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Trump Officials Sending Mixed Signals on Syria; Trump Sends Aircraft Strike Group to Korean Peninsula; Trump to Bannon & Kushner: Work This Out; Trump Defends Missile Strike. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CUOMO: What made this one OK?

[07:00:03] HERTLING: Well, by the wording that the president sent over, saying that this was in the interests of national security. It was an attack against a country that was using chemical weapons. There are conventions against that. Worldwide conventions that.

CUOMO: None that allow the United States to police them unilaterally.

HERTLING: That's true. But it does say every country is responsible for ensuring that this never happens again. That's my wording of the Constitution that occurred in 1925 after the devastating damage by chemical weapons in World War I. But all of that is consideration. And, by the way, there's also U.S. service members in Syria right now that could be affected potentially by a chemical attack.

CUOMO: General, appreciate it, as always.

Counselor Toobin, value added.

Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN NEWSROOM is next. For our U.S. viewers, there are big developments. NEW DAY has them for you. Let's get after it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer to the responsibility.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA): The president's action was very important, but now we better follow it up.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you're an adversary of the United States and you don't worry about Trump, then you're crazy.

TILLERSON: The Syrian people will ultimately decide the fate of Bashar al-Assad.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Regime change is something that we think is going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need a comprehensive strategy now. We have not heard that articulated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Korea is a rogue regime that is now a nuclear-capable regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot allow North Korea to become a nuclear super power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. The Trump administration now with a very different talk about Russia's support for Syria's brutal dictator, as investigators are trying to determine whether the Kremlin was involved in last week's chemical attack.

The president's top officials sending mixed messages about the top priority. Are they now going to get rid of Assad, or are they going to defeat ISIS?

CAMEROTA: This comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads to Moscow tomorrow. And the U.S. is sending an aircraft carrier strike force to the Korean Peninsula amid risings tension there over Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions.

There are critical foreign policy challenges on this, day 81 of Donald Trump's presidency. Let's begin our coverage with Joe Johns, live at the White House.

Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

The administration seemingly advancing a little bit and retreating a little bit on the issue of regime change in Syria after that bombing strike on Friday night that was largely symbolic. But it did at least send a message that this president is not afraid to use force.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: 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.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: 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 concern.

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.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: 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? I mean, North Korea has been engaged with -- 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And North Korea has also weighed in on the U.S. missile strike in Syria, calling it an act of unforgivable aggression and saying it proves the country's decision to strengthen its military was the right choice.

CUOMO: Joe Johns, appreciate it. The bombing in Syria by the United States is being explained as an acceptable message to a rogue regime. Now a carrier group is on its way to the Korean Peninsula. Could another message be sent?

CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon with details -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.

Not just a message, but a very visible message using the United States military. This was a president who had said repeatedly he didn't want to signal his military moves. Now finding the value of being visible, perhaps. That carrier group on the way to -- off the coast of North Korea with missile defense capability. Worried that the North Koreans may now engage in additional provocations, especially because they've seen the message that was sent in Syria that this president is willing to use military force.

Back in Syria, very visible. That air base that the U.S. struck last week now up and running again, but the U.S. military says that's OK. They weren't out to destroy it. They were simply out to send the president's message they're using chemical weapons is unacceptable.

And now the United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, also very visibly out there as we've talked about, talking about regime change.

But the unknown. All these other countries out there listening to these messages. How will Russia, Iran and, indeed, North Korea react to all of this very visible messaging -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Barbara, thank you very much.

Well, Russia lashing out at the U.S. for launching those strikes in Syria. The Kremlin says it shows that President Trump's refusal to cooperate with them on Syria. So what will happen when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Russia tomorrow?

CNN's Paula Newton is live in Moscow. What's the situation there, Paula?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're getting ready for the meeting. A point of controversy now, there was supposed to be some type of a meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin. It wasn't on the schedule, per se, but the State Department had given an indication it would happen.

Now the Kremlin saying that won't happen. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, saying look, there was never one officially on the agenda. If something changes, he'll let you know. And, you know, for the White House, that will be a big change. Rex Tillerson coming into this country. He's someone who's gotten an award from the Kremlin for friendship to Russia. Vladimir Putin and Rex Tillerson would get beyond the pleasantries very quickly and cut right to the bottom line.

And what is that bottom line? For Russia, the United States wants to know, are you going to stick with Assad, no matter what, or can we bring you to the table to try and ease Syria away from Assad and start some kind of a political process together to continue to fights ISIS and, obviously, try and get someone else, perhaps someone still pro- Russian and pro-Iranian, but someone else to lead in Syria.

And again, Chris, many here saying, look, it will be important and watch for this as to whether or not Vladimir Putin agrees to meet with Rex Tillerson on Wednesday. CUOMO: True. That would be a big signal. Paula Newton, thank you

very much. Let's discuss the goings on in the White House with Anthony Scaramucci, informal advisor to the president, former member of the Trump transition team. Good to see you.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, INFORMAL ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Good to be back.

CUOMO: So there are two stories here. There's the policy set of stories and there are the political ones. What do you make of the political intrigue that the president has said to his son-in-law and top adviser, Steve Bannon: "You boys learn to get along." One thing it says for sure is boy, is that White House is leaking, Anthony. But how big a deal?

SCARAMUCCI: You sounded like your father, actually, when you just said that. Right? So did he do that with you and Andrew from time to time?

CUOMO: He never said it. He used sign language.

SCARAMUCCI: He used sign language? With a wooden spoon, probably. Right, exactly. So...

CUOMO: You think it's going on?

SCARAMUCCI: Here is what I think. You get very strong personalities. I know Steve and Jared very well. Worked very closely with them in the campaign. They were very tight inside the campaign and very tight inside the transition.

And so my guess is that, whatever rubbings are going on right now are classical to sports teams, political teams, organizations like Sky Bridge, where you've got strong personalities who are trying to achieve a lot, and they may be rubbing into each other a little bit.

And so the president is a great leader. One thing you have to do sometimes when you're running a company or running an organization like the West Wing is give everybody a chance to cool out a little bit and put aside their differences, whatever they may be, and focus on the team. And so for me, I predict that those guys will continue in the roles that they have, and they'll do very well. As it relates to Jared personally, I mean, I think he's like an Alexander Hamilton. He's a young man who has a tremendous amount of maturity about him.

[07:10:08] CUOMO: Just like his country. He's young, scrappy and hungry? What do you mean he's like Alexander Hamilton? He's nothing like Alexander Hamilton.

SCARAMUCCI: To you he isn't, but to me he is. I'll explain why. He's got the trust of the president. He's very, very thoughtful. He knows how to bring people in. If you read Chernow's book about Hamilton. That was Hamilton's great gift at a very young age. And so -- so Jared has that. I think the reason why the president has given him such a large portfolio is that Jared is very good at picking people. If you look at the cabinet picks, it was Priebus, Bannon, Kushner,

President Trump. And I think the cabinet is extraordinary.

CUOMO: We've discussed this a little bit. The reason I'm poking at you about it is because Jared is his son-in-law. He trusts him. He trusts family. I get that. But he's 35 years old. He's never been in politics. He's never done anything that even resembles what needs to get done in the West Wing of a White House. That's kind of the fix for the president, right, is that, yes, he trusts him and he's family.

But he has to know that this young man does not have the portfolio to go up against a Bannon or any of these minted political guys.

SCARAMUCCI: So again, you're poking me, I guess, but you're underestimating Jared a little bit. I mean, No. 1, when it was time to work with Steve Mnuchin and build the technical apparatus that we needed to raise money outside the traditional core Republican establishment, Jared was there to do that.

CUOMO: I'm sure he knows lots of rich people. That's different than political savvy.

SCARAMUCCI: Not rich people. That's $61 per donation during the campaign, setting up the apparatus to allow the president or the candidate at that time to have the rocket fuel to get to the presidency. He's an adaptive guy. He's a guy that has a lot of maturity.

I -- I think that the -- and I think president has often said this on the campaign trail, that you have to be careful between the types of experiences that you have. You know, he's been critical of some of our military officials and some of our State Department officials who have a tremendous amount of experience. And because of that experience, they've been boxed in or they've taken a decision- making tree that goes in the wrong way, Chris.

So what I like about Jared, and you can disagree with me, that's OK, is that he has a sense of perspective and judgment on people. And I think to be a great leader, you've got to put the right people in the right places around you to make things work. They've done that.

CUOMO: Certainly can be helpful. We'll see how it plays out. Now, here's one thing that we just learned. Bombing bad guys is good for business when you're in politics. And we see a pop in the president's poll numbers. CBS is putting out some numbers. I think they have him at 57 percent of American people approving of that. Not a surprise. Assad is a known bad guy. Americans uniquely drawn to might as right. Job approval up to 43 percent. Disapproval still very high, especially for this point in his presidency, 49.

You look at the cross tabs to those numbers, independents moving toward the president. These are all good signs. But is this a sustainable model for the president? Getting popularity through a show of strength like this? They seem very ambivalent about what they just did in Syria.

SCARAMUCCI: See, I see it a little differently.

CUOMO: How so?

SCARAMUCCI: I actually think that the American people love the president. They want to see him do very well. I even think the liberals are looking forward to the tax cut and the restructuring of the tax code. It's simplification. So I think what's happening right now is that he's 81 days into it, and people are sore at some of the things that are going on. And so that's why you don't have the approval rating over 50 percent right now.

Had they got the health care bill passed, Chris, plus the Assad situation, I think he'd be well over 50 percent. And so what I would say to all of that is that he's an adaptive guy and he's a great execution-oriented creative manager.

My guess is that the health care will materialize. The tax reform will materialize. And all of a sudden, you'll soon see his full plan in place, and those approval numbers will shoot up into the mid-50s.

CUOMO: The suggestion is, if he gets things done, his numbers will be good. Health care didn't go that way. Syria, this first wave went the right way according to the American people. But it's all about what happens next. What do you do now? Because you have this. We sent a message not to use chemicals on people.

There are lots of ways to kill people. And Assad is really involved in many of them. What's the difference between whether he's dropping chlorine or saran or just a huge bomb on a group of innocents and killing them? How do you not act the next time he does that?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, listen, the atrocities are horrific. You guys were mentioning, in the last segment, dating back to World War I. There's something about chemical warfare that we decided 100 plus years ago is just completely off the table.

Now, listen, we had a Civil War here. The Syrians are seven years into their civil war. I don't think the president wants to engage in the internal struggle of the Syrian people, but I think what he wants to do is send a message to moral people around the world that certain things are just not going to be tolerated. And so I think he did the right thing.

We talked about that last week. You mentioned the carrier strike force heading to the Korean Peninsula. My guess is the president is also sending a message there. You and I both know that the North Koreans have been a threat to the United States for 15 to 20 years.

I can remember Vice President Al Gore in 2004 in a private meeting talking about the risk of North Korea. And so we've sort of let it go, Chris. President Trump is not a person to let things go.

And if they get ballistic missile capability that can reach northern California on his watch, that would be devastating. Talk about approval ratings or disapproval ratings, how about American innocents harmed by a ridiculous homicidal dictator? CUOMO: But what are you willing -- do you think the president is

willing to do a preemptive strike on North Korea?

SCARAMUCCI: You know, that's really up to the president to decide. I honestly don't -- can't answer to that.

CUOMO: But you have to have an answer before you send the ships there, though, right? Because that's a provocation.

SCARAMUCCI: He is sending a signal of muscularity. He -- and resistance by America. I think what he's doing right now is probably right at the surgical intersection of the right thing.

Here is the message. If we had to strike first, is he the type of person that's capable of doing that? I believe that he is.

But I also believe that he probably had some terrific meetings with the president of China. And my guess is that a diplomatic solution is always the best solution. And so my guess is they're going to figure out something here to deescalate what's going on in North Korea.

CUOMO: Anthony Scaramucci. Appreciate it.

SCARAMUCCI: Thanks.

CUOMO: Always a pleasure. Alisyn.

SCARAMUCCI: He's poking at me.

CUOMO: Folks, I was testing him.

CAMEROTA: I know that. It is a poke-fest over there.

What's the next move in Syria? Democratic Senator Chris Coons has some advice for the president, and he joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:20:57] CAMEROTA: President Trump in a letter to Congress defending his decision to order missile strikes in Syria, while several of his top officials are giving mixed messages about the White House strategy moving forward on Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

TILLERSON: We are 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: He will act against President Assad if he goes against civilians, no matter what weapon he uses? GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The president will

make whatever decision he thinks is in the interests of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's discuss what's next with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Before we get to what's next, what to your mind did last week's missile strikes accomplish?

COONS: Well, I do think it was appropriate for there to be forceful and prompt action against Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons once again against his own people. We've just passed the sixth anniversary of this brutal war by Assad against his own people.

More than 400,000 Syrians have died, and millions have been turned into refugees either within their own country, the region or the rest of the world. But the next steps are going to be exceptionally difficult.

CAMEROTA: But before we get to that -- Senator -- hold on, hold on just one second, because I want you to clarify what you just said. So if Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, the U.S. will not stand for it, and the U.S. will strike. If Bashar al-Assad uses, say, barrel bombs on innocent civilians and children -- well, OK. If he must. And the U.S. will turn a blind eye?

COONS: Right, Alisyn. I disagree with that statement. It's because of the chemical weapons convention that many around the world condemned Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people. But I don't really see the difference. Dropping a barrel bomb on the school or a hospital or on a refugee camp, as he has done, is every bit as heinous as using chemical weapons.

Bashar al-Assad has used every single weapon of war. From Scud missiles to cluster bombs to poison gas to starvation as a tool of war to mass torture. He has done horrific and unspeakable things against his own people. And I'll remind you the Trump administration and its senior leadership as recently as two weeks ago were saying that we have to just accept Assad as the ongoing leader of Syria and let his own people work it out, because our preliminary focus needs to be ISIS.

CAMEROTA: Yes, yes.

COONS: The situation in Syria is complex and dangerous.

CAMEROTA: Indeed.

COONS: So a few simple points here if I might, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Go.

COONS: First, this is not the time to significantly cut our investment in diplomacy and development and humanitarian aid. Because navigating their way through the very complex crises in Syria and Iraq is going to be difficult and expensive. And if we're not prepared for a diplomatic solution and a development solution, once we retake the cities of Mosul and Raqqah, then we're simply going to repeat some of the mistakes of the past.

Second, if you're going into a big fight, bring some big friends. So continuing to close the gaps created with our vital allies in NATO and across Europe by President Trump's irresponsible statements as a candidate is urgent work to be done by members of Congress, by members of the administration and by our senior diplomats.

Last, President Trump needs to come to Congress and work with us to get an authorization for the use of military force so that we're doing our job under the Constitution and clarifying what we've approved going into in Syria. To do so requires a strategy. We need to hear a strategy.

It may get you a great bump in the polls. It may brush back Xi Jinping and the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. It may push back on Assad for a few days or weeks to launch a bunch of cruise missiles. But that's not the same thing as having a strategy. We need to work out a strategy and we need to do our job and authorize this use of force.

[07:25:08] CAMEROTA: OK, so let's talk about that. So what would you be willing to authorize? What is the next step that you would like to see in Syria?

COONS: Well first, we've got hundreds of Americans on the ground engaged in the fight against ISIS. I've been saying for years as have other members of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrats and Republicans, that we need an AUMF and a strategy against ISIS.

That's the war we're actively engaged in. We have thousands of Americans engaged in the fight against ISIS on the ground in Iraq. And I'll remind you, they're very exposed. As we take more action against Assad, his supporters, Iran and Russia, may well take action against Americans in the battlefield. I mean, does...

CAMEROTA: So given that, I mean...

COONS: The strategy for what we're doing take that into account.

CAMEROTA: So can Assad stay in that scenario?

COONS: First, I think Assad is a war criminal, and we need a path to getting him removed. But because we have allowed Russia to take a significant role in his defense, there is no path towards the removal of Assad without intense negotiation and clarity with Russia about what his intentions are.

So first, the Trump administration needs to make up its own mind. President Trump needs to decide how far is he willing to go to push Russia and Iran? At some point, international pressure will succeed in persuading Putin that clinging to Assad, defending Assad is not in strategic long-term best interests. But his immediate response to the strike has been to double down on Assad. And if we know anything about Putin, it's that he's a stubborn and exceptionally aggressive man.

So my hope is that Secretary of State Tillerson, who is meeting with the foreign minister of Russia in Moscow today is beginning that process of clarifying what our red lines are and what we're willing to do with Russia in terms of sanctions on Syria or in Russia and in terms of building an international coalition to ratchet up the pressure on Assad.

CAMEROTA: Before I let you go, there's one more. There's many health spots, geopolitical hot spots. One more real area of tension, and that, as you know, there's this U.S. aircraft carrier group. The USS Vinson heading towards the Korean Peninsula as we speak. What is the plan for North Korea?

COONS: Well, I think the major audience that Trump had in mind for his missile strike was sitting right next to him this weekend at Mar- a-Lago. President Xi Jinping of China was meeting with President Trump to talk about North Korea, and while it's important for China to take more ownership of the problem of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, that's going to take time. And sabre rattling against North Korea is probably not going to resolve that situation in the next couple of weeks.

Again, this is exactly the wrong time to significantly cut our investment in diplomacy.

CAMEROTA: OK. Senator Chris Coons, always nice to talk to you. Thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

COONS: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right. So with the president flexing America's military might in Syria and now Korea, is a Trump doctrine emerging? Dealing with global threats. We discuss, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)