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Russia Suspends Hotline With Pentagon Over Syria; New Airstrikes Near Site Of Chemical Attack In Syria; Tillerson: Steps To Remove Assad Already Underway;; Survivor of 2013 Chemical Attack Has Message for Trump; Minneapolis Business Creates Buzz Over Honey; Preibus Meets with Bannon and Kushner to Get Them on Same Page. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired April 8, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:05] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Our Pentagon reporter, Ryan Browne, is here to give us a response from the Pentagon. Has the Pentagon responded to this so far?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: They have not weighed in on the latest statement through Russian state media that the delivery of this note that had been suspended. Now as you said there kind of been mixed messages, the Russians saying they were going to suspend this hotline, which was set up to prevent any air incidents over Syria, with both the coalition bombing ISIS and Russia operating in support of the Assad regime.

Now the coalition did tell us yesterday that they had heard that the Russians had intended to do this, that the Russians had communicated that to them. But there were some reports that the hotline was still being used.

So this latest notification that the hotline has been terminated, at least from the Russian side, is something that the coalition said they did not want to have happen. They said it's been a very useful thing in terms of deconflicting that airspace. They've ramped up air operations in Syria the past few months against ISIS. So this has been a real area of concern.

SCIUTTO: So, just so folks at home understand the importance of this, it's basically intended so that you keep U.S. and Russian air assets away from each other so they don't accidentally -- not necessarily fly into each other, but target each other, et cetera?

BROWNE: That's right. And in addition to aerial encounters -- because, as we know, the U.S. has really started striking ISIS in Syria, as they're moving on Raqqa, ISIS' capital. They've really ramped that operation up. There's also ground activity.

We know that there's about 1,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, helping local forces fight ISIS. There are Russian troops on the ground, helping Assad's regime push into rebel-controlled areas.

So you really want to make sure you don't have a situation where either warplane from Syria or the U.S.-led coalition accidentally hits on the ground an allied force. So it's definitely a concern.

SCIUTTO: And the irony, I suppose, is that this is in Russia's interest as well as American interests in terms of protecting their own forces. It's quite a move for Russia to take here.

SCIUTTO: It is. I mean, it's definitely some political signaling. We'll see if they bring it back at some point, but we have seen increased conversations between the U.S. military and the Russian military, the top Russian military officer, the chief, the general staff there has met with General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs multiple times.

In fact, they spoke on the phone right after the U.S. launched this airstrike -- sorry, this cruise missile strike against the Syrian air base. So they've been ramping up communications because of these increased operations in Syria by both sides.

SCIUTTO: And now at the same time, you have the U.S. investigating whether Russia might have been complicit in this chemical weapons attack or, perhaps, turned a blind eye. That's significant.

BROWNE: That is. The U.S. is looking at multiple things here. One is that they know that there were Russians at that air base from which this chemical weapons attack was supposedly launched. It's kind of hard to believe that if you have Russian forces there, they weren't aware that these chemical bombs were being loaded on Syrian aircraft nearby.

The other thing they're looking at, they've observed a Russian drone flying over the hospital that was targeted five hours after that chemical weapons incident. It was believed that was done in order to help cover up that chemical weapons attack because they were treating some of the victims.

So, they're looking at both of these things to determine whether or not Russia may have been complicit in that chemical weapons attack.

SCIUTTO: And to be clear, the Russians and Syria military forces, they're not just neighbors.

BROWNE: That's right.

SCIUTTO: They're actively working together. So you presume they might know what the other one is doing.

BROWNE: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Browne, Pentagon reporter, thanks very much. Fred, back to you in Atlanta.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks so much, Jim. So in Syria, the town that suffered this week's devastating chemical attack is now being hit by air strikes although it is not immediately clear who is behind these air strikes.

The planes are most likely from Russia or the pro-Syrian regime. To be clear this is not the same region that the U.S. targeted early Friday. U.S. Tomahawk missiles struck a Syrian air field further south where it is believed that the Syrian regime stored chemical weapons before launching them into civilian neighborhoods.

We are also now learning that this same airfield is back open and operational today. This new video purports to show a Syrian jet moving on a tarmac right there.

Let's go to CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He is live for us in Istanbul. So Nick, what more are we learning about these new airstrikes today?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is part of a daily routine, really, Fred, the Syrians in rebel-held areas have been enduring for well over four years here. It seems like air strikes, yes, from jets and delivered to the area around (inaudible), which was hit by chemical weapons days ago now causing that Trump administration missile strike in retaliation.

But four dead, we are understanding, one woman and three others. Fred, you have to bear in mind, you know, this is what people have been enduring again and again. Often, it is perhaps a higher tech jet flying, dropping low-tech ammunition.

[12:05:00]Sometimes it's devastatingly crude, helicopter dropping a barrel bomb, tin barrel filled with nails, bits of metal, shrapnel and dropped on a civilian area to cause as much terror and chaos as possible.

None of this is new. What's new is the renewed focus on this kind of violence in the Syrian civil war because of what happened with the chemical weapons and because of the White House now deciding it crossed a line in their minds and deciding to retaliate -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much, reporting from Istanbul, Turkey.

All right, meanwhile, the president, President Trump, is issuing his first comments since launching the U.S. missile strike in Syria, tweeting, quote, "Congratulations to our great military men and women for representing the United States and the world so well in the Syria attack. This just coming out today.

Let's go to CNN's Athena Jones who is nearby at Palm Beach. So what more are you hearing from the president today as he hits the golf course, we understand, there? And what's the focus?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well, the president also tweeted about China, this two-day summit he had, very important meeting, first meeting with China's President Xi Jinping. He tweeted out, "It was a great honor to have President Xi Jinping and Madam Peng Liyuan of China as our guests in the United States. Tremendous goodwill and friendship was formed, but only time will tell on trade."

That last line is important and interesting because trade is one of the issues that Candidate Trump spoke about a great deal on the campaign trail, railing against China, saying it had taken advantage of the U.S., talking a lot about the massive trade deficit the U.S. has with China, importing a lot more products from China than the U.S. exports to the country.

We know that trade and North Korea were topics on the agenda during that two-day summit, but it doesn't appear that there were any huge breakthroughs. This is something that the White House was saying all along. They were downplaying expectations for any big announcements out of that meeting, describing it, instead, as an introductory session to begin building a relationship.

It appears that the president feels that it went very, very well, but that tougher issues like trade and North Korea will be for future discussions -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK. And then, Athena, we did hear that Donald Trump was at his Trump International Golf Club there in West Palm. Is that the case or do you know what activity is happening there? We saw the pictures earlier. Here they are again.

JONES: That's right. We don't yet know exactly what he is doing there. That information has not been provided to the press pool, small group of reporters who travels with him on a daily basis. But Fred, as we all know, this is a common activity of the president's.

He has spent the majority of the past several weekends going to visit various Trump International Golf Clubs, whether it's down here in South Florida. He often goes to the club in West Palm Beach. He has been to the one in Jupiter when the Japanese prime minister was here several weeks back.

He also frequently visits that a golf club he owns in Virginia. This isn't a great branding opportunity for the president because when he goes to these places, of course, we mentioned that he is there. This is a practice that he has taken often.

He does have meetings at these golf courses. He might have phone calls at times and he also sometimes plays golf, whether it's a few holes or an entire round. We don't always find out about that.

It's not always clear what he's up to until later. And sometimes we find out via Twitter or other social media what he has been up to while at one of these clubs -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Athena Jones, keep us post there had in South Florida. Appreciate it. All right, back to you, Jim, in D.C.

SCIUTTO: Thank you, Fred. I realized I placed you in Atlanta when you're actually in New York. Apologies for that.

WHITFIELD: That's OK. We move all over.

SCIUTTO: We do. I want to bring in Ted Kattouf, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria as well as the United Arab Emirates. Ted, thanks for joining us on this Saturday. I want to ask you about this U.S. military strike at that Syrian air base. Now we're seeing new airstrikes in that very same rebel-held area that we saw the horrific chemical weapons attacks earlier in the week. From your perspective, what does this say about the success, the impact, perhaps, of U.S. military action against Syrian forces?

TED KATTOUF, PRESIDENT, AMIDEAST: Look, I do think it was important for this or any other administration to send a strong signal to both Russia and Syria that the use of chemical weapons anywhere, any time is intolerable.

So I think in that sense, it was the right thing to do even if it will be characterized by many as a pinprick. It was an important pinprick. On the other hand, I don't think anybody in the U.S. defense's establishment would have expected that the Syrians would, all of a sudden, stop other brutal tactics.

[12:10:05]We saw what they did in Aleppo. They hit hospitals there, schools, civilians targeted, barrel bombs, all kinds of brutal tactics. This is par for the course for Assad. What's really strange is why they did it in the first place and that's the question for which I think there's no good answer.

SCIUTTO: Do you think it's possible that Russia was upset that Syria used these chemical weapons here? Russia is, in effect, protecting and supporting the Syrian military. Do you think that Russia might have, in private, said to the Syrians, hey, what was the point of this? Look what you've done now?

KATTOUF: I think they well might have. You know, the Assad family is not known for having a lot of gratitude for its patrons. And Bashar has defied the Russians even recently, after some talks in Kazakhstan in which he broke -- basically was the one breaking the cease fire that was brokered between him and the opposition.

I don't necessarily ascribe to the theory that the Russians were complicit in this. They may have been. I have no way to know. But I also would not rule out that Assad himself made this decision separate and apart from any consultations with the Russians.

SCIUTTO: You're right to know that. The U.S. is now investigating the Pentagon as to whether Russia was possibly complicit, possibly an active participant in this attack as well. Looking at next steps here, you're starting to hear Nikki Haley, for instance, the U.N. ambassador, restarting a diplomatic process to a political solution to the problem there.

I suppose those negotiations are all about leverage. Does a strike like this give the U.S. the leverage it needs to pressure Russia, to pressure then Syria to get involved in something substantive, an actual substantive attempt at peace?

KATTOUF: In and of itself, I would say no, it's not enough leverage. It was a one-off as far as we can see unless the U.S. follows it up. Not because of chemical weapons use but because of some other decision made in the White House and Pentagon. You know, the Russians have invested a lot in Syria. They've invested a lot in propping up Assad. I don't think they're open right now to a settlement that has Assad going anywhere. And the big problem is that we don't seem to have a comprehensive strategy. There's a lot of questions out there.

For instance, if we liberate Raqqa from ISIS, who will govern that space? Will the Russians and Syrians try to move in? The refugee issue. Are we going to try to have a safe haven for refugees within Syria, which would require somebody to have troops, boots on the ground around those refugee camps as well as a no-fly zone?

There's the issue of al Qaeda. That's what it is, up in Idlib Province, the main actor is al Qaeda, by whatever name it uses, and its allies. If we want to topple Assad are we ready for a free-for- all that might end with highly extreme partisan like al Qaeda and its Islamist allies taking over big parts of the country and maybe committing even worse brutalities than what we're seeing now?

SCIUTTO: No question. We heard Secretary of State Rex Tillerson say that plans to remove Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad are now under way. Have a listen.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: A process by which Assad would leave is something that I think requires an international community effort, both to first defeat ISIS within Syria, to stabilize the Syrian country, to avoid further civil war and then to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So will you and President Trump organize an international coalition to remove Assad?

TILLERSON: Those steps are under way.


SCIUTTO: Those steps under way. That's a pretty big whiplash because only a few days before, Rex Tillerson has said the administration policy was no longer to remove Assad. If they're under way, what does he mean, do you believe, Ted Kattouf? What does that mean, under way? Russia and U.S. talking about it? U.S. making its own plan?

KATTOUF: Look, Jim, unless we're willing to risk World War III, I don't think there's a military solution that the U.S. can impose on Syria in any way, shape or form. I think we're going to see them examine all the options and pretty much end up where Obama and John Kerry were.

That we need to have negotiations in Geneva. We need the Russians on board. We need the Turks, Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries.

[12:15:08]All of whom have their own separate interests and are fighting to the last Syrian to realize them.

SCIUTTO: Sadly. Sadly so. Ambassador Ted Kattouf, thanks very much.

KATTOUF: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, the kremlin flexing its military muscle, sending a warship towards Syria and going as far as accusing the U.S. now of helping ISIS. More on Russia's response to the U.S. strikes in Syria, after this.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New York. So Russia is confirming it is suspending the use of the hotline it has with the U.S. Pentagon. This is the way the two countries communicate to prevent an air collision when fighter jets from both countries are in the same airspace.

Russia says this is because of the U.S. strikes in Syria. Russia is also flexing its muscles and sending a warship to the same area of the Eastern Mediterranean where the U.S. destroyers, which launched missiles against the Syrian air base are located.

[12:20:10]I want to bring in CNN's Phil Black in Moscow. So what is the significance of suspending this hotline, Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the surface of it, I guess, Fredricka, it could be seen as a self-defeating measure because you're right. These are the channels, protocols that were put into place once Russia began operating militarily in Syria designed essentially to stop Russian and American aircraft running into each other unexpectedly.

To stop the possibility that they could fire on each other unexpectedly, to stop the sort of escalation that could take place inadvertently when you have air power from two different countries operating in such close proximity to each other.

So as a protest move against the U.S. strike, Russia has now suspended those channels of communication. There was some confusion, because American officials said hang on, these channels are still operating. They are still being used.

Today Russia has said firmly, no, that's it. They are done, but there is the potential because for some sort of mishap to take place here. This is even something that the Russian government acknowledges, even as it withdraws these channels that are designed to prevent that sort of mistake from taking place -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And then Phil, what can you tell us about this Russian ship that's headed toward the Eastern Mediterranean?

BLACK: So it is the Admiral Gregorovich (ph), which is part of Russia's Black Sea fleet, modern advanced frigate, one that is cruise missile capable. It's being sent back into the Mediterranean, we're told, to be part of the Russian naval standing force that exists there.

The interesting thing, I think, is that Russia is telegraphing this movement. So, what this ship will do there is unclear. It's a ship that has fired cruise missiles at Syrian targets before. So have other Russian ships, based a long way away from there in the Caspian Sea as well.

It's not necessarily a declaration of new capability or adding new capability to this particular conflict on the part of Russia. But it is a statement in the sense that it is Russia saying that we are still committed to sending military resources to this conflict and still committed to protecting and supporting the Syrian regime even as that regime and Russian support for it come under particularly intense international pressure -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And then Phil, what's the response from Russia about these investigations into whether Russia was complicit in these gas attacks earlier in the week?

BLACK: It's a very flat denial. They do not buy on to any part of the U.S. and international narrative that says the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons being used in this way. The Russian government continues to stand by its version of events, which says there was a stockpile of rebel-held chemical weapons at a Syrian government weapon of some kind hit that.

And that's why you saw that result. You saw that so many civilians suffering in that way. Not Syrian-government weapons, rebel weapons. They're standing by that. More than that, they're saying that the U.S. government has offered no proof whatsoever about its claim that Syrian government chemical weapons were used.

And the latest statement from the ministry of defense here really takes what I think you can describe as a scornful tone towards the U.S. claim that these sort of weapons were used by the Syrian government. And we're hearing it again.

It's something that a number of Russian officials have made in recent days. This comparison to the invasion of Iraq back in 2003 and the supposed evidence of weapons of mass destruction back then. So Russia very much sticking to its outrage and its view that the U.S. strike was unjustified -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Phil Black in Moscow, thank you so much.

So people have been so moved by the images of the suffering in Syria. So for ways you can help those affected by the violence in Syria, go to



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Our top story this hour in Syria, the town that suffered this week's devastating chemical attack. You'll remember those pictures. It's now being hit again by airstrikes. It's not immediately clear who is behind these new air strikes.

The planes are almost certainly from Russia or the Syrian regime. They're the only ones really operating there. I want to bring in Paul Bonicelli, a former foreign policy advisor to George W. Bush and a former State Department official in the Bush administration. Mr. Bonicelli, thanks for taking time on this Saturday.


SCIUTTO: So, you hear a lot from the Pentagon, officials I speak to, that the intention of this strike, the U.S. strike, was to send a message. It was not really to destroy Syrian military capability. But if it was to send a message and within 24 hours new planes are taking off from that same airfield and bombs are still dropping on the heads of civilians in the same area where the chemical weapons attack took place, does that mean that the message is being ignored?

BONICELLI: No, not at all. This is the beginning of the dance. This is the difference from the previous eight years where now the president of the United States is going to insist that America's interests be accommodated, accounted for and that we will not allow with impunity things to happen that we don't like.

Particularly chemical weapons that were supposed to be gone. You might look at it as President Trump punishing Putin for lying to Barack Obama and John Kerry. I think that the Russians, of course, are going to come back, the Syrians are going to come back and do something as soon as they can to save face.

That's why their planes have flown again without chemical weapons this time.

[12:30:03] And that's why the Russians have made an announcement about a frigate doing a routine trip to Tartus. So that was a normal thing but he made that point. And then also as you've been reporting, the red line, the communication line which I doubt is really going to be cut. But they're making that announcement because Putin has to save face now.

SCIUTTO: So if those military operations continue and let's say short of chemical weapons because we haven't seen any other chemical weapons attack since the U.S. strike in the short time since then, but military operations certainly continuing. What's the actual material change to the Syrian military's actions and Russian support for those military actions?

BONICELLI: Well, I don't expect there will be many, because I don't think President Trump has the intention of involving himself or the United States in the Syrian civil war the way some hyperventilating critics are saying.

This was a message to the Russians that we will be accommodated in whatever happens in Syria, regarding the use of chemical weapons and the end game as Rex Tillerson has talked about. It's also a message to President Xi as everyone has been talking about the North Koreans, the Iranians, and anyone that thinks that the policy under this president will be whatever you want to do, we'll keep asking. If you would like to talk about it and maybe we can come to an accommodation.

Now there will be force used to insist that the United States' interest will be accommodated. I think there's a much larger picture here than just the Syrian use of chemical weapons.

SCIUTTO: No question. I agree that it seems that it's a message sent not just to Syria and Russia, but perhaps elsewhere in the world. And no accident that it happened when President Xi, the Chinese president, was here.


SCIUTTO: But I don't want to discount the value of sending messages because I've heard in the four years since 2013 from all over the world about how Obama not enforcing that famous red line had a carry- on effect. Perhaps difficult to measure but had a carry-on effect. But if this was sending a message and if the military activity continues and the bombs keep dropping on civilians' heads, help explain to our audience what the value. The actual value of that message sending is.

BONICELLI: Well, I don't think the value will be obvious. You know, Putin is not going to run around panicking and letting his concerns show. What will happen is a lot of back channel conversations. A lot of quiet diplomacy is going to happen based upon the fact that it is a new day that the United States is willing to use force in a very powerful way. These were not the pinpricks that Bill Clinton used. This was a, you know, a 2 by 4 upside the head.

And there will be more of that to come. I think the President has been clear, Nikki Haley has been clear, Rex Tillerson has been clear there will be more. And so I think like I said it's a dance. It will be much more private than public. And I think we're beginning to see the beginning of working out of what end of this civil war is going to be. And I don't think you'll see chemical weapons used again.

If they are, it will be even more severe.

SCIUTTO: So Secretary Rex Tillerson -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on his way to Moscow next week. So, as you look at that meeting -- and it's still on now. I know that the British foreign minister just canceled his trip to Moscow. Describe the feeling in the room when Rex Tillerson comes face-to-face with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Is that going to be a tense encounter?

BONICELLI: From what I understand it's hard to have only a tense encounter with Lavrov because he's a very charming man. But I think that there will be very tough talk about what the future will hold.

As you know in diplomacy there's always an attempt to save face in public. That's very smart to help the other side save face unless you just want to annihilate them and no one wants to do that here. But I think they will be a tough talk -- tough conversation and I think the message from Secretary Tillerson is going to be we want to work together to solve these problems but they will not be done as in the last eight years where we always give in, we always accommodate, and our interests are never accommodated. I think that's the difference now.

And the Russians will respect that. I don't think they like the change but they will respect it. They only understand that kind of interaction anyway.

SCIUTTO: Right. The public message often very different from the private message. Paul Bonicelli, I almost want to call you Bonicelli as we have you here on Saturday. But thanks very much for taking the time.

BONICELLI: You're welcome. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And please stay with us. We'll be right back.


[12:38:30] SCIUTTO: In August of 2013, the former activist and revel fighter Kassem Eid barely survive what remains the largest chemical attack of the Syrian war. Now, just about four years later, he's seeing it happen all over again. He talked to CNN's Brooke Baldwin.


KASSEM EID, SURVIVED 2013 SYRIAN CHEMICAL ATTACK: I woke up, I saw a lot of texts on my phone. I saw the news. I cried out of joy. I jumped, I thanked God, I don't know. I was overwhelmed.

We've been asking for protection. We've been asking for consequences for more than six years. And today, for the first time, it happened. For the very first time, we see Assad held accountable, just for once held accountable for his crimes against humanity.

I was overwhelmed. I felt grateful for President Trump. I felt grateful for the United States. I felt grateful for each and every person who lobbied and then called and kept on talking until someone actually listened.

We ask for safe zones in Syria. I was talking with my friends inside of Syria. Everybody kept telling me, please, if you're going to talk again, please, for the love of God, tell them we need safe zones. Tell them to stop Assad's airplanes from keep bombing us.

[12:40:05] If you really care about refugees, if you really care about helping us, please help us stay in our country. We don't want to come to the United States. We want to stay in our country.


EID: We want to stay in our country with all due respect. This is hypocrisy. If you really care, if you really care helps us stay in our country. We don't want to become refugees. We want to stay in our country. Help us establish safe zones. Help us --

BALDWIN: I understand.

EID: -- stay safe in our country.

BALDWIN: I understand.

EID: And if you just give me a few seconds just to tell President Trump, once again, please, sir. What you did was amazing. What you did was a powerful message of hope for a lot of people inside and outside of Syria. Please, don't stop on this. Please, help Syrians stay in their country.


SCIUTTO: Remind you, that's someone who has seen the worst kind of chemical attack himself firsthand.

Coming up, fighting for a seat at the table. Reports of an ideological standoff between President Trump's closest advisers all vying for influence. It's a shakeup, a major staff shakeup in the works?


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WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New York. So the Trump administration hasn't even hit day 100 and already talk of shakeups and reboot within the administration. A senior official tells CNN Chief of Staff Reince Priebus huddled (inaudible) with Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and the president's son-in-law and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner.

The aim of the meeting, to get them all in the same page and to ease the growing tension between them. However, our source stressed that nobody is leaving the White House. Ryan Nobles joins us now from Washington. So Ryan, is this type of tension normal in a president's inner circle this early in the game?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not uncommon for a president of the United States to bring in a group of people with a diverse opinion so that there are often robust discussions about the biggest issues of the day. But usually they ultimately have a common goal and a similar world view. And what Donald Trump has constructed within his inner circle are people that come from many different factions of the political spectrum. Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus are not from the same political perspective. And that's what's led to a lot of this conflict.

So, we've seen over the past week or so Steve Bannon's role be diminished to somewhat. The most obvious example of that is the fact that the president chose to remove him from the principles committee of the National Security Council. But the White House has pushed back pretty hard on the idea that any of these men are going to be out of their jobs any time soon. And the president still maintains that he has confidence in all of them. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: And is there a feeling that one of those three that we just mentioned has a greater disadvantage, particularly if there really is a big shakeup?

NOBLES: Well, the one thing we know for sure is that Jared Kushner is the individual who is the closest to Donald Trump for the most obvious reason, and that he is his son-in-law. But also if you just look at the expanding portfolio that Kushner has taken under his belt, he was the first administration official close to the president to visit Iraq. He's been tasked with reforming the way government works. He is the front man when it comes to the United States' role in solving the Middle Eastern peace crisis between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So he clearly is someone who the president trusts.

And as we mentioned before Bannon stepping away from the National Security Council might indicate he's on the outside looking in. And we also have this photo from the night that the president chose to make that decision to strike in Syria. And, you know, the proximity to the president is something that is pretty telling. And you saw Reince Priebus at the table, You saw Secretary Tillerson at the table but in the background is Steve Bannon.

And we are told that, you know, the closer you are to Donald Trump physically, the better your chances are of having influence. So, the other thing that's also important to keep in mind, Fredricka is that Steve Bannon is someone that doesn't back down. So if the president is looking for a certain level of softening with some of the positions that he promised during the campaign, there's a chance that Steve Bannon may not be willing to go along with some of those ideas.

[12:50:02] WHITFIELD: All right, Ryan Nobles, thank you so much. All right, let's talk more about this potential shakeup with our political experts, CNN Political Commentator Ryan Lizza, who's also a Washington correspondent for the New Yorker magazine. Jay Newton-Small, a contributor for Time magazine. Good to see both of you.

All right, so back to that image in the situation room at the southern White House. Let's look at it again because it's one thing to be at the table. It's another to be in the room. Steve Bannon customarily is at the table and he is looking on as you see Jared Kushner, and of course, Reince Priebus at the table with President Trump as Ryan just spelled out.

So, Jay to you first, you know, can you read the tea leaves there? Is there a great indicator from that kind of imagery?

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, CONTRIBUTOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, Fred, certainly that and also the fact that he was pushed off of the National Security Council this week would seem to indicate that Bannon has been on the outs. And there's been a lot of word from White House sources saying that Bannon's role is going to be redefined and what that means is very unclear. Is he going to still be doing foreign policy? Clearly he doesn't seem very central to foreign policy anymore. Or is he going to be doing something else?

Is he going to be doing domestic policy, some other sort of role in the White House? And so, that would seem to indicate that Bannon might be is on the outs. But at the same he himself said, according to sources this week that he is, you know, here for the gunfight, that he's not leaving any time soon and that he plans on sticking around and believes that he can still have a big impact in the White House.

So, it will be interesting to see what was yielded from that meeting, Friday evening between the three of them at Mar-a-Lago, trying to figure out, you know, where their roles are or where each one is going to sort of delineate power and what roles they'll play.

WHITFIELD: So Ryan, President Trump has asked those three to kind of work it out. Is it up to them to work it out, whether be in that, you know, meeting mano-e-mano? Or is it really ultimately President Trump's decision about who stays and who don't?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think the tensions in this White House all stem from the way it was originally organized. They're using a model that most presidents haven't used in modern times where you that have about five or six people who are all at the top of the hierarchical chart. So rather than having one strong chief of staff that everyone goes through, you've got these five or six competing sort of top dogs in that White house. And then you add to that the second most important sort of structural issue is the president's son-in-law is simply someone that, if you cross, you will be thrown under the bus.

We saw this during the campaign. Cory Lewandowski, the first campaign manager, lasted until he crossed Kushner and then he was pushed out. Paul Manafort lasted until he lost the confidence of Kushner and he was pushed out. So, this is one of the issues when you sort of working for a family business. If you cross, you know, the daughter and her husband are people you can't cross.

Kushner is never going to leave. Donald trump is not going to fire his son-in-law. So all these other, you know, heavyweights need to navigate that. Look, I think Bannon's role in that White House -- if you go into Bannon's office, he calls it the war room. It's the small office very close to the Oval Office, there's nothing in the middle of it, it got these white boards all over it with president Trump's agenda on it and check marks next to each thing that the president promised -- then candidate Trump promised during the campaign.

And so Bannon sees himself as the guy who is going to realize and implement Trumpism, those promises that Trump made during the campaign. And he has very strong feelings, he's very ideological, unlike some of the people that we in Washington call the New York crowd. All right, so it's New York versus the nationalists. And that's just the fundamental tension there. And I think Bannon's role may just go back to that core function of implement -- agenda implementing.

WHITFIELD: Being redefined?

LIZZA: Yeah.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. So, you know, another example of it all being in the family, while President Xi of china was visiting Mar-a-Lago and the president, Ivanka tweeted out these images of her kids performing for the Chinese president. Take a listen.

So you can hear the daughter singing there. I mean, Jay, what is this really about here? You know, is this for the president to show that he is a family man, or does this kind of cement how influential, how close President Trump is to his daughter and son-in-law, who also happen to be advisers?

[12:55:07] SMALL: It's actually both, Fred. I mean, it shows that this is a family affair. That whether you're talking about policy, talking about negotiating with the Chinese, you know, with the head of China or whether you're talking about a personal, so obviously family time, that these are his favorite people. Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, are very clearly those sorts of golden children of Donald Trump and the ones that he keeps closest to him at all times, his favorite advisers.

I mean, she is essentially de facto first lady. You saw Melania Trump in that video but really Ivanka Trump has serve much more as a first lady being with the president in Washington, having an office in the West Wing. And it is absolutely sort of you realize part in parcel this kind of personal mixed with professional and it makes it so inseparable. And again, as Ryan was saying, so difficult to imagine them ever leaving his orbit or them ever leaving his favor because they're so intermixed.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, so they're running a business as family and leading a country as family.

LIZZA: We've never seen this in America, frankly. One point on the Chinese, it's not exactly unusual for kids to be part of the government or close advisers. And they have tried to cultivate Ivanka. Remember, she was invited to the embassy during the holidays earlier this year for a celebration. And she sort of built a relationship with some of the Chinese officials in Washington. So other people outside of the United States understand that the family is the way to get close to Trump.

WHITFIELD: And a real display of cultural awareness, too, then. All right, Ryan Lizza, Jay Newton-Small, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

LIZZA: Thanks Fred.

SMALL: Thanks Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, we got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. And it's all ahead after this short break.