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Trump Reverses on Key Campaign Promises; U.S. Intercepts Chemical Warfare Communications Inside Suria; Former Defense Secretary Criticizes Obama Red Line in Syria. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2017 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: There you go. Drew, Tim, thank you very much.

[07:00:09] And thanks to all of you, our international viewers, for watching. For you "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are grateful for the support of NATO members.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The president doing a 180.

TRUMP: Nobody has ever manipulated currency like China.

President Xi wants to do the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He changes policy more often than he changes clothes.

TRUMP: We're going to have a phenomenal tax reform, but I have to do health care first.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is grappling with the reality of what's in front of him.

CAMEROTA: New evidence that connects the Syrian government to the chemical attack.

TRUMP: Right now, we're not getting along with Russia at all. We're going to see how that all works out.


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

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

Up first, President Trump doing a 180 on many of his key policies and campaign promises, from NATO to the U.S. relationships with Russia and China. And when asked why he's changing, his press secretary said circumstances change. CUOMO: Perhaps the president's biggest shift has come on the issues

surrounding Syria. CNN now reporting U.S. intel picked up communications between the Syrian military and chemical experts ahead of last week's attack. Can we expect more changes on day 84 of the Trump administration?

CNN has you covered. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House -- Joe.


The Trump administration likes to say that it is keeping its promises on things like deregulation and energy policy. But it's the reversals on things like foreign and economic policy that are much more noticeable this morning. More evidence than ever that this new administration is discovering there's a big difference between what you say on the campaign trail and what you have to do 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 has resisted criticizing in the past.

TRUMP: I think I'd 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 (on camera): 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: You know, you can add to this list of reversals the president's apparent support for the Export-Import Bank, which is another big backflip. The White House press secretary, asked about this by CNN, says circumstances change.

Alisyn and Chris, back to you.

[07:05:07] CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you very much.

We have a lot to discuss with our panel. Let's bring in reporter and editor at large of CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza; CNN political analyst David Gregory; and former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Thomas Pickering. Great to have all of you.

David, OK, so I mean, Joe just laid it out there.


CAMEROTA: The flip-flop on NATO, Export-Import business, Russia obviously, China. Syria: you know, does Assad stay? Does Assad go? Are we getting involved in their civil war? Are we not getting involved in the civil war? Which of these do you think is most significant?

GREGORY: Well, I think it's going in a direction that represents a couple of things to me. Pragmatism. This is a president who wants to be a deal maker, who does want to solve problems.

And who I think, secondly, is heavily influenced by much more establishment thinking. Based on advisers he's brought in, both economic advisers, national security/foreign policy advisers. I think there is a quality to the president of genuinely being surprised at how big the presidency is, how difficult the problems are.

CAMEROTA: He's said as much.

GREGORY: And he said as much. He's being very transparent about that.

So I think that we are seeing what I think people always thought was true with this president. He's a flexible, perhaps unprincipled, because he wants a pragmatic approach to governing. The question is, can you trust this, as well, or does he revert back? That -- it's one thing to tack back and forth. To be all over the map is something that can be dangerous and unpredictable to the point where you can't get some of these things done that you want to get done, because people don't believe you.

CUOMO: Well, the good news is that the president seems to have his eye on reality now on these different issues.

Mr. Pickering, the problem is that Sean Spicer's statements, "circumstances change," is true in context. It is not true here. Nothing has changed when it comes to what was going on in Syria; who Putin is; what China has and has not done with its currency; what it has and has not done with respect to North Korea. This is just about President Trump owning the truth, not that circumstances have changed. Fair point?

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Fair point. I would say at last, finally. Henry Kissinger said just a little while ago, before the inauguration, that when Trump changes his mind in the right direction we ought to go a little more softly. We have so much to complain about in this administration, that maybe coming along and understanding reality. And I think you're 100 percent right on that.

Reality Trumps Trump. And I think, in a serious way, it's important that we do everything we can to help him understand it. After all he's still president of the United States, and he can make some really critical decisions. And we have some big problems coming up ahead of us. North Korea, Syria, Russia, China.

The fact that he gets something right, I think, is a help. We're not there yet, and he has a tendency, as I think one of you just mentioned, to reverse every once in a while. So constancy, as well as facing up to reality, is a quality I hope that we can appreciate. And I look forward to that, but I have my fingers crossed all the time.

CAMEROTA: And Chris, I mean, to both those points, no one denies a newcomer to Washington a steep learning curve and some on-the-job learning, and maybe that's what we're seeing. But in terms of the real-world consequences on the different positions on Russia, on China, on Syria, do we know where the U.S. is now?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS: In truth, I think the answer to that is to be determined. To David's point, it's hard -- it's hard to know what today is predictive of tomorrow; whether today is predictive of tomorrow, or a week from now or a month from now.

I mean, I think the important thing to remember -- David touched on this -- Donald Trump, at his core, is a deal maker. It's how he thinks of himself. It's how he's had his successes in the world. And therefore, in his mind, everything is sort of negotiable, including his positions on most things.

That is different than what we see for most politicians, who have a handful of things that they're willing to negotiate on and a handful of things that they feel very strongly about.

I just think this whole thing, Donald Trump is, in many ways, particularly in the conservative base, a misunderstood ideologue. He's not really an ideologue. I always reminded people during the campaign, "He's not a conservative. He's a Democrat." He took on that mantle, because he saw that that was where opportunity existed. And now as president, I think he sees that being -- playing that ideologue role is no longer conducive to making deals, right, to doing the thing he likes to do. And therefore, he's changing.

GREGORY: You know, the ideological piece of this, too. If you look at Russia, you know, he's actually doing some pretty sophisticated things here. You know, maybe embracing NATO is not something that Vladimir Putin is going to like. You know, so he's taking steps to ramp up the pressure on Russia in a way we didn't think that he was -- he was willing to do.

CAMEROTA: And aligning with China.

GREGORY: Right. And aligning with China, right.

CAMEROTA: That is smart. If you're going to -- if Russia is not going to play nicely...


CAMEROTA: ... and you decide that, then how...

[07:10:06] GREGORY: But it's also pressure points on Russia in different directions to try to -- to try to get something you may want out of Syria.

And to the ambassador's point, look, if he was just going off half- cocked here, starting a trade war or, you know, putting in effect the Muslim ban, as he tried to do. I mean, he's tempered from there. We see this in the Bannon story.

CUOMO: He just sent 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria and we're not sure why. And he just sent an armada off the coast of North Korea.

GREGORY: Well, but you say we're not sure why. I mean, he sent a strong political statement. I agree, that's short of having a bigger strategy with regard to Syria. But it was measured. There are constraints around what he is doing in Syria. And I think that's one of the reasons why there's been some bipartisan support for that, at least at this point.

CUOMO: I think there's strong bipartisan support. American lawmakers like it when you attack a bad guy, as long as they don't have to own it. Right?


CUOMO: That's the dichotomy there.

On Russia, I think it's worth playing the sound about the reversal there, and then we'll ask Tom Pickering about it. Here we go.


TRUMP: We're going to have a great relationship with Putin and Russia.

Right now, we're not getting along with Russia. We may be at an all- time low in terms of relationship with Russia.


CUOMO: Mr. Pickering, you understand the Russian dynamic better than any of us. What do you make of what the president seems to be recognizing about what Putin actually is? And how does that inform us as to what happens next?

PICKERING: I think we can say in that regard, "Finally."

I think the other question is, is this going to help us get somewhere? The fact of trading insults or trading comments or trading compliments or trading criticisms is -- if that's part of a strategy. And there is, I think the elements of a strategy here, but one wonders whether this is a stumble and an inadvertence in support of a good objective or whether this is merely a question here that we're watching play out.

A strategy where, in fact, you build up the pressure as part of the art of doing the deal, and then you use a selective relaxation of the pressure to achieve some critical objectives. And it's a little hard yet to perceive whether this is the case or not.

But I've been traveling around the world. And I've noticed that, put it this way: there's more respect for the United States at this moment because of the uncertainty about whether we're a nuclear whirling dervish, and likely to do things that are unpredictable, unpredicted and uncertain. There's a great deal of anguish and worry about this, too. And so this particular approach has a lot of drawbacks to it as well as, perhaps, a few kernels of wisdom or strength. And we'll have to see how it plays out.

As with Donald Trump all along, the unpredictable, the uncertainty has been out there. And it has an obverse and a reverse to it. And we need to be very careful not to do dumb things inadvertently. And we need to very careful, I think, to appreciate reality and understand where it was.

I think Secretary Tillerson carried that off quite well with Sergey Lavrov. And the fact that he met with Putin, I think, is an interesting indication that the Russians are still paying attention. They still have deep concerns. There are still opportunities here.

And that's the big strategic question. Have we judged our opportunities? Have we scaled them right? Do we have real priorities? And do we have a way of moving forward from what is essentially a period of whirling dervishism to a period of constructive, and I hope, useful repair?

Because Russia, as much as we may dislike it, as odious as we think Mr. Putin is, is still a serious player on the international landscape and somebody that we can do business with, despite the drawbacks. And can we use that as a way to strengthen America first, if I can put it this way, our national interests? Which above all, should be the guide star of how and in what way we open up our diplomacy in the Trump administration.

CAMEROTA: Ambassador, I can't imagine giving us better context or laying out the landscape for us better.

So Chris, that brings us to the palace intrigue and the domestic questions of who's guiding that strategy. And Mr. Trump has been very clear in the past 48 hours that it is he, himself, who is guiding the strategy. And he doesn't need Steve Bannon. Let me read to you what he...

CUOMO: He doesn't need anybody. "I alone." CAMEROTA: "I alone." And let me read to you what he just told "The Wall Street Journal" yesterday: "I do my own policy. I am my own strategist. Mr. Bannon is a guy who works for me. He is a good guy, but I make my own decision. I don't have people making decisions."

What do you think, Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: I mean, the "guy who works for me" quote is just brutal. I mean, if you're Steve Bannon and you have to get up today and walk into the White House, it's not a pleasant experience.

[17:15:00] I think it is hard for me to see Steve Bannon remaining at this point. "The New York Post" stuff of yesterday, you know, Donald Trump talking to a columnist he's known for a long time. Maybe he said things that got misinterpreted, though I doubted it at the time. But "The Wall Street Journal" is pretty clear here, which is

essentially, "No one puts Baby in the corner," right? Donald Trump -- Donald Trump does not like the spotlight on anyone else. Donald Trump wants credit where he believes credit is due, and he believes credit is always due him.

Steve Bannon, whether it was the cover "Influencer in Chief" of "TIME." Whether it was the "Saturday Night Live" portrayal, both of which, you know, aren't really Steve Bannon's fault. Clearly got too big for his britches in Donald Trump's mind.

So the question is, can Steve Bannon deal with this dressing down, or is it too much and he walks away?

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much...

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: ... for all of the information and for your interesting perspectives.

CUOMO: All right. Coming up in our next hour, NATO's secretary- general is going to talk to us about meeting with President Trump and Trump's reversal on the military alliance.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official says leaders are certain that the Assad regime is behind deadly chemical attack. U.S. Intelligence intercepted communications with the Syrian military and chemical experts discussing preparations before the attack.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more of her reporting. Hi, Barbara.


What we have here is what you might expect, actually. The U.S. intelligence community scoops up a lot of communications around the world. Once they had time, date and place on the chemical attack, they went back, were able to sift everything out and came up with communications intercepts. Syrian military and intelligence officials talking about the preparations, talking about that Idlib chemical attack.

That doesn't mean the U.S. knew ahead of time. It means, once they had time, date and place, they were able to go back and sifted out and came up with additional evidence of Syrian involvement.

The big question now: how involved were the Russians? U.S. officials saying the Russians did have chemical experts inside Syria. And it was a Russian drone that flew over the hospital in Idlib in the hours after the attack, taking imagery of the people at the facility there, people trying to get treated for their horrific injuries.

And then about five hours after that Russian drone flew, another plane came overhead, dropping a bomb on the hospital, trying to erase the evidence.

So now all efforts looking from the Pentagon at what they can assemble to make sure they are solid in their intelligence, if they come to the conclusion, inevitably, that the Russian were very directly involved -- Chris.

CUOMO: Well, they know they're going to get a blanket denial from the Russians, so they're going to have to make the case on their own.

Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

And up next, a revealing interview with former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta. What he told Christiane Amanpour about the damage left behind by President Obama's red line on Syria.


[07:22:04] CUOMO: Former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta calling out President Obama for failing to stick by his red line in Syria. Here's what he told our Christiane Amanpour.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY AND CIA DIRECTOR: There's no question that I thought -- I thought President Obama, once he drew that red line, that they should not use chemical weapons, should have, in fact, followed through.

We are now at a stage where Syria obviously still has chemical weapons. They still have the potential to use those weapons. And I think the most important position for the United States is that we do not want to see those kinds of weapons used again. We will do everything we can to prevent that from happening.


CUOMO: CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour joins us now. What an important interview at this time. It's interesting how time out of office breeds candor. What did you make of the relevance about the Obama administration and what happens next?

AMANPOUR: Interestingly, Panetta was one of the sort of Gang of Four or Five national security officials of President Obama who believed in a much stronger, more robust measure towards Syria.

And so what he's saying is, basically, that President Trump did the right thing in enforcing a red line when heinous weapons of mass destruction were used.

And now to prevent it -- and I think it's really important that this comes up now as this kind of reset to the negative that's happening between the Trump administration and Russia. And now what we hear from Barbara Starr is that, not only are the Russians denying that Syria used chemical weapons, but there are -- there is reason to believe that they may have been complicit in the covering up; and -- and it's very, very big deal how this is going to play out. And Panetta believes the U.S. has leverage right now and should use it against Russia.


AMANPOUR: Well, because it's shown its will to actually take a stand...

CAMEROTA: So by that...

AMANPOUR: ... when there is some kind of line.

CAMEROTA: I mean, by all accounts, it didn't -- won't prevent future air strikes from the Syrian government. It was a signal. That's what it was.

AMANPOUR: It will prevent, and if it doesn't, it should be restruck. Chemical weapons used.

But you're absolutely right. It wasn't just chemical weapons, but for the last, you know, six years, it's been conventional weapons, barrel bombs and all the rest of it, and Russia has been complicit.

The real question in all of this now is whether the Tillerson meetings with Lavrov and with Putin can actually be the beginning of a broader strategy to try to bring Putin slightly further away from Assad and slightly closer towards getting some kind of future political settlement. That's basically the strategy.

CUOMO: What do you think about the notion that Trump had as a candidate, which is Russia could be our best partner to fight ISIS. We have seen no evidence that Russia wanted to take on ISIS in Syria. That's been a little bit of a myth that's out there. Do you think that is a realistic aim? AMANPOUR: I don't think so at the moment, because based on

experience, it has not been fighting ISIS. It has been fighting the domestic opponents of their client, Bashar al-Assad.

[07:25:07] And Bashar al-Assad pretty much has really got the military advantage and keeps saying brazenly that "We are going to fight this out." Bashar has no intention of being a responsible actor around the political negotiating table. He hasn't in the past. And up until now, he's had no incentive to do so. And even in the day after that chemical attack, this time last week, he said, "We're going to go for total victory."

So you know, that's big problem.

But if you listen to people like Mike Morrell, the former acting CIA director, the United States position, he says, needs to be a major full-court press on Russia. The president himself, Trump, needs to go out and make a big speech as to why this issue is in America's national interest and why. And it has to come from the president. Because everybody else is talking about Putin, but the president hasn't really right now. So there needs to be a reset and a recalibration of what America stands for and what goes too far and that it will not stand for. From Russia, not just from Syria.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about President Trump's seeming reversal on NATO, his position on that. He had said several times that he believed, during the campaign, that NATO is obsolete. No longer does he feel that way. What's been the reaction.

AMANPOUR: Well, my favorite formulation of the line last night was that I don't -- you know, NATO is no longer obsolete, rather than "I don't think NATO is obsolete anymore."

CUOMO: That I was wrong.

AMANPOUR: NATO has been obsolete. You and I discussed this at the Republican convention when this broke when he first said it in July.

NATO has been fighting terrorism. We know that. It's been in the anti-ISIS coalition. It came to the rescue of the United States after 9/11. So that has been going on for a long time.

The idea that NATO members should pay their 2 percent is something that has to happen. It's absolutely right. And to an extent, some of these countries which are paying its 2 percent get a little cover from Donald Trump. They say, "See, the president needs us all to do it." So in that regard, that's good.

And I think right now, it's so important to stand up for NATO, because Vladimir Putin, an adversary of the United States of America, has been trying to drive a wedge between the United States and its NATO allies and basically break up the cohesion of that phenomenal alliance.

And so listening to Donald Trump say that now is important signal to Moscow.

CUOMO: What is the read abroad on why Donald Trump, who has no hesitation in attacking anybody, right or wrong, leaves Putin alone?

AMANPOUR: Well, it's really a big mystery, still, and we've got to try to get to the bottom. This is really a big mystery. It's unclear. None of his other cabinet members do, from his secretary of state to his national security to his U.N. ambassador. Everybody, secretary of defense. They have -- they are very clear. It's a big mystery. And maybe one day Donald Trump will, you know, illuminate that, as well. But I think the rest of the world has factored in what we're beginning

to struggle with now. This whiplash in commentary from the White House. And they wait to see action rather than just always listening to the words that come out of the White House. And I think, really, it is the reality of governing and all these foreign policy issues coming at you all at once. China, North Korea, Syria, Russia, Iran.

CUOMO: You can't hide from the facts when you have to make decisions based on the facts either. That's another part of the reality we're seeing.

AMANPOUR: That is a very steep learning curve. The question is, is this a liner movement towards a real strategy or is it more of this back and forth rhetorical whatever, you know, happens on a given day. That's the important thing to watch out for.

CAMEROTA: Christiane, great to have you here. Thanks for all the context.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to you.

CUOMO: Right interview at the right time with the right journalist.

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