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Multiple Mixed Messages on Syria; White House Clarifies After Spicer Seems to Draw New Syria Red Line. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for joining us this evening.

One question with more than one answer: how far is the Trump administration willing to go in Syria?

Keeping them honest: the answer seems to depend on who you're asking in the administration, how much credence you give his or her words and what you think the president really believes. And now, fresh efforts by the White House to try to clarify the message appear to instead to have done the opposite.

In any event, a weekend since ordering a cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase and after years of arguing against any military action at all in Syria, Donald Trump has crossed the Rubicon. Now, people are asking, what is next? Where are his red lines, and is a new Trump doctrine emerging, different from the inward focused vision he put forward on the campaign trail?

Yesterday on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION", U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley came close to calling for a regime change in Syria. Listen.


NIKKI HALEY, U.N. AMBASSADOR: If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad.

Regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that the needs to be taking place for Syria.


COOPER: Well, on ABC, something different from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Once we can eliminate the battle against ISIS and conclude that, and it is going quite well, then we hope to turn our attention to achieving cease-fire agreements between the regime and the opposition force. It is that political process that we believe that the Syrian people will ultimately be able to decide the fate of Bashar al Assad.


COOPER: The Secretary of State Tillerson painting kind of a different picture than Ambassador Haley.

And then there was national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, on FOX, seeking to try to clean up her remarks.


LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What Ambassador Haley pointed out it's very difficult to understand how a political solution could result from the continuation of the Assad regime. Now, we're not saying that we are the ones who are going to effect that change.


COOPER: Well, as you might imagine, this left people scratching their head.

So, today at the White House, Sean Spicer spent a good deal of time trying to square the circles, as they say, and state the administration's policy in a way that reconciles future strikes on Syria, with the president's longstanding opposition until this latest Syrian chemical attack, virtually any military intervention beyond targeting ISIS.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the Trump doctrine is something that he articulated throughout the campaign, which is that America's first. We're going to make sure that our national interests are protected, that we do what we can to make sure our interests, both economically and the national security, are at the forefront and we're not just going to become the world's policeman running around the world, but that we have to have a clear and defined national interest wherever we act, and that it's our national security first and foremost that has to deal with how we act.

REPORTER: The action in Syria fits in that doctrine?

SPICER: Absolutely. I think if you are recognizing the threat that our country and our people face, if there is a growth of user or spread of chemical weapons of mass destruction, those, the proliferation of those, the spread to other groups is a clear danger to our country and to our people.


COOPER: So, there is that. And then the confusion over Sean Spicer's statement on barrel bombs, CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House, and joins us.

So, Jeff, Spicer's statement on barrel bombs, you were in the briefing today, explain what exactly he said?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Sean Spicer was asked exactly what it would take to sort of, you know, provoke another attack in Syria. Would it have to be a chemical attack? You know, would it be a conventional weapon? So, Sean Spicer not once, not twice, but three times said barrel bombs would be enough.

Let's watch.


SPICER: The sight of people being gassed and blown away by barrel bombs ensures that if we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action. When you watch babies and children being gassed and suffer under barrel bombs, you are instantaneously moved to action. I think this president has made it very clear that if those actions were to continue, further action will definitely be considered y the United States. If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you can -- you will see a response from this president. That is unacceptable.


ZELENY: So, clearly that word was used by -- on purpose there. I mean, again, saying it three times, but shortly after that White House briefing, a senior administration official said that Spicer was not drawing a line around barrel bombs, because that would be a dramatic escalation of things, because it happens all of the time, everyday there. And a senior administration official said our posture is the same, nothing has changed.

But, Anderson, at the end of the day here, we are left by confusion here about what is the Trump red line.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, just to clarify for our viewers, barrel bombs are frequently used by the Syrian regime. I saw one estimate that according to -- I think it was the Syrian network of human rights, the regime dropped to almost 13,000 barrel bombs in 2016 alone.

[20:05:06] ZELENY: Thirteen. So, that is several a day. So, the idea that to a barrel bomb, which is basically is an oil drum that has some type of a crude explosive in it that is thrown out the helicopter or something, the idea that would be enough to provoke an attack seems, you know, much, much different than, you know, what we saw last week with the gruesome images there.

So, again, tonight, the White House is saying that Spicer misspoke a bit on barrel bombs. But if that's true, Anderson, he did it three times in a row at this press briefing. But they are saying that the posture towards Syria hasn't changed, that, you know, they are not ruling out any additional military action here, but it's still unclear what that Trump doctrine actually is, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much. There's new polling tonight from CBS News on the missile strike that shows 50 percent, 57 percent approval for it, as well as a sharply limited appetite for anything greater, 18 percent supporting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.

Joining us now, our panel of military and political professionals: retired Army Major General Spider Marks, Matt Lewis, Jack Kingston, Ryan Lizza. Also, Jeffrey Lord, Kirsten Powers and Brian Fallon.

Ryan, I mean, did Sean Spicer just kind of confuse the matter? I mean, did clarify things at all? Because if barrel bombs are actually part of something that could provoke an administration's response, that's a huge difference.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, these are awful weapon.

COOPER: Right.

LIZZA: Human rights groups around the world have condemned, as Jeff said, these crude barrels that are filled with shrapnel and explosives thrown out of the helicopters often on civilian populations.

COOPER: Yes. In fact, you know, we actually have video. I think it's from 2015, of some barrel bombs being thrown out of a helicopter. I think we can show that just to in -- to get our -- and that is actually barrel bombs specifically on a helicopter, and then I believe in some point, they are actually just kind of tossed out.

LIZZA: So, one of the things that Assad has done is he is sort of escalates and escalates and he tries to see where the international community's red line to coin a phrase is, right?

So, one of the things he started to do with the barrel bombs is to start to add chlorine gas. Now, chlorine gas is not actually banned under the chemicals weapons treaty. But so, before, he started to use the sarin gas more the way he did recently, he was putting the chlorine gas in the barrel bombs. And not to confuse the subject anymore, but when I was listening to Sean Spicer, I started to think, oh, are they now going to threat chlorine gas a red line.

That aside, it seems that Sean Spicer just misspoke, right? Because this would -- if we now are going to intervene militarily if Assad uses barrel bombs, that means we are involved in a civil war at a dramatic new level. So far, what we've seen is that the one line for Trump is chemical weapons, right? That this is just a deterrent about using sarin gas and other weapons that are banned under the Chemicals Weapons Treaty that Syria did sign and they did promise to give up all their chemical weapons.

So, I don't see anything from the White House yet that suggests -- Sean's statements aside -- that suggests that they are moving the line beyond just chemical weapons.

COOPER: So, Congressman Kingston, is it clear to you? I mean, is regime change still U.S. policy toward Syria the same as it was in the last administration?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not certain, and I think it's out there as a possibility, and I actually think that the way they have played it is great. It puts a question mark on it. It sets it up for discussion with Russia this week with Tillerson. There is probably discussion with China last weekend. So --

COOPER: So, you think that the lack of clarity is actually beneficial?

KINGSTON: I actually think it's part of what Trump does. He does not want to broadcast, this is what I have in mind. But if you are looking at it now, we have military options on the table. We are going to the continue with the diplomatic solutions, but also with the economic solutions. Secretary Ross announced a big sanction to a Chinese telecom company that had been breaking the sanctions with Syria and Iran.

So, to me, you know, putting all three of these things -- economic, and military and diplomatic -- on the table, and that part of the emerging doctrine which I think is helpful.

LIZZA: You just did it more clearly than anyone at the White House has.

COOPER: I mean, Matt, this was a Syrian attack by Syrian leader against his own people, how is that America first? How is that in the U.S. national -- I mean, how is that any threat to national security?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if you are asking Sean Spicer, he has an answer to that.

COOPER: Right. He is saying the spread of the chemical -- the potential spread of the chemical weapons.

LEWIS: Right.

But the truth is that this is actually going to go against the America first ethos, in my opinion. This is not consistent with what Donald Trump ran on except that I think that it was the right thing to do. I mean, there is the obvious humanitarian compassionate element that flies in the face, is actually contradictory of the America first ideology.

But you know, there is a thing to be said for having people be afraid of you and having people think that you are maybe a little bit unpredictable, and this reminded me and I will get to it before Jeffrey Lord --




[20:10:01] LEWIS: You know, this wasn't -- this wasn't George W. Bush getting a nation-building and adventurism. This wasn't Barack Obama's dithering and letting people, you know, cross red lines. This was Ronald Reagan in 1986 after the West Berlin disco attack bombing, and I think that this sends a message to China, to North Korea, and, of course, yes, to Russia and Syria.

COOPER: And, Kristen, I just want to play something else that Sean Spicer explained more of what the Trump doctrine is.

Do we have that?


SPICER: The resulting action of what happened I happened ensured that their fueling operation is gone from this air facility, 20 percent of their fixed wing aircraft were the destroyed and knocked out.


COOPER: That is obviously the wrong sound.


COOPER: Well, actually, General Marks, let me go to you with what Sean Spicer just said, because he talked about 20 percent of the fixed wing aircraft. Then, you have the secretary of defense coming out later saying it was actually 20 percent of all of Syria's operational aircraft. Is there a difference with that?

MAJOR GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): That is a disconnect. We struck an air field and 20 percent is denigrated. It was 20 percent of that location. But I'm not going to second-guess Jim Mattis as secretary of defense. There were no additional strikes that took place. Plus, I would think there's probably a very good argument that a large number of aircraft were scattered from that airfield to avoid the incoming TLAMs.

COOPER: Right. Because I mean, there was some advance warning. So --

MARKS: Enough to get the pilots in the cockpit and get them out of there.

COOPER: Is it -- OK, let's play the other side of what Sean Spicer sort of described the Trump doctrine is.


SPICER: Yes. I think if you are recognizing the threat that our country and our people face, if there is a growth of user or spread of chemical weapons of mass destruction, those, the proliferation of those, the spread to other groups is a clear danger to our country and to our people.


COOPER: So what is that opening the door to? POWERS: Well, I mean, I think it is does sort of fundamentally change

what he says the Trump doctrine is, and to a certain extent, that's why I think Matt is right. It's not really consistent with what Donald Trump has been articulating and the sort of Steve Bannon view of the world which basically, you know, sort of says, we're over here, we're doing our thing, America is doing our thing, and bad things happen in other place, but, you know, unless they are planning on coming literally to the United States, it's not our problem.

And so, you know, Jack, you were saying you think this is good that he is sort of leaving the door open on regime change, for example. Now, you know, people support the regime change, that's fine I guess. But it is not the position that Donald Trump took when he was running for president, not even close.

And so, you know, for him to suddenly shift that much to be opening up the door to regime change in Syria, it's huge. I mean, it's just a radically different world view.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, Jeff, I mean, you can certainly make an argument for humanitarian interventions in an awful lot of places, and we have seen the U.S. do that for years. But Donald Trump has been very critical of that in the past. Does it surprise you to see -- do you consider this to be a shift?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, and the reason I don't -- I think Jack is absolutely right. This is -- his version, his -- President Trump's version of this is being unpredictable. Once upon a time in the American history, Richard Nixon called this the mad man theory which is basically scared the bejebers out of your opponents and let them know that you are capable of anything basically.

He used that to get a treaty with the Soviets, to end -- to bring the Vietnam War to a treaty, et cetera. He used it very effectively. That in essence is what Donald Trump was talking about.

And one more thing about Libya, I was there that night. It was April 15th, 1986. We were waiting for President Reagan on the south lawn in a motorcade to go to the hotel for a dinner in honor of the Senator Laxalt to eat Rocky Mountain oysters.

The president was late. He was always on time. We couldn't figure out what was it.

As it turned out, by the end of the evening, not until I got home did I find out with the rest of the world that he was in there waiting himself for the completion of the 12-minute bombing attack in Libya as payback.


MARKS: And remember what the target was. It was regime change. We were hoping to get Gadhafi in a tent, and the intelligence was latent and we missed that opportunity.

LORD: He got out in the skin -- he got out hardly. MARKS: But the intent was not retaliatory and proportional just for check bombing. It was, we're going to get this the guy out.

LORD: Right.

LEWIS: And people think of Reagan as being, you know, I guess a cowboy or whatever, bellicose, but never commits -- you know, never gets bogged down in any sort of adventure.

LORD: Exactly. Only --


LEWIS: And with the projected strength he did not make that mistake.

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: With all due respect to Jeff, this is a cop-out. The idea that this is some intentional effort to maintain the element of surprise, we've actually learned in the subsequent reporting that there was no surprise, because he actually tipped off the Russian government to the fact of the missile strike, and the Russians apparently tipped off the Syrians.

So, let's get to the bottom of this. I know we are only 70-odd days in.

[20:15:02] So, to rhapsodize about what the Trump doctrine is, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, he doesn't need to have arrived at the doctrine yet. I just like to know what the goal is.

Is it regime change or not? Is it to mitigate a humanitarian crisis or is it something more than that? And where do you prioritize defeating ISIS with respect to ending the civil war in Syria?

He hasn't answered any of those questions and the only way to do that is to submit a plan to Congress and be clear about the objectives are.

COOPER: We're going to talk about this more after a quick break.

In our next hour, also, we'll have a special edition of 360. That's in the 9:00 hour. Touching on some of what we are talking about right now, a closer look at urgent global challenges facing the White House, including Syria, the president test we're calling it is coming at the top of the next hour.

Just ahead though, right after this commercial break, fresh fallout and white hot rage from this. Roughed up and dragged off a plane for the apparent offense of buying a ticket and expecting to get to his destination. He was kicked off so that United Airlines employees could take his seat. New details and perhaps the worst airline public relations foul up yet when 360 continues.


COOPER: Before the break, Spider Marks and Brian Fallon touched on the notion of regime change with regard to Syria. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley seemed to broach the idea over he weekend, before the administration clarified her remarks.

And if you remember the campaign, candidate Trump opposed regime change almost on general principle. Watch.


[20:20:00] DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must abandon the failed policy of nation-building and regime change.

We're going to stop the reckless and the costly policy of regime change --

Abandon the policy of reckless regime change.

Pushing recklessly for regime change.

A shooting war in Syria that could very well lead us into World War III. What, over Syria? We're going to have -- we're going to start World War III, right? Give me a break.

This destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally, folks, come to an end.


COOPER: Back now with the panel.

Ryan, you know, I'm always fascinating, because it's one thing when you're campaigning, it's easy to say stuff, when you are actually president. And we have seen it time and time again. Barack Obama talked about closing down Gitmo during the campaign, obviously, didn't do it as president. George W. Bush was against nation building, ends up in Afghanistan, obviously nation-building.

LIZZA: Yes. And, look, let's be honest, most of the things that Trump said during the campaign about Middle East have proven to be either more difficult or just wrong, right? We're not -- we never could steal Iraq's oil, that's not a thing you can do, right? The idea that we're going to partner with Russia and Assad to defeat ISIS is not going to happen. Assad is not going after ISIS, because that is the last group he wants to go after. He wants ISIS to be remaining.

And, you know, Trump thought that Assad could stay in power on April 6th, on April 7th -- if I got my dates right -- chemical attack happens, and he realizes, oh, wait a second, maybe I encouraged, encouraged him to sort of push the boundary with what weapons he could use, and immediately flips around to intervening militarily, and now he is in the position to where some of the more hawkish members of his party are pushing him to go further.

I think that's what the real test here now. You know, I don't think it's necessarily contradictory to respond to the chemical attack, but will he go further now, and listen to John McCains, and the Lindsey Grahams who want him to militarily overthrow Assad. I don't believe he is there yet. COOPER: Congressman Kingston, I mean, Senator McCain is talking about

destroying the entire air force of Syria, make them at least not able or want to go up in the sky and creating a safe zone. That seems far from where Donald Trump is or President Trump is right now. But do you see a shift from what he ran on?

KINGSTON: Not really, because I think he was sending a signal, not just to Assad but also to North Korea and other actors around the world that may say, well, the United States talks a lot, but they're not going to do anything anymore. So I think one of the things that he was going the do --

COOPER: But during the campaign, he was talking about not doing -- I mean, he kept saying, you know, we are not going to do regime change, we are not going to do regime change, but obviously, the goal in Syria seems to be regime change.

KINGSTON: Well, let me say this, you know, if they had shifted to regime change, that is going to get a lot of discussion in the U.S. Congress, because if you look at Libya, we got rid of Gadhafi and we have avoid staying in Iraq --

LIZZA: He is there. He is there. Early April, he wanted to see -- he said Assad could stay, now, he is saying that Assad must go.


LIZZA: That doesn't mean he is going to make him go.

KINGSTON: It's the discussion that he is putting stuff on the table, and then I think that if you are listening to what Nikki Haley was saying, also, she was talking about an international coalition, and Tillerson was talking about the international coalition --


LIZZA: But there were Obama (INAUDIBLE), which is Assad must go, we just don't have a plan to make it happen.

COOPER: Right.

LEWIS: That's the scary part of this. If there's the potential escalation, and where you -- this drum beat of war, and I thought that Donald Trump's movement sent -- decisive, sent a strong message that we will not tolerate chemical warfare. I think that should we get involved in trying to topple Assad, and then we go back to, like, what happens? There's a vacuum, does ISIS take over? Would you think George Washington going to emerge and like run that country?

Look, I think the good news is that H.R. McMaster seems to now have Donald Trump's ear and he served in Iraq and Afghanistan and basically knows counterinsurgency strategy. I think --

COOPER: Yes. But I mean, Brian --

LEWIS: He knows what will happen. COOPER: But what happens, if, you know, Assad continued -- I mean,

Assad is not a weak actor. He is not going to just sit there on the sidelines and watch all this happen. I mean, what if he does use the chemical weapons again or just continues to use the barrel bombs which killed far more people than the chemical weapons?

FALLON: Exactly. And the more that Trump's response escalates in response to a situation like that, the more he is crossing his base.

And this is actually an area where the base of the Trump support and the base of the Democratic Party are actually in agreement. There's a heavy amount of skepticism in both parties to another misadventure in the Middle East aimed at regime change. And I think the more and more he slips down this path, if they are all going to make good on some of the threats that you've heard Nikki Haley and Sean Spicer articulate in the last 48 hours, it's going to run a great political risk to him with his base.

It's also going to run afoul of any interpretation you could possibly have of the 2001 AUMF. Perhaps justify the idea that the 2001 AUMF applies to the fight against ISIS. You can't satisfy ---

COOPER: Given the stakes right now, I mean, how is it possible that Sean Spicer at a press conference say three times, talks about barrel bombs as being one of the red lines?

[20:25:01] I mean, in a thing like this, your words actually seem to matter.

LORD: And one of the things that I found interesting in the clip that you played, in the beginning, it appears that he is reading from this.

COOPER: Right.

LORD: And he is not just extemporizing.

The point that I would make is that this is the Trump administration, not the Spicer, the Haley, the Tillerson administration. Until you hear from Trump himself, I frankly think part of this is the chaos that he likes to have with different people, strong people putting their views out here. But at some point, he will make the decision --

COOPER: Well, that's scary because we've only heard from the secretary of defense that we're not going to take Iraq's oil, but we haven't heard that from the president yet. So, you're saying that might still be on the table?

LORD: I think that the president can speak for himself and he will.


POWERS: Yes. I do think if you have the top ranking foreign policy people in his administration coming out and saying things that we should be able to the take that as some indication of what the policy is. And so, you know, it seems like, perhaps, perhaps that Donald Trump didn't pay that close attention to what is going on in Syria when he was saying all that stuff, and then now that he is president, and they put these pictures in front of him and like any normal person, he is horrified.


POWERS: But this was already happening. I just honestly don't think he was really following it that closely and if he was, maybe now that he is president, he feels some sort of sense of responsibility, but I do -- it does seem like he had a bumper sticker policy that he had not really thought through.

COOPER: Spider Marks, I mean, regime change is not, if that is a goal, which it was for the last administration, I'm not clear if it is or not for this administration, but if it is -- I mean, there are so many unknowns about what comes after Assad, and even if you can get rid of Assad, I mean, the vacuum of power is a scary thing.

MARKS: There's good news in all of this. This administration has some time to figure it out. Every civil war in history flames out at ten years. We are moving into seven years. So, the circumstances now are different than they were in 2013.

Assad is on the decline. Putin is tired of trying to prop him up. So, we have all these factors at play. This administration understands that. What we did with the strike allows us to start escalating as necessary and to simultaneously figure out what this thing might look like.

I think it's OK that there isn't a strategy in place right now, that still has to gel. But I would say regime change is part of it. Absolutely.

COOPER: All right. I want to thank everybody.

Coming up, we're going to expand on the skepticism of President Trump's base on the missile strike that Brian Fallon was talking about.

And later, what happens when a United flight is overbooked and there are no volunteers? Apparently, you get randomly and physically dragged off the aircraft. A nightmare travel scenario. It's not -- I mean this happened. Details -- we'll show the video ahead.


[20:31:40] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: As we reported, more than half of Americans approve of Pres. Trump's decision to attack the Syria's air base according to new CBS News poll. There are, of course, detractors including some of the same people who are among the president's strongest supporters the so called Alt-Right. Randi Kaye tonight has more.


RANDI KAYE, CNN IVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: President Donald Trump ordering a military strike in Syria was like a punch to the gut for the Alt-Right. A group of Trump's most loyal supporters who in part voted for him because of his anti-war stance.

The Alt-Right's anger on display in a storm of online tweets, "Trump's base of support is gone if he goes to war with Syria," wrote blogger and author Mike Cernovich. Just as the strike on Syria was beginning.

Alex Jones founder of the conspiracy driven Info Wars website said after the strike he give Trump the benefit of the doubt, but still tweeted, "We are closer to the start of World War III than we have been in decades," along with the #nowarinsyria. In a separate tweet he asked if Trump's strike on Syria was a sign of betrayal. And then this question, "Trump train headed to destination disappointment?" #syriastrikes.

ALEX JONES, FOUNDER, INFOWARS.COM: I asked the question, why would Trump hit a chemical weapons depot with thousands of tons of chemicals.

KAYE: Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson also railed against Trump tweeting, "I guess Trump wasn't Putin's puppet after all, I'm officially off the Trump train."

Right wing commentator Ann Coulter who campaigned for Trump tweeted her dismay, "Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates, and this reminder Trump campaigned are not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies and creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV."

Even as far back as 2013, Trump said he was against U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He tweeted then that, Obama should save his powder, pleading with him, "Do not attack Syria." This tweet from a veteran to Donald Trump was a clear sign his supporters had lost patience with his predecessor and perhaps him to. It reads, "No more regime changes. No more American dead. No more no nation building. It's what you ran on."

Even before the U.S. strikes, some of Trump's Alt-Right base were even selling the idea that the chemical attack on the Syrian people was a hoax. Blogger Mike Cernovich started the #Syriahoax and Infowars began referring to the attack as a false flag, suggesting it was only meant to draw the United States into a war. The hash tag Syriahoax was reportedly an attempt to convince Trump to stay out of Syria.

When he didn't, to make his point, blogger Mike Cernovich stays live online for 11 hours, slamming Trump's decision.

MIKE CERNOVICH, DANGERANDPLAY.COM: -- Syria I'm moving to Argentina, if Trump is going to bring us to war, then that means there's no hope for America.

KAYE: No hope for America or no hope for Alt-Right Trump supporters who may suddenly be wondering if their president is a dove or a hawk.


COOPER: Randi joins us. Now was there any blow back for some of the supporters turn around and saying these things about Trump online? KAYE: There was, Anderson, that one blogger that you saw in the story, Paul Watson, he took a hit on Twitter and his followers started unfollowing him actually. And he noticed it right away. And this all came after his comments that you saw about Trump and being off that Trump train, as he put it.

[20:35:10] This trail of tweets that actually shows that he tried to walk back his comments, he noticed he was losing followers and then he started tweeting out that he's indeed off the Trump train regarding Syria, but he has not, "Turned on Trump, " and he, of course, Anderson, blamed the media for making it look that way.

COOPER: All right, Randi thanks very much.

Coming up, Pres. Trump said today it is a great honor that Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court within his first 100 days in office. Behind the scenes, there's report that White House staffers are working (inaudible) find a way to brand these early days to the presidency to the point of breaking two teams pulling out white boards. We'll talk the reporter both the story that 's next.

Also ahead, a traveler's nightmare, a passenger dragged off United Airlines flight, but the airline was overbooked and they wanted the seats for United employees.







COOPER: As the 100 day mark approaches for the Trump presidency, April 29th, a new report from POLITICO says that inside the White House, staffers are brainstorming how to rebrand his early days and turn thing around. The writer of that article is going to join us in a moment. For now the strategy seems to be to declare victory at every turn. The president said this today about Neil Gorsuch's swearing or ceremonial swearing into the Supreme Court.


[20:40:15] DONALD TRUMP,(R) U.S. PRESIDENT: This is a great honor. And I got it done in the first 100 days, that's even nice, do you think that's easy?


COOPER: Well, the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch is Pres. Trump's only legislative victory achieved because Senate Republicans voted to change the rules to take away the filibuster. Sean Spicer listed the other accomplishments today, ruling regulations, consumer confidence, the stock market, resurgence in coal mining, and more. Some of which are open to argument some of which are trends that have been underway for months.

Back with us is Jeffrey Lord, and Kirsten Powers. Joining us POLITICO White House Correspondent Shane Goldmacher and CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen.

So, Shane, you reported the story for POLITICO, explain-- to call it a brainstorming session with white boards, is that how --

SHANE GOLDMACHER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, they were in the executive offices building about 30 to 40 White House staff, big butcher block type paper. And they broke into two groups. One group went out into the hallway after from discussions about security issues, about economic issues and try to come up with a list of things they could sell.

COOPER: This sounds like there's awful corporate retreats.

GOLDMACHER: One White House official said it reminded them of being back in the fifth grade. They were (inaudible) too pleased with the exercise.

The thing is inside the White House is there's just so much pressure right now because they know that Donald Trump is paying attention to this 100-day marker.

This 100-day mark doesn't really matter, right? This is not a legal deadline. It's not constitutional deadline. It's a media deadline. But Trump is very much apparition (ph) of the media. He watches the media. And they know that if -- it's portrayed poorly like he hasn't accomplished that much. There could be backlash. There's already talk of staff-- staff shake-ups, and it is-- if you don't make a good impression in the next, you know, 19 days, bad things could be happening.

COOPER: David, why -- I mean, why has the first 100 days become such a critical milestone for administration?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it wasn't for most of our history, Anderson, but then, Franklin Roosevelt, changed it all in the midst of the depression. He begin sending a (inaudible) of legislation to Capitol Hill, it kind of-- the only plan to stay in session short time, but they stayed for 100 days and they passed an amazing amount of legislation and that's now become the gold standard of what a president does, how much you accomplish, especially on domestic policy, obviously no president since then has measured up to that, and many have stumbled early on, but what the Trump team is worried about is if they come out at the end of the 100 days where there going to be publicity focusing on this very question, is this been successful or not successful? There are going to be a lot of harsh judgments. I think so far it's really hard to say that this -- I think it's easy to say this first 100 days by Donald Trump have been among the worst if not the worst. COOPER: Really? Because -- I should say the president I think on Air Force One the other day said, I don't want to paraphrase him incorrectly, but some said this has been the most successful start for any administration.

GERGEN: Well, you know, listen, I think he has had his successes, Jeffrey Lord, I'm sure can enumerate them at great length. But they have had successes for the most part that were within his unilateral control, there were regulatory things that he could change, there were things about that Obama had done that he could change.

And he did, you know, the Gorsuch nomination has gone well. You have to say that. And he's going to make -- Donald Trump is going to make a major mark upon the Supreme Court. I think that's where we're heading. But if you look at the rest of it, especially health care. What else has been accomplished other than a sense of disarray? Not sure what they are. Even when a launches a successful air strike on Syria, 48 hours later -- 72 hours later we're in a world of confusion and they can't get their stories straight. Their communications team ought to start planning the next -- three weeks by planning tomorrow. Time to get their story straight tomorrow as ships sail toward North Korean, you know, as we wait to see what's happening in Syria.

COOPER: Jeff, I mean, is it -- in terms of rebranding exercise, is it hard to brand these 100 days, given that in terms of legislative accomplishment other than Gorsuch which required a change in Senate rules, there hasn't been one.

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, when you say other Gorsuch. When I would go to these Trump rallies and talk to people. That was almost always the first thing that people talked to me about, they wanted a conservative on the Supreme Court. He got it done. That is a big deal, it's a generational big deal, it will be here for -- I mean, Neil Gorsuch sworn in, what, today?

COOPER: Right.

LORD: He's going to be around for a very long time. That's a very big deal. He's done these other things that I think, frankly, haven't gotten as much attention with all the executive orders et cetera. But he is just --

COOPER: I mean, the, you know, repeal and replace Obamacare, that was also kind of a --

LORD: Right, and I do -- I mean, let's me candid about that. I do think that was a problem, it just -- for the life of me I don't understand why the Republican Congress didn't have their act together on this the day after --

COOPER: Right.

LORD: -- he was sworn in. Be that as it may, here we are. I think I said before, of all these books that he's written, everybody focuses on "The Art of the Deal". He's written one called "Never Give Up". And I was going back through this. He's not going away here. He's going to be at this very, very tenaciously until --

[20:45:22] COOPER: -- so, he has actually written two books, I do always twitch a little when I hear someone described as a writer who actually hasn't written their book, but anyway, I'm going to let that go.

LORD: Oh, to the quick.

COOPER: Those of us who actually have written books, it's a sensitive subject. Kirsten, what about these 100 days?


COOPER: How important is it for the Trump --

POWERS: Well, I think it's correct that the Neil Gorsuch on Supreme Court is by far his biggest accomplishment, but it's telling that -- the thing that he outsourced is not something that was really handed by the White House, so its outsourced to the federal society to (inaudible) in fact, and they -- it was completely managed outside of the White House and it went perfectly, pretty much.

You were talking about him step -- you're talking about him not getting enough coverage for certain things, and I would say this because he steps on almost every good story that he has. And so, that speaks to why the 100 days have been so chaotic, is because he's constantly putting out tweets and sending people down different rabbit trails instead of talking about some of the good things that he's doing.

Obamacare is a huge, you know, that was a huge loss for him as well. And I think that, you know, being -- spending your first 100 days also finding out that he's under FBI investigation for connections to Russia of his staff and these kinds of things, all taken together don't give us --

COOPER: Shane, what -- I mean, I assume you got this story from people in the White House who were in the meetings.


COOPER: An example of people leaking, I guess from the White House, shock. What do they see as their biggest obstacle in this exercise, in terms of, you know, kind of explaining the successes of the first 100 days?

GOLDMACHER: They see a couple of things and the biggest one is something you guys have already outlined, which is there's not any signature legislative achievements. The biggest thing he tried to take on in Congress, health care stopped. And the biggest when he tried to take on through executive order was also stopped the immigration order in terms of banning people from certain Muslim majority countries in the Middle East.

Those are two of the big name items that he took on that didn't happen, so that's tough. You know, they do want to take a lot of credit on economic issues, on the consumer confidence level going up, and the stock market going up, and all he's doing job announcement by companies even if the companies may be have this job enhancement (inaudible) before Donald Trump came in.

You know, the economic indicators for good in November 8 last year, but Trump won anyway people because didn't feel like the economy is going well, so if he can sell that he's actually turn around how the people feel about the economy they'd consider that as success.

POWERS: Are they're all concerned about -- this is their communications people after all about how Donald Trump makes a very hard for them to stay focused on --

GOLDMACHER: That is a regular frustration of people who worked for Donald Trump for the last year, right?

POWERS: Right.

GOLDMACHER: I mean, you wake up on a Saturday morning and he's tweeting about Obama wiretapping him in a way that they had to go and defend without evidence. And they continued that to defend without evidence there's, you know, as you said earlier --


GOLDMACHER: -- stepping on good stories and bad.

COOPER: We got to take a break. Thanks everybody.

Just ahead, a passenger dragged off an overbooked flight on United Airlines after refusing to give up his seat. Video certainly gone viral United facing a backlash because they were giving his seat to United employees.


[20:52:12] COOPER: Tonight United Airlines is facing criticism after video of a passenger being dragged off one of its flight went viral on social media. He was kicked off the plane after being (inaudible) drunk or doing anything at all disruptive. The plane was overbooked, something most travelers these days can relate to. It's familiar and frustrating part of air travel. What happened next is anything but ordinary. Rene Marsh has details.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: The pictures are hard to believe, this because of an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville. It happened when the United Airlines passenger refused to give up his seat Sunday night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Busted his lip.

MARSH: Passengers were horrified as they watched three Chicago airport police officers board the plane and yank the man from his seat. Police say the man hit his head on the arm rest. You could see the blood flowing from his mouth as he was pulled down the aisle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is wrong. Oh my god, look what you did to him.

MARSH: Witnesses say the flight crew was trying to free up seats for United Airlines personnel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once they dragged the guy off, then subsequently the United employees come on the plane. The other passengers were just berating the employees saying things like you should be ashamed of yourself, you should be embarrassed to work for this company.

MARSH: In a statement, United said the flight, "Was overbooked. Normally when this occurs passengers are asked to voluntarily give up their seat for compensation, and the situation is resolved. However, this was not the case on Sunday night's flight and United was forced into an involuntary de-boarding situation."

Passenger rights advocate, Charlie Leocha, faults the airline for not offering more compensation.

CHARLIE LEOCHA, PRESIDENT, TRAVELERS UNITED: The maximum denied boarding which the government requires you to pay is $1350 in cash. They could have offered the maximum. And that would have taken care of the problem.

MARSH: The incident sparks outrage and plenty of tweets like this one, "United Airlines is pleased to announce new seating on all domestic flights, in addition to United first and economy plus, we introduce fight club." The backlash prompted the Airline CEO to respond tweeting, "I apologize for having to reaccommodate these customers. Our team is moving with the sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened."

Was the passenger wrong in anyway for refusing to get off?

LEOCHA: I don't think he was wrong. I think -- my only way of saying that he's wrong is -- well, I've never seen this happen before. I have never, ever seen a passenger roughed up and dragged off a plane to put a flight attendant on. I mean that's just --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god! Look what you did to him.


COOPER: And Rene joins us. Now, that statement by the CEO has to be among one of the worst statements I've heard from a CEO, the idea that's reaccommodating one of the passengers. I mean -- and the fact also that these seats were then taken by United Airlines employees. I mean, is there any kind of action to be taken against United Airlines?

[20:55:17] MARSH: Yes. A bitter pill for a lot of people who were on board that flight, Anderson, they feel the same way. I do know that at this point, the Department of Transportation, they tell CNN that they are reviewing this incident to determine if the passenger's rights were violated in any way. The airline is telling CNN that it offered $1,000 in compensation for anyone who would give up their seat. But they got no takers. Consumer advocates as you heard in the piece there say, that they should have offered the maximum of $1350. And they may have been able to avoid all of this.

One other point, we do want to point out that it is in the fine print, an airline can make a passenger give up their seat if a flight is overbooked. But it really is about the way that this man was removed that is sparking the outrage. And, United Airlines already is ranked by consumers as having the worst customer service.

COOPER: Yeah, that's not going to help. Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

Much more ahead in next hour of 360 special report, "The President Test" we're calling it. We're going to take an in-depth at the international challenges now facing Pres. Trump who campaigned on putting America first, from Syria to Russia and North Korea and China. It's a full lineup of geopolitical flashpoint for this administration.