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Trump Says NATO is 'No Longer Obsolete'; U.S. Intercepts Chemical Warfare Communications Inside Syria. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2017 - 06:00   ET



REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The current state of U.S.- Russia relations is at a low point.

[05:58:40] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russians are a strong country. We're a very, very strong country. We're going to see how that all works out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Intelligence officials intercepted communications discussing preparations for last week's sarin gas attack.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via phone): The big unknown still remains will they will come up with similar intercepts indicating that the Russians were involved.

TRUMP: No. 1, NATO is obsolete.

I complained about that a long time ago. It's no longer obsolete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad that he's squaring up his philosophy with reality.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: From NATO to China. This is a president who is doing a lot of 180s.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, April 13, 6 a.m. here in New York.

Up first, the president doing a 180 on NATO, Syria, Russia, China and economic policy. We're going to explore what is fueling the breakneck pace of shifting positions.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And the Pentagon tells CNN that they have new evidence that connects the Syrian government to the chemical attack last week that killed dozens of their own people, despite Syria's denials.

It is day 84 of the Trump presidency. And we have it all covered for you. So let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House -- Joe.


The reversals on economic and foreign policy perhaps the most noticeable this morning. More evidence than ever that approaching the end of the first 100 days, this administration is now acknowledging the differences between what sounds good on the campaign trail and what works when in the Oval Office.


TRUMP: I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.

JOHNS (voice-over): In a stunning reversal, President Trump abandoning his often-repeated hardline position on NATO.

TRUMP: NATO is obsolete.

In my opinion, NATO is obsolete.

So here's the problem with NATO. It's obsolete.

JOHNS: Asserting also that it was his criticism that prompted the alliance to start fighting terrorism.

TRUMP: I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change. And now they do fight terrorism.

JOHNS: Despite the fact that it has been a central focus of the military alliance for years. This about-face coming as Trump seeks support from U.S. allies amid worsening relations with Russia.

TRUMP: Right now, we're not getting along with Russia at all.

JOHNS: A geopolitical foe he's resisted criticizing in the past.

TRUMP: I think I get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so.

Putin says very nice things about me. I think that's very nice.

JOHNS: The president now hardening his tone, but again, stopping short of going directly after the Russian president.

TRUMP: I'll also see about Putin over a period of time. It will be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin.

JOHNS: However, Mr. Trump did make his feelings clear about Syria's brutal dictator.

TRUMP: That's a butcher. That's a butcher.

JOHNS: A stark contrast to comments from administration officials last week who said then their priority is not toppling Assad.

President Trump still gushing over his summit last week with China's president.

TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together.

JOHNS: Telling "The Wall Street Journal" the Chinese are not currency manipulators after repeatedly saying so on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: They're a grand master at currency manipulation.

Nobody has ever manipulated currency like China.

Label China a currency manipulator.

JOHNS: The president even offering an olive branch to Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen, telling the "Journal" he respects her, after saying this last September.

TRUMP (via phone): I think she's very political. And to a certain extent, I think she should be ashamed of herself.

JOHNS: Trump also telling reporters he prefers that Yellen keep interest rates low.

TRUMP: I think our dollar's getting too strong.

JOHNS: The president's comments causing a sell-off of the dollar.

Another reversal coming on health care.

TRUMP: I have to do health care first. I want to do it first to really do it right.

JOHNS: It was just last month that the president said he was abandoning the issue after a bruising defeat in Congress. Now, he's threatening to cut off federal payments to insurance markets, in hopes he will be able to force Democrats to the negotiating table. A move that could trigger turmoil in the insurance markets.

Despite the flurry of flip-flops, the president insists, "One by one, we are keeping our promises."


JOHNS: Not to be overlooked, the president's apparent support for the Export-Import Bank, which is a big backflip, when CNN's Jim Acosta asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer about all this, his answer was, "Circumstances change" -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. Thank you very much for all of that.

Meanwhile, CNN is learning that U.S. intel agencies intercepted communications between the Syrian military and chemical experts. Evidence, they say, of a coordinated chemical attack.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more of this reporting. Hi, Barbara. STARR: Good morning, Alisyn.

Officially, the Pentagon is not commenting. But CNN has learned that, indeed, they did have communications intercepts of Syrian officials and military officials in Syria, talking about the chemical attack before it happened, the planning of it.

Now, this does not mean the U.S. had knowledge the attack was going to happen. They went back through all the intelligence they had after the attack and were able to sift out and locate, due to the time, date and place of the attack, exactly what they were looking for.

So that is an important piece of intelligence that they have the intercepts that the Syrians were talking about, about this attack.

What about the Russians? Emerging evidence. We had reported in the past there was a Russian drone over the hospital that got bombed. That Russian drone taking images. The theory now, the U.S. officials say: it was taking images of the injured people at the hospital. That provided the information for another plane to come in and try to bomb the hospital.

So they are looking for additional evidence of Russian involvement. They know that there were Russian chemical experts inside Syria -- Alisyn, Chris.

CUOMO: Barbara, appreciate it.

All right. Let's discuss that and President Trump's shifting positions with CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks; and White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," Carol Lee. It's good to have you all with us today.

[06:05:12] David Gregory, circumstances change. Principles should not. And that really is the conflict for the president. How do you read these new positions, kind of a recognition of preexisting fact on all of these different -- NATO, Russia, Syria?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, the president was never an ideological guy, never a terribly principled person when it came to views of the world or even of governance. On major policy positions, he didn't have that kind of experience. I think he played fast and loose with the campaign for effect.

And I think he believes a couple of things. One, unpredictability and flexibility are his strength in negotiation, but also in how people will evaluate him, both friend and foe alike. I think he finds advantage in that and finds a way, with a change in position, to bring people around, because they can't pin him down a little bit.

I think there's dangers, as well, he can get into in terms of being that unpredictable among our allies. What can people expect?

But I think he's channeling all this thing, like "What's the big deal? I just have a different view now that I'm actually governing." And there is something to that. OK? Campaign is one thing. You get into the office, and you deal with new realities. And I think he's actually, in some ways, getting more credit for these flips, because he's flipping to a more moderate direction, and people feel more relieved.

CAMEROTA: Carol, you just had a wide-ranging sit-down with the president, 70 minutes long. In fact, you asked him how these 85 days in office have changed him. So what did he say?

CAROL LEE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": He had a very interesting answer that I think is reflected in the changes that we're seeing him make, all of the things that you all just outlined.

He said that, you know, this is a whole different world. That the thing that struck him is that he's not different, but the decisions are so big and the magnitude of the decisions are so big. And that, you know, he's facing -- he's faced with life and death decisions.

And if you don't mind, I'll actually read you the quote. He said, "You're not talking about you're going to make a good deal." Which means that -- that was, you know, the way that he talked about it during the campaign, was "I make great deals, and you know, that's why you should -- that's why I'll be a great president."

And what he's saying -- what he was saying is that he realized, you know, 84 days in, that it's not just about that. That these are actually really big decisions and that all the different complicated parts, particularly on foreign affairs, have consequences when you -- you take one step versus another.

And one of the first things that he talked with about was his relationship with China. And he said when he decided he wasn't going to name them a currency manipulator it was, one, because he said China is no longer manipulating its currency, or hasn't in some months. But also, that why would he do that right now when he wants China to do something for him on North Korea? That now is not the time.

So we've seen, on a number of fronts, he's just kind of recognizing that, while it's -- in a campaign, you can take a very hard line on one thing or the other, that these pieces all relate when you move them around and you can't just say you will do something like label China a currency manipulator and without having consequences for other parts of your agenda.

CUOMO: Right. Well, this was the criticism of him during the campaign, right? Is that he had situations wrong and that he was talking tough in a way that belied the facts. Let's play an example of it with NATO. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: NATO is obsolete. It was 67 years, or it's over 60 years old. It is many countries. Doesn't cover terrorism.

I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change; and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.


CUOMO: Now, the problem in the shift, General, is that, in each of these cases, it's that the president had it wrong. OK? We all know, if you know anything about NATO, it's never been obsolete. It's never been divorced from terrorism. The only time it's invoked the article was to help the United States after 9/11. He said they don't pay enough money and it's not how it works. It's about what your commitment is to defense.

He had things wrong on each of these issues. Now he has them right. Is that necessarily a strength or a reflection of his challenges?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I hope it would be his strength and that our president is evolving. I mean, you campaign in poetry. You govern in prose. Right? That's kind of what we're seeing. And I'm glad to say that our president is adjusting his position in this regard.

I mean, there's nothing more important to us right now than to have a unified Europe. We can deal with that. If we're doing these one-off bilateral relationships and negotiations, that opens a whole host of doors for malfeasance and problems and negotiating positions can come in.

We want a Europe -- we hope we would have a Europe who has a focus to the west, which it has had forever, versus a focus to the east. And we know the problems that would result from that.

[06:10:04] So it's to our great advantage that the president is raising his hand and saying, "Look, I might have had it wrong." We now need to be able to create these positions, where we can find interests with Russia so that we can have a unified picture in all these problems that we're confronted with right now.

GREGORY: I think that's constructive, but it is stunning in a way that he thinks, "Wow, I didn't realize that there were just such huge decisions."

CAMEROTA: When you're president.

GREGORY: Well, I mean, you know, what was he think -- what did he think he was campaigning for? I mean, he says, "I didn't realize that health care was so complicated." So that part of it is -- you know, there's a transparency to the president that I think will be looked at differently whether you are supportive of him or critical of him.

But it is striking. You know, the way he talks, the way he brings people into his decision making. And I thought Carol's interview in the "Journal" was so interesting in that way. Which he's just -- he's quite open, the fact that he -- you know, he wants "The Wall Street Journal" there. He wants "The New York Times" there to see him as legitimate. He wants to have that dialogue. And I think that openness exposes areas where he was wrong.

By the way, NATO hasn't made any changes because of him. It was always thus.

CAMEROTA: Aren't countries contributing more? I mean, that's one of the things he claims.

GREGORY: It's not about contributing. But the idea...

CAMEROTA: That is something that he did make a cornerstone.

GREGORY: No, he did. And are you making an appropriate... yes.

CUOMO: They don't contribute to anything. What they expend on their own defense of their own budget. You know what I mean? So it's how much money do you spend on your defense?


CUOMO: What percentage of your budget? You don't give money into anything. There's been no increased contribution.

MARKS: It's not your budget. It is NATO's budget.


MARKS: It is NATO's budget.

CAMEROTA: OK. So it's NATO's budget. And have they given more since Mr. Trump started talking about it?

MARKS: Well, the secretary-general has indicated that they're increasing. Yes.

CAMEROTA: Right. And we're interviewing him today, by the way, I should mention.

So yes. So I mean, in other words, he does have some things that he then hangs his hat on, when he says, "I talked about it and things changed."

GREGORY: But my point is about the -- this flexibility that I think -- because you could criticize him and say, look, he doesn't have this defined view of the world. But the truth is, most presidents don't. And I mean, Carol can speak to this.

I thought it was interesting, you know, the whole bit with President Xi, where he says, you know, "I want him to do more in North Korea, and he told me all the history of China and North Korea. And I realized it's not so easy." And so you can imagine that this -- in some ways he is maybe building a real relationship with the Chinese leader that we didn't expect was possible, or he's just...

CUOMO: We are seeing this -- what we're calling an evolution is really a recognition of existing fact.

GREGORY: Yes. It's catching up.

CUOMO: China is a good example of this. Let's play the sound. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: China, which has been ripping us off, the greatest abuser in the history of this country.

President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea. We talked trade. We talked a lot of things. And I said the way you're going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea.


CUOMO: Now again, similarly with NATO -- and "Spider," you're right. The way NATO sees its fiscal picture is as a collective of the individual states' commitments to their own defense.

MARKS: Right.

CUOMO: So it's not about, "Oh, now we just saw that Poland put an extra $50 million in. We're in good shape."

With China, they haven't been pushing their currency down for a long time. He was wrong, Carol. It worked well during the campaign, but it was factually inaccurate. So now he's saying it -- he knows the truth of it. Is that a benefit or a burden for him in terms of analysis?

LEE: Well, I think if you're China, you don't really care what he's -- the reason why he's giving for changing his position. You just care that he changed his position. I think, similarly with NATO, it's probably a little bit -- it's a little more complex because, on one hand. hearing the president say -- and to be clear, that was the strongest statement that they've gotten from him on his commitment to NATO, to say specifically NATO is no longer obsolete. Because that was the big thing that made people nervous.

And so on one hand, they're hear what he wants to hear -- they're hearing what they want to hear from him. But on the other hand, it raises questions about, well, what are we going to hear next, and at what point does he flip again and what excuse will he use for that, even if it isn't exactly accurate?

But to go back to David's point on the president's comments about being changed on North Korea -- his view on China's ability to help him on North Korea based on a history lesson for -- from President Xi. That was, to me, one of the most interesting points in the interview, because he was so candid about that. He just said, you know, "I went in and said, 'This should be so easy for you. You should be able to help me. And China can easily turn North Korea -- deal with North Korea'."

And then he said Xi went into this history of China, Korea. And he said within ten minutes, he thought, "Oh, OK, it's not so easy." And so that was -- that's kind of a theme I think we're starting to see develop and we'll see more -- develop more just in his presidency as the days unfold.

CAMEROTA: Maybe his staff could brief him a little bit so he's not learning from the other world leaders. But it happens to be working for him at the moment.

Panel, thank you very much.

LEE: Thank you.

[06:15:09] CUOMO: All right. Coming up on NEW DAY, NATO's secretary- general will be with us. He's going to talk about the meeting with President Trump and Trump's reversal on the military alliance.

CAMEROTA: President Trump making threats that could hurt the quality of your health care, or at least affect it. What's he saying? That's next on NEW DAY.


CAMEROTA: OK. President Trump says he is considering withholding payments to health insurers in an effort to force Democrats to the negotiating table. He tells "The Wall Street Journal, quote, "I don't want people to get hurt. What I think should happen

-- and it will happen -- is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.

We're back with our panel. We have David Gregory, Carol Lee. We're also joined by CNN political analyst Alex Burns. As we said, you sat down with the president for about 70 minutes, a wide-ranging interview.

[06:20:01] So explain how President Obama had been giving, I guess, billions of dollars to insurers in subsidies for the lowest income people to help sort of bridge the gap. President Trump is threatening to get rid of those. Chuck Schumer says that he'll be hurting low- income people. What did the president tell you about his plan?

LEE: He left it very open. He said he hadn't made a decision about what he wants to do, and he put it out there. And he did it several times, specifically naming Chuck Schumer, saying that "The Democrats would be smart to be contacting me to negotiate on this."

And so he's open to -- he's leaving it open to give himself negotiating room, hoping that Democrats will negotiate, because he has things he wants from Democrats, including health care but on other issues. And -- and so he's using it as leverage to try to get something going with Democrats, which he has not been able to do.

At the same time, he said, "I don't want to hurt people." So he left it very undecided and -- and kind of laid it down as something that he -- to try to get some sort of negotiations going with Democrats.

CUOMO: So David, this is another example of, you know, how the president makes his magic. Facts first. OK? You can't not pay on existing contracts. OK? So you can delay it, and that could have almost a definite reverberation effect of slow-walking of service, treatment and payment to claimants. And so that would have big ripple effects. It would hurt people if you did that.

But as a tactic, how do you see it?

GREGORY: Well, I think he's trying to push open a door that's not willing to be opened. I mean, I think he thinks he can create some leverage and create a new negotiating partner on Capitol Hill, since his Republican Party bailed on him when it came to health care.

I don't know that Democrats are inclined to do that, No. 1, because to what we've been talking about, I don't think they feel that they can trust him. You know, he may come out with this negotiating position and then completely switch it. And I think Republicans are worried about that, as well.

But I will tell you this. I do think it's smart of the president to look for ways to confound his adversaries. Look for ways to make it difficult for Democrats not to negotiate with him. I don't think he's got any particular alliances other than achieving a result. And in that way, he could be tactically difficult for Democrats.

CAMEROTA: And in fact, Alex, I mean, we have seen this time and again. He'll say something inflammatory or he'll make a threat. It does get people's attention like, say, Senator Chuck Schumer and then he backs off, because now the negotiating begins.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I was speaking to somebody just a couple days ago, actually, who sort of represents insurers in this -- I don't want to say stand-off but this sort of tense situation with the administration around these payments. And they were saying, you know, "We feel pretty good about sort of the direction that things are headed in."

So I don't know that there's a tremendous impulse to take the president -- take the president's words, take his threat at face value.

Look, the one thing the president hasn't really tried with the Democrats in terms of trying to bring folks from the other party to the table is dangling stuff in front of them that's genuinely popular with their own constituents. That you do have, you know, six, eight, ten red-state Democratic senators or Democrats in states that President Trump won last November.

CAMEROTA: But what could he give them?

BURNS: Well, there, you know, even Democrats acknowledge there are things that need to be changed about the health care law. And many Democrats, starting on election night, said that they were hopeful that they could work with the president on issues related to infrastructure. The president hasn't really gone down that path. Right? And I think that one of the big tests of the next few months is how will the Democrats respond if he does?

CUOMO: Well, but in terms of leverage, right, and things he can do to provoke, Carol, the president gave something away in terms of leverage. It is now known to lawmakers of left and right stripe alike, that they need to get health care done first. They believe that the federal scoring system that will lead into tax reform is important and then figure out how to fund infrastructure. So now that people know this is a meaningful first domino, he's got a reason for Democrats and the Freedom Caucus to dig in. Doesn't he?

LEE: Yes, it was interesting when we talked to the president yesterday. He said -- you know, we asked him about tax reform, for instance, and if he was going to put forward any guidelines or principles on tax reform before health care. And he said absolutely not. He was very clear about that. He's not going to do that. And he's going to, instead, move forward with health care.

And that, as you just said, is a signal to not only Republicans, but Democrats, that this is something he really wants; and he's going to make another effort at it. And so, in that sense, they can hold out for what they want.

At the same time, if you're a Republican and you've been promising to do something on health care for as long as you have, it's really hard to explain back home why you weren't able to do that when you have the White House, the House and the Senate in Republican control.

[06:25:03] So the Republicans on Capitol Hill have an interest in doing something on health care, as well. But the president was very clear this week that that's what he wants to do first, which is different from what we saw when, after the first effort failed, and he said, "We're moving on."

CAMEROTA: David, another interesting tidbit from Carol's sit-down interview with the president, was Steve Bannon. What the status of Steve Bannon is. So let me read from "The Wall Street Journal." This is what President Trump told them yesterday: "I do my own policy. I'm my own strategist. I don't have -- I have people that I respect. I have people that I listen to. I have many people. And then I make the decision. I'm just saying that Bannon is a good who works for me. He's a good guy. But I make my own decisions. I don't have people making decisions."

What do you hear there?

GREGORY: Didn't that quote start out with "I like Steve, but" -- never a good way. "Look, I like Steve..."

CAMEROTA: But here's the door.

GREGORY: You don't want to get bigger than the boss, especially with this guy. I mean, that's the bottom line. And Bannon is getting bigger than the boss. In his dark world view that he's the great manipulator of Trump, that he's Trump's mind and all that. Trump doesn't like it.

Jared Kushner is his son-in-law. He's -- I think we don't fully understand the contours of Kushner's influence on the president, as well as Ivanka in all kinds of ways on President Trump.

And so I think that, at the moment, at the very least, Bannon is being marginalized. I don't think he wants to cut him loose. I've always believed that Bannon is there as a kind of keeper of the flame of that Bannon base, of that kind of the fringe element of -- of this conservative movement. So we'll have to see how it shakes out. But I think he's in some trouble.

CUOMO: Look, those who have been a student of Trump over the years have always been shocked at how small the circle is. You go into his office, you'd expect to see all these people.

CAMEROTA: There's Rona.

CUOMO: A handful. Even during the campaign.

But there's something that's being neglected in the Bannon analysis. Oh, he's on the way out. He's fighting with the son-in-law. That's it. It's the only loyalty Trump has, is to family.

What happens if Bannon walks out of the White House? He is now the most dangerous person that the president could have out there. He would be able to expose him as a hypocrite, as a fraud to his own base. And who knows what he's heard?

CAMEROTA: If Breitbart turns on him.

BURNS: Breitbart has already produced all kinds of headaches for the administration on issues like health care, on the relationship with Paul Ryan, on foreign policy. And that's with Steve Bannon in the White House, right?

I do think it's important to -- just for longer-range context on people, you know, being dismissed or shown the door from Donald Trump's world. You know, I'm old enough to remember when Roger Stone was shown the door in the campaign, when Corey Lewandowski was shown the door in the campaign. These are folks that the president has never stopped talking to.

CUOMO: It's true. But remember, Bannon has a unique access and unique power on the outside. They have to think about that.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. So tensions with North Korea are escalating by the hour. Could the reclusive nation be on the verge of conducting another nuclear test? We have facts that make this more than speculation. We take you live there. Next.