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The Trump administration sending out mixed messages on Syria; An aircraft carrier headed to the Korean Peninsula; ISIS attack on coalition and Syrian rebels thwarted; Egypt church bombings death toll rises; Executive order on imports and trade; Trump administration's in-fighting; Neil Gorsuch to be sworn in; Probe on O'Reilly sexual harassment claim; Search for Dallas' tornado siren hackers; Sergio Garcia wins the Masters. Aired at 4-4:30 am ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 4:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson taking a hard line on Russia's involvement in Syria. It comes ahead of his trip to Moscow as mixed messages emerge from the White House and the Syrian conflict.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: And an aircraft carrier is heading toward the Korean Peninsula following provocations by North Korea. More on the mission there and the state of play just moments away. W lot to get to this morning. Thanks so much for joining us. Welcome to "Early Start." I'm Boris Sanchez.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's nice to see you today Boris. It's Monday, April 10th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the east. This morning, the world is waiting to see President Trump's next move on Syria following last week's missile strikes on a government airfield.

But top administration officials seem to be putting out a muddled message on the state of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telling ABC News that the strike was aimed only at deterring further use of chemical weapons by Assad. It was not aimed at regime change.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are hopeful with the work of 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 the 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.


ROMANS: On the other hand, President Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, says the U.S. has what she calls multiple priorities in Syria and that one of them, stability is impossible with Assad as president.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: There is 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.


SANCHEZ: Now, Haley also says the U.S. is calling out Russia and Iran for their support of the Assad regime. The U.N. ambassador warning that the possibility of tougher sanctions against the two countries is not off the table. All of this comes ahead of Tillerson's high stake's meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. The sit down comes later this week, but Tillerson's message is already clear. Quit propping up Assad. Our coverage this morning begins with CNN's Ryan Nobles in Washington. Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Boris and Christine, good morning. The big question for the Trump administration heading into this week is what's next when it comes to the crisis in Syria? Is the strike on a Syrian air field a one-time thing specifically designed to keep Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons or is it the start of a more involved U.S. policy to support the removal of Assad?

Of course, the matter is more complicated than just Assad. You have the fight against ISIS raging in that region and of course the regime's relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin. This delicate balance will be on full display this week as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Europe. He will meet European leaders on Monday before travelling to Moscow for a high stakes meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

Tillerson said he will push the Russians to put pressure on their allies, the Syrians, to eliminate any chemical weapons they may still have. Just days after the U.S. attack on that Syrian airfield, fighters jets were already taking off bombing some of the same rebel home locations where the chemical attacks took place. Boris and Christine.

ROMANS: Alright, Ryan Nobles, thanks for that. So now that the smoke has cleared following those strikes, has anything really changed? For some answers and perspective, let's bring in senor international correspondent Ben Wedeman. He's following the story from Antakya near Turkey's border with Syria. Good morning, and has anything really changed on the ground after those missiles strikes now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On the ground no. What we understand from activist inside Syria and from videos we've seen coming out of Idlib province where that chemical attack took place is that the Syrian government, the regime, the army has gone back to business as usual. Not using chemical weapons but using all the other weapons, conventional weapons at their disposal to hit a variety of targets.

We understand that dozens of people have been killed since last Tuesday's chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that left 89 people dead, so for ordinary Syrians living in opposition held parts of the country, it is bloody business as usual, sort of in the larger geopolitical arena. Yes, things have changed that after years of dithering the United States did actually strike the Syrian regime. Now, keep in mind however that since 2014, there have been around 7,500 U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on Syria but not on the regime.

[04:05:03] They've been on Isis so certainly what we're seeing is a refocus on the regime of Bashar al-Assad and less talk about the war against ISIS that's been going on of course since 2014 and has been the focus of U.S. policy since then. But for ordinary Syrians nothing has changed.

ROMANS: Nothing has changed seven years of civil war. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for that, on the Turkey border.

SANCHEZ: Well, the Trump administration is also flexing its military muscle in the western pacific. Right now, the nuclear powered 97,000 tons USS Carl Vinson is leading a strike group toward the Korean peninsula. The aircraft carrier has more than 60 planes and 5,000 personnel on board.

The show of force follows a series of recent provocations from the north. CNN's Alexandra Field is tracking the latest developments live from Seoul. Alex, a military presence from the United States isn't really rare in these waters but this deployment is different, right?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Look, you've got some 30,000 U.S. troops who are permanently stationed in South Korea and you do have these U.S. aircraft carriers that are routinely in the waters off the Korean Peninsula. The difference here is the deployment of the USS Vinson to these waters and it comes according to officials in Washington as a direct response to recent provocation from Pyongyang.

We're talking about some four missile launches that have come from North Korea just since the start of the year. Some two dozen missile launches in the last year alone and evidence according to the experts based on satellite imagery that North Korea could be preparing for its sixth nuclear test.

So, the presence of this aircraft carrier certainly sends -- intended to send a strong message to North Korea. It is a show of force. It is a flexing of muscle as you point out. According to the South Koreans, they say that the U.S. Vinson here shows the gravity of the situation when it comes to dealing with North Korea. We've now learned from the national security advisor in the U.S. that all options are being explored when it comes to countering the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

Of course the movement of the Vinson back toward the Korean Peninsula comes after the U.S. strikes on Syria. Those are strikes that have been condemned by North Korean officials who site those strikes as evidence for their need, they say, of nuclear weapons.

We know it is the intention of Kim Jong-Un to test launch an inter- continental ballistic missile which he believes would be capable of carrying a nuclear tipped warhead all the way to the continental United States, reasons why top administration officials in Washington have underscored their point that North Korea no longer poses just a regional security concern, but that it is now a global security concern, Boris.

SANCHEZ: And Alex, is there any clear indication that that sixth nuclear test is imminent?

FIELD: It is very difficult to say when and how North Korea will act except that we know that often times their provocations are time for maximum exposure. What we're hearing from officials here in Seoul is their suggestion that it could come this month, that's because of several high profile political events happening inside of North Korea including an important day on their calendar, the celebration of the founder's birthday. South Koreans officials were closely watching North Korea suggest that that could be an opportunity for North Korea to conduct either another missile launch or another nuclear test, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Alright. We will keep our eyes on that. Alexandra Field reporting live from Seoul. Thanks so much.

Heading back to the mid-east now, we've learned that coalition and Syrian opposition forces teamed up Saturday night to repel an ISIS attack on their joint military base near the Jordanian border. U.S. officials say 20 to 30 ISIS operatives tried to storm the base with a car bomb followed by a ground assault with fighters wearing suicide vests. We're told the vehicle and all the attackers were destroyed fortunately with no coalition casualties.

ROMANS: Tragically, one U.S. casualty to tell you about it in Afghanistan, an Army special operations soldier killed late Saturday during a counter terror operation with Afghan forces against a local branch of ISIS. The identity of the fallen soldier, the fallen American has not been released. There are 8,400 U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. This is the first American combat death there this year.

The death toll from two bloody Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt rising to 49, with ISIS claiming responsibility for both deadly attacks. The terrorist group identifying the bombers as Egyptian nationals and threatening more violence to come. The targeting of two Coptic churches coming on one of the most important days on the Christian calendar and as Holy Week gets underway for Christians. Let's go live to Tanta, north of Cairo. I want to bring on CNN's Ian Lee. Good morning Ian.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Christine. And you can see there is the extra security here today at this Coptic church different from what was the scene yesterday. Talking to witnesses

[04:10:00] They said there was a lack security at this church which allowed that bomb to be placed (ph) inside. At least 2,000 people were crammed in there for Palm Sunday service. People said when it exploded -- one eyewitness recounted how he just saw fire. He saw ash. He saw smoke, body parts everywhere and his friends.

His friend was there in front of him. He tried to get him to a hospital but he just wasn't able to make it. He showed us the shirt he was holding that had blood stained all over it. We know ISIS claimed responsibility and this is a series of increased attacks. So we've seen by ISIS against the Christian community here in Egypt going back to December where they attacked the cathedral in Cairo. ISIS says this is just the beginning and that they are planning more attacks.

The president has come out and declared a three-month state of an emergency. That gives the police and army extra powers to make arrests, to conduct searches and hold people without charges. The president saying that these people will be held accountable, but today, there are a lot of people in this Christian community wondering why security hasn't been stepped up because of these threats. They're wanting answers and they want justice, Christine.

ROMANS: And wondering if security will be stepped up in the days ahead as the Holy Week gets underway. Thank you so much Ian Lee in Tanta, north of Cairo and Egypt. Thanks Ian.

SANCHEZ: One of the most controversial stories of the past week and perhaps revealing about the inner workings of the White House -- the inner workings -- rather the in-fighting that's threatening to derail Donald Trump's agenda. Here's a direct message of two of his top aides. We'll break it down next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Good morning. The Trump administration drafting an executive order to investigate how certain imports affect the U.S. trade deficit. The goal, to find out if unfair dumping of goods is lowering prices and hurting U.S. competition. If the results show that is happening, administration officials say it could lead to tariffs on certain imports. The investigation could target things like steel, aluminum, household goods and appliances.

The Obama administration slapped several tariffs on Chinese steel, the last of those imposed last summer and raised the tax on importing the metal to 500 percent. Tariffs are a serous possibility. A White House official warns that the investigation could result in no action on imports regardless. It marks President Trump's latest attempt to follow through on his campaign pledge to go after companies that -- countries rather to take advantage of U.S. trade policies.

SANCHEZ: A new week and new hope for peace in the White House following truce talks this weekend at Mar-a-Lago. The two combatants, President Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his own son-in- law, Jared Kushner. The two top White House advisers are in the grips of a deepening rift that the president has ordered them to work out. Mr. Trump telling associates if their relationship doesn't improve fast, he will take action. Things are so bad between Kushner and Bannon, they were ordered to attend a meeting on Friday with the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. The president reportedly telling them "we got to work this out." A kind of battle to keep an eye on as we move forward. ROMANS: I'll say, two very different people and very close to the

president. Over the National Security Council, the revolving door continues to spin. Top deputy K.T. McFarland who witnessed the ouster of retired General Mike Flynn and current the arrival of current national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, is said to become the U.S. ambassador to Singapore. McFarland says she will stay on at NSC until she is confirmed by the Senate. A senior administration official telling CNN that appears to still be months away.

SANCHEZ: And this morning, Neil Gorsuch is set to be sworn in as the 101st Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He's going to take two oaths of office. Chief Justice Roberts will administer the constitutional oath in a private ceremony at 9:00 a.m. and then Justice Anthony Kennedy will administer the judicial oath at a public ceremony at the White House Rose Garden at about 11:00.

It's going to be symbolic moment for both men. Gorsuch actually clerked for Justice Kennedy and it's also the first time that a former clerk is going to take the bench with his former boss. Gorsuch was confirmed Friday mostly along party lines after Republicans leaders made a historic decision to go nuclear, changing senate rules to get him confirmed by a simple majority vote and ending the filibuster.

ROMANS: It's such a incredibly (INAUDIBLE) time in this business, in the news business.

SANCHEZ: So many stories to keep up with

ROMANS: Because that and any other administration would be the most important pieces of the top story, but there's just so much going on. Alright, the sexual harassment claims against Bill O'Reilly headed for a formal investigation, details next.


ROMANS: The parent company of Fox News is said to be launching an investigations into a sexual harassment claims against the network's top rated host, Bill O'Reilly. A lawyer for one of O'Reilly's accusers says 21st Century Fox promised to launch a probe after she and client, Wendy Walsh called the company hotline. Walsh was a repeat guest on O'Reilly's show and says he broke a promise to get her a job at Fox News after she rejected his advances. Walsh has not sued O'Reilly or sought a settlement.

SANCHEZ: Delta Airlines is still hoping to get back to normal today after days of cancelled flights. The nation's number two airline scrubbing (ph) some 3,400 flights after powerful storms hit Delta's main hub in Atlanta during the middle of last week.

Thousands of passengers have been stranded during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. Still, Delta is warning that more cancellations are possible as operation s normalize. I almost missed being here with you Christine because of early cancellations.

ROMANS: Really? Delta.

SANCHEZ: I had three cancellations in five days.

ROMANS: Unbelievable. Alright, officials trying to figure out who hacked every single one of the tornado warning sirens in Dallas setting off this sound for a full 95 minutes. Now that's irritating. A (INAUDIBLE) spokeswoman says the hacker had physical access to the hub connection all the sirens. The noise scared many Dallas residents who has called to 911 jammed the system and delayed help for people with real emergencies. Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings has promised the city will identify and prosecute those responsible.

SANCHEZ: Well just when it looked like Sergio Garcia was about to make a mess of another major championship, the pride of Spain re-wrote the script in golf's biggest stage. Garcia was unraveling on the back nine and then he drained this eagle putt at 15 to tie Justin Rose for the lead. The two (INAUDIBLE) and Ryder Cup teammates finished tied after 18 holes, and on the first playoff hole, all he needed to do is two-putt but he finished it off in style. With (INAUDIBLE) his major on, get this, his 74th try.

[04:25:05] Sergio admits he was getting tired of being called the best player to never win a major. And after putting on that fancy green jacket, he says he now could live with being the best player to only ever win one major.

ROMANS: What an incredible race those two guys on the last few holes. I mean, and they were so -- I mean, obviously they're friends but they were so cool and the competition is amazing.

SANCHEZ: You see the relief on his face too and the crowd was anticipating as well. Great moment there.

ROMANS: Alright, 25 minutes past the hour. Major shifts in the geopolitical landscape after the U.S. strikes to send missile into Syria, what is the next move for the White House? Will Russia dial back at support of Assad, and is Pyongyang taking notice with an American aircraft carrier on the way?


SANCHEZ: We're hearing conflicting message from top officials as the White House plots what to do next in Syria and now the Secretary of State has harsh, harsh words for Russia just days before his trip to Moscow.

[04:30:08] ROMANS: And an American show of force headed toward the Korean Peninsula. Will it embolden Pyongyang or reduce provocation --