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President Trump's Changing Positions on a Number of Issues; U.S. Intercepts Chemical Warfare Communications Inside Syria; Interview with NATO Secretary General. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2017 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What you heard during the campaign is not what you're getting now from President Trump. The president reversing positions on several key campaign promises, including what to do about NATO, Syria, Russia, China, and economic policy.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: This as U.S. officials tell CNN that there is new evidence that connects the Syrian government to last week's chemical attack that killed dozens of men, women, and children despite Syria's denials. It's day 84 of the Trump presidency and we have it all covered for you.

Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Approaching the end of the first 100 days, it's the reversals on foreign policy and economic policy that seem the most striking this morning, more evidence than ever that this administration is really starting to see the difference between what works on the campaign trail and what works in the Oval Office.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.

JOHNS: In a stunning reversal, President Trump abandoning his often repeated hardline position on NATO.

TRUMP: NATO is obsolete. In my opinion, NATO is obsolete. 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 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. Be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin.

JOHNS: However, Mr. Trump made 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 are a grand master at currency manipulation.

Nobody has ever manipulated currency like China.

Label China a currency manipulator.

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

TRUMP: 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 is 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Another good example of this, the president used to bash the export/import bank on the campaign trail. Now he's sounding more and more like a supporter, really just an understatement from Sean Spicer yesterday when he told CNN, circumstances change. Alisyn and Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: Joe, appreciate it.

Let's bring in our panel, CNN political analyst David Gregory, and April Ryan, and reporter and editor at large of CNN politics, Chris Cillizza. Editor-at-large, that's a strong title. I like that.

All right, so there are a lot of different ways to do this. Let's do the macro and then we'll get into some of these individual cases. Sean Spicer says circumstances change. But David Gregory, they have not. The facts have remained the same. The president was wrong about the facts about NATO, about China and its currency manipulation, about the state of play in Syria and what it required vis-a-vis his earlier comments about what President Obama should do. So is he rewarded for accepting reality, or is this something critics can point to and say we told you he didn't know -- is that him? I'd like it directly from the president if we can get it.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: He's a very wired man.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a soothing --

CUOMO: It is nice. I would have thought you had a little Black Sabbath on.

(LAUGHTER)

[08:05:05] CUOMO: What's the answer?

GREGORY: Look, I think that the only reason he's get something credit is that he's moderating. People think he's returning to what people always thought, which is he has this pragmatic core and that he's not going to get us into a trade war with China. He's not going to go -- by the way, he went in some of those directions right from the start with the travel ban and other things, and now he seems -- there seems to be more of an establishment, moderate wing that is influencing him more.

But you're right. He's catching up to reality. Nothing has changed other than he's realized, wow, the presidency is different than I thought. There's lots of dig decisions. But here's the other point. I think that he's realized, as he looks

at these first 100 days, the whole reason for his being is to get results. He's got to get some wins up on the board. That's his calculus. It's not a process. It's results. And I think he sees a way to do that by changing some of these -- he wants progress on North Korea. So that part of it is the ultimate pragmatism. He doesn't really have strong principles or ideology as we discussed.

CAMEROTA: April, how do you see it? What some people call moderating, others flip-flopping, some call on-the-job learning. How do you explain these 180s?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you've listed all the above. But most importantly, I believe that this president, just looking at the last couple of days leading into 100 and looking at the man who was running for the office, two totally different people. I believe what he's found now is that as president, we need the world. We are a major power. We are the leader. But at the same time, we need our allies.

For instance, he was talking about China when he was running for the Oval Office being a money manipulator, a currency manipulator. But guess what, we have a complicated relationship and have had one with China for a very long time. But we need China when it comes to issues of North Korea. We need NATO when it comes to issues of terrorism. We need these people and he's finding it out in a major way, again, as he's made this shake-up in his national security team, and he's really focused in on now being president and understanding the real ramifications of what happens if we don't have these groups with us.

CUOMO: Strong point. You can twist reality when you're the outsider. But once you get in there and have to own the situations, you have to own the facts as well.

Chris Cillizza why is this happening? This spate of 180s, is it just circumstantial or is it a reflection of what's happening around the president. The Steve Bannon intrigue, that populist, nationalism strain, is it getting beaten down? Is this the moderate voice rising?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Well, I'm a big believer that there are really no coincidences in politics. So it seems more than a coincidence to me that Trump's move at least closer to the Republican establishment, to a more moderate, pragmatic politics, dovetails with the fact that Steve Bannon who is clearly ideologue of Trump's top core advisers is being either phased out or diminished. I also do think, though, Dave makes this point, there's a big difference between what you say on the campaign trail and what you can do. Barack Obama learned this.

CUOMO: Does this qualify as poetry versus prose? That's what people say. This was more. This just being wrong about a situation. China is raping us, what it's doing with its currency. It hadn't been trading down, regulating its currency for a year. You know, NATO doesn't fight terror. Yes, it does. These are factual misrepresentations. Is that really poetry? CILLIZZA: It's not a massaging of his positions. It's an outright

change of his positions. I mean there's no debate about that. And it's not just a change of positions, by the way, Chris, from the campaign to the presidency. It's from two weeks ago to today.

I think -- I return to the fact that at Donald Trump's heart what is the defining document of Donald Trump's life? The art of the deal. Everything is a negotiation. Everything is a deal. The positions he took then, even if then is two weeks ago, he views as, well, they were the right position to take then, but today -- to Sean Spicer's quote, circumstances change. You can either see that if you're a Trump ally that flexibility and that willingness to change as a positive, or if you're not a Trump ally you will say this person lacks any core belief system to govern by.

GREGORY: This is Trump rules here. It's not like anything else that we've seen. Normally we just never see this. It's like, oh, well, NATO is obsolete but it's not obsolete anymore. I've just completely changed my position. It's no longer working for him to go after NATO. Now he sees it in a more responsible way because there's this ingenue quality about him, he didn't realize what the history was between North Korea and China and didn't realize how complicated health care was.

[08:10:03] CAMEROTA: But there's another element. He just met with the secretary general of NATO. That's another defining characteristic of the president, that once he meets with China's president or the secretary general of NATO, he then is inclined towards them. That is when you --

GREGORY: He wants -- because he wants to be accepted, he wants to be legitimate. Let's go back to the Maggie Haberman theory. He can't quit Maggie Gaberman of "The New York Times" because he loves "The New York Times." he loves "The New York Times." I love "The New York Times." Who loves it more than me.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY: But because he craves that legitimacy even as he wants to lash out.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, April.

RYAN: But you know, and I'm going to go back to a comment that was made earlier, when you think about Trump and the art of the deal, when he was running, he really thought that he could put this business approach to these problems that this nation is having, and he's finding out it's not about business now. It's about intelligence.

And when he first became the president-elect, the intelligence community was so concerned about his approach to the world and to the stakes that are still so high. They were concerned it was going to be more business people at the table than intelligence people. And now before 100 days, he is realizing that intelligence is the leader and that he had to change his scope in thinking when it came to the world. And if I was someone who was supporting Trump when he was running for

president, I would wonder this morning, is this the man that I really had faith in and what he said he was going to do? A lot of these people thought he was going to do what he said he was going to do, and he's actually chancing. And that's a big question. How will they, those people taking him literally, look at him now because he has indeed changed?

CUOMO: He gets unprecedented forgiveness from the base, and they are unusually centered on what happens at home, to the wallet, to the economy. And that's what they're holding out for.

Cillizza, let me ask you this. The idea of Bannon is in trouble. We have Sara Murray has got good reporting this morning about Bannon's allies circling around him, figuring out what his options are. The idea that Bannon is out, we are ignoring the reality of what that would bring. To have Steve Bannon on the outside, aggrieved, the strongest link to the base that put the president in the White House, a man known to use the tactics at disposal to go after enemies, what a big deal that would be to have him on the outside with all he knows now, all he's heard, and the base that he can connect to.

CILLIZZA: Right. In the same way it was something of a coup for Trump to bring Bannon in, certainly unorthodox to bring him in in the first place, and sort of get that media machine on his side, the reverse is also true. If Bannon is out and, you know, not happy about being out, it is possible that that would be a real thorn in Donald Trump's side.

The one thing I'll say, this is a guy with 20-plus million Twitter followers. He's still the president of the United States. Yes, could Breitbart News turn against hum and that would not be pleasant for him? Sure. But Donald Trump did so many things during the campaign, and even in his early days as president that would seemingly antagonize the people who voted for him or supported him, and they still voted for him and they still, as far as every poll that I've seen, support him. I'm skeptical that any one person or one organization could break that bond.

The thing he has that every politician wants is he is able somehow to channel the base, even when he's not really doing things they want. I still think most of those people say he's an outsider. He's doing things differently. He's unorthodox. Even if those unorthodox positions are positions I don't agree with, I like that he's saying and doing them.

So, yes, I think that was a concern. Do I think that that would prevent Donald Trump from pushing Steve Bannon out the door? His comments in "The New York Post" and "Wall Street Journal" over the last two days would suggest no.

CAMEROTA: You're right. Of course we hear it all the time from his base, they like that he's shaking it up, they like his unpredictability. That's an asset, even if he does a flip-flop or 180-degree turn. Panel, thank you very much. CUOMO: Gregory has to get back to the president who just called him

during the show. No, we're kidding. We don't know who is was, but it was a lovely tone.

Coming up in just moments, NATO's secretary general is going to join us to talk about his meeting with President Trump. Did the president make progress in that relationship?

CAMEROTA: CNN has learned that the U.S. intercepted communications between the Syrian military and chemical experts discussing preparations for last week's sarin gas attack. CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more of her reporting. What have you learned, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Well, the U.S. intelligence and military community did, in fact, get intercepted communications from the Syrians as they were planning on executing that chemical attack in Idlib that has horrified the world.

[08:15:00] Now, intercepted communications, it doesn't mean the U.S. knew ahead of time, but once they have the time, date and place of the attack, they were able to go back into all those communications, all those intercepts. They scoop up, sift it all out and isolate what happened, what they got on that day at that point in time at that location. It's become a very crucial piece of evidence in the administration's case that they have rock solid intelligence that the Syrians executed that attack.

What about the Russians? Well, as we reported here at CNN, there was a Russian drone flying over the hospital where so many people fled to try and get treatment for their injuries. U.S. officials say they have reason, they have intelligence that convinces them it was a Russian drone.

And a couple of hours after that, the plane comes in and bombs the hospital trying to erase the evidence. And the U.S. now says the Russians did have chemical expertise inside Syria. They are trying to put the full case together -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. And, obviously, those facts so important if we might see another pivot from the White House in terms of a disposition towards a major player. In that case, Russia.

Now, we have another example of that. The president called this organization obsolete for months. Now, President Trump says they are on the same page. What did the secretary general of NATO take away from his meet with the president?

We ask him live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:20:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Number one, NATO is obsolete. Number two, the countries of NATO are not paying their fair share.

It's obsolete and we pay too much money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: That's President Trump slamming NATO on the campaign trail as obsolete. Today, he has a completely different view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Joining us is NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Mr. Secretary General, thank you for being here.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Thank you so much for having me.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, as you know, just a couple of months ago, Mr. Trump said that NATO was obsolete. Yesterday, he said NATO is no longer obsolete. Has NATO changed, or has Mr. Trump?

STOLTENBERG: First of all, I welcome the very strong support of president Trump to the alliance and NATO is the most successful alliance in history because we have been able to change when the world is changing. So, NATO is constantly changing.

Now, we are stepping up our efforts to fight international terrorism, and we are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense in Europe. So, NATO is important for Europe but also for the United States.

CAMEROTA: Was NATO obsolete before now?

STOLTENBERG: NATO has always been relevant because NATO has been extremely important to be able or to preserve the peace and stability in Europe. And we know that peace and stability in Europe is also important for the United States. Two World Wars and the Cold War have told us all that stability in Europe is important for the security and prosperity and NATO has been a key tool to preserve that stability and peace.

CAMEROTA: So, why did president Trump change his opinion?

STOLTENBERG: For me, the important thing is that he has been very consistent when it comes to NATO in all my interactions and conversations with him. I phoned him just after he was elected. Then he expressed strong support to NATO.

I also talked to him earlier this year, and now met him yesterday in the White House and it has been a very consistent message from him, but also from his security team -- Secretary Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster, the national security adviser. And they have all expressed strong support of NATO.

At the same time, they have underlined the importance of NATO increasing its efforts to fight international terrorism. I totally agree. So, I'm working on that. And there is also an importance of fair burden sharing that European allies, many European allies invest more in defense.

And again, I agree. So, we have turned the corner and European defense spending has now started to increase.

CAMEROTA: Is that right? That's fascinating. So when President Trump pressed the NATO allies to pay more of their fair share, he said the U.S. was the footing too much of the bill, are you saying you've seen a difference in terms of those allies now stepping up more financially?

STOLTENBERG: What I'm saying is that in 2016, we turned a corner because after many years of decline in defense spending across Europe and Canada. We, for the first time, saw an increase in the defense spending.

CAMEROTA: And to what do you attribute that? Why did you turn a corner?

STOLTENBERG: We decided, all 28 allies decided in September 2014 to stop and to gradually increase and then to move towards spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. And in 2016, we saw a real change.

And also I have expressed that the strong focus of President Trump on this issue has been helpful, but, of course, these are decisions taken in 28 parliaments, governments. So, there are different reasons. But the main reason for me to be welcoming this development is that NATO allies are now making good on the pledge they made in 2014.

CAMEROTA: I see. So, you're happy that President Trump has been talking about it, but do you credit him with being the catalyst for this?

STOLTENBERG: He has helped by having such a strong focus on the importance of burden sharing and defense spending. At the same time, this has been something many NATO leaders have been advocating in favor of because we have all seen it's possible to reduce defense spending when tensions are going down as we saw after the end of the Cold War, but tensions are increasing again. We have to invest more in the defense. And that's exactly what we decided in 2014, and then we had -- we have seen the process where we started to move in that direction and this decision by national government, but the strong focus of President Trump has helped to push that development.

[08:25:02] CAMEROTA: It doesn't bother you if he takes credit for it?

STOLTENBERG: The most important thing for me is that we see an increase in defense spending and that we see a significant increase across Europe and Canada. We still have a long way to go. So, all the issues I discussed with the president is how can we make sure that we keep the momentum and that we continue to see an increase in defense spending across Europe and Canada.

CAMEROTA: Tell us about the big headline in your mind from your sit- down with President Trump this week.

STOLTENBERG: It was a very good and productive meeting. First of all, he reiterated his strong support to the transatlantic bond, because this is important. A strong NATO is important for Europe but it's also important for the United States. Two World Wars and a Cold War have taught us peace and stability in Europe is important for security and prosperity in the United States.

And we have to remember the only time NATO has invoked the defense bills of our alliance was after the attack on the United States, 9/11.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

STOLTENBERG: And we discussed the importance of NATO both Europe and for the United States.

CAMEROTA: OK. Secretary General Stoltenberg -- thank you for sharing your perspective with us this morning.

STOLTENBERG: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Chris?

CUOMO: All right. The United Airlines fiasco is getting a lot of heat. Could it have been avoided with a simple change? We have a lawmaker coming on says yes and his take on whether the Democrats will work with Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)