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Gorsuch Sworn in this Morning as Supreme Court Justice; Tillerson Set to Talk Tough on Russia, Syria at G7; U.S. Sends Navy Strike Group to Korean Peninsula. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the day off. We are less than an hour away from a transition that will have decades of impact on the law of the land. Justice Neil Gorsuch will take his second and final oath to become the junior most justice on the High Court. Now, Gorsuch takes the seat on the bench after a largely partisan fight over his confirmation. His victory was secured by Republicans deploying the so-called "nuclear option" requiring only a simple majority, 51 votes to confirm him, a move that will likely change the Senate as we know it forever.

Our Ariane de Vogue begins with us this morning at the Supreme Court. This is a very big day. They just wrapped up and we're waiting for photos of that private swearing in and then the next one, the public one in the Rose Garden with the president.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right, Poppy. It has been more than a year since Justice Antonin Scalia died. And now, Neil Gorsuch is taking this oath. As you said, he's already taken the constitutional oath. That was administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. Gorsuch's family was there. His wife held the family bible, we're told. And his kids were there. All the justices and their spouses - most of the spouses were there, including Maureen Scalia. Of course, Justice Scalia's widow.

Now, the whole party will move down the street to the White House and there, that will be the judicial oath. That's a different oath given really just to justices and judges. And Neil Gorsuch asked that Justice Kennedy deliver -- that oath and the reason is, it's because Gorsuch served as a clerk for Kennedy. And that is a little bit of precedent, Poppy. This is the first time that we have a former clerk who will sit on the bench with the Justice who he worked for. So, it's symbolic and Poppy, new precedent here at the court.

HARLOW: It is. It's fascinating. And now, they have a full bench, which means no more 4-4 ties like they were facing before. Ariane de Vogue, thank you so much.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Let's talk about all of this with CNN Supreme Court extraordinary scholar analyst Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates and here on set with me, the one and only Jeffrey Toobin, also the author of "The Nine." And it is now this morning and the oath, I should say, it is "The Nine."


HARLOW: Once again, this is a huge deal.

TOOBIN: 14 months of eight justices. You know, it's really important when you think about how long these Justices serve for. Neil Gorsuch is young for a nominee to the Supreme Court. -


TOOBIN: 49. So, it is not out of the question that he could serve 30 or even 40 years. And we think today that we know the issues that he will be confronting, the controversial issues like church/state, like abortion rights, like gay rights. Who knows what it will be in 30 years. The only thing we'll know for sure is that the Supreme Court will have the last word and Neil Gorsuch will be one of "The Nine."

HARLOW: Indeed. And the Supreme Court, Joan, will also likely have the last word this, you know, these nine justices on the president's attempts at imposing that travel ban.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That's right. There are so many issues. You know, we're talking about lots of different chapters of social dilemmas coming before the Supreme Court and we're likely going to see chapters of how Neil Gorsuch himself rules as a justice. He'll be tested right away because we'll have -- he'll sit starting next Monday. This Thursday, he'll actually be in conference with his fellow justices.

So, we'll see in the next couple of months, indications of how he will rule. But there are so many months ahead and Justice Kennedy, the man who's going to administer the judicial oath had several chapters of his own life back in 1988. Who would have predicted that he would be the deciding vote on abortion or the deciding vote on gay rights? And Neil Gorsuch painted himself as someone in the mold of Justice Scalia, a conservative, but we'll just have to see how his life unfolds. How his judicial record unfolds with the issues that will come.

HARLOW: Right. Laura, to you, he cannot -- as he joins the High Court, he cannot rule on cases that have already been heard, but not decided, obviously. But there is a mechanism by which he could break a 4-4 tie, is that right?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER FEDEREAL PROSECUTOR: It is. And so, you cannot, unless he -- has actually heard an oral argument, he cannot then rule on the case. But, if there is a 4-4 decision, the court could ask for a reargument. A re-oral hearing on the actual merits of the case and then, he could participate in that and then rule. And that would have a huge impact on cases that although had a 4-4 split. And that law of the land was created by that tie or was maintained by the lower court. He could actually be a part of those cases, as well. HARLOW: Right. Because if there is a 4-4 tie, the decision of the lower court holds until there is a tiebreaker.

[10:05:03] COATES: Exactly.

HARLOW: Interesting. So, he's already been privately sworn in and we are waiting for photos from that. Then, he's going to have this public ceremony in the Rose Garden with the president, et cetera. The other justices will be there including Justice Ginsburg who has been very critical of the president.

TOOBIN: Of then-candidate Trump. He gave an interview to among others -

HARLOW: It's an important point, not the sitting president.

TOOBIN: That's right.

HARLOW: Then-candidate.

TOOBIN: But our own Joan Biskupic got Justice Ginsburg to say incredibly inappropriate things for a Justice, in effect, how she thought if Donald Trump was elected president, she was going to move to New Zealand. By all accounts, she has not moved to New Zealand but she has continued to serve on the court.

But it's just indicative of how politically divided this Supreme Court is. You know, the difference between the Democratic appointees and the Republican appointees is really profound. There are four Democratic appointees. Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan and the now five Republican appointees and our differences that we see in Congress in the race for the White House are often reflected in the Supreme Court. --

HARLOW: Even though, I should note, Joan, they are not supposed to be whatsoever. I mean, these are Justices. They are supposed to be above any politics. They're also though, let's just be frank, they are human. Just talk more about that moment as you do have RBG, as the call her the notorious, right, as you have Justice Ginsburg going to the White House, to the ceremony today.

BISKUPIC: Well, this is an interesting moment politically because as Jeff probably remembers, back a couple decades ago, there was no ceremony at the White House like this. And it's actually controversial within the court family. I think this was started during the Ronald Reagan years where one of the oaths was taken at the White House. And several of the Justices, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who preceded our current Chief John Roberts, resisted it.

They felt like that the ceremony signals to the public that there is more of a mixing between the judicial and executive branch. And the whole point of the judicial branch is to be independent of the executive. And when it takes place at the White House, as we're about to see, that that might send the wrong signal.

So there were -- I recently was going through the Rehnquist files at Stanford and I saw so many different memos among the Justices saying, do we really have to go? Look at what it says. It sort of taints the process. But I think they feel like the door was opened back in the '80s and it's going to stay open.

HARLOW: Laura, to you. You worked in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. So, I just I want to get your take on this. Because there are a number of big cases that he's going to hear, from Second Amendment issues to separation of church and state, also a major Voting Rights Case.

COATES: Yes and these cases - I mean, when Trump talked about during his candidacy, about overturning Roe v. Wade, all eyes - were on abortion rights, understandably. But realistically, the remaining of about 13 cases that this justice has left in this term, have more to do with Second Amendment issues and also religious freedom rights.

And so, you've got the issue of whether or not a very core constitutional principle whether a state can provide financing or grants to churches. You have whether or not there is that contraceptive mandate that will come into provision in terms of also, businesses, financing or providing same-sex marriage services. So, there are going to be the core issues that he will have an opportunity to perhaps argue or hear about and actually rule on, much less of a Roe v. Wade focus.

But of course, his Tenth Circuit experience hasn't given us a great deal of -- to how he will rule on voting cases or other civil rights issues. But on religion, he has been very clear. He was a justice who was talking about the hobby lobby line of cases and said that a religious organization need not follow the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. So, we already know his leanings on that. But the other areas are kind of up good grabs.

HARLOW: There's also - before I let you go, a fun note about what the junior justice has to do.

TOOBIN: Right. The junior justice in the conference of the justices which is the exclusive no clerks, no secretaries, the nine justices alone meet to discuss cases. The junior justice is responsible for answering the door, for getting papers. And also, the court operates by committee. There's a committee on the building. There's a committee on various procedures.

The least desirable committee for the justice to be on is the cafeteria committee. And the junior justice by tradition always sits on the cafeteria committee. And Justice Kagan was very proud of her contribution to the cafeteria committee because she got a frozen yogurt machine into the cafeteria.

HARLOW: There you go, unreal.

TOOBIN: So that was a big achievement.


HARLOW: Nothing - these justices. Hazing of sorts, I suppose. Jeffrey Toobin thank you so much, Laura Coates, Joan Biskupic.

[10:10:00] Again, we're waiting for that public swearing-in ceremony to come less than an hour from the White House.

All right, still to come, what is next for Syria after those airstrikes? It really depends who you ask on the president's team. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meeting with world leaders right now, will he give some clarity to what the future of Bashar al-Assad is within Syria.

Also, power struggle tensions reach a boiling point between Trump advisors Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. The president's message "Cut it out. Work it out."

And in just moments, the nation's newest Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will be sworn in. Of course, we'll bring that to you live from the Rose Garden when it begins.


HARLOW: Right now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with world leaders in Italy. This is the G7 summit where he is expected to deliver some pretty tough talk on Russia and also the Assad regime's chemical attack in Syria. This is all ahead of his trip planned for a little bit later this week to Moscow. Well, he will meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

All of this as the U.S. military deploys warships to the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against North Korea's provocations. We've got team coverage this morning. Will Ripley is the only American journalist inside of North Korea and Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

[10:15:00] And we begin inside of North Korea. Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy. North Korean government officials say they are receiving the message that the United States is sending with its carrier strike group headed to the Korean Peninsula and that missile strike on Syria, which they view as a threat to their own country, that the United States is willing to take military action if they feel provoked or if they feel North Korea crosses the line. Well, the North Koreans say that only makes them want to work faster to develop their nuclear weapons and their missile program.

I was with government officials when word came in that the "Carl Vinson" was heading back to this region. And they called it just another provocative act by the United States. This government believes that the U.S. is the reason why they have to build nuclear weapons. Why they need a viable intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear tip capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

Because their government tells them that these weapons of mass destruction are essentially the key to their survival as a nation. And that the United States would rain bombs down on their homes here in Pyongyang if their country doesn't develop these weapons. And they explain that is why people live in economic hardship. Why many people don't have enough electricity or have insufficient food at times. They say that these are the sacrifices that they must make in order to develop weapons, to protect this country and to protect the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un.

This is a big week for Kim. The Supreme People's Assembly happening tomorrow, the annual political gathering where delegates will vote in favor of what the leader presents before them. And then on Saturday, it's the biggest holiday of the year here in North Korea, the day of the son celebrating the birthday of North Korea's founder.

Around this particular holiday, North Korea in the past has engaged in what the world considers very provocative behavior including five years ago when they attempted and failed to launch a satellite into orbit. U.S. and South Korean officials looking at the latest satellite data believe that North Korea could push the button on its sixth nuclear test at any time. And that certainly would be a way for Kim Jong-un to send a very strong message to the United States, a message of defiance on a week when he wants to project power and strength both here in North Korea and also to his enemies around the world. Poppy?

HARLOW: Will Ripley inside of Pyongyang, thank you very much.

Barbara Starr is joining us now at the Pentagon. Can you just talk about how big of a deal this is? How significant this move is. Because - you know, as you've been reporting, it's not the first time that we've had, you know, American warships moving this way.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Poppy. But you know when it comes to sending a signal, there's probably no bigger signal, literally, than a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, right? So, the North Koreans see the message, they hear the message. They watch the missile strike into Syria at the end of last week and understand that this Trump presidency is sending the signal to the entire world that it's willing to use military force.

So, a decision was made to move the carrier group into the region, in case there is another North Korean provocation. But what about the military utility of a carrier strike group? Is it really the asset you need and want? A carrier with its aircraft onboard is not going to be able to do anything about a North Korean missile launch.

There are a couple other ships with the group that do have a missile defense capability. They could try and shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile launch. But Will makes the point, the bottom line here is North Korea's moving closer to being nuclear capable and the national security advisor H.R. McMaster talked about all of that.


LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: 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 a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

And 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.


STARR: But worth remembering that President Obama's own Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said before leaving office he didn't think there was much of anything that could be done to make North Korea give up its nuclear efforts. Poppy?

HARLOW: That's right, a very important point, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with that reporting. Thank you so much.

Let's discuss this and more with CNN national security commentator Mike Rogers. He's also the former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who penned a controversial op-ed on the ranking Democrat on that committee for this week. And we'll get to that in a moment. But let me just get your take, Congressman, on this move, on the clear message from the Trump administration to North Korea. As Barbara said, when the Pentagon doesn't want folks to know where their warships are headed, they just don't say anything. And they were very vocal about it this time.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR AND FORMER CHAIRMAN HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes and I think it's about moving a significant capability. Not necessarily for missile defense. It does have that capability but also this offensive capability of a U.S. carrier.

[10:20:03] And the other interesting part of this, I don't know if you remember this, Poppy. A few months ago, the Navy SEALs were announced to go to North - or South Korea to do a joint training exercise and they made it very clear that it was the same unit that went after Osama bin Laden. I find it interesting that the "USS Carl Vinson" which was also engaged in that is steaming to South Korea. I think there's a little psychological warfare going on here and you know my hats off to them.

If it was an accident, it's pretty interesting. But it does start to tell the people around Kim Jong-un that this is getting serious. And if this is ever going to get, I think, mediated to a point where there is not conflict. And I talked to a lot of military officers who believe that it's on an escalation path, not necessarily by moves that the Trump administration, but by the military officers surrounding Kim Jong-un.

And so, we have to find a way to intercept that ramp up towards any military engagement, small or otherwise. And then you have to worry about the miscalculation. Does Kim Jong-un make a miscalculation or does South Korean commander on the border make a miscalculation that escalates the problem here.

HARLOW: So, this morning you also have a senior official in South Korea saying that South Korea and China together have agreed to ramp up their sanctions against North Korea. Which any expert you ask says, the U.S. cannot solve the North Korea crisis on its own. I mean, you need China and South Korea to be equally engaging. You need those sanctions, especially when it comes to the money and the banking abilities of North Korea to be handled by the Chinese. I mean, do you believe that the Chinese are really going to do more this time because there has been a lot of talk and little action.

ROGERS: I'm not sure. I know one thing that China does not want. They don't want more U.S. forces in the region. And this might be that impedes that they see as that trigger to say, hey, maybe we need to ramp this up and the actions of Kim Jong-un who have not been rational in the past and I'm not sure I would put, you know, the rational stamp on his actions on another nuclear test than other things now.

And so, there are a couple of things that China can do. They can help on sanctions significantly. The majority of trade with North Korea comes through China. And then there's a black market activity on the northern border that sustains the elite of North Korea. All of the people who support Kim Jong-un are supported in those black market operations.

China could have a significant impact, if they want to do it. It would cause some economic difficulties for them in that region, but it would also really kind of heal North Korea or at least for the first time really pinch the people that you need to communicate to that listen escalation is not the path here. South Korea and China can come together to work out a package of which we can be a part of. That's really the right way forward, I think.

HARLOW: So, Congressman. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads to Moscow for a more than awkward meeting tomorrow with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. This after he went on the Sunday shows and he did not say that Bashar al-Assad has to go from Syria. And then you have Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. saying, Assad has to go. I mean, it doesn't seem like he's going into this meeting in Russia where they're even on the same page and of course, Russia is propping up Assad and his regime.

ROGERS: Yes. I'm going to lay this at the feet of two diplomats that are new to this arena and where words have an extra weight sometimes when you're talking. And so, if you listen -- if you wrap back what they both said, they're not necessarily in direct conflict with each other. So, Nikki Haley said I can't imagine a regime moving forward. Well, most people in that region who understand that region think the same thing, is just how long that is. --

HARLOW: But Congressman, Assad said, let me just read you his quote because Tillerson said of Assad, "The Syrian people will ultimately be able to decide the fate of Bashar al-Assad." I mean, come on, these are the Syrian people who are being gassed by him.

ROGERS: Well, there are two things here. So, if it's all of Syria, yes. And many believe this is why many are worried about an election where Assad runs the election as the head of state. Folks believe and I certainly would be in that category. That is not going to be a fair election and magically you'd find Assad winning another term.

So, -- the nuance here is you really do need Russia to help negotiate what an ouster of Assad looks like. And the reason that's important is not for just Assad and that use of chemical weapons, which is atrocious and a tragedy and thankfully we finally did something about it. But you don't want a vacuum of power in Syria. That would be a disaster for every one of our allies in the region and certainly stability in that region. You have to negotiate something so that technocrats of government just don't get up and walk away. We have great history on this in Libya and Iraq. We should not make that mistake again.

So, I do think they need a little wiggle room to be able to negotiate a departure of Assad with a transition of government.

[10:25:05] Again, a rapid chopping off the head, I think, is going to be a disaster for U.S. interests in the region.

HARLOW: Before I let you go. The op-ed you wrote on this weekend. The headline, Adam Schiff should recuse himself to the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee that you used to chair in your former life in Congress. Why does Adam Schiff have to go, too? Yes, Nunes recused himself. Nunes is also the one who ran to the White House with some Intel before telling his own committee members. Why does Schiff have to go?

ROGERS: And I did one of these politically-charged investigations and they are very difficult. Both teams want you to find something that you may or may not find and to have one of the senior leads on this out at the microphone saying, well, we're going to find collusion. Absolutely the president was engaged in collusion just sets up, again, that expectation that this investigation isn't going to be fair and impartial.

An investigation is a very serious thing. The U.S. government is using its authority to get information and make a recommendation on someone's character, maybe even their freedom and the determination of what happened here. That's as serious as it gets.

And because of the sharp edge politics on both sides of that, it ramped up to a place where most Americans are saying, I'm not sure I trust at all what is coming out of it. So I would argue, recuse yourself and then go - you two, the chairman and the ranking member, go do the important work of telling and investigating what Russians are doing at writ large in the intelligence space when it comes to information operations. That's a good thing. They would be working together. They'd solve a real problem. Leave the investigation to folks who haven't been out trying to make their point in the court of public opinion.

HARLOW: Congressman, thank you so much. You've certainly raised a lot of eyebrows with the piece. We appreciate you joining us.

ROGERS: Thanks.

HARLOW: All right. Take a look at this. We've got new photos just in to us of the newest Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch being sworn in in that private ceremony this morning, his wife holding the bible there. Of course, Chief Justice John Roberts administering Neil - this ahead of the public ceremony with the president at the White House in the Rose Garden coming up in just a few minutes. We'll have more on that, right after this.