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United Public Relations Nightmare; Top U.S. And Russia Diplomats To Meet Amid Syria Tensions; Spokesman: Hitler Comments Were A Mistake; Spicer Remarks Were Inappropriate And Insensitive; Trump Family Expenses Piling Up; Social Media Tackles United Airlines Blunder. Aired 1-2 ET

Aired April 12, 2017 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour, America's top diplomat in Moscow is set to meet his Russian counterpart with both ties now 00:15 talking tough on Syria. Can they find common ground?

SESAY: Also, the White House Spokesman misspeaks again. Sean Spicer makes a rare public apology after saying, "Hitler never used chemical weapons."

VAUSE: And later, how to turn a P.R. crisis into an absolute disaster. Lessons from United Airlines and everything not to do when dealing with an outraged public.

SESAY: Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. This is the second hour of NEWSROOM L.A. Well, Moscow and Washington have spent the last 24 hours trading accusations over last week's deadly chemical attack in Syria.

SESAY: Now, their top diplomat is set to meet in the coming hours. CNN's Michelle Kosinski has all the details.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in Moscow about to attend one of his toughest conversations. Here to tell the Foreign Minister, if not Vladimir Putin himself, who so far has not scheduled a meeting with him, that Russia needs to "Rethink its backing of Syrian President Bashar al- Assad." And that the U.S. will hold Russia accountable for the continuing carnage there.

REX TILLERSON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: It's clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. We are not presupposing how that occurs, but I think it is clear that we see no further role for the Assad regime longer term.

KOSINSKI: A senior U.S. official today accused Russia of trying to cover up what happened there. What Tillerson is up against: a Russia that has called U.S. strikes on Syria an inadmissible act of aggression, intensifying the tension between the two countries. Russian President, Putin, today suggesting that the Assad regime and Russia are being framed for the chemical attack saying more will follow.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have information from various sources that this kind of provocation, I can't call it anything other than a provocation, is being prepared for in other regions of Syria too including the southern suburbs of Damascus, where they are preparing to drop similar chemicals and then accuse the Syrian government of it.

KOSINSKI: Comparing it to the Iraq war in 2003, claims of weapons of mass destruction since proven false.

PUTIN: The Iraq campaign was launched and it finished with the destruction of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat, and nothing less than the emergence of ISIS on the international stage.

KOSINSKI: He says Russia will appeal to the International Community for a full investigation of last week's chemical attack. When Secretary Tillerson, before landing in Moscow, met with G-7 nations in Italy, discussed the possibility of sanctioning Russia. But the very least, allowing there to still be chemical weapons in Syria; they were not on board.

ANGELINO ALFANO, ITALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We must have a dialog with Russia. We must not push Russia into a corner.

KOSINSKI: As far as the rhetoric has now gone between Russia and the U.S.-

LINDSEY GRAHAM, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM SOUTH CAROLINA: Putin's a war criminal, Assad's a war criminal, and when Secretary Tillerson says he hopes that Russia will realign itself with the western democracies and break away from Syria and Iran. With all due respect, I like Secretary Tillerson, that's pretty naive.

KOSINSKI: The responsibility falls now on Tillerson. The first to sit down face to face with his Russian counterpart and try to gain some cooperation with the government he once considered a friend. We've heard a number of strong statements from U.S. officials over the last few days, for example, that the U.S. would be willing to take additional military action. So, it seems like at this point, Tillerson, as he's about to go into this crucial meeting with his Russian counterpart is being extremely careful not to project too hard a line. We heard him say things like he hopes Assad is not part of Syria's future that he hopes Russia will change course because as he put it, what it's doing now is not in its best interest. Michelle Kosinski, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: Well, stay with the story for a little longer. And for more, CNN's Paula Newton is standing by live in Moscow. We also have Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, she's a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and James Gelvin, Professor of History at UCLA, he's also an expert in the Middle East. Paula, we'll start to you. Ahead of this meeting between Rex Tillerson and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov. You know, Tillerson has been making some harsh statements even though - you know, trying to temperate with some softer language. How is this all expected to play out in the coming hours?

[01:05:00] PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, at this point, each side's saying, look, these are our ground rules; the other side's saying these are our ground rules. They want to try and come up with some type of a framework so that they at least get some momentum. I mean, listen, it's not like anything out of these negotiations like there will be an announcement of how to go forward, but they want to make sure they can go forward. But what's been so striking, John, as we just heard Michelle is all the rhetoric, there's heated rhetoric ahead of time. No one backing off.

We're reading now from (INAUDIBLE) that Vladimir Putin gave an interview to one Russian network yesterday and they're quoting him that entry will air later today. He's saying that the allies are basically nodding with the United States like bubbleheads, and basically continuing his allegation that, look, they don't know the facts on the ground, they don't know who was responsible for that chemical attack. And the United States hitting back with that four- page dossier last night. Secretary Mattis saying that look, we don't know if Russia was complicit or not, we do believe though, absolutely, that the Syrian regime was responsible.

And let's not forget, John, that one of the things that Rex Tillerson will be doing with the Russians, something that he thinks will appeal to them and say look, you're not for chemical weapons, you're not for chemical weapons being used in this fight. We know the chemical weapons somehow are back in Syria. Why is that? You were supposed to be the guarantor of the fact that there weren't any chemical weapons in Syria. Help us with this. He will look for any kind of victory that he can take back from his meeting today.

SESAY: And Gayle, to you, U.S. tough talk aside, does this administration have any more leverage over the Russians than President Obama did? I mean, what is different here that would force a change in calculus for the Russians?

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS SENIOR FELLOW: Very little, is the short answer to that. But I think it's - two things are very important to remember. One is the ISIS fight in which there is an uneasy level of coexistence that is going on, on the battlefield. Russian, Syrian, American, Kurdish forces all in the very small neighborhood, all pursuing the ISIS fight and no one wants to throw that off track.

Secondly, Geneva, you know, Secretary Tillerson mentioned the Geneva process today. It has been on life support for a while. The Americans were really in any kind of leadership role, we're barely present at the end of February when the last Geneva talk happened 07:15. And the question is, you know, will there be some kind of common ground found to put America back into some kind of leadership role, pushing that forward, and you know, where will we come out with common ground? I do think that these attacks of last week were really aimed at deterring, not escalating, and certainly, Russia knows that.

VAUSE: Well, U.S. Defense Secretary, James Mattis, left no question on Tuesday that all the U.S. Intelligence out there is pointing towards the Assad regime, as being responsible for last week's chemical attack. Listen to this.


JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES DEFENSE SECRETARY: It is very clear that the Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it, and executed it. And beyond that, we can't say right now. We know what I just told you. We don't know anything beyond that.


VAUSE: He also warned that another chemical attack by Assad would result when the U.S. taking some kind of action. But James Galvan, Secretary Mattis, he left the issue of chlorine attacks and barrel bombs as sort of ambiguous, was this a deliberate ploy here by the Defense Secretary?

JAMES GELVIN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES HISTORY PROFESSOR (via Skype): Well, not exactly. What went on was the White House overreached over the weekend, and said that barrel bombs would also result in American retribution. Since so many have been dropped in the past, not the main tactic of the Assad government, they're not going to give that up willingly. Loo, the - at this point, the Assad government is on the move. It is the - it is advancing very strongly against the opposition. Has been doing so since the fall of 2015 when the Russians intervened very strongly.

There's very little chance at this point that the opposition is going to be able to get off the ropes. So, what we have at this point is a situation which talks will probably not take place, serious talks will probably not take place, simply because why compromise when you can have it all? And the only talks that will take place at the end of this whole process will be negotiating the terms of surrender for the opposition.

SESAY: Gayle, back to you, the hope is obviously they can, they can raise some substance of talks, which will stall 09:19 any kind of further actions or attacks on the ground. But you know, should the Assad government and there's this belief that they're launching these attacks widely held. Should they launch attacks and the U.S. respond but in this targeted specific manner, what are they really achieving?

LEMMON: Well, that's the thing. I mean, really and truly, I do not think that either the Americans or the Syrian regime want to see a further round of attacks. And look, if you look at what Mattis - Secretary Mattis said today at the Pentagon with General Votel, they were very clear about what the redline was, although they've shied away from using the term redline. But that chemical weapons were the issue and they've made it very clear in telegraphing it both to the Russians and to the regime that that was the line that they had crossed, that it was not barrel bombs but that it was using chemical weapons. And I really do think that both the United States and its allies want to keep the pressure on the ISIS fight. You know, everybody from the American administration who has been out talking today, has been talking about the ISIS fight is the number one priority. And all along, the Obama administration wrestled with whether it was Assad must go or Assad can stay for now, and Assad can stay for now won the day.

VAUSE: There are a lot of people talking for the White House and there are some mixed messages. One of those messages is coming from the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. She said Russia has a credibility problem when it comes to Syria. She even suggested that the Russians knew ahead of time about this chemical attack. Listen to Nikki Haley.


NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I think that if you look at the fact that when this information came out, they were so quick to defend. They didn't look shocked, they didn't look surprised, they were so quick to defend. And then the evidence comes out, and we see exactly what it is. And we know exactly what the environment was. Then you realize.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They knew what was going on.

HALEY: I think that they knew, yes.


NEWTON: And Paula, that seems to be a fairly significant accusation coming from Nikki Haley. She's so accusing the Russians or Moscow of being complicit in what is essentially a war crime.

NEWTON: Absolutely. And I think what's more stunning is that you had Secretary Mattis, in fact, coming out and saying, when he presented dossier that, look, we don't have any evidence that Russia was complicate, we're not saying we're not going to find that or we are going to find that; we're saying we are almost 100 percent sure that the Syrian regime did this, we do not know the extent of Russian involvement if any.

And I think coming here to Russia, Rex Tillerson is going to make that point in saying again: finding that common ground. You're not for chemical attacks. Vladimir Putin, this is different. And again, Secretary Mattis, trying to make it very clear to the Russians as Gayle was saying. Barrel bombs, you know, unfortunately, chlorine attacks this is business as usual in Syria and it's not a red line for us in terms of that.

I do want to point out one thing beyond the fact that we still don't know if Rex Tillerson is going to get that face-to-face with Vladimir Putin in the next few hours, that there are two things that Rex Tillerson has in his back pocket. And that is the fact that, it is wearing down the Russian military as successful as this campaign has been in Syria, they do need to pull out. And again, those all- important sanctions that are still in place from the Ukrainian conflict, Russia still wants to get out from under those sanctions, so there are some carrots here.

SESAY: James Gelvin, final question to you to pick up on what Paula said, and not knowing whether Secretary Tillerson will get that meeting with President Putin. If he doesn't, how should we read that? A pointed snub? A message to President Trump?

GELVIN: Well, I think it is very much of a snub. I mean, this is something that Secretary of State is going all the way back to World War II have had with their first meetings: they meet the Foreign Minister, but they also meet the head of state as well. So - I mean, it is fairly intentional and the problem is this, the problem is that somehow, for some reason, this thing has escalated over the last week, totally out of control. And then what had started out as a confrontation between the United States and the Syrian government, is now a major confrontation between the United States and the Russian government. And the question then is, is how can we put this back together again? It's not going to take place over Syria and it's very likely will not take place over a short period of time as well. So overall then, the Trump administration has brought us back to where we were under Obama which is a bad relationship between the United States and Russia.

SESAY: Professor James Gelvin, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Paula Newton, thank you so much for a great conversation. Really appreciate the insight. Thanks to you all.

VAUSE: Thank you.

SESAY: Now, U.S. President Donald Trump is promising again to resolve North Korea's nuclear threats with or without China. Pyongyang remains defiant though, even after the U.S. diverted warships to the Korean region.

VAUSE: That's not an unusual military move for the United States, but here's how Mr. Trump talked up that American show of force.


DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We are sending an Armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier that I can tell you, and we have the best military people on earth. And I will say this, he is doing the wrong thing.


[01:14:46] SESAY: Philip Yun is Executive Director of the Ploughshares Fund, the group that is working to eliminate nuclear weapons. He's also a former Advisor on North Korea under U.S. President Bill Clinton. Phillip joins us via Skype from San Francisco. Phillip, good to speak to you once again. On Saturday, North Korea is due to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung the country's founding father and current ruler's grandfather. Do you share the expectation that the North will carry out a nuclear or ballistic missile test even with USS Vinson thereof the Korean Peninsula?

[01:15:17] PHILIP YUN, PLOUGHSHARES FUND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR (through Skype): Well, it's not clear what North Korea is going to do on April 15th before on or around. Well, you can expect they will do something. There is speculation that there will be either missile test or a nuclear test. We know that the testing grounds for the nuclear where they normally have the nuclear test is ready, so it really becomes a political decision for the North Korea to decide when to do this. And for them, it's going to be how are they going to get the most bang for the buck in terms of politically, internally, externally. And so it remains to be seen whether in fact, that will be the case. You know, the Carl Vinson is a show of force. It's one in which the United States has done in the past putting aircraft carriers through that region. It is a way to assure the allies. But I don't think that is going to deter this nuclear test in any way. I think the reality is that the North Koreans feel that the United States knows it can't really preemptively attack North Korea. For a variety of reasons by causing, you know untold casualties in Seoul, I don't think the South Koreans, nor the Japanese would tolerate something like that at this time.

SESAY: Well, President Trump has been publicly using his bully pulpit to lean on China to do more to reign in North Korea. He put out two tweets on Monday. Let's put them up on our screen and share them with our viewers so we can read what he has said in these messages. "North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them. USA". In the second tweet, he said this. He said, "I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korea problem". So, Philip, you know when you see these messages and the President publicly leaning on China in this matter, how will this be seen in China? What's your read?

YUN: Well, its great political rhetoric and I think that the Chinese will read it mostly that it's for U.S. domestic consideration and conception. I think the reality is that the Chinese, I don't think are going to nor can they lean on North Korea by themselves and solve this problem by themselves. I think most people understand that and as far as the deal is concerned, I'm not really sure what to make of that either. I'm not sure the Chinese are sure what to make of it. I know that the Chinese, President Xi and President Trump talked about some of this and we don't know what they talked about and what they agreed to but we have to realize the U.S.-China economic relationship -- but trade is only one portion of this and I think the Chinese certainly always have as much leverage on the U.S. has the U.S. has on China and then connect this with a deal on North Korea as security related things that strikes me as very odd and I think the Chinese will consider that in a similar light.

SESAY: So Philip Yun, what are the options here for the U.S.? I mean, they have parked the USS Vinson and other assets off of the Korean Peninsula. If your calculation is right and it doesn't act as a deterrent and the North Koreans do go ahead and launch some kind of test, what are the options for the U.S. in terms of a response knowing that could rapidly escalate and take this thing out of control? YUN: Well, I think the thing they have to do then is realize that

they don't want this to get out of control and take steps to take defensive measures, but not necessarily ones that would be considered aggressive by North Korean or prelude to a preemptive attack. I think he said the key thing right now is to get through this period without a massive miscalculation. Then you have to step back and say, what is it that we can do? And the options are limited. I've said before North Korea is the land of lousy policy choices and realistically we can continue our policy of sanctions and punishment and pressure as best we can, but it's basically allowed North Korea to be on the verge of having a small nuclear arsenal and a delivery system and if we -- and we can't preemptively attack or force North Korea to disarm and to get rid of this nuclear program so the reality is what we have to do is use our - use pressure and talk with North Korea as a way to bring them to get them to have a freeze, to stop their nuclear weapons production and to stop missile testing. North Korea wants certain things and I believe the formula is giving them security, giving them some respect and legitimacy in what they want and some economic benefits. That's the formula if we're going to have any chance at all to resolve this issue going forward.

SESAY: The coming days certainly key to seeing what happens next on the Korean Peninsula. Philip Yun Executive Director of the Ploughshares Fund appreciate it. Thank you so much.

YUN: Thank you.

[01:20:07] VAUSE: Well, police have found a letter with a claim of responsibility for an attack on a German football club. Authorities have not said if the note was actually forward legitimate but it could be a lead after three explosives detonated near a bus carrying the Borussia Dortmund team to a home game. One player was slightly injured.

SESAY: The police chief said there was never any doubt who was targeted.


GREGOR LANGE, DORTMUND POLICE CHIEF (through translator): We have to assume and we assume from the start that it was a targeted attack on the Borussia Dortmund team. That is why we immediately activated the emergency plan to put all available police forces on duty.


SESAY: Well, as a precaution police evacuated the stadium when Dortmund was set to play. The game will now be played on Wednesday night.

VAUSE: Well the White House Spokesman Sean Spicer now apologizing for comments he now describes as inappropriate and insensitive. Details just ahead.


VAUSE: Something rare is not very unusual, had it on Tuesday the White House. It was an apology.

SESAY: It was indeed. Spokesman Sean Spicer says it was a mistake to try to compare Syrian President, Bashar Assad to Hitler.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II, you know. You had a, you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to the -- using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you're Russia, ask yourself, is this a country that you and a regime that you want to align yourself with?


VAUSE: For more on this, Democratic Strategist, Dave Jacobson; Republican Consultant, John Thomas. So John, you know, the first rule of politics, never compare anyone to Hitler.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Yes. I mean, he certainly broke that rule. It's not just in politics, I think it's a communication in general. Look, Spicer apologized on CNN later that day. I think that was the right -- I know that was the right thing to do, but the problem here is, Spicer is oftentimes so combative with the press in those daily press briefings that it opens up opportunities to make flubs. Now, this was a gigantic one. But at the point where the flubs continued to happen and Spicer manages to eclipse? For instance, the United Airlines story. That's a problem and if he doesn't get it together, Trump is going to have to make a change.

SESAY: Yes. And Dave, to you, he did try and clean up the mess. He didn't get it right the first time but he eventually got it right on CNN. Take a listen to the apology.


SPICER: I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad has made against his own people last week using chemical weapons and gas. And frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the holocaust for which frankly, there is no comparison. And for that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.


[01:25:20] SESAY: I mean, you've got to hand it to him, Dave. He wholeheartedly, unreservedly, apologizes. He uses all the right language, but is it enough to put this matter to bed?

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'm not sure it is. And good for the press for holding his feet to the fire and forcing the apology. I think the real question is, whether or not he would have apologized, had there not been this sort of firestorm behind this issue. But look, I think this largely underscores the fact that the Press Secretary, Sean Spicer for the White House, is both - excuse me -- incompetent and completely tone deaf. And I think this is largely emblematic of the challenge that the Trump Administration has had with the Jewish community and the sense that they've been largely anti- Semitic or at least there's this thinly bailed narrative that they are, right.

You've got the fact that on the holocaust remembrance day of course, they didn't even acknowledge in the White House statement the millions of Jews, of course, that were slaughtered, you know, by Hitler, of course. And so I think this is largely, you know, emblematic of the narrative that the Trump Administration has continued to pursue from the campaign up until the administration.

VAUSE: OK, very quickly. Sorry. I'll ask John in here because Spicer was asked specifically if he's spoken to President Trump about this. This is what he said.


SPICER: I needed to make sure that I clarified and not with in any way shape or form, any more of a distraction from the president's decisive action in Syria and the attempts that he's making to destabilize the region and rule out ISIS out of Syria.


VAUSE: Did we all notice was he just then? The president's efforts to destabilize the region? And, yes, I get it. He misspoke. But this is a guy who misspeaks a lot which is not a good trait if you're the Spokesman. I mean, look, this guy, you know, he probably won't get fired before the 100 days is up, right? Because they don't want to have many people see it, John, but after that, it's game on, surely.

THOMAS: Yes, I maintain, think he stays about six months, which is long enough to, you know, hold your head high and go and do something else. So you're right. This -- it's just one misstep after another, which these are unforced errors. And if you're Donald Trump, you know, he doesn't need any more of those coming out of his administration. But today's anti-Semite point, I mean, Jared Kushner, his most senior advisor, you know, is quite Jewish, I believe. So I just - I don't think the administration is anti-Semitic at all.

VAUSE: Why did you just mention Jared Kushner.

SESAY: Indeed. Thank you for that Segway. Appreciate it because I'm going to talk about the palace intrigue, the rivalry, the infighting between Kushner. Obviously, the President's son-in-law and one of his Senior Advisors and Steve Bannon, of course, who's also close to the President? The question is how close is he these days?

VAUSE: Not that close.

SESAY: Take a look to what President Trump had to say to the New York Post. Let's put it up on screen. The President said, "I like Steve. But you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I'd already beaten all the Senators and all the governors and I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary. Steve is a good guy, but I told him to straighten it out or I will." Wow, Dave. Is that a gut punch or what? I mean, what does that signal?

JACOBSON: It's a body blow. But I think like moreover, Donald Trump says that he's a strategist. And why did he give Steve Bannon the title Chief Strategist for the White House? Look, Donald Trump, of course, loves to divert attention and to divert blame away from himself onto other people. But I think, look, largely I don't understand what the calculus was for Bannon to go to war with the President's son-in-law. This is a guy who is intimately attached to the President at the hip by marriage. He's not going anywhere, right. He's going to be part of this administration for the foreseeable future. Steve Bannon on the other hand, can be easily fired and pushed away from the Trump Administration so I don't understand necessarily the strategy or the thought process behind Bannon's attempt to sort of create this wedge between him and Jared.

VAUSE: I say, John, last words to you. Is Steve Bannon heading back to do nasty stories of (INAUDIBLE)

THOMAS: Look. I know I see he's fighting the fight, it's not just over power. It's over ideology. Steve Bannon is far more conservative and arguably more populous than Jared Kushner's approach. I think he feels that he needs to fight for his ideology and what he thinks Trump voters put Trump in office to do.

SESAY: Seems like he'd be fighting in the corner.

VAUSE: Yes. The naughty corner perhaps. Dave and John, thanks so much.

SESAY: Appreciate it guys. Thank you. Quick break, coming up. Swift backlash around the world for United Airlines after a passenger was dragged off a flight. We're seeing the by now. How the airline can end its P.R. nightmare.


[01:30:42] VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour. The US Secretary of State is in Moscow to meet with Russia's foreign minister. Syria will be the big focus after last week's US missile strikes there.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the US blames for a deadly chemical attack on his people. Russia denounces the US strike and says the chemicals belong to rebels.

VAUSE: US President Donald Trump promising once again to end the nuclear threat from North Korea with or without Beijing's help. The president posted on Twitter, "China will get a better trade deal if they solved the North Korean problem.

SESAY: Well, police say, may have a lead, rather -- that's right, that way in an explosive attack on German football club Borussia Dortmund. Officials are trying to figure out if the handwritten letter claiming responsibility for the blast is legitimate. Explosives went off near a bus carrying the team to a home game, slightly wounding one player.

VAUSE: Well, United Airlines is trying to pull itself out of a public relations nightmare. Images of security officers dragging a passenger from a United flight sparked outrage around the world.

SESAY: The airlines CEO issued a third statement Tuesday, apologizing to the passenger for what he called a truly horrific incident. CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh has the latest.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: As United Airlines passenger David Dao receives treatment for his injuries at a Chicago hospital, the airline is tail-spinning into a public relations disaster after video of Dao being dragged from a Sunday night flight went viral.

[01:35:03] The airline first said the flight was overbooked. Then changed its language Tuesday to oversold. United did not respond to multiple attempts to clarify the change.

From the White House:

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Clearly, we watched the video. It is troubling to see how that was handled.

MARSH: To late night TV.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": The CEO of United released a statement via Twitter. This is what the CEO tweeted.

"This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.

He says re-accommodate. This is like we re-accommodated El Chapo out of Mexico. That is such sanitized, say-nothing, take-no- responsibility corporate BS speak. I don't know how the guy who sent that tweet didn't vomit when he typed it out.

MARSH: And on social media. United Airlines is feeling the sting, not just for the violent removal of the passenger, but the airline's lack of compassion. It took two days before CEO Oscar Munoz apologized directly to Dao, who had been left bloodied after the incident.

In a statement Tuesday, Munoz said, "I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.

The new statement a far cry from the email the CEO sent to employees Monday, defending the flight crew and calling the passenger disruptive and belligerent. And in Munoz's very first statement, he only apologized for having to re-accommodate customers.

Although it is legal for airlines to deny boarding to passengers if it's overbooked, lawmakers are also calling foul. Governor Chris Christie is calling on the Trump administration to suspend the federal regulation that permits airlines to overbook flights and remove passengers as a result.

Meanwhile, members of Congress are calling for the Department of Transportation to launch an investigation. Right now, the agency is only reviewing the incident.

The video has breached borders, trending on China's version of Twitter, generating more than 100 million views, potentially harmful to the airline's bottom line. China is a huge growth market for the airline.

The airline's CEO pledged a thorough review of how the airline handles oversold flights and how it works with law enforcement. He said that the review would be completed by April 30.

Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: Well, Eric Rose joins us here now. He's a crisis and reputation management expert and a partner with the strategic communications firm EKA. Eric, good to see you.


VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE). In the years to come, when the universities are teaching the public relations experts and the crisis managers of the future, will this United Airlines case be a textbook case of everything a company should not do when it comes to dealing with a PR crisis?

ROSE: It will be. It will be just like the Takata airbag story, it will be like Exxon Valdez, it will be along those lines. It's not going to be the Tylenol story that everyone looks to.

First of all, the CEO is actually a very good communicator, which is shocking because, in this case, he's not doing a very good job of communicating. We've seen misstep after misstep.

There is kind of a rule in PR. When you're in a hole, stop digging. And they are continuing to dig themselves in a hole.

SESAY: Let's pick up on the CEO and the statements he has put out. The first one was just sent this into another level of uproar. He did a second one. And then the third one, which everyone is saying OK, and we have that. We want to share that with our viewers, that third statement which you have, Eric.

Walk us through it because as far as you're concerned, and here's part of it. He said, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way. You say this third statement isn't much better. ROSE: I'd fire the person who wrote that for the CEO. There's one line in there. So, it, obviously, was carefully scripted and it talks about no one should ever be mistreated this way. So, the basic question is how should they be mistreated.

VAUSE: It shows an attitude towards the customers?

ROSE: It shows that they're not really, they're not thinking this through and every word matters. Every action the CEO takes right now to heal and get people to move on from this is the right thing. We should be focusing on the things that he did do that were right. A thorough investigation, walked back as much as he could, the fact that he put the blame on to the customer, the doctor.

He has started to do the right things, but he hasn't done anything immediately to reach out to all the other passengers who were affected, who were traumatized by it.

[01:40:00] It would have been a very easy PR move for them to today say, I'm going to give everyone on that flight free vouchers. I am personally going to apologize and have an executive from United Airlines call every single person and apologize. That would have got out even if they never announced it.

VAUSE: We've seen a lot of stuff on social media, but United is also now a punchline. Many of the late-night TV shows here in the US. Look at Jimmy Kimmel from the other night.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're United Airlines. You do what we say, when we say, and there won't be a problem.

Capiche? If we say you fly, you fly. If not, (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Give us a problem and we'll drag your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off the plane. If you resist, we'll beat you so badly, you'll be using your own face as a flotation device.


VAUSE: There's been a ton of them out there. But when you get to this point in a crisis, is there anything that United can actually do to turn this around?

ROSE: Continue to do the right thing. They are a punchline. I've seen probably 10 or 11 different memes out there.

VAUSE: But there's no dramatic move they can make at this point.

ROSE: There isn't. They will get beyond this. Thank God for another spokesperson today who kind of took them off the headlines. It's not a good day for spokespersons, with Sean Spicer. So, there is going to be another event that will take our focus away from this.

They have to move on, but they haven't thoroughly done the right thing yet. And it's amazing for a company and a CEO who intrinsically knows how to do the right thing.

SESAY: How hard is this going to hit the brand long term, especially in the era of social media where these images live on forever? Every time you put in United, this is going to come up.

ROSE: Well, it's going to come up. And I think that, as you said, it's going to be a lesson for people in colleges relative to crisis management. But I think where they have to be careful is how are they also going to handle it not in the US, but overseas, China and Asia.

There was a little hint that this was racially motivated. I don't believe it was. I think that there was some problems with the way it was handled. But the fact is that people believe it's racially motivated makes it racially motivated.

And then, I think, ultimately, and I do a lot of work with law enforcement. They're going to be looking at how law enforcement handled this. How did you take what was essentially a business dispute and create a law enforcement action? He wasn't a disruptive passenger until they created the disruptive passenger.

VAUSE: The issue of China is interesting because this, United has a lot of business coming from China and this has been picked up on Weibo, which is basically the Chinese version of Twitter, as a racist act. So, from United's point of view, is there anything they can do right now to end that perception in China or is this something you just have to let it die?

ROSE: They have to do something in China. There, as you've mentioned, the views of this in China are in the tens of millions now. We've seen it affect their stock price


ROSE: It will come back. But they have to reassure the Asian market. They are going to have to do advertising. They're going to have to do advertising campaigns in Asia. They are going to have to reach out to the Asian market. They're going to have to find Asian experts to help advise them on what to do with the Asian market.

VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) culture too with China, which is different to the United States.

ROSE: Exactly. And so, I think that they have to understand that this is a worldwide problem for their brand. They have a brand reputation issue here. That is not going to be solved overnight. And putting out letters to people that are disingenuous to begin with and then trying to do the right thing and still getting it wrong is not helping move the story along to the next stage.


SESAY: All right. Thank you so much.


SESAY: In whole, stop doing it.

VAUSE: Yes, yes, yes.

SESAY: Thank you. Quick break. President Trump attacks his predecessors of playing too much golf, but Mr. Trump's own golf trips adding up in a pretty big way. What it's costing taxpayers, just ahead.


[01:47:01] SESAY: Hello, everyone. President Donald Trump says he's all about government cost-cutting, but he's racking up huge travel and security expenses despite his rhetoric about frugality.

VAUSE: So, if he keeps this up, Mr. Trump's travel expenses in one year will surpass President Barack Obama's costs during his entire eight years in office. Sunlen Serfaty has the details.


SPICER: The president plans to spend the Easter holiday in Florida.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Since becoming president, Trump has spent six weekends, 21 days at his club in Florida, what he's dubbed the southern White House, with an estimated total price tag to taxpayers a whopping $21.6 million.

That puts the president on pace in his first year to surpass former President Obama's spending on travel for his entire eight years.

SPICER: Presidents always travel.

SERFATY: Pushing the White House on the defensive.

SPICER: The president, wherever he goes, he carries the apparatus of the White House with us. That is just something that happens.

SERFATY: Then there's the White House north. While Trump has not traveled to New York City as president yet, it's still Melania Trump and their son Baron's primary residence. Costing them between $127,000 and $146,000 a day to protect them according to New York City officials.

Meantime, Trump's adult children have pushed the logistical and financial needs even more. From Vancouver to Dubai, Uruguay and Aspen, Colorado, they are on the go, vacationing, working for the Trump organization and bringing with them their own secret service contingents.

Such a large family, combined with the typical key White House staff, amounts to a doubling of those protected under the Trump administration.

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That is unprecedented. It's not unattainable to protect them all, it's just unprecedented.

SERFATY: The secret service is feeling the strain and is pulling dozens of agents from around the country from their normal criminal investigations to work for two-week rotations to protect members of the Trump family.

In a statement to CNN, the Secret Service says, "Regardless of the number of protectees or where the assignment takes us, the Secret Service remains an expeditionary law enforcement agency that continues to adapt and evolve based on the mission at hand."

But on Capitol Hill last week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm deeply concerned that the Secret Service is being stretch to its breaking point.

SERFATY: The homeland security secretary admitting the burden.

JOHN KELLY, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: They need a lot more agents. Not just because of the Trump era, if you will, although that is additional because he's got a lot of children, grandchildren.

SERFATY: Forcing him to request additional funding from Congress soon.

KELLY: We need a larger Secret Service, because we need to get some of these people a little bit of time at home with their families.

SERFATY: Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: A short break here. When we come back, United Airlines has a company motto, Fly the Friendly Skies. The Twitterverse, though, dares to disagree in the twitterest way possible.


[01:53:27] SESAY: Well, United Airlines is taking a beating on social media after disturbing videos of a passenger being dragged of the flight went viral.

VAUSE: Our Jeanne Moos has a look at some of the biggest hits coming United's way.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Talk about turbulence, United better fasten its seatbelt. Attacked on Twitter, "Board as a doctor, leave as a patient," "We put the hospital in hospitality," parodied on late night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we say you fly, you fly. If not, tough (EXPLESIVE DELETED). Give us a problem, and we'll drag your ass off the plane. MOOS: This movie clip from Airplane! has taken off. The word of the week is re-accommodate as in we can re-accommodate you the easy way or the hard way.

Getting ready to fly involves bubble wrap for man and man's best friend.

The captain has turned on the no passenger sign.

Most of the online slings and arrows came via the #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos. Mottos like, "we have first class, business class and no class."

"You have to admit, that's a lot of legroom."

United airlines introduces new cabin class, Fight Club.

"And check out the re-imagined safety instructions. Please cover your head and brace yourself for a beating."

Old commercials are being turned into mashups.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Performing together with a single united purpose.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god, look at what you're doing to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what makes the world's leading airline flyer friendly.

[01:55:09] MOOS: There are parody ads from other airlines. "Southwest. We beat the competition. Not you."

And an actual real ad from Emirates Airlines, mocking United with its own slogan. And this:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Come fly with me"

MOOS: Became comply with me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And if you resist, we'll beat you so badly, you'll be using your own face as a flotation device.

MOOS: United is now the one taking a beating and it's the Internet that's unfriendly.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


SESAY: And they just keep on coming this week.

VAUSE: Yes. And the airlines just keep on doing it. And at the end of the day, they keep making billions and billions of dollars in profit and service just keeps getting worse.

SESAY: Except now, the cameras capture it all. VAUSE: Things have changed.

SESAY: Things that changed. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Stay with us. A lot more news after a very short break.