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Trump Officials Sending Mixed Messages on Syria; U.S. Investigates Possible Russia Role in Chemical Attack; North Korea: U.S. Strikes in Syria Justify Missile Tests; Power Struggle Inside the West Wing. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 06:00   ET



NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We called out Russia because we needed to. How can they, with a straight face, cover for Assad?

[05:58:43] REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our priority is, first, the defeat of ISIS. We are hopeful that we can work with Russia.

HALEY: We don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The strategy he seems to be outlining is based on assumptions that aren't going to work.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think Assad is telling Trump "F" you.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: We don't want a president being able to start a war whenever they want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All options are being explored when it comes to countering the nuclear threat.

TILLERSON: They're working their way towards an intercontinental ballistic missile.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are watching NEW DAY. It's Monday, April 10, 6 a.m. here in New York.

The Trump administration blasting Russia for backing Bashar al-Assad as the U.S. investigates whether Russia played a role in last week's deadly Syrian chemical attack. President Trump's top officials sending some mixed messages about what the U.S. intends to do next.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Are we seeing another message getting ready to be sent? The U.S. Navy moving an aircraft carrier-led strike group near the Korean Peninsula, amid escalating tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Now, these moves set the table for a tense affair with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads to Moscow tomorrow.

This is a critical day of foreign policy challenges, this day 81 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with Joe Johns live at the White House.

Good morning, Joe.


Tough talk for sure, but the strategy still isn't clear. The administration seemingly sending mixed messages. One step forward, two steps back, on the issue of regime change in Syria after that Friday night bombing run that sent the message this president is not afraid to use force.


TILLERSON: Every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer in to some level of responsibility.

JOHNS (voice-over): Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talking tough about Russia's role in last week's Syrian chemical attack on the eve of his first diplomatic trip to Moscow.

TILLERSON: Regardless of whether Russia was complicit here or whether they were simply incompetent, or whether they got outwitted by the Bashar al-Assad regime, clearly, they have failed in their commitment to the international community.

JOHNS: Slamming the Kremlin for allowing Syria to house chemical weapons, despite a past agreement to ensure that Assad's stockpile was destroyed.

HALEY: How can they, with a straight face, cover for Assad? There's a lot of answers that need to come from Russia.

JOHNS: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and national security advisor H.R. McMaster echoing Tillerson's criticism and keeping the door open for imposing additional sanctions on both Russia and Iran due to their support for Assad.

HALEY: I don't think anything is off the table at this point.

JOHNS: But the administration's top officials sending conflicting messages about the future of the Syrian dictator. Tillerson emphasizing that America's first priority is the fight against ISIS, not toppling Assad.

TILLERSON: It is through that political process that we believe the Syrian people will ultimately be able to decide the fate of Bashar al- Assad. JOHNS: As Ambassador Haley insists that regime change is a primary


HALEY: There is not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.

JOHNS: An extraordinary reversal from positions articulated just last week, and a discrepancy that has not gone unnoticed by Tillerson's critics.

RUBIO: I think that the strategy he seems to be outlining is based on assumptions that aren't going to work. There is no such thing as Assad, yes, but ISIS, no.

JOHNS: This as the president also sends an aggressive message to North Korea just days after Kim Jong-un tested another ballistic missile. Sending a U.S.-aircraft-carrier-led strike group toward the Korean Peninsula.

LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, it's prudent to do it, isn't it? North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior. This is a -- this is a rogue regime that is now a nuclear-capable regime. And President Xi and President Trump agreed that that is unacceptable.


JOHNS: Not to be overlooked this morning, the joint operation command for Syria that includes Russia and Iran putting out a harshly worded statement warning the United States against crossing red lines and indicating they will support Syria without any consideration of reaction or consequences -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. Thanks so much for the latest there.

The Pentagon is investigating whether Russia was involved in any way in last week's horrific chemical attack in Syria. Meanwhile, the U.S. military deploying more ships to the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against North Korea's recent provocations.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more. What's the latest from there, Barbara?


You'll remember President Trump has said many times he didn't want to be visible about the use of military force on what was going to signal by using the military. In both cases now, very visible messaging in Syria.

That airfield that the U.S. struck back up and running now, because the U.S. military had very clear orders. They were never aiming at destroying the airfield, but just basically sending the message, heavy price to pay if you use chemical weapons again. But Assad's bombing continues over the last several days, dropping

conventional weapons. That airfield back up and running. So a message, but a very limited one.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley talking about regime change. A message, but no strategy to get Assad out of there.

In North Korea, one of the reasons they sent the aircraft group off the peninsula was out of concern over what Kim Jong-un might think about all this messaging with the attack in Syria. So they have again very visibly put ships out there. A U.S. missile defense now just offshore North Korea. The message sent, but a big question about what the world is really hearing here -- Chris.

CUOMO: Barbara, appreciate it.

That show of force off the Korean Peninsula a clear sign of at least escalating tensions with the North. Pyongyang says the U.S. strikes in Syria justify their efforts to bolster a nuclear arsenal.

CNN's Will Ripley live in North Korea with more. Interesting spin. They're saying, "We're not getting a deterrent message. We're getting a message to go even further."

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. If the attempts by the Trump administration have North Korea stopped developing nuclear weapons, in fact, it's having the opposite effect, according to North Korean officials that I'm speaking with here in Pyongyang.

We were with officials when news came in about that carrier strike group. And they said it's yet another provocative act on the part of the United States. And they say it will only cause their country to speed up its testing of nuclear weapons and its testing of missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has already launched more missiles than his father and his grandfather combined. And analysts say, if you look at the latest satellite imagery, this country could be ready to push the button on its sixth nuclear test at just about any time.

North Koreans say, even if they face punishment from China for that in the form of higher sanctions, they're willing to accept that. They say they would tighten their belts, go without electricity, and cut every other program before they cut their nuclear missile programs, because Chris and Alisyn, they say these weapons of mass destruction are the key to their nation's survival.

CAMEROTA: Will Ripley in North Korea for us today. Thank you very much for all of that reporting. We have a lot to discuss. Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analysts David Gregory, David Drucker and April Ryan. April is the author of "At Mama's Knee." Great to see all of you this morning.

David, let's talk about Syria. Let's start -- let's start there. Virtually one day after the U.S. launched its missile strike, Bashar al-Assad's military was back at it, bombing their own people. So what was the point of U.S.'s -- the action? DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let's find out over time

whether there was a point. And here's what we don't know. We don't know yet if this was a one-off show of strength by President Trump, in -- in an effort to show the Russians and Bashar al-Assad that chemical weapons is a red line, but that everything else is fine.

CAMEROTA: Right. Barrel bombs OK. Chemical weapons, not OK.

DRUCKER: Right. If you're a victim of a barrel bomb, that's no consolation. But we don't know, and one of the reasons we don't know is because his administration is still talking out of both sides of his mouth. If you listen to Secretary Tillerson, he is being tough with the Russians. And that is a notable change in posture, something that I know a lot of Republicans, not to mention Democrats are going to welcome from President Trump on Capitol Hill, and they told me so on Friday.

But then we listen to Ambassador Haley. And she says that there can actually be no solution to Syria without the removal of Assad from power. And if you listen to the critics of the administration who were happy with what they saw last week, but believe there needs to be more, they don't believe you can actually solve the ISIS problem if you don't get rid of Assad, because they believe he radicalizes people and sends them into the arms of ISIS, because ISIS opposes Assad.

And so I think it's now incumbent upon the president to establish what his foreign policy is and to put together a strategy in which he also leads.

And this is something that was interesting about his statement the other night. He couched his actions not just in security terms, but moral terms. But if this is going to be a strategy, and if he's going to lead, he's going to have to talk to the American people more about that. And it's something that he has been hesitant to do in many respects.

CUOMO: You've got policy; you've got politics. The letter, David Gregory, that the president sent over to Congress, I don't think sets out the appropriate legal justification to that action. But Congress is going to have to decide whether or not it wants to own these constitutional duties or not. It's one thing. How much of what we're seeing with Haley versus Tillerson and silence from Trump is a part of all this chaos that's described within the White House about competing factions.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I've been thinking about this, Chris, over the weekend. And I am a little bit more positive toward the administration on this. I don't see this as talking out of both sides of their mouth. I think they're saying something rather consistent, which is we set out a goal of sending a political message that the use of chemical weapons is not OK. That's moral leadership on the world stage. It's an important statement.

And they gave themselves room to ramp up other strikes as well. Maybe targeting the Syrian air force. More particularly, if and as has happened, the attacks continue on civilians there. And yet, they're also saying, "Look, we agree with the Obama

administration. We want Assad gone." But they're spelling out exactly how they're going to do that. They're not coming in guns blazing and saying, "We're going to decapitate the leadership. We're going to force Assad out; we're going to commit troops or anything like that." They're giving themselves room and retaining some unpredictability.

Now, is there a little bit of chaos at work there? Is it all planned out? Probably not. But it's still measured enough, and you have a combination of a president who likes some element of surprise, clearly.

And then you have guys like McMaster, Haley, Tillerson, all of whom I thought came off very well yesterday. And I was actually impressed to see the White House deploy some pretty strong foreign policy and national security voices on the Sunday programs to begin to lay out where they are strategically at this point.

CAMEROTA: April...

[06:10:15] CUOMO: You like surprise, but not so much surprise that they didn't tell Russia that they were going to drop bombs. That kind of surprise is OK.

CAMEROTA: Let's listen to some of the voices and their various messages from the Sunday shows. Listen to this.


HALEY: There's not any sort of option where political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.

TILLERSON: We were asking and calling on Bashar al-Assad to cease the use of these weapons. Other than that, there is no change to our military posture.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And he will act against President Assad if he goes against civilians, no matter what weapon he uses?

MCMASTER: The president will make whatever decision he thinks is in the best interests of the American people.


CAMEROTA: April, how do you parse all that?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one, again, it's very interesting to see the evolution from Tuesday when the president found out about the -- the chemical attack on the people of Syria.

But the next question is how will this president remove Bashar al- Assad? We are a nation that assassinates leaders. But how will this take place? This presidents has already set the stage for going in, talking about security. And as David said, you know, this is a moral issue, but it is also a security issue. How do you do that and then also not deal with a war with Russia and Iran? So that still remains to be seen, but it's a very intense issue right now.

GREGORY: The big issue is Russia right now. Because I mean, they are really in a showdown, and it is notable that, while the president's not doing it, Nikki Haley's doing it. Tillerson did it, being very critical of Russia.

How is it Russia didn't know, or was it complicit in those chemical weapons both being there when they were supposed to be working with the U.S. to get them out and -- and the fact that he was going to use them again?

This is now a diplomatic showdown with Russia that begins this week with Tillerson meeting over there backed by more force. So what Obama wouldn't do, Trump is willing to do. We see how that changes with Putin.

DRUCKER: And I think we need to be prepared to go all the way with Moscow because there's no way they weren't aware of what Syria was doing. They are the only reason Assad is still in power. They have been propping him up.

And the whole point they've made from the very beginning in moving in Syria, it's not just to establish a beach head in the Middle East and undermine U.S. influence there, but it's to show the world over the past four or five years, Washington might lose interest and go home. We stick, no matter how bad our allies are.

CAMEROTA: What does that mean, go all the way with Moscow? What do you want Tillerson to do?

DRUCKER: Well, in other words, we have to be prepared for the fact that Putin is not going to blink. And it doesn't mean we have to be prepared to do something militarily. And I think that, whether it's about ramping up sanctions or being more critical of what Russia is doing outside of the Middle East with Ukraine and things of that matter. We need to be prepared for the fact that they might not just go, "Oh, well, now that we have a tough guy in the White House, we're going to start playing nice."

CUOMO: Right.

DRUCKER: Putin knows how to play this game.

CUOMO: We know -- we know that they're not going to do that, April. I mean, they -- you know, they came out very clearly. They questioned the sourcing of the attack. They questioned what was done with the attack. They questioned what the United States did. You know what -- how Russia's going to play this.

What I don't get -- please give us some insight into this. This sounds like a very obvious situation. You can't not think Assad is being bad for his own people. The question is what do you want to do about it? And that seems to be the difficulty in these mixed messages from the White House. They know they can't say anything but the obvious thing about Assad. They just don't want to do anything about it, because you can't go one and done and have regime change. RYAN: Chris, this is the issue. The devil is in the details. You

have to really look at how Tillerson will go into this meeting this week with his counterparts in Russia and ask, you know, you told -- tell Russia, you know, you said to President Obama that there were no chemical weapons and now what is going on?

So you start from that base and ramp up. And now the question is what will it look like once Tillerson leaves with this conversation, with these counterparts in Russia? Because right now, again, the situation is tense and if, indeed, there is an effort to remove Bashar al-Assad from Syria, Russia has already said it's not going to happen. There is a concern of war with the United States and Russia if this happens over Bashar al-Assad.

GREGORY: The other -- the other thing to look at here is the more limited goal -- and it's still a big goal -- of making sure that Assad doesn't use chemical weapons again. And I think what goes along with that is do you have more protection of certain Syrian civilians and you have the creation of safe zones, something that was talked about on the campaign trail Hillary Clinton was for and Trump has spoken positively about.

So do you have that kind of work being done? Do you have a different policy from this administration with regard to Syrian refugees coming to the United States? All of that, I think, is that first stage that we can look to be discovered (ph).

CUOMO: If you have safe zones, you have boots on the ground. We just lost another special operator in Afghanistan. Are you willing to make that sacrifice? And...

CAMEROTA: Hold that thought. OK, we...

CUOMO: That was a perfect tease, though.

CAMEROTA: That was a very good tease.

DRUCKER: I liked it.

CAMEROTA: We have more questions for all of you. There is this reported rift in the White House. Chief strategist Steve Bannon is apparently butting heads with Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner. Can they coexist? What is the president saying about this feud? All of that is next.


CUOMO: All right. So what do you think of this? White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, they're supposedly in a power struggle if you want to believe the reporting that's coming out about the West Wing.

The commander in chief apparently has had enough, and he's looked at both of them and said, "Boys, you work this out."

All right. Let's discuss this now with David Drucker, David Gregory and joining the panel, Jen Jacobs, national political reporter for Bloomberg Politics.

Ms. Jacobs, what do you know about this?

[06:20:03] JEN JACOBS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Well, we do know that they were asked to iron out their disagreements. And we do know that, you know, H.R. McMaster went on the Sunday shows this weekend and was trying to minimize the significance of the fact that he moved Steve Bannon from his role on the National Security Council.

So you've got McMaster, a key advisor to the president, saying, "Listen, he's still in a significant role. Don't read too much into this particular change." He's still going to be providing the president with advice on a whole range of issues. So you've got people coming out in defense of Steve Bannon. You've got people saying that they're willing to work out their differences.

I mean, look, if the president loses faith in either -- in any of his people in his inner circle, we will definitely know about it. This is a young administration. We've already seen him shift people out of roles. Katie Walsh moved out of her role as the first deputy chief of staff. We've seen, you know, K.T. McFarland now will be moving off the National Security Council. So we're seeing some shifting. But Bannon is still in place. What I'm being told is that they are definitely planning on working things out. They have a lot of respect for each other. So until we see the president take some action, expect them to stay in place.

CAMEROTA: David Drucker, these two have totally different world views, though. Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, from everything we know, have -- both have the president's ear and they have different world views, so how are they going to close...

DRUCKER: Stop and think about that for a minute, Alisyn. You have a Republican president, and who is nominally a Republican president, but who's fighting over him? You have liberal New York Democrats on the one hand, and you have right-wing -- and I don't mean that pejoratively -- nationalists on the other hand. None of whom who have any interest in furthering the goals, generally speaking, of the Republican Party. They do have an interest, and they do care about President Trump.

But it creates a very interesting dynamic from a policy perspective, especially when you look at what the president did in Syria, which is 180 degrees away from a Steve Bannon nationalist America foreign policy first line of thinking.

And that's why, when we're trying to figure out who is going to win the this intra-family duel here in the White House, it actually matters a lot. A lot of times these power centers are about just power. Is the chief of staff going to survive? Or is, you know, the chief political adviser going to have the president's ear?

But here it really matters, because if Bannon sticks around, he has been Trump's populist kid. He has been the voice, through Trump, on immigration and foreign policy and economic policy. Or is somebody like Gary Cohn going to survive? More of a traditional, you know, American thinker when it comes to policies, both economic and otherwise. So this is both fascinating and very significant.

CUOMO: If it's intra-family, David Gregory, Bannon loses, because he ain't family. But what do you make of this? How much stock do you put in it? Other than the obvious, which is confirmation, once again, boy, does this White House leak?

GREGORY: Yes, exactly, right. Despite the disdain for the news media, I love the image of people just, you know, lined up at a telephone, waiting to call their favorite reporter to leak about what's going on.

Look, all these -- White Houses have this kind of drama and confrontation and tension about whose views hold the most sway. You go back to the Bush 43 White House. The tension between Rumsfeld and Cheney versus Powell in the State Department. How Condi Rice, his national security advisor was able to assert herself. And President Bush's own instincts and his -- and his father's, you know, group of thinkers, as well.

You know, that tension was very much in play. And that was dangerous, ultimately, because it undermined the interagency process. It undermined the information flow that led to some poor decision making at times. Here, family is going to win. Here it's interesting, because Trump apparently likes everybody to play off of each other.

And he's got different people who represent different -- different aspects of his own impulses. You know, Bannon was a guy who helped him appeal to a fringe populist aspect of conservatism. Around which he would probably like to define the Republican Party. Kushner kind of keeps him in control. He trusts him, and he can help manage some of the unpredictability.

So, you know, this tension is going to go on. It's playing out very publicly. In the end, I think family wins, but in the end, I also think Trump wants to try to keep this balance. An unpredictable balance. I think Trump likes being seen as unpredictable. I think that he thinks it makes him effective.

CAMEROTA: Jennifer, we have a pretty fascinating window into Steve Bannon's world view. There is this book that he is apparently a devotee of. It's called "The Fourth Turning." It's by a guy named Neil Howard and another man, William Strauss. And it basically talks about how America cycles in the 80-year era, and it goes from sort of great success to catastrophe. Great success.

And if you believe this, we're headed for catastrophe. Here's an excerpt.

"The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, one commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II. The risk of catastrophe will be high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule."

[06:25:17] Well, that's a dark image of what's about to befall us. But, you know, apparently, Steve Bannon has read this three times, and he is a student of this.

JACOBS: Yes. Interesting, right? So it's the idea that winter is coming and that the administration needs to do something about it. Something to ward this off. And so it's not the idea that this is inevitable that something horrible is going to befall the country. It -- you know, it's the idea you can do something to waylay it by taking steps. Bannon has talked about, you know, exactly doing exactly that.

It's building the southern border wall. It's ramping up the fight against ISIS. It's -- you know, it's taking steps against North Korea. And they would -- the administration would argue that's exactly what they're doing, that this is not inevitable. That they can do something to ward off, you know, the next cycle of -- of, you know, doom. Apparently, that might be fulfilling (ph) the country.

GREGORY: Can I just say I think that part of Bannon's views are what's sowed this kind of thinking. That his views and the actions he proposes to take and would urge the president to take further along a scenario where that kind of crack-up is possible. I don't think left to its own, America is headed in that direction.

DRUCKER: And you know, what -- what David said is so important. Because if you look back at these turning points that the country has had, why did we survive them? Because we had unifying political figures that really brought the country together. Even throughout all the tumult, I mean, Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR from the Great Depression, Ronald Reagan through the Cold War.

So you want to get over this stuff. Being the kind of president that Trump has been from a stylistic point of view is not the way to go.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.

CUOMO: You heard the reports coming out of Egypt. A bloody Palm Sunday there. Two churches bombed by terrorists. Dozens killed. More violence threatened. This is a big week for Christians. It's Holy Week leading up to Easter. We're going to take you live to the scene next.