign Ministry -- minister, himself, has said this will not lead to an irreversible situation.
And the Chinese reaction, again, very, very important as well because President Xi is sitting there with President Trump in Florida right now, even as this attack and response by President Trump was being launched. The Chinese have said that we condemn the use of chemical weapons. Again, why is this significant? Because both China and Russia have been the main obstacles to any resolutions in the United Nations Security Council and Russia, of course, the main enabler for Syria's Bashar Assad.
CAMEROTA: Christiane, what do we think we this means for the future of relations with Russia? You know, we have word that the U.S. did alert Russia shortly before these strikes as an international courtesy. They know that Russians could have been around that area. And then, as you say, the language coming out of Russia is very interesting. What do we think will happen if and when Rex Tillerson does fulfill that promised visit next week to Moscow?
AMANPOUR: Well, first and foremost, we hear from Russia that that visit is going to go ahead. We've heard -- I mean, not formally from the president, Putin, or elsewhere, but people in Parliament have said there's no reason to cancel that meeting and, therefore, that will be a very, very important meeting. And hopefully -- presumably, those people sitting around a table are going to try to figure out whether, in fact, you know, there's a new chapter in this effort to contain and to stop the Syrian war.
And whether Moscow can be persuaded, as Rex Tillerson has said, to stop supporting Bashar al-Assad when, let's face it, Assad's use of chemical weapons, even though Russia denies it, violates Russia's deal with Assad on this issue as well. So it's not just a violation of what the West and NATO think. So I think that's really important.
What further will happen? I don't think anybody believes that this is the beginning of a massive invasion of Syria -- of any major attempt in terms of, you know, with military, to oust Bashar Assad. But I think it's concentrated in the international community's mind, again, that he is the main obstacle to any kind of resolution in Syria.
[05:40:00] Yes, ISIS -- and that fight will continue because both Russia and the United States want to do that and the U.S. is already maneuvering to fully encircle Raqqa and it's got, as you know, some 900 forces on the ground. It's supporting local forces and they've got heavy artillery and they're really getting ready to do in Raqqa what they've been doing in Mosul, so that, presumably, will continue.
The question, though, is to try to neutralize the major threat that's posed by Assad because it's Assad who's using the chemical weapons. And even without chemical weapons, who's been responsible for the deaths of, you know, 400,000-plus civilians in Syria over the last six years.
CAMEROTA: And Christiane, what about the allies? What about France and the U.K. that had condemned the chemical attack? Now where are they in terms of next steps with or without the U.S.?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, as you said, Russia was informed through the deconfliction channel that this was going to happen. Also, NATO was informed. They knew within a good amount of time what was going to happen and they all have supported what's happened because of Syria's unacceptable use of these kinds of weapons. But it's still very unclear as to where this is going to go in a broader strategy because while they're saying Assad must go, there's no room for Assad in any political future, there's no real plan at the moment and there never really has been, to either get him out politically or militarily.
And the political talks that have been continuing -- occasionally are convened in Geneva and elsewhere -- honestly, they go nowhere because the U.N. and everybody else basically says that Assad and his representatives are just not serious. They just are not serious. They won't negotiate with the opposition, even the moderate opposition. And Assad, himself, in a published interview just two days ago said we have no option but to continue this war. So he's sitting there thinking that he's got Russia and Iran and he's going to go for total victory around Syria. That's his mindset. Whether they can break him of that, whether he understands the significance of the U.S. response remains to be seen.
CAMEROTA: Christiane, thank you for all the context and please stick with us through our special coverage and breaking news throughout the morning. We'll be back with you. Let's get to Chris.
CUOMO: All right. It was just one step perhaps, as Christiane says, but it was a major step. Imagine the shift. You had the U.N. just last night -- they couldn't even come to a vote on this. They had three different proposals about what to do and now we've had missile strikes. Now, let's take a look at the state of play, what's happened, what could happen next. We have CNN military analyst and advisory board member for Academy Securities, Major Gen. James "Spider" Marks. Always good to be with you on the map, sir.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST, ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER, ACADEMY SECURITIES: Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. So now, as we're looking -- we're standing in the water. We kind of roughly represent the two U.S. destroyers.
MARKS: Right near the border on the Ross.
CUOMO: All right. So where were we positioned and where did these missiles go?
MARKS: We were positioned about here in the Eastern Med. We launched the 59 missiles to the airfield right here, al-Shayrat. The intent of that strike was very narrowly focused in on the airfield to eliminate aircraft and the capability of that airfield to launch strikes again. This is where the chemical strike in Idlib took place. This is where it started from -- excuse me --this is where it started from.
CUOMO: This is where we believe by best proof from radar and otherwise that the ships that were used -- the airships -- the planes that were used to dump the chemicals, they took off here.
CUOMO: So that had --
MARKS: Our intelligence --
CUOMO: That had a message and a strategic component. And how the U.S. did this, there was a risk assessment in that as well, right? No sorties, no fighter planes --
MARKS: No manned aircraft.
CUOMO: No manned aircraft from the ships. And the use of the Tomahawks? What does that say to you?
MARKS: Well, what it does is it really minimizes the risk as you described it. If we were to put manned aircraft over this airspace, we would -- the United States would have to take out all the air defense capabilities that are on the ground. That's a significant endeavor and that's a significant -- CUOMO: And would have involved Russia in a different way too because a lot of air-to-ground -- you know, ground-to-air defenses are theirs.
MARKS: Absolutely, and that was the purpose of this deconfliction charter that's been in place, delegated down to those military commanders on the ground, Russian and U.S., saying I'm about to fly, don't fly. I don't want to bump into you, you don't want to bump into me. So that's -- I mean, that was critical for us to do that so TLAMs were the perfect weapon system because they're also incredibly precise. If you want to put it through the upper-right window of a building, it will go through the upper-right window of the building.
CUOMO: So, in terms of -- let's go to the next slide, can we, and show what the U.S. has in the area because if you're not going to use planes from bases you have to think about timing a little bit in terms of your assets.
CUOMO: The ships are fast but it still takes time to get them places. What do we have and where?
MARKS: Yes, well, what we have is we had -- as a matter of routine we have ships that are positioned in the Mediterranean and are available for use. In this case, the Porter and the Ross. We also have -- over in the Persian Gulf we have an aircraft carrier. Now, aircraft carriers don't routinely want to be in the Gulf because that's pretty restrictive, but we have one, and from that platform we could launch similar types of capabilities to include manned aircraft. And the closure time is a little bit greater but it gives us an enhanced capability. Bear in mind also, Chris, that we have forces in Turkey as well and, periodically, some forces in Syria.
[05:45:15] CUOMO: So, in terms of next steps we have to -- we're a long way from that. We have to see what happens with the political will in the U.S., the rights of law in the U.S. in terms of what can be done, and then what the Security Council wants to do, and the allies. But, in terms of if you wanted to stick with your capabilities right now, how many -- how broad is the range of options about other strategic strikes that could be done?
MARKS: We have -- we have forces in Turkey that we could include in the additional effort in Syria, itself, and we could do a repeat of what we just saw against other targets, or to completely go after some similar targets.
CUOMO: So there's no reason to have boots on the ground. You can do plenty the way things are right now.
MARKS: Right now, that's correct. That's right.
CUOMO: All right. General, thank you very much. Stay with us.
MARKS: Thanks, Chris, sure.
CUOMO: We have a lot more breaking news coverage when this special edition of NEW DAY returns. Stay with CNN.
CAMEROTA: We are following breaking news. The U.S. launching missile strikes in Syria following that gruesome chemical attack on civilians. U.S. officials say Assad's regime carried out that attack. Let's bring back David Gregory and Phil Mudd. Joining us now is also CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post," Josh Rogin. And, associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard. Great to have you all of you.
Let's talk about the politics of this.David Gregory, did the president have the authorization -- I mean, not officially, but sort of the right to do this without Congress?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, AUTHOR, "HOW'S YOUR FAITH?": Well, he did it. I mean, you know, there may be a war powers debate and authorization debate in the days to come. We'll see -- we'll see if somebody initiates that. The president's language was very specifically tailored to address that by describing this as being in the vital interest of the United States. It is a violation of international law to use chemical weapons and here is the United States president saying that the United States will take the lead in the international community in making sure that these weapons are not used with impunity.
[05:50:25] The other aspect of this, I think, relates to the refugee issue because the targeting of civilians, which as Christiane was just saying, in the hundreds of thousands by the Assad regime. It's also creating a historic refugee problem in the region which is something that Trump has opposed, right?
He wants to keep those refugees out and it leads to the question, is he going to allow more Syrian refugees in because this becomes a serious security situation because you have millions of refugees in desperation, coursing through this part of the world, some of whom could be vulnerable to the propaganda of ISIS and could go into the arms of ISIS.
That is the threat that Trump says he wants to deal with. Will he create safe zones now for Syrian civilians, something Hillary Clinton wanted to do during the campaign? So again, this is the opening salvo and kind of creates a lot of questions as we move forward.
CUOMO: That's an interesting one, David, because, I mean, you know, look, as we know, in terms of the threat refugees pose, they are historically very low --
CUOMO: -- as a threat assessment goes. But this change of heart that our president has had because of these pictures, will it translate into a sympathy for the refugees who are obviously feeling this kind of victimization?
Now, the other -- there are a lot of layers to this, A.B. One of them is going to be what we're calling the right to do this. There's a legitimate legal debate to be had. Rand Paul says that this exercise by President Trump exceeds his Article Two constitutional authority -- that Congress is supposed to do this.The AUMF, the authorization for the use of military force, is from 2001. It's for terrorism. This wouldn't seem to address it. But does any of that matter? Congress let him do it, as they probably would've let Obama if he wanted to do it unilaterally. As the way Clinton did it and Bush did it, and even Reagan did it. Is that legal argument going to be relevant going forward?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: I think there's going to be a few complaints from Libertarians, like Rand Paul and Congressman Justin Amash, about the fact that he didn't consult with the Congress. The administration sees their -- the president's powers under Article Two as sufficient in this case. But there is bipartisan support, I noted, from Senators Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, Democrat Senator Durbin from Illinois, who seem to sort of agree that the strikes were appropriate but any further escalation would have to be approved by Congress.
I -- you know, I think the administration should just dare Congress. We know, Chris, they don't want to vote on a new AUMF. Send one over there and see what they say, if they want to be involved in this debate.
GREGORY: Yes, I agree with that.
CUOMO: Now, that's what Obama did, you know? Obama had his own problems --
STODDARD: Right, but they didn't want to do it.
CUOMO: -- he did not handle as cleanly --
CUOMO: -- forgiving Trump for what he did before he wasn't president -- what he said in 2013. He was quiet but once he decided that this was a bad thing, the U.S. acted. Obama -- there was some torture about that -- his feelings about the law and otherwise, but when he went to Congress they said no. This time they might not.
CAMEROTA: Well, let's talk about what President Trump, then Donald Trump, said in 2013 because he was quite clear about what he would do in President Obama's situation. He tweeted, "What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long-term conflict. Obama needs Congressional approval." Josh, obviously, once you're in the Oval Office your position and outlook can change.
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Right. What was so interesting was late last night after the strikes had already been initiated, the office of legal -- the legal adviser's office of the White House distributed talking points where they explained what exactly was the justification. What does the president mean when he says that this was a vital national security interest? And their explanation was this, that it's three-fold. Regional stability, preventing the use of chemical weapons, and protecting civilians from humanitarian disaster. That's how they defined it.
Now that, in and of itself, is a huge revelation. It's a total shift of what the President of the United States used to think about what are the justifications for going to war with the American military. It's totally different than what he said in his inauguration address when he talked about America first, all right? And it is a very broad, almost like unlimited, interpretation of when the president can use military force. Now, you know, A.B. is right, you know. Congress is going to, you know, bitch and moan a little bit here but they've abdicated --
ROGIN: -- their responsibility to weigh in on this stuff for years, OK?
ROGIN: And, you know, the AUMF debate in Congress has just ground to a halt and there's no political will on either side in Congress to really weigh in.
[05:55:00] ROGIN: So they've seeded the ground to Trump and he's taken advantage of that. But now that we have this definition from the President of the United States that the United States could go to war for humanitarian grounds --
ROGIN: -- actually, he compared it to the 2011 invasion of Libya by President Obama to justify it -- that's a whole new frame for this administration about how they view the American use of power and America's role in the world. That's like totally opposite of what they were saying only a few days ago. It's really amazing.
CUOMO: Right, although you do have to be slow to go at this White House and this president for extending legal authority. The legal case is weak, OK? Any decent lawyer is going to say if you had this out in court Trump would lose, but this is on Congress. Congress has surrendered its constitutional duty --
CUOMO: -- time and time again. They don't want to take this on but, by the way, that's not a legal rationale. To shirk (ph) your duty is a -- under the constitution, they should all quit in that case, so this has become more political than legal. So, Phil Mudd, that takes us to the pure politics and let's look at it specific to Russia. This has been a big boost for President Trump in terms of defending against this idea that he is Putin's boy. You know, he told Putin this was coming, told him to stand down, and he did.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Sure, but hold just a second here. I'm not sure Putin views this as a huge step that will undermine the process of potentially talking to Trump about a solution for Syria. You look at what Putin is looking at from Moscow. We could have seen attacks against palaces owned by Bashar al-Assad. We did not see that. We could have seen an announcement by the White House saying they're going to establish no-fly zones or safe zones for civilians, which could have entailed cooperation or a confrontation with the Russians who have aircraft in the area. None of that happened.
CUOMO: Right, but you do have Trump --
MUDD: I think the president --
CUOMO: -- dictating the action now, you know, right --
MUDD: It's not just that.
CUOMO: -- because the previous state of play was that Putin is doing everything and America's back on its heels. That was Trump's argument during the campaign. That's changed.
MUDD: Look, he dictated the action for five minutes of TLAM. He didn't dictate the action for nearby ground.
CUOMO: It's still the most recent thing --
ROGIN: I've got to jump in here and --
CUOMO: Go ahead, Josh.
ROGIN: The -- you know, the Russians -- for this -- this crosses a huge Russian red line, OK? For the Russians, this is not about did we strike one thing or 10 things. It's about, you know, what their view is of international law and the sovereignty of states. And this is an existential issue for Putin, OK? They felt burned when we attacked Libya, right? Now, we're attacking Syria. They see that as a challenge to their entire frame of international relations in which says that you can't attack states unless you have some sort of international --
CUOMO: Unless you're Russia, and then you can, right?
ROGIN: -- cover and agreement.
CUOMO: Then you can waltz right into Crimea and Ukraine with a punitive --
ROGIN: Well, they're hypocrites, OK, but that's not the point. The point is that they're going to take this very, very seriously. They've already canceled the deconfliction efforts that were going on in Syria, which is like totally counterproductive but that's just their way of protesting. You know, there's no way now that we're going to get a U.N. Security Council resolution. This is a huge diplomatic crisis between major world powers, whether the Trump administration likes it or not. CAMEROTA: But --
ROGIN: They tried to minimize the strikes to say oh, we're just going to do this and then we're going to go back to regular business.
ROGIN: That's not going to happen. Russia is going to take this very seriously.
CAMEROTA: Yes, but to Chris' point, David Gregory, this does change the reputation that Donald Trump had earned here at home of being too cozy with Vladimir Putin. And as you'll recall, Hillary Clinton called him Putin's puppet and this seems to defy that.
GREGORY: Yes, it would take some heat off all of this investigation, too, in Congress about all the -- you know, the potential collusion during the campaign with Russia because now he's going to send in his Secretary of State and I think we should underline this. Secretary of State Tillerson is now putting on the table the idea that Assad should go and that Russia, he said, needs to think carefully about its actions but also its support for Assad.
So, Trump is asserting himself here. He wanted to be the un-Obama, you know, which is Obama dithered, I struck. He made a red line, he did nothing. I had a red line, I acted immediately, and he's got to follow that up on the diplomacy.I agree with Phil. Not so easy when you're dealing with Vladimir Putin and this is something that Trump is going to find out. He's been at this a long time but it's a more aggressive diplomatic posture.
CAMEROTA: And what is the next step?
CUOMO: All right. A.D., stay with us. We're going to start on you. We're at the top of the hour now so we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is a special edition of NEW DAY. We have breaking news. President Trump ordering military strikes in Syria.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CUOMO: President Trump ordering a military strike in Syria. Fifty- nine Tomahawk missiles hammering a Syrian airbase. Not just any airbase. This is the one that the U.S. believes this is where this chemical attack against their own citizens began in Syria. The United States is calling it retaliation for killing those people, including all those children.
CAMEROTA: This was the base, as Chris said, that was, they believe, used for that attack. And, President Trump seems to have made a stunning reversal in the course of just one week. Now, the president waited more than 20 -- originally, the president waited more than 24 hours to speak out against that chemical attack -- that was just this week -- and his administration had opposed --