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Trump Officials Send Mixed Signals On Syria; White House Turf War Goes Public; U.S. Markets Set To Open Slightly Higher; New York State To Offer Free Tuition. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It was a really broad range of discussion. You should go online to check it out.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Time for CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow. Good morning.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Do you know how many hours I was asleep before "Saturday Night Live" even went on, on Saturday?

CAMEROTA: Me, too.

CUOMO: You've got the baby, you've got the new gig. But on the up side, at least you finally got rid of that sidekick guy. It's good to have you alone there.

HARLOW: Yes. Where did John Berman go? I guess he's taken the day off.


HARLOW: My goodness. Who? What? Where?

CUOMO: Never. He'll be on four other shows today.

HARLOW: Right. It's my little girl's first birthday, so happy birthday.



HARLOW: Happy birthday, Baby Sienna.

CAMEROTA: Yes, happy birthday to her.

HARLOW: Have a great day, guys. Let's get started.

Good Monday, morning. This morning at the Supreme Court, history takes shape as Neil Gorsuch takes his seat as the junior most justice. At this very moment, he is behind closed doors taking a private oath of office in the first of what will be two ceremonies today.

And President Donald Trump, peacemaker? The President forcing his top adviser, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner to broker a truce. But is the West Wing big enough for both of these men?

And fractures in foreign policy. Just days after launching a military strike on Syria, the President's top diplomats offer very different views of the path forward. So which is it?

Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the day off.

We are now just a couple hours away of the Supreme Court being back to the full strength of a nine-person bench for the first time in 14 months. Right now, the widow of Justice Antonin Scalia is on hand for the private swearing in of the man who will replace her husband on the bench of the nation's highest court.

Our Ariane de Vogue looks at how this morning is unfolding. Jeffrey Toobin is here with us as well. The preeminent scholars on the high court. It is nice to have you both here. Thank you for being with us.

Just walk us through, Ariane, what's going to happen today.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, Poppy, you know, it's been more than a year since Scalia's death. And Neil Gorsuch will take two oaths, right?

The first one is the constitutional oath that he'll take. He's probably starting it about now behind me at the Supreme Court. It will be administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. Gorsuch's family will be there. The Justices and their spouses have been invited to attend, and that includes Maureen Scalia.

And then the whole party will move down to the White House, and there he will take the judicial oath. That's really for judges and justices, but what's interesting is Gorsuch asked for Anthony Kennedy to deliver that oath. And that's because Gorsuch is a former clerk of Kennedy, and what's a little bit symbolic here is this will be the first time that we have a former clerk serving at the same time as his boss. So, Poppy, a little bit of symbolism today.

HARLOW: Indeed. Jeffrey Toobin, just talk about how important the cases are that he's going to hear. Right away, you're talking about Second Amendment cases, separation of church and state, voting rights. This is big.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Poppy, sometimes those of us on cable news, we're accused of over hyping events. You know, sometimes --

HARLOW: Never you.


TOOBIN: Sometimes we say breaking news when it's not exactly breaking news.

HARLOW: It never happens on this show. TOOBIN: Never happens. This is a very big deal, by any standard.

You know, there have only been 112 people who served on the Supreme Court in the history of the country. When you look at how long Neil Gorsuch is likely to serve on this court, 2040 perhaps, it's just the magnitude of the issues that he will confront, we can't imagine them all of them right now.

But right away, a lot of church/state issues, a lot of how much the government can support religious institutions, how much religious individuals or companies can get out of obligations that other people have. Those are big issues. You know, gay rights, abortion rights, affirmative action -- all of these hot button issues will be before the court sooner rather than later.

HARLOW: He, on the Tenth Circuit, ruled, when it came to sort of the Hobby Lobby line of cases --

TOOBIN: Right.

HARLOW: -- what does what he wrote there tell us about what he may do here?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, his decision in Hobby Lobby -- and it was a vote, you know. He votes in the three-judge panel there. And then the whole Tenth Circuit heard that case. It was upheld in a very narrow decision in Hobby Lobby.

And that was one of those cases where religious people said we do not feel we can abide by what the government requires of us because it would violate our religious obligations. In that case, it was a company, actually very big company, Hobby Lobby, which said that we don't want to pay for birth control as the Affordable Care Act requires because certain forms of birth control, we feel, are tantamount to abortion, that they were allowed to get out of their obligation under the Affordable Care Act.

That whole line of cases about religious people asking to be excused from government-imposed obligations, those cases are definitely going to be before the court.

[09:05:00] HARLOW: Right. Another case likely to be before him is the President's travel ban, 1.0 now 2.0. This is going to be before him, Ariane.

DE VOGUE: Right. Well, it will come. It is still percolating, right, at the Federal Appeals Court level, and it could come up soon on an emergency basis here. But that will be interesting, right, because President Trump is the man who put him on the bench, and one thing that he might look at pretty quickly is something that's very important to President Trump, Poppy.

HARLOW: And, Jeffrey, I mean, this is why a Supreme Court pick is why many reluctant Republicans voted for Trump anyways because they saw the pig picture. You have a fascinating new piece, a long piece, in "The New Yorker" just saying, you know, so many more Democrats issued calls against Attorney General Jeff Sessions than against Gorsuch, but this is a much bigger deal than who the Attorney General is for a much shorter period of time.

TOOBIN: You know, it is interesting that one of the things the Republican Party has done much more successfully than the Democratic Party is focus on judicial appointments.

You know, it is true that Democrats were very pleased, very happy that President Obama appointed Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, but the focus on judicial appointments in the Republican Party is so serious.

And, you know, as you point out, you heard it all the time during the fall where, you know, Donald Trump was a very unknown quantity and disliked by a lot of people in the Republican Party. But one of the things he did is he reached out to conservatives through the federal society, through Leonard Leo, who I write about in the current issue of "The New Yorker" and said, look, I am going to appoint these people to the Supreme Court.

And Donald Trump did something that no presidential candidate had done before, he released the list. First 10 people, then another 10 people, of his likely appointments to the Supreme Court. By the way, we have three pretty elderly justices on the court, so that list is very likely to be returned to again in terms of who Trump may nominate if there are other vacancies.

HARLOW: And remember, his rollout of the nomination of Gorsuch, even if a few don't support the Justice, it was praised by how the White House rolled it all out.

TOOBIN: Well, this has been, as you may have heard, a pretty rocky 81 days for President Trump. The nomination of Neil Gorsuch has been an unqualified success for this White House and for the Republicans in the majority in the Senate. There are not a lot of other big successes, but this is certainly one.

HARLOW: So far. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

TOOBIN: All right.

HARLOW: You should read his piece. It was my early morning reading today. It's fascinating. Ariane, at the high court, thank you so much.

We now turn to a show of force against North Korea. President Trump deployed a Navy strike group to the Korean Peninsula to tamp down North Korea's nuclear threats or at least try to, right? Certainly a show of force. It is on its way as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives next hour for the G7 meeting in Italy. He is expected to deliver more tough words on Russia and, of course, on Syria's chemical weapons attack.

We have got live coverage this morning. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Will Ripley is the only American journalist inside of North Korea. Let's begin with Barbara at the Pentagon.

Just the significance of this move, Barbara, because it's not like a carrier hasn't moved to that region before.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, carriers do operate there pretty routinely, Poppy, but here's one of the big signals about why this is a message sending exercise, at least in large part. And that's because the Pentagon is talking about it. They issued a press release over the weekend detailing all of this.

And when they don't want to talk about it, the answer you'll get from the Pentagon is we don't talk about where our ships are. This time talking about it, completely out in the open, very much sending the signal to Kim Jong-un that they are off shore. That if he engages in provocations, look at what happened in Syria. This could be a President who will responds.

But does this carrier group really have that kind of response capability? The carrier actually, the "USS Carl Vincent," huge asset, ships on board -- pardon me, aircraft on board, but not terribly useful against the North Korean threat. Those aircraft aren't likely to go anywhere.

There are missile ships along with the carrier out there. These are ships that have missiles onboard. They can shoot down North Korean missile launches, potentially. But if it gets to that point, there's pretty serious trouble.

This is sending that message to Kim being very open about it. The national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, talked about some of the reasoning over the weekend.


LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior. This is a rogue regime that is now a nuclear capable regime, and President Xi and President Trump agreed that that is unacceptable, that what must happen is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So the President has asked us to be prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat to the American people and to our allies and partners in the region.


[09:10:08] STARR: Very tough words from the White House. We'll see how the North Korean regime feels about it all, Poppy.

HARLOW: Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon, thank you so much. Let's go to will Ripley who is, again, the only American journalist inside of North Korea now.

Will, for anyone not following your Instagram account, really real time with what you're seeing and hearing, tell us what it's like to be there and what reaction there is to this U.S. carrier clearly moving as a signal to Pyongyang.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the North Korean government officials we're speaking with here, Poppy, say they are certainly receiving the message the United States and the Trump administration is sending. However, their response may not be what the U.S. is anticipating.

They say, far from backing down, the deployment of the carrier strike group, I should say the redeployment because it was here in the region a few weeks ago for joint military exercises, only motivates them want to work harder to develop their nuclear weapons faster, because we know that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's ultimate goal is to have a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the mainland U.S.

This country tells its citizens that they live under the threat of an imminent invasion by the U.S. And so, while a lot of news from around the world is kept hidden from the North Koreans, the state media here is reporting extensively about Carl Vincent carrier strike group threatening this country, they say, off the waters of the Korean Peninsula.

They're reporting also about the missile strike in Syria, calling it basically a thinly veiled threat to the North Korea people. But they say the key difference between North Korea and Syria is, if the United States were to take similar action in this country, they promise to retaliate. So it makes it a much more tricky situation.

We are talking about military action on the Korean Peninsula, given the fact, Poppy, that even if North Korea doesn't have a viable nuclear weapon just yet, they do have conventional weapons that can kill a lot of people and do a lot of damage in the highly populated area of Seoul, just 30 miles from the demilitarized zone, that border between North and South Korea.

One other note, this is a big week for Kim Jong-un, a large political gathering tomorrow, the Supreme People's Assembly; Saturday, their most important holiday, the Day of the Sun. It's around these major political events and holidays in the past we have seen North Korea try to show force with very provocative actions. And U.S. officials, and South Koreans as well, believe they could push the button at any moment on their sixth nuclear test. What a way to send a message of defiance to their enemies in the U.S., Poppy.

HARLOW: Absolutely, no question about it. We do, though, have reporting this morning about China and South Korea being willing to take these increased steps, these increased sanctions, trying to get on board a bit more with what the U.S. has been calling for. Will Ripley inside of North Korea for us. Thank you so much for that.

We have a lot ahead this hour. The Trump administration sending mixed signals as foreign policy techs mount. So what message does that send?

Also, can the United States police the world when the President is trying to police his own White House staff? The latest on those clashes ahead.

Also, the Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal. A scathing independent investigation just concluding this morning. It is taking the former CEO to task, clawing back millions in pay. A live report on that straight ahead.



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So after earning bipartisan praise for the missile strike in Syria, the Trump administration is really sending mixed signals about what is next. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley offering two very different ideas about the future of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

Here to discuss is Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written extensively about the crisis in Syria. Lt. Colonel Rick Francona is with us. He is our military analyst. Alex Burns joins us, CNN political commentator and "New York Times" national political reporter, and Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News.

It's so nice to have you guys here. We have a lot to dive into. Colonel, let me begin with you because let's listen to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaking just this weekend about what happens to Assad now.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are hopeful that we can work with Russia and use their influence to achieve areas of stabilization throughout Syria and create the conditions for a political process through Geneva in which we can engage all of the parties on a way forward. And it is through that political process that we believe the Syrian people will ultimately be able to decide the fate of Bashar al-Assad.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: There's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime. 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.


HARLOW: Nikki Haley says, you know, Assad has to go. Tillerson said the Syrian people can decide the future of Assad, which frankly they can't because they're being gassed by their own dictator. I mean, Colonel Francona, how much of a problem is it not to have the administration on the same page on that?

LT. COLONEL RICK FRANCONA (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I'm not sure they're not on the same page. I think the secretary was very clear that he want to focus on ISIS, he didn't say that. Focus on ISIS first and then we'll hope for a political situation after ISIS is gone where everybody can sit down and figure out how we address the future of the Syrian regime.

Nikki Haley has gone one step forward. She goes, yes, we're going to have that happen, but at that meeting, at that confrontation, that political situation, we're going to demand that Bashar al-Assad be removed. I think that's probably where this administration is going to end up.

Focus on ISIS and we hope to resolve the Bashar al-Assad situation later diplomatically. We'll do a military solution for ISIS. We'll hope for a political solution for the Syrian regime.

[09:20:04]HARLOW: Here's the thing. I mean, Gayle, you've seen this firsthand. You've written about it extensively. If you are a mother and a father who lost their child in that chemical attack, you don't have time to wait. I mean, and this is the same thing that has been going on for the three, four years since the 2013 attack. Does this administration need one clear message to Assad?

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, AUTHOR, "ASHLEY'S WAR": Well, what is so fascinating, Poppy, you and I have talked about this for years now, which is the same debate, same arguments, different administration. I mean, you see the exact same policy debate that was in more or less dividing the Obama White House for years. You know, what is the priority?

Can you fight ISIS while also toppling Assad? And then what comes next after Assad? These were all debates that were very much alive and taking a huge amount of time and attention inside the Obama White House and were never fully resolved.

Now they have really seeped into the next administration. You see this playing out in real time and on cameras here in Washington and everywhere else.

HARLOW: Do you get the sense, Gayle, just a quick follow-up from your reporting that the Syrian people, though, have more hope in America helping them in the wake of this missile strike?

LEMMON: Well, what was fascinating, Poppy, is my WhatsApp was full of Syrian activists writing, you know, look, Trump did what Obama wouldn't. Now the question we have, they would write, is what comes next? You know, is this one and done? Is this simply a shot across the bow or will they be really serious about taking out Bashar al- Assad? They're at least figuring out what comes next? What is the transition after the Syrian regime is over?

HARLOW: You know, Errol, to you. The president wrote this letter in the wake to Speaker Ryan and said, let's pull it up, the work is to degrade the Syrian military's ability to conduct further chemical weapons attack and to dissuade the Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons, but it is not just chemical weapons that are used by Assad. It is barrel bombs.

Frankly, the chemical weapons attack in 2013 was much more deadly than this one. I mean, it seems like the administration is saying this is the line and if you cross it again with more chemical weapons attacks, we will strike again.

Does it appear to you as this was a one off or the beginning of increased military action or is that not clear from the Trump administration?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's completely unclear. As you mentioned, in 2013, you saw much more deadly attack and you had Donald Trump who at that time wasn't even a candidate sort of saying, this will be a quagmire. Don't respond with military response. Don't get involved so on and so forth.

A position that he held until fairly recently. When you go in all of the questions Gayle referenced come into play. Who comes next? We know that. If you want to go in and sort of takeout ISIS, you're not going to do it with Tomahawk missiles, you're not going to do it alone. It's not clear what comes next. It's unclear how you even do that.

You know, some of the most effective fighters against ISIS within Syria are not the regime but some Kurdish separatist militias who are at war now, you know, a shooting war with the Turkish government on the northern part of the country.

Turkey is a strong ally. How do you work this out? Again, it's not going to be a military solution.

BERMAN: And so it is the people around the president who advise him on this. We've learned that Steve Bannon, somebody he's trusted so much, Alex, rarely gone against, and it helped him win the election, advised against these strikes. And this comes amid White House in fighting, forced sit down between Bannon and Kushner over the weekend at Mar-a-Lago where Trump essentially said, figure it out, cut it out, stop fighting, get on the same page.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is one in a series of setbacks for Steve Bannon over the last few months. What we saw over and over during the campaign, Poppy, when someone ends up crosswise with Donald Trump's actual family, it's actually, very, very tough to --

HARLOW: Jared Kushner is his son-in-law.

BURNS: His son-in-law, one of his advisers, one of his most trusted advisers. You can't really win that fight. The president is not going to fire hid kids or his kids' spouses. So when you do end up, you know, looking at sort of who's on the rise across the board on policy, you do see folks including Jared Kushner but other associates of his and Ivanka Trump's who take generally speaking a much more internationalist view of how you get things done on the world stage.

BERMAN: Right. Steve Bannon, Errol, is the Mr. America first. He is all about nationalism. Either it's economic nationalism or frankly, you know, focusing on the United States militarily. What do you make of this divide I think that Alex really rightly points out, that Kushner takes much more of a world view?

LOUIS: I mean, look, you've always had I think an establishment during the campaign when there were other candidates involved. Criticism of this Trump approach of America first is if a slogan was enough to resolve some of the enormously complex issues in the Middle East and everywhere else.

And so if it's really going to be Trump's policy to say, America first and that's all that counts, he will immediately find, as he's finding right now, that it's not so easy to figure out where America's interests lies.

[09:25:03]Here again in Syria, you've got, you know, Bashar al-Assad who serves a purpose. On the other hand, a lot of his opposition are now uniting under the banner of al Qaeda.

You have ISIS fighting the Turkish separatists. You have the Turkish government getting involved. I mean, it gets to be so complicated that simply saying America first is almost an empty slogan.

HARLOW: It doesn't cut it. One other bit of news and development over the weekend. Colonel, I'd like your take on this, K.T. McFarland, his deputy national security adviser, someone who was brought in by Mike Flynn, who used to be running the show over there, now leaving the post, going to be ambassador to Singapore. What do you think the significance of that is at a moment like this when you're talking about what a complex situation and fight this is?

FRANCONA: Yes, I think it was a polite way to get her out of the White House. I think this is General McMaster cleaning house bringing in his own team. This is one of the things the president is going to allow him to do. I think it was a good move.

HARLOW: Guys, thank you very much. Gayle, Colonel Francona, Alex Burns, and Errol Louis, we appreciate it.

All right, the opening bell just moments away on Wall Street. International tensions and pending negotiations with China have investors putting the pause button a little bit. You see futures up just slightly this Monday morning.

Our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, has more. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. You're right, the 100-day clock has started between China and the United States. A lot of investors are wondering what are these discussions about trade going to be over the next hundred days.

The president has not slapped tariffs on China. The president hasn't really unveiled what he's going to do exactly with China, at least in great detail.

So these 100 days that they decided on last week at that summit in Mar-a-Lago between the Chinese and the American officials has begun. Investors now are looking ahead to Janet Yellen's speech later today and bank earnings later this week -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Also we've learned that New York State is making college tuition free for students. This sounds a little Bernie Sanders-ish.

ROMANS: Yes. HARLOW: What can you tell us about what this really means? Who's going to be paying for it?

ROMANS: Taxpayers are paying for it. Potentially we are talking about hundreds of thousands of New York students. The working logic, Poppy, is this, college has become what high school used to be. The governor of New York says it should be an option for every family even if they can't afford it.

Here's how it works, it's starting this fall, full-time student at two-year and four-year colleges, state colleges, and the City University of New York campuses. They're only responsible for room and board. Tuition is free.

So that's a savings of about 6,500 bucks a year at state four-year colleges, about 4,300 at community college. This is for middle class students. What is considered middle class? Families earning less than $100,000.

That threshold, Poppy, will rise gradually over the next few years. Students have to take at least 30 credit hours to qualify. Remember, it's tuition, not room and board. Room and board bill can still reach $14,000 a year.

So families would still need to plan and save. Will other states follow? That's the big question here, Tennessee, Oregon, and the city of San Francisco, they have recently made tuition free at community colleges for all residents regardless of their income. So we'll see if it spreads -- Poppy.

HARLOW: But I still need to be putting money into my 529.

ROMANS: Yes, yes, yes.

HARLOW: All right, Christine romans, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Also before the break, a quick reminder our new podcast is out, "Boss Files," candid conversations with CEOs, leaders all around the world from Melinda Gates to Warren Buffet. We've got a new one up this morning. You can subscribe at iTunes, Stitcher on Android or tune in on Amazon Echo. We'll be right back.