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G-7 Ministers Hold Urgent Meeting on Syria Crisis; Tillerson Heads to Moscow for Meeting with Lavrov; White House Tries to Clarify Trump's Red Line in Syria; Spicer: Reports of White House Infighting 'Overblown'. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired April 11, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocent.
[05:58:32] 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 sort of where they want to go.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to be the president of the world. I'm the president of the United States.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers -- all right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, April 11, 6 a.m. here in New York.
And right now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and G-7 ministers are discussing how to end Syria's bloody civil war. Italian officials are saying that Russia must be part of the solution. There has 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.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: 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 G-7 summit in Italy -- Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, good morning, Alisyn.
Well, the talks here are just wrapping up right now. You've had Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, all of the G-7 meeting. They've brought in, additionally, Turkish, Saudi Arabian, Emirati, Qatari, Jordanian foreign ministers, as well, to broaden the mandate so Secretary Tillerson can take when he goes to Moscow, that journey beginning right about now, as we understand.
What is that mandate? Well, not to be sanctions. That appears to be part of the consensus here, that there is no desire to box Russia in further, put pressure on at least ahead of Secretary Tillerson arriving in those meetings. They believe that could be counterproductive.
But what the firm belief here is, is that Russia must back away from its support of President Bashar al-Assad, must begin to help bring a cease-fire to Syria, must begin to support the international peace political process to transition away from President Bashar al-Assad. This seems to be what we're hearing from the Italians, from the French. We're going to hear from some of those other nations in the coming hours or so.
But that is the strong message that will go to Russia with Secretary Tillerson. The war in Syria needs to end. Russia has a major role to play in it and cannot back away from its responsibilities -- Chris.
CUOMO: All right, Nic, thank you very much.
A lot of news happening right now. In just a few hours Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to arrive in Moscow. Relations between the U.S. and Russia, according to Russian officials, as bad as they've been since the Cold War. Now, the context for this meeting couldn't be bigger. Big allegations in the air about whether or not Russia knew about this chemical strike that happened in Syria last week.
CNN's Michelle Kosinski live in Moscow, I believe we're waiting on Putin, the Russian president, to address the people this morning, as well, right?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right, Chris. He's supposed to speak any minute.
So he's going to be here with his Italian counterpart. They've been having a meeting. But we expect him to, at least in some part, address the strikes in Syria, what's been going on, as well as the U.S.-Russia relationship.
We've heard such strong rhetoric over the last couple of days on both sides: Russia calling it an act of aggression, saying that the U.S. is getting very close to being in a military clash with Russia. The U.S. side saying that nothing is off the table.
But now we're seeing, as we're getting closer to a U.S.-Russian meeting -- and at this point, remember, we don't even know if Vladimir Putin is going to meet with Secretary Tillerson. It's customary that when a U.S. secretary of state comes here, that Putin extends an invitation. There have been some reports that that is going to happen, but so far there's no official line that there is that invitation.
So we do know that Secretary Tillerson is going to meet with the Russian foreign minister. And there has been reporting over the past couple of days that this is going to be a hard line that the secretary will deliver. That it will be something like an ultimatum, telling Russia to drop Assad, accusing them of complicity.
But when we're hearing now from Rex Tillerson, you know, just over the last two days when he was asked, "Is this going to be an ultimatum?" he said, "Well, we're going to try to change their tune on this."
Was Russia complicit? He said that there is no hard evidence of that.
So he's not wanting to go into this meeting with that hard line, but it's clear there's going to be a very difficult discussion that's going to take place very soon -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Michelle. Thanks so much for laying all of that out for us.
Meanwhile, the White House continues to send mixed messages on President Trump's evolving foreign policy, particularly on Syria and when the president will take military action again. Also, there are growing questions about the effectiveness of that U.S. missile strike on the air base in Syria.
CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House to help us understand it all.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
The question continues to be where do they go from here on Syria? The administration articulating its policy that it will go it alone if necessary on difficult issues if there is a U.S. interest at stake. Nonetheless, very difficult this morning for the administration to put forward what you could call a coherent foreign policy.
SPICER: If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you can -- you will see a response from the president. JOHNS (voice-over): White House press secretary Sean Spicer telling
reporters that another chemical attack or use of barrel bombs could result in more missile strikes.
SPICER: When you watch babies and children being gassed and suffering under barrel bombs, you are instantaneously moved to action.
[06:05:08] JOHNS: This would mark a dramatic escalation of U.S. action, considering that Assad's regime has dropped 495 barrel bombs last month alone, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
Hours later, the White House walking back his apparent red line, saying Spicer meant to signal that the president is never going to rule anything out.
Further muddying the waters, this interventionist comment from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the G-7 summit in Italy.
TILLERSON: We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.
JOHNS: Very different from Trump's "America first" vision.
SPICER: We're not going to become the world's policeman, running around the country -- running around the world.
JOHNS: The Trump administration's stance toward Assad also remains unclear.
SPICER: I can't imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Bashar al- Assad is in power.
JOHNS: Spicer seemingly taking the position stated by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Sunday.
HALEY: Regime change is something that we think is going to happen. It's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad.
JOHNS: Which was the opposite of statements from Secretary Tillerson.
TILLERSON: Once we can eliminate the battle against ISIS, conclude that, and it is going quite well, then we hope to turn our attention to achieving cease-fire agreements between the regime and opposition forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're still searching, frankly, for a policy and for a strategy.
JOHNS: Meantime, Syrian warplanes are back in the sky, taking off from the air base hit by the U.S. with dozens of cruise missiles. The Pentagon claims the strikes caused 20 percent of Syria's operational aircraft to be destroyed. But two senior military officials tell CNN it was 20 planes, not 20 percent.
(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: One voice absent in the debate over Syria is the voice of President Trump, who has asked the defense secretary to give him a complete assessment of the damage in the cruise missile strike on Friday. The Pentagon has not held a media briefing since Friday -- Chris and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Yes. That is part of the problem. Joe, thank you very much for all that reporting.
So what do these mixed messages and all of these conflicting facts mean? Let's try to nail it down with our experts. We have CNN military analyst, Cedric Leighton. We have CNN political analyst Abby Phillip and former U.S. undersecretary for political affairs, Ambassador Nicholas Burns. Great to have all of you here with us as we muddle through this.
Ambassador, I'm going to start with you. When a secretary of state of the U.S. says what we all obviously wish in our heart and, you know, that the United States "will rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world." What does that mean in terms of our policy?
AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, it's confusing everyone, and it's nearly incoherent. The administration has had, over three days now, a lot of trouble sticking to one message, and I think it's because they're really struggling to form a strategy. When you see this incoherence, and these duplicative statements, you're looking at an administration that's trying to find its way forward.
It was appropriate last week. It was the right decision for President Trump to launch the cruise missile attack because of the use of sarin gas. And frankly, they ought to be sending the message -- they may be -- that any repeated use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons is going to be met with another attack by the United States.
But the broad statements, particularly from Secretary Tillerson in Italy and also from Sean Spicer, they're just impossible to implement in this environment. And so the key, I think, is the visit by Tillerson to Moscow. They've got to decide how hard to push the Russians towards an international negotiation. It's going to be extraordinarily difficult to do, because the Russians are strong in Syria. And the talk by the administration they can somehow push the Russians easily towards negotiations, I think, is misleading. The Russians have a base there. They've got Iran and Hezbollah working with them. They're in a stronger position than the United States, certainly.
CUOMO: That was just echoed by the Italian official at the G-7, saying that Russia has to be part of the solution in Syria. What a big day. You have you this formation of what the points of consensus are with the international community and then how that will play out when Tillerson and his Russian counterpart meet later today. So today the stakes couldn't be higher in terms of this issue.
Now Cedric, the premise that, yes, America should rededicate itself, very controversial. We just had an election where a huge slice of the American people said no way. No more America as policeman. There's more going on all the time. It's really ugly; it's unfair. Let them handle it. That was a big part of this.
Now we see a big change. A point of interest on it. Spicer says, "Chemical weapons, no way. Barrel bombs, no way."
People say, "Oh, no, he went too far." Really, we -- barrel bombs are horrible things, flying IEDs, inaccurate, filled with horrible agents in them. They cause amazing devastation to people. What does that tell you that they're trying to parse things that are really equals?
CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, yes, it's really hard to actually discern a coherent message out of all of this. As Ambassador Burns mentioned, there are just some really difficult ways to -- to go through this. So the electoral base that said no more wars, in essence, is not going to be happy with anything that is being said at this particular point. From a military perspective, barrel bombs like you said are flying IEDs. They are actually one of the most destructive weapons that anybody can use. They are not modern weapons. They're completely imprecise, and they wreak a lot of havoc on civilian populations.
And that's the kind of thing that is completely anathema to the way in which the U.S. wants to conduct foreign policy and completely anathema the way we fight wars, actually.
CAMEROTA: I don't know, Abby. Are we misinterpreting the Trump voter. They didn't say -- they weren't, like, peaceniks. They were -- were they saying, "No more wars? Or were they saying, "America first?" And the way the president phrased it was, when it's in our national security interests, we're going to act. I mean, you know, it's hard to know if a chemical attack in Syria was somehow in our national security interests, but wouldn't they get on board with him acting if he frames it that way?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a little hard to know. And it's very clear that the White House is still trying to figure this out, too. They're not sure how far they can go. I mean, between Sunday and Monday you had two different kinds of lines being drawn here by Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson on chemical weapons. And then it expanded into more conventional, or at least barrel bomb weapons by Monday.
And part of that has to do with the fact that they want to make sure that the president isn't going too far out ahead of his base. And many of his supporters, particularly online, have started to talk about, "Well, this is going way too far. What's the difference between doing what you're doing here and what we were opposed to with President Obama years ago?"
So the White House doesn't know. And they're trying to kind of, like, go back and forth just to kind of test the waters out. For foreign policy that makes for, you know, really confusion on the world stage at a moment when people are looking to the United States for leadership. CUOMO: We're also getting a mixed message on the facts, of the
effectiveness and just the outcome of that Syrian missile strike. The president putting out this odd tweet about why you don't blow up runways. Wasn't my experience in battle theaters. They blow up lots of runways, no matter how quickly they can build it.
CAMEROTA: Do you generally blow up, you know...
CUOMO: If you want to destroy an air base.
CAMEROTA: If you want to stop them from launching more strikes?
LEIGHTON: If you want to destroy an air base, absolutely, you destroy the runway. What you end up doing is you end up, let's say you've got a place where runways cross. That's the point that you hit. Any place that is an aircraft hangar, any place where there are, you know, something like fuel storage areas, weapons facilities, all of that stuff.
CAMEROTA: But they didn't do that here.
LEIGHTON: That's right. And so what that tells me is that the goal was really not to do that. They didn't want to destroy the Syrian air force or that base. What they wanted to do was send a message.
And, you know, when you mentioned some of the fact issues, the business about destroying 20 percent of the Syrian air force, absolutely not. Twenty aircraft, yes, that's possible. One air base, one location, one wing. There's no way that you could get 20 percent of that air force, even though it's a relatively small air force.
CUOMO: And Nick Burns, it also raises the question of, you know, your policy objectives. OK? They wanted it to look like a massive success: $100 million of Tomahawk missiles sent over there. Trump trying to play cover with what happened with the runways. I mean, it was really silly to people who are in the military community that we left the runways alone, because they're quick to fill in.
What does that suggest to you about what this administration is still trying to do to show success?
BURNS: Well, I think that they just don't know where they're going on Syria. A week ago today, Chris, the administration was saying they were backing off any commitment to Syria whatsoever. You remember that. And then the sarin gas attack. And that led the president, I think probably for the right reasons, to say we had to respond in some fashion to send a signal to Assad.
The problem now is Russia has all the leverage. So as Rex Tillerson goes to Moscow, I think he correctly has been saying we need an international negotiation to end this war. Twelve million homeless. Hundreds of thousands of dead. But you're not going to do that unless we have leverage on the ground.
That gets you back to the very difficult issues that President Obama tried to sort out. Do we arm the Syrian militia? Do we build up opposition forces to give ourselves some leverage to convince Assad and the Russians that they can't win a total victory? That's a strategic question. And they seem to be all over the map, struggling to find their way forward. It's difficult, but they've got to be more disciplined.
[06:20:04] CAMEROTA: Yes. We should also point out that the Pentagon has not had a single press briefing since Thursday's missile strikes, which leads to some of this guessing. I mean, it does -- you know, the Pentagon could answer some of these things for reporters. But instead we're sort of casting about for what the logic is.
Panel, thank you very much for all of this. Up next, the White House trying to downplay some high-level infighting. Can Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon co-exist before someone gets shown the door?
CUOMO: Plus, take a look at this video. That screaming is a Chinese doctor who's refusing to leave. He's OK. The screams are showing the kind of height of the emotions of the situation, not the reality. Those are his glasses. That wasn't blood coming out of his face. So they're dragging him off this United flight, because it was overbooked. Is this the way an airline should be able to act? We'll give you the facts. You decide ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: He understands that we have some pretty smart, talented individuals who are opinionated on a lot of subjects, but that our battles and policy differences need to be behind closed doors. There was a lot of stuff that was overblown about this that makes it out into the media sometimes and get a little bit more sensational than it truly is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[06:20:20] CAMEROTA: OK. That was White House press secretary Sean Spicer trying to tamp down reports of any high-level infighting in the White House.
Let's discuss this with Patrick Healy, Abby Phillip and joining the panel, CNN analyst David Drucker. Great to have all of you.
So Patrick, let's start with this. The reports of high-level infighting, and somebody is going to be shown the door, and it's really bad, probably is a little overblown. Is it fair to say that there's tension between Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner; and no one knows who is going to prevail?
PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it's very fair to say that. And I think who will prevail, Jared Kushner is certainly in a very good position. He is family. President Trump made a real effort to bring him and Ivanka Trump to the White House. You know, historically, he has turned again to Ivanka Trump and to Jared to have-- essentially to have his back and to reinforce, you know, a lot of... CAMEROTA: What's Steve Bannon thinking? If he can't win this battle,
then why fight with Jared?
HEALY: Steve Bannon very much came in during the summer and looked to the campaign that didn't have, let's say, a lot of intellectual architecture, policy coherence. And the reality is that he sort of read what President Trump's instincts were on aggressive -- you know, on aggressive posture, on taking basically government away from the big bureaucracy and turning it into something else. And he -- and he's created that.
Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff has been an operations guy, has been sort of the links to the party. Jared Kushner -- Jared Kushner and Ivanka have very much reinforced a lot of President Trump's own long held instincts. But it has been Steve Bannon who has brought in again sort of that outsider impulses that a lot of Trump voters liked about him.
CUOMO: One thing that is immutably true in this spin game, which is what this is that's being -- coming out of the White House, versus people want to attack the White House, what a sieve that White House is. I'm going to say it every day, because this White House, David Drucker, talks about leaks all the time. Forget about Russian interference. Forget about all these weird contacts. Who's leaking this information? I've never seen a White House leak more this early on than that one. So that's an objective observation. Put it to the side.
The reality inside that White House, David, what are you hearing? I don't hear that Bannon and Jared are fighting. I hear that the president is really taxed to find people who can deliver for him on a consistent basis.
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think part of the problem, Chris, is that Trump sort of engenders and sometimes appears to like this sort of competition and factionalism, all done to curry favor with him and to try and win a big competition for his affection and for the decisions he's going to make.
And I think that, regardless of whether it's Steve Bannon, or Jared Kushner, or Reince Priebus, I think what the White House has to figure out how they're going to have a clear line of authority from the Oval Office to Trump's key deputy so they get things done.
What they get done is one thing. But if you're going to get anything done, people need to feel secure in their jobs, and you need to have -- you need to have discipline. And you don't have that, in my view, in particularly, when you've got Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump hovering over everybody, back-channeling on domestic issues and international issues.
It's not that the problem necessarily is Jared and Ivanka. It's just that you have people tasked with jobs and then going around them, and looking over their shoulder are the president's children. And that creates, for a very insecure environment and also creates a lot of second-guessing. And you can't get things done. You can't have people with clear lines of authority and power with the people under them if they know they can go around you and get to the top through another channel.
CAMEROTA: And that's the crux of the matter. I mean, your reporting suggests that the tension in the White House is they don't feel they have accomplished enough as they approach the 100-day mark, which of course, is symbolic. And they like to tout and trumpet their success. And that's what's going on, really.
PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, despite what they say, probably, there's a lot of concern internally there that there has not been a record of consistent accomplishment that has held up over time in this period of time, 80 days we are now. They are looking at the end of the month with a lot of concern.
But what is also happening is that this is a president who doesn't have a very firm policy foundation. He doesn't sweat the details. And he's looking to his aides to guide him in a direction toward wins. It's a -- it's a sort of vague kind of mandate that they have: just get me something that works, that makes me look good, that makes me look accomplished.
And that's where the battle is right now. Whose vision is going to garner the president wins at this point in time? And while the Bannon wing has had a lot of policy to put on the board, the immigration ban, you know -- even the health care effort overall has been a pretty traditional Republican effort -- a lot of that has not held up.
[06:25:12] And this is the argument that, you know, the Kushner, Cohn, Ivanka wing are sort of saying, "Maybe it's time to take a different strategy. Maybe it's time to go straight down the middle. You know, Dad, you're not an ideological president. Let's go that way."
CUOMO: That's -- that's a big word, though, to have, though, "maybe."
PHILLIP: Yes, "maybe."
CUOMO: In my life, growing up exactly that dynamic on a small level, right, state politics, "maybe" that doesn't exist when you're in that environment. What you need is people who have done this before at a very high level who come forward with certainties. If we do this, this will happen. If we do this -- and then they compete.
The president, in fairness to him, he's in a predicament here, because he does not have people who have succeeded at this level, at a high level. He loves his kids, sure. But he can't look at them and say, "You guys know what you're talking about." They've never been there.
HEALY: Right. But the reality also is that your father had a vision, an agenda that was very consistent. President Trump came from a business background. He did not have, you know, an ideological plan that he wanted to put into place, policies he wanted to put in place. And instead, what he has is Sean Spicer up there sort of every day, trying to defend and trying to sort of frame things as wins, like Abby said.
CUOMO: Poor Sean.
HEALY: That aren't the -- you know, that are messages.
CUOMO: Sean reminds me of the guy next door.
CAMEROTA: Panel, I'm sorry. We've got to go. We're out of time. We have to get to this next story. We have to show you what happened. Airlines are allowed to remove you from a flight. But like this? OK. What happened here to this United passenger? Could this happen to you? What are your rights as a passenger? We have the answers next.