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Trump Launches Military Strikes Against Syria; Putin Slams U.S. Strike in Syria; Interview with Representative Seth Moulton; Interview with Anthony Scaramucci; Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired April 7, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:00:00] NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: An attack on our electoral system and who was behind that and from issues of North Korea which probably in this administration presents the greatest risk of awful conflagration. So trust in the media. Let's try very hard to manage to focus on several things at the same time.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Focus on the big things.
Nicholas Kristof, thanks so much for being here.
KRISTOF: Good to be with you.
CAMEROTA: Thanks for sharing your interview with us as well.
We are following obviously all of this breaking news. Let's get the latest.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. We do have breaking news.
President Trump ordering military strikes in Syria. The U.S. firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. The strikes are in retaliation for President Assad's chemical weapons attack on his own people that killed dozens including children.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Now the latest from the U.S. military. They say they hit their target, which was the base, they believe, was used by Syria to launch war planes and carry out that deadly chemical attack. Russian officials now say that they're going to bolster air defenses in Syria adding that the risk of a collision with the U.S., quote, "could not be higher."
The action in Syria is a stunning reversal for President Trump on Syria and Assad. The president has gone from 2013 warning Obama to stay out to having his secretary of State and the ambassador to the U.N. say Assad is Syria's problem and now a missile strike.
We have the global resources of CNN covering the story. Let's begin with CNN's Jim Sciutto live in D.C. What a difference 24 hours makes.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question, Chris. And we're getting our first battle damage assessment as the military calls them from the strike. The military saying that of those 59 cruise missiles, Tomahawks that were fired, 58 of them severely damaged or degraded their intended targets. So this was a devastating strike, but a very narrow one. A very targeted one. That to target the air base that the U.S. believed was used to launch these horrific chemical weapons attacks earlier in the week. They are looking now -- they say they have damage to those hardened aircraft shelters you see there, destroyed a number of aircraft. Targeted fuel depots, ammo depots there, radar installations. All things that were used, the U.S. believes, for this chemical weapons attack, but also could be used for future attacks. Degrading that ability.
But it's important to note what this attack did not target. One, it did not target chemical weapons facilities there. That was intentional. The U.S. didn't want to hit Sarin gas depots and then spread that Sarin gas around, risk civilian casualties but also big picture, it did not degrade or destroy the Syrian military's capability really to wage war on its own people. It still has an enormously powerful army. It's got something of an air force. The ability to drop barrel bombs, et cetera.
This strike, it seems, specifically to affect their chemical weapons capability and more importantly perhaps to send a message to Syria if you use these things, the U.S. is going to react. And to send that message not just to Syria, but to the world.
One other thing I should note also, certainly not on this target list was Russia. In fact we know that Russia was warned in advance. Multiple conversations yesterday between U.S. and Russian military officials to let them know that something was coming so that they had advanced warning to get their forces out of the way. And the U.S. target list certainly considered where Russian forces would be. They did not want to accidentally hit Russian forces.
That said, as you've been reporting, Chris, Alisyn, Russia protesting this military action calling it an act of aggression and crucially suspending, not cancelling, but at least suspending this crucial de- confliction agreement that the U.S. has with Russia, which is a way to keep communication open so that U.S. and Russian military assets there, warplanes, don't run into each other, don't happen to shoot at each other, et cetera. That's been suspended for now. And that's significant.
CAMEROTA: It is. That's getting a lot of attention. We have to see what that essentially means.
Jim, thank you very for all your reporting.
President Trump calling the strikes quote vital to national security and necessary to stop Assad from carrying out more attacks. The Trump administration has gone from saying that Assad's future was up to the Syrian people. He said that earlier this week. His administration did. To now bombing the regime.
CNN's Athena Jones is live in Palm Beach, Florida, where President Trump is now.
What's the latest from there, Athena?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. Well, this first direct U.S. military action against the Assad regime is meant to send a message that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. It represents a major turnaround for a president who was initially slow to respond to this latest chemical attack and who once argued strenuously against military intervention in Syria.
[07:05:15] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.
JONES (voice-over): President Trump announcing that for the first time the United States has taken direct military action against the Syrian regime.
TRUMP: Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.
JONES: The president again citing the disturbing video of the Tuesday's horrific chemical attack as a major influence on his decision.
The escalation from the White House a dizzying turnaround for the administration that just days ago declared that their priority was not to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.
JONES: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson now saying exactly the opposite. Confirming that steps are under way to organize an effort to oust the Syrian dictator.
TILLERSON: Assad's role in the future is uncertain. With acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.
JONES: The attack also a startling about-face for President Trump who has repeatedly argued against military intervention in Syria.
TRUMP: Why do we care? Let ISIS and Syria fight. And let Russia, they're in Syria already. Let them fight ISIS.
JONES: Tweeting repeatedly after the last major chemical attack in Syria four year ago that the United States should stay out of the conflict and insisting that President Obama needs congressional approval before taking action. A step Trump did not take before launching last night's strikes.
The White House did inform more than two dozen lawmakers before taking action. But legislators on both sides of the aisle are urging the president to involve Congress if the administration decides to do more.
The president's stated concern with the humanitarian situation on the ground in Syria also starkly different from his campaign rhetoric.
TRUMP: If I win, they're going back.
JONES: In which he argued against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States.
TRUMP: I always say Trojan Horse. Watch what's going to happen, folks. It's not going to be pretty.
JONES: The administration's stance toward Russia also evolving in the wake of last night's strikes. America's top diplomat telling reporters last night that either Russia has been complicit or incompetent in its ability to deliver on the promise to destroy chemical weapons in Syria.
JONES: Strong words for Russia from the secretary of State. And Secretary Tillerson is set to travel to Moscow next week to meet with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials. Syria is certain to be on the agenda. That meeting was announced on Wednesday -- Chris, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK. Athena, thanks so much.
CUOMO: Yes, Athena, everything has changed now in light of this missile strike.
And Russia has been sending mixed messages. They stood down when warned of the impending U.S. strike. They have capabilities to shoot down Tomahawks, they didn't use it. But since they have condemned the strikes. Suspended communications. Warned that chances of air incidents couldn't be higher. And yet, no word of what Athena was just talking about. Cancelling this now huge meeting between the U.S. secretary of State and his Russian counterpart. That takes us to Russia.
We have CNN's Matthew Chance live in Moscow. What's the latest in terms of what this means for relations?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's an interesting issue because the relationship was already rocky. It was already in the Kremlin's words at zero point. The Kremlin are now saying that it's damaged it even further. The Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is saying he's particularly disappointed about the way this damages U.S.-Russian relations. But he also added this interesting comment, which is, I don't think it will lead to an irreversible situation, or he hopes it doesn't anyway.
And so the Foreign minister at least leaving the door open for some kind of rapprochement with the United States and of course they've been talked about that with Rex Tillerson when he comes to the country next week. And now, of course, Tillerson won't be coming as the man who received from Putin a Medal of Friendship from -- you know, for his activities here. Instead he's coming as the secretary of State in the administration that struck hard against Russia's main ally in the Middle East.
[07:10:05] And that transforms the perception that the Trump administration is being a sort of poodle of Putin to being -- you know, that the administration that is standing against it, it's astonishing.
CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Yes, we have seen quite a turnabout in just this past week on lots of levels.
Matthew, thank you very much.
World leaders are reacting to the U.S. strikes. Moments ago Iran's Foreign minister tweeted this, "Not even two decades after 9/11, U.S. military fighting on the same side as al Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen and Syria. Time to stop the hype and cover-ups."
Joining us now with reaction to all of this we have Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton from Massachusetts. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee. He is a veteran of the war in Iraq. You served four tours there as a Marine, in fact.
Congressman, thanks for being here.
REP. SETH MOULTON (D), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: It's good to be here.
CAMEROTA: Do you want to respond to Iran saying that basically this means that if you're fighting ISIS, the U.S. is now kind of working in tandem somehow with the terrorists?
MOULTON: Well, look, Syria is a complicated situation. And it turns out there are more bad guys in the world than just one group. Obviously we're opposed to ISIS, but we also want to be opposed to Assad. And we ought to be very clear that we're not going to stand for him massacring his own people. And we should have said that a long time ago.
CAMEROTA: Are you pleased with what the president did last night?
MOULTON: What the president did was an important first step to send a message that using chemical weapons, using weapons of mass destruction is not acceptable. And we're not going to stand by when that happens. But he's got to explain the strategy to the American people and he's got to come to Congress and convince us to support it in a bipartisan way.
CAMEROTA: Well, let's talk about that. Did he have the authority to do what he did? The air strikes? Well, the missile strikes last night?
MOULTON: My understanding is that he had the authority to take that initial strike. But that's it. I mean, war doesn't get any easier than what he did last night. Throwing a foreign a few Tomahawks at a foreign country. It's going to get a lot harder. And he's going to have a lot of questions to answer. And most of all, we have to explain what the goal is for the American troops that we're asking to risk their lives. And I remember back in 2003 when General Petraeus famously said, tell me how this ends. Well, we don't know. We don't know what we're really fighting for in Syria. And fundamentally that's just not fair to our troops.
CAMEROTA: Senator Tim Kaine said that what the president did was unlawful by not going to Congress. Do you agree?
MOULTON: Well, I don't know about the details. My understanding is that he has 48 hours to notify us if he's going to use troops. So that I think is up for debate. But there is no question that the role of Congress, the constitutional authority of Congress is to decide whether or not we go to war. So going forward, we have got to have a debate and approve whatever the plans the president wants to -- wants to carry out.
CAMEROTA: Would you approve it? Does Congress now have the stomach to do some sort of military action in Syria? Because in 2013 they didn't.
MOULTON: That's right. And that's the important thing that many people forget, is that when President Obama said here's the red line, don't cross it, he then went back to Congress and Congress ultimately said no. That we're not going to go to war in Syria. So I don't know how that may have changed in Congress. But that's why we have to have this debate.
For me, personally, what matters is to have a clear goal, to have a strategy. I don't want to support an open-ended conflict. But if there's a way that we can help end the terrible disastrous civil war in Syria, if we can help move in that direction, then that's what we should do. But when I go to visit the troops over in Iraq, the ones who are going into Syria, and I ask them what exactly are you fighting for? What's the end game? How does this end? They don't seem to know. And we need to have that strategy. We need to have that plan. We owe it to the young men and women we're asking to risk their lives.
CAMEROTA: How do you define the goal? What do you think the goal should be in Syria?
MOULTON: Well, clearly we have to have some sort of political end game. You know, when I was a Marine fighting in Iraq, I understood that every time I went out on a raid, on a patrol, I was ultimately fighting to empower the government of Iraq. We understood what did that meant. You know, there was a debate about whether we should divide Iraq or keep it as one. We decided it should be a single state. And that's what we fought for.
CAMEROTA: So is the political goal then to topple Assad?
MOULTON: Well, I think it's got to be much more -- much more detailed than that. There is a lot of debate now about whether we should divide Syria. Whether Syria can continue to exist as a country. But the point is that we need to make that decision. We need to have that political strategy clear because that's ultimately what we're fighting to achieve. Every time we send troops into a new city in Syria to kick ISIS out or to shoot missiles against Assad's air force, we've got to understand what is -- how does that end, where does it go?
CAMEROTA: Well, sure. But I mean, we have our goal and it doesn't always go as planned. I mean, what's Russia's goal? What's Iran's goal? What is Syria's goal?
MOULTON: Alisyn, those are great questions. And that's why this conflict is so complicated. And that's why, you know, again, this is the simplest thing. Just throwing a few Tomahawk missiles.
[07:15:05] It's an important message to send and it's a fine first step. But what comes next gets a lot harder. When young Americans start losing their lives, when we start having conflicts in the air space with Russia, this is going to get more complicated very quickly. And that's why we need to have a clear strategy from the president.
CAMEROTA: From your experience as a Marine and serving four tours in Iraq, what do you think is the next step?
MOULTON: Well, President Trump has to come to Congress and he has to say here is my strategy. Here is my plan for where I see Syria going. If he's going to say look, we're going to have safe zones in Syria or perhaps we're going to push for dividing the country, then he needs to make that clear and needs to develop a political and military strategy to achieve that.
When Secretary Kerry was fighting so hard to develop a political strategy in Syria and get the rest of the Obama administration behind him, that's exactly what he was trying to do. He was trying to give a goal to the troops. We had a goal last night which was simply sending a message to Assad. But a goal to end the conflict is a lot more complicated. And that's the kind of plan that we have to develop.
CAMEROTA: Not all of your fellow lawmakers feel the way that you do. In fact, your fellow Iraq war veteran Tulsi Gabbard has used the strongest language that we've heard yet in the past 12 hours about how this was a big mistake.
Let me read it to you, "It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is shortsighted. It will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al Qaeda and other terrorist, and a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia which could lead to nuclear war."
MOULTON: Well, the beauty of Congress is we don't always agree. And --
CAMEROTA: Is she going too far with that language? Do you see the same sort of domino, the same series of possible catastrophic repercussions that she does?
MOULTON: Well, here is where I disagree with Congresswoman Gabbard. I think that it was the right decision to attack Syria with the missiles. To show that we're not going to stand for using chemical weapons. But when she talks about how Russia and the United States could get into a larger conflict over this issue and why therefore it's important to have a strategy. She is absolutely right. And I've raised that alarm about Russia. And the fact that they've been in violation of our nuclear weapons treaty in Europe. The intermediate nuclear forces treaty. And we have had zero response. The Trump administration hasn't done anything about that.
These are reasons that we have to be concerned about where the conflict with Russia is going. And frankly, the fact that we even have to ask why some people have said why did President Trump, you know, call Russia, but didn't go to Congress. The fact that we even have to ask those questions shows that there is some real problems here with the administration.
CAMEROTA: Congressman Moulton, thanks so much for your perspective and for coming in.
MOULTON: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: Let's get to Chris.
CUOMO: It also shows that we now have a historic tradition of Congress abdicating its constitutional duty to debate and declare war to American presidents. How will that play out this time? We'll be reporting on it throughout the morning.
So President Trump does seem politically to make a huge shift. It was America first. Stay out of meddling abroad. Now he takes a military strike at Syria. How does he justify it? What happens next? How does it all impact his position on refugees? We have an adviser to the president next.
[07:22:33] CUOMO: All right. Breaking news. President Trump launching a military strike against Syria. 59 Tomahawk missiles. Why? They say a reaction to the chemical attack that Assad launched on his own people.
Russian television is putting out the video on your screen that you're looking at right now. Drone video of the damage to the air base causing extensive damage to the base that was targeted.
The president's decisive action is such a big change from his actions and words just earlier this week.
Let's discuss what caused the change, how deep does it go. We have Anthony Scaramucci, an informal adviser to President Trump, former member of the Trump transition team.
Always good to have you on the show.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, INFORMAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's great to be here. Thank you for having me. CUOMO: So the simple question is, what happened? What changed here?
SCARAMUCCI: Well, first of all, this is a super compassionate man. I think at the end of the day when he sees the atrocities that are going on and the actual human rights indictment of the Syrian government, I think as a responsible agent for America and the commander-in-chief and what Lincoln said about our country, that we're the last best hope for mankind, he looks at all those things and he says OK, I have to have a measured response to this. And I need to send a message to people around the world that the United States is not going to stand by idly of these types of moral atrocities happening.
So for me, I think it was a very bold, decisive action last night. I do think it sends a message, Chris. This is a little bit like the air traffic controller message back in 1981 where Ronald Reagan said listen, don't be doing this sort of stuff. If you do it, I'm going to fire you. This message is resonating globally. I think President Xi hears the message. The North Korean dictator hears the message.
I think the Russian, it's interesting about their response to this thing. They know that the United States was sort of pinned in here and had to do something particularly after what happened in 2013. And so my guess is, is that this will not distort our relationship with Russia, and I think it sends a message about who President Trump is. He is a moral man, he's a decisive person. And he's a person that you don't really want to scrum with, Chris. He is not the type of guy that's going to back down in a fight.
CUOMO: Let's unpack it, what you just said. First, how do you reconcile President Trump with citizen Trump in 2013? Basically going out of his way to abdicate not going into Syria to then President Obama, a man who he had tried to delegitimize in many different ways. Reaching out and saying don't do this. How do you reconcile it?
[07:25:04] SCARAMUCCI: Well, I think -- I think at that time, he is a very pragmatic person as well. Mike Tyson had a great line that everybody has a plan until they're punched in the face. Every general has a plan until they made contact with the enemy. And I think what the president is basically looking at in '13 was a little bit more cautiousness. But the lines were moving in Syria.
President Obama did say that he was drawing a red line and then he took it away. That sends the wrong message to our adversaries, it's not just to the Syrian government, but people around the world. And so I think he had to adapt the play here.
You know, one thing you'll find about the president, I saw this on the campaign trail. He is a great quarterback. He could be calling a play at the line of scrimmage, OK, that changes tactics. OK. To send people a message about the type of guy he is. And so I think it was necessary. And you and I both know that very smart people will change when facts change.
CUOMO: Right. But you have reaction and then you have long-term strategy. Do you believe that the president now owns an obligation to be involved in Syria? Which he had studiously avoided as of two or three days ago.
SCARAMUCCI: I think there is a perpetuation of these types of moral atrocities. I think that he will probably push further. I think he's probably sending a message to the Syrian government here that this is something -- whatever your civil war is, whatever your internal conflict is, this is something that moral people around the world, Ambassador Nikki Haley said it at the U.N. two days ago, moral people around the world are not going to stand for this type of inhumane treatment. And you saw the babies. I saw the babies. Men and women. It's a very heart-wrenching thing.
CUOMO: We see them every year. We saw them in much greater numbers in 2013. I got a question for you about the humanity.
SCARAMUCCI: He wasn't president in 2013.
SCARAMUCCI: President today.
CUOMO: Understood. And that can always make a big difference. Now you've said several times moral man. His heart is big. He felt the humanity of this. Mustn't those also apply to his feelings about the refugees? He went out of his way during the campaign to say specifically, those Syrian refugees, I want them to know, if they come here, they are going home. He now knows what he would be sending them home to. Will we see a shift there as well?
SCARAMUCCI: OK. Well, I think let me give the broad context of what he was saying as I was with him in the campaign. What he was basically suggesting is that the conflict with ISIS that led to this refugee problem with the right foreign policy and military strategy, we probably could have put down ISIS. We both know I was in Iraq in 2011. Meeting with General Austin where the troop force recommendation was 15,000 troops. Going town down to 900 troops, OK, and blaming the SOFA agreement, Chris, was the wrong thing to do because we now have 8,000 troops in Iraq.
Jared Kushner just got back from there. We don't have a SOFA agreement. Yet we have 8,000 troops in Iraq. And so this was a political strategy overlaid on the military that led to the ISIS situation and the cause of this refugee problem. So what the president was saying or the candidate was saying at the time, let's create safe zones in Syria so Syrian people can live in Syria.
CUOMO: There are no safe zones in Syria. He knows that.
SCARAMUCCI: We know that now and so we have to -- we still have to think about a process of trying to create peace there and allowing the Syrian people to the extent that they want to, to live in Syria. What the president is concerned about as it relates to any refugee from hostile actors to the United States is harm to the American people.
CUOMO: No, I hear you. But, Anthony, hold on. Let me knock you off message for one second and then you answer.
CUOMO: I'll give you a chance, I promise you that. Those women, those children that broke his heart. OK. That's the group that he's saying poses a risk to the United States.
SCARAMUCCI: I don't think that's --
CUOMO: And that's why people have been trying to point out to him, refugees in general don't pose a risk. But specifically these people are running for their lives. Why would you villainize them?
SCARAMUCCI: I don't think that's the group. I think what he's basically --
CUOMO: Well, that's the group that's running.
SCARAMUCCI: I think that he's basically looking at the situation and just being a good intuitive person and looking at statistics, is that there are potentially bad actors, OK, that are in the refugee community that could end up in the United States.
CUOMO: A potential you've never seen worn out in reality.
SCARAMUCCI: Want to harm our babies, want to harm our children. OK.
CUOMO: But that happens in such statistically small numbers. And I'm saying how does that weigh against what he now says is breaking his heart?
SCARAMUCCI: You may disagree with the president on this, OK, but I know --
CUOMO: No, it's just the numbers. It's not about objective disagreement.
SCARAMUCCI: OK. But a lot of the American people would say, you know what? Enough is enough. We need a strong vigorous commander-in-chief that's going to protect the American people here on our homeland and he is probably saying things that are controversial to you that sound great to a lot of the American people that voted for him about protecting the American homeland and protecting innocent children.
CUOMO: Yes. But he just shifted on them. I hear you about that. I get why it works. So much of his base right now, you could argue fringe components of his base. That would be a fair point. But they are saying there was no proof. This wasn't Syria. This is the media ginning it up because they want to see action. That we should stay out. Isolationism. That's part of his base. He now just did a 180 on that.
SCARAMUCCI: I don't think so.
CUOMO: Right or wrong, I'm saying it a 180.
SCARAMUCCI: I actually don't think so. I think these people actually trust him that voted for him, I think the information --