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EARLY START

New Mixed Messaging On Trump's Syria Policy; Rex Tillerson Heads To Moscow; United Airlines Passenger Dragged Off Plane; North Korea Slams U.S. "Acts Of Aggression". Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 11, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:10] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Is President Trump redefining his red line on Syria? More mixed messaging from the White House leaving many wondering how far the U.S. is willing to go.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, tensions rising just hours ahead of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's high-stakes trip to Moscow. With Syria at the forefront, what message is he delivering to the Kremlin?

ROMANS: United Airlines facing a P.R. nightmare this morning after disturbing video emerges of this passenger being forcibly dragged from an overbooked airplane.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

SANCHEZ: Great to be here with you, Christine. I'm Boris Sanchez. It's Tuesday, April 11th, 5:30 a.m. in the East Coast.

And if you were expecting some clarity from the White House over their position on Syria we did not get it yesterday. The White House sowing new confusion this morning over President Trump's red line in that country.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer defending the military strikes that President Trump ordered against the Syrian military airfield, but taken literally, Spicer seemed to significantly lower the threshold for action by the Assad regime that would then trigger a U.S. military response. The administration is now saying never mind, Spicer's words should not be taken literally. CNN's Sara Murray has the latest from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Boris and Christine. Ever since President Trump ordered a military strike in Syria the question has been what comes next? Well yesterday, the White House offered more confusion than clarity on that question after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said this.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you can -- you will -- you will see a response from this president. That is unacceptable.

MURRAY: Now, Spicer made a reference to barrel bombs repeatedly yesterday in that briefing. Now if that were the new administration's red line -- if they were going to intervene any time there was a barrel bomb attack, that would be a significant shift in U.S. policy. But after that briefing administration officials began to walk it back, saying this is not a signal of a change in policy, an indication that administration officials are not necessarily on the same page when it comes to what's next in Syria.

I think one thing is clear. The administration wants to be careful about not drawing a red line that they're not willing to back up, and they want to stick to the president's previous comments that he wants to be unpredictable on military action. He does not want to forecast his next steps. One thing is clear though, this White House is not ruling out future intervention in Syria. Back to you guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, Sara Murray at the White House. Thanks, Sara.

Underway right now in Italy, a critical meeting of the foreign ministers from the G7 countries, including the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the missile strikes in Syria. Minutes after this meeting ends Tillerson boards a plane for Moscow where he will then meet with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

I want to go to international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. He is live in Lucca, Italy for us where that G7 meeting is taking place. And we know, Nic, a new meeting was added today -- a new meeting with key stakeholders in the Syria conflict. What happened there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. The idea is to sort of broaden the message and the strength of mandates that Sec. Tillerson will be given from all these different allies when he goes to Moscow and he has his meetings there. The G7 -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan -- added into that this morning, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, so that's a lot of countries. That perhaps explains why the meetings here have been overrunning. We've heard that Sec. Tillerson has cut short what was going to be a bilateral with the German foreign minister. That's been abbreviated from half an hour to about five minutes.

But what we understand the consensus emerging is that Sec. Tillerson will go to Moscow with the message that President Putin needs to step away from support of Bashar al-Assad, needs to support a ceasefire in Syria, and needs to help build political momentum for a transition away from Bashar al-Assad's leadership.

Now, we're hearing discussion here that this will be, perhaps, in the form of a window. That this is not an ultimatum directly to President Putin but a window of opportunity, so there's clearly a period of time being built in here. Quite what the final package of the message will look like is still not clear yet but that's what we understand so far, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson for us this morning at the G7 meeting. It used to be called the G8 meeting when Russia was invited, but Russia was disinvited after its foray into Ukraine. Thank you so much for that, Nic.

SANCHEZ: Joining us to discuss all of the political action, policy analyst Ellis Henican. He's the author of the "Trump's America" column for Metro papers. Ellis, we thank you --

ROMANS: Good morning.

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

SANCHEZ: -- for joining us so early this morning. We have to talk about these mixed messages from the White House. First, we had Nikki Haley saying that we needed to get Assad out of power in Syria. Then we had Rex Tillerson saying shortly before that that it should be up to the Syrian people. Then yesterday, we had this confusion over barrel bombs. Sean Spicer, yesterday, said that the president doesn't want to telegraph his position on Syria but isn't it the responsibility of the administration, not only to the American people but our allies around the world, to say these are the goals we have for the crisis in Syria? This is what we want to see.

[05:35:20] HENICAN: Boris, are you asking me what is the Trump doctrine?

SANCHEZ: Yes.

HENICAN: Is that what that boils down to?

SANCHEZ: Why don't we know what it is?

HENICAN: You know --

SANCHEZ: Why is it so unclear?

HENICAN: -- we don't really. We know some threads that run through it and you just ticked off a couple of them. I think it's fair to say that given the events in Syria over the last week things are toughening up there, right?

ROMANS: Yes.

HENICAN: The Donald Trump that ran in the campaign, that said these are not our problems, that is no longer operative, as we like to say in Washington. Things are toughening up but exactly how and what that means and what kind of action it suggest, I think we're learning that now.

ROMANS: I --

SANCHEZ: That leads to questions about the basis of his decisions though, because it seems like he's going in with a full-scale plan and that was the message in the campaign. Then he watched the video of that chemical attack and, emotionally, he got a response that led him to throw that plan in the garbage.

HENICAN: Well, it's from the gut.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

HENICAN: I think you're right. it's not based on any broad worldview. Donald Trump's strength and his weakness is flexibility --

ROMANS: Right.

HENICAN: -- and I think that's where we are right now.

ROMANS: I think that under the contours of the storyline of chaos and mixed messages there are the contours of a harder Syria policy, no question.

HENICAN: I think that's correct, yes.

ROMANS: What do you think he takes to the foreign minister of Russia today, Sergey Lavrov? I mean, he's talked to all these people at the G7 -- more than seven countries are there at the G7 right now because everyone is trying to tell Rex Tillerson what they think Russia needs to do next.

HENICAN: That's right. It's an enormously important visit. I mean, first of all, it will set the tone for U.S.-Russian relations going on into the Trump administration. And secondly, it answers questions about what do we think? Where is Tillerson in terms of Vladimir Putin today and what is Tillerson's role in the Trump administration? How much weight does he carry? Is he in the loop? Those are still very open questions.

SANCHEZ: I've got to ask you about this. We're getting closer and closer to that, you know, 100-day mark and it's clear the administration is aware of Donald Trump's sentiment yesterday.

HENICAN: The Trump symbol. The Trump symbol.

SANCHEZ: Yes, at the Rose Garden during the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. And they've had some blunders, right? The travel ban -- the failures of the travel bans, and then the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare. They have had some success. Let's listen to Sean Spicer list those off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: We have done so many great things, including nominate and confirm a Supreme Court justice, roll back more regulations than any president in modern times, roll back the Obama-era war on coal, oil, and natural gas, restore confidence in the economy. We're now seeing historic levels of consumer CEO, homebuilder, and manufacture confidence. There's been a 12 percent gain in the stock market. And we've even seen a real resurgence in the mining industry. We've reduced illegal border crossings by over 60 percent to the lowest level in nearly two decades, and implemented historic ethics reforms, including a five-year lobbying ban and a lifetime foreign ban.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: The symbolism of these 100 days, it's really important to Donald Trump, isn't it? The way he was patting himself yesterday --

HENICAN: It is.

SANCHEZ: -- getting Gorsuch confirmed.

HENICAN: It is. Winner -- that's what he wants to have underneath his --

SANCHEZ: Right.

HENICAN: Listen, we don't have the time to go through that entire list from Sean Spicer but I think we can summarize like this. There's been a flurry of executive orders, right, but not much in terms of legislative accomplishment, and I think that's been maddening so far. There's still a couple of weeks until we get to that 100-day mark.

SANCHEZ: Do you think we're going to see a scramble to get something done?

HENICAN: We've already seen a scramble but it's not a lot of time to turn the tide.

ROMANS: One place where Donald Trump is clearly a winner is travel spending. Donald Trump -- I'm losing my voice. Listen to Trump ripping on President Obama for golf and travel.

HENICAN: Ouch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obama, it was reported today, played 250 rounds of golf. He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods.

This guy plays more golf than people on the PGA tour.

Golf, golf, golf, golf. More, more. Learning how to chip, learning how to hit the drive, learning how to putt. Oh, I want more.

I love golf. I think it's one of the greats but I don't have time.

If I'm going to be working for you I'm not going to have time to go play golf.

I wouldn't leave the White House very much because, you know, like little things like these little trips where they get on -- they cost you a fortune.

If I were in the White House I don't think I'd ever see Turnberry again. I don't think I'd ever see Doral again. I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off and make great deals, right? Who's going to leave?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. So the tally here is his travel to his private club in Florida has cost taxpayers over $21 million in his first 80 days as president, putting him on track to outpace President Obama's entire eight years by the end of this year.

HENICAN: Oh, they're going to make --

ROMANS: Is it just hypocritical?

HENICAN: That's an amazing compilation, by the way. Videotape is such a cruel thing.

[05:40:00] ROMANS: But does it matter?

HENICAN: Does it matter, no. Probably in the long run -- it is -- it is something that your opponents can whack you with. But, you know, the cost of the security, the amount of travel -- most Americans think, you know, it's OK if the president chills out once in a while as long as he's doing a good job for us.

SANCHEZ: Right. Even though he's on the golf course or at least at his golf resort 16 times -- they won't let us know specifically --

ROMANS: How many rounds?

SANCHEZ: -- how many times.

HENICAN: Yes, yes, although notice those cleats. He doesn't -- most people don't wear those just to go to dinner, do they?

ROMANS: Yes, yes. His folks say that Donald Trump -- that Obama played with friends, Trump plays with --

SANCHEZ: World leaders.

HENICAN: But you know what? Most Americans say if he's doing a good job for us let him have his fun.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, nice to see you.

SANCHEZ: Ellis Henican, great to see you, as always.

HENICAN: See you on the links.

ROMANS: Yes.

SANCHEZ: Thanks so much. We all have that nightmare airport story, don't we?

ROMANS: Or a few of them.

SANCHEZ: Yes. (Video playing) Not many like this guy. He's an unidentified United Airlines passenger from Chicago. He got yanked out of his seat Sunday night by Chicago police, his head slammed into an armrest. He was bleeding. The man said that he was a doctor. Fellow passengers hearing him say that he needed to get home to get to his patients. You hear him screaming there. It seems that United overbooked this flight to Louisville, Kentucky,

and then they asked passengers to surrender their seats for some compensation in order to make room for four crew members. When nobody volunteered, United says it was forced into what it calls an "involuntary deboarding situation." That's certainly involuntary. The backlash sparked a social media frenzy and already led to the suspension of one of those Chicago police officers.

United CEO Oscar Munoz was forced to release the following statement. After first defending the ejection he writes, "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened."

On some level, a lot of the anger is directed at United because in an internal email to employees the CEO says that they did this by the book, but when you watch this video no customer should go through this, right?

ROMANS: No. I mean, when you buy a ticket you -- they have the right to oversell an airplane. Most airlines do it. They overbook the airplane that so no matter what they don't have an empty seat so that they can get paid. You can get $800 back -- up to $1,300 back for compensation to take a flight later on but nobody on that flight wanted to take that compensation or, at least, not enough people wanted to take the compensation and that's what happened.

SANCHEZ: Nice.

ROMANS: Terrible P.R. disaster there. It's one of the biggest scandals making history.

Speaking of P.R. disasters. This is that fake account scandal at Wells Fargo. It shook the bank to the core. Listen to this. A new investigation reveals a report at Wells Fargo back in 2004 foretold the scandal. It warned that Wells Fargo employees had an "incentive to cheat that was based on the fear of losing their jobs." It went on to say, "Workers felt they couldn't meet the bank's unrealistic sales goals without gaming the system."

The 2004 report was sent to Wells Fargo's chief auditor, H.R. personnel, and others, but it fell on deaf ears. The 110-page investigation released by Wells Fargo's independent board of directors, this week, says there is no evidence that the report and its recommendations were further escalated. Wells Fargo's board announced Monday it took back $75 million from the former CEO John Stumpf and the former head of Wells' community banks. The board says Stumpf was too slow to investigate or critically challenge the bank's sales tactics. Seventy-five million dollars -- think of all that money they made over the years when that scandal was going on.

SANCHEZ: Yes. The situation in North Korea is escalating. That country issuing a blistering statement against the U.S., warning it is ready to retaliate against any aggression. We'll go there next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:48:55] ROMANS: Good morning, welcome back. North Korea says it will respond in-kind to any acts of aggression by the U.S. as the U.S. aircraft carrier steams toward the Korean Peninsula. Following last week's missile test by North Korea, the U.S. turned the USS Carl Vinson and four support ships toward the Sea of Japan.

Officials in Pyongyang provided a statement to CNN. It says, "The dispatch of the Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft strike group into the waters of the Korean Peninsula proves that the reckless acts of aggression of the U.S. against the DPRK" -- North Korea -- "have now entered a grave practical stage. The DPRK is willing and ready to respond to whatever methods the U.S. wants to take. We are not daunted even as to turn an eyelash."

SANCHEZ: Back in the states, officials in Texas say they're disappointed that a federal judge has struck down the state's controversial voter I.D. law. The court ruling the six-year-old measure intentionally discriminated against black and Hispanic voters by requiring them to present government-issued photo I.D. in order to vote. State officials say that for now, they are reviewing their options.

ROMANS: All right. A look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Chris Cuomo joins us this morning. Hi, Chris.

SANCHEZ: Good morning.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": How are you doing? I'm actually writing my lead right now. It's good to see you. Oh, look at Boris. Look at us. We have the same outfit on, yours is just better.

SANCHEZ: Wrong, no. Well done, well done.

CUOMO: You just one-upped me but you're better looking so you can have it.

SANCHEZ: Oh, come on.

CUOMO: So this is what we're doing today. We're going to deal with the urgencies of now and what's going on at the G7 and how the talk there about the need to involve Russia in any solution in Syria is a really good backdrop for this big meeting between the secretary of state of the United States and his Russian counterpart today. That's when Tillerson is going to head over to Moscow. What is on the table there? What is success for the U.S. coming out of that meeting?

And then we're going to go deeper into the context of our political situation right now. We had the missile strike in Syria. There is still no proof of a plan and we're seeing that in different manifestations, you know, with the press secretary going out and seeming to create a new line for what would be actionable against Assad. Then they had to walk it back.

[05:50:03] And we also have all this palace intrigue that continues to at least tantalize the media, so we're bringing in the guy who literallywrote the book that supposedly Bannon is so inspired by and we're going to talk to him about the idea --

ROMANS: Oh, good.

CUOMO: -- of these cataclysmic cycles in history and preparing for them, and what that means. A little deeper for you this morning.

ROMANS: Yes, that's going to be really interesting.

SANCHEZ: A great show. A lot, Chris.

ROMANS: All right, thanks. Thanks, Chris.

SANCHEZ: Great fashion choices as well, sir.

ROMANS: All right. New York is not the only state offering free college tuition. Find out which one has jumped on the bandwagon when we get a check on CNN Money Stream, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Republicans are going to be keeping a close eye on a special election today in Kansas to fill the House seat vacated by the new CIA director, Mike Pompeo. President Trump and Vice President Pence have recorded robocalls supporting Republican candidate Ron Estes. The Wichita district is traditionally a GOP stronghold but an energized Democratic base is rallying behind James Thompson and the race is getting tighter.

[05:55:10] Republicans are also nervous about next week's special election in Georgia to fill the House seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. A 30-year-old Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, looking formidable. He's already raised more than $8 million for his campaign.

ROMANS: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch expected to take his seat on the high court and begin hearing cases next week. Gorsuch took the official oath Monday with the president by his side. The president clearly savoring the moment -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: -- heard that the most important thing that a Presidentof the United States does is appoint people, hopefully great people, like this appointment, to the United States Supreme Court, and I can say this is a great honor. And I got it done in the first 100 days. You think that's easy?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: At 49 years old, Gorsuch will likely sit on the Supreme Court for decades. He could even outlast all eight justices he'll be joining on the bench on Monday.

All right, let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Stock futures pointing lower this morning. Earnings season gets underway with the nation's big banks reporting this week. We've got United Airlines stock looking like it's going to be on about six percent --

SANCHEZ: Oh.

ROMANS: -- as the P.R. disaster unfolds. Stock markets in Europe and Asia are mixed. That United case really exposing a lack of rights, you know. United had every right to take that person off that flight but it's going to get slammed in the stock market today.

New York isn't the only state making a push for tuition-free college this year. Lawmakers in Rhode Island are considering a proposal put forth by the state's governor that would make two years of public college free for residents. And unlike New York's scholarship for middle-class families approved this week, Rhode Island's proposal would make tuition free regardless of income. The governor's office expects the program to benefit at least 7,000 students and cost $30 million each year once fully implemented. That's less than half of a percent of the state's budget.

President Trump set to meet with several dozen CEOs later this morning. The group of CEOs -- the Strategic and Policy Forum -- is led by billionaire Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman. Also included in the meeting are the leaders of GM, IBM, Tesla, Walmart. We expect they're going to talk about infrastructure investment and tax reform. Those are likely the two top items on the list, as well as how the president plans to generate the 25 million jobs he has promised.

So we'll be watching United shares, for sure, today. I think that's really interesting the stock is down six percent. It seemed to weather the P.R. storm pretty well yesterday. The stock was up just a little bit but now it's done. And when I say that United had every right to take that person off the flight, when you buy the ticket there's something in the -- there's a contract you sign --

SANCHEZ: Yes.

ROMANS: -- that says look, they can overbook the flight and it's up to them whether you fly on that plane or not.

SANCHEZ: Yes, of course, and that's why the CEO sent that email to employees saying that they did it by the book. But when you watch this video, and now it's circulating so much on social media, it's hard to think that they're going to walk out of this unscathed.

Well, thank you so much for joining us today on EARLY START. I'm Boris Sanchez.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was always going to be a controversial visit for Rex Tillerson. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Tillerson's chance to really go in there and lay out for where they want to go.

TRUMP: I don't want to be the president of the world. I'm the President of the United States.

SPICER: If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, you will see a response.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Military action in response to barrel bombs would signal a dramatic escalation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We called out Russia, we put Iran on notice, and we told Syria this is a president that's not afraid to act.

SPICER: Our battles and our policy differences need to be behind closed doors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot have this strategic confusion coming out of the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo --

CUOMO: All right, we want to welcome our viewers --

ANNOUNCER: -- and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: All right, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, April 16th (sic), 6:00 here in New York.

And right now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and G7 ministers are discussing how to end Syria's bloody civil war. Italian officials are saying that Russia must be part of the solution. There's been no agreement on sanctions there. The Secretary of State is expected to speak. When he does, we're going to bring it to you. This adds a lot of urgency to this high-stakes meeting between Tillerson and his Russian counterpart. That happens later today.

CAMEROTA: Secretary Tillerson faces his biggest challenge thus far, pushing Russia to stop supporting Assad. Russia, of course, still denouncing the U.S. military action, and what did the U.S. missile strikes actually destroy? It is day 82 of the Trump presidency and we have CNN correspondents all over the world for you, so let's begin our coverage with Nic Robertson. He is live at the G7 summit in Italy -- Nic.