Return to Transcripts main page


Sources: British Gave Trump Associates Communications With Russians To U.S.; Trump: Afghanistan Bombing "Very, Very Successful"; Trump: We've Given Military "Total Authorization" Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 09:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, maybe you're on to something there.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: He's going to get a lot of depth now.

BERMAN: All right. It is time for CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow and a man I'd like to call the upgrade, Dave Briggs. Take it away, guys.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: John, everyone is replaceable in this business.


HARLOW: That is important for everyone to know.

BERMAN: Especially me.

BRIGGS: Story of my life. I'm just trying to fill the shoes of John Berman.

HARLOW: To channel John Berman today. All right. Berman, miss you. Have a great weekend. Ali, great to see you.

CAMEROTA: You too.

HARLOW: Let's get started. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs filling in for John Berman on this Good Friday. Much to get to.

First, some new video, albeit grainy, of President Trump's second military action in a week. A massive bomb kills ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, but just like last week's missile strike on Syria, it may be more symbolic than strategic.

HARLOW: Neither strike will have a lasting impact on those conflicts, but both may reverberate much farther. Will North Korea pay a lot of attention to this? And this is as North Korea is just a few, potentially, hours away from a new forbidden nuclear test. Is its confrontational dictator listening?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know if this sends a message. It doesn't make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of. I will say this, I think China has really been working very hard.


HARLOW: Our Barbara Starr begins for us this morning at the Pentagon with more. A very significant development, Barbara. What can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to both of you. As you say, Poppy, always worth remembering that military action can only go so far in a world crisis. But this very extraordinary video that we're showing of this bomb, this 21,000- pound-plus bomb being dropped yesterday in a mountain valley in Afghanistan, underscores the U.S. military effort to go after ISIS in that country.

They say the target was an ISIS complex of tunnels and caves that they were trying to go after. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan held a press conference a short time ago, and he underscored the point, it was about his military objectives and not something else.


GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: We had persistent surveillance over the area before, during, and after the operation. And now we have Afghan and U.S. forces on the site and see no evidence of civilian casualties nor have been there been any reports of civilian casualties.


STARR: General Nicholson going on to make the point that there was no outside events influencing his thinking, somewhat pushing back against the notion, in his view, that it was sending a message to North Korea. To him, it was all about Afghanistan.

President Trump also being asked yesterday as this unfolded whether he authorized the Afghan mission. Listen to what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you authorize it, sir?

TRUMP: Everybody knows exactly what happened, and what I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world, and they've done their job as usual. So we have given them total authorization, and that's what they're doing.

And frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately. If you look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what's happened over the last eight years, you'll see there's a tremendous difference.


STARR: He's authorized military commanders. The question he's not answering, of course, is whether he knew about this mission. Military commanders tend to like to make sure the President of the United States knows what's going on. Back to you.

BRIGGS: Especially with the mother of all bombs. Barbara Starr, thank you. More on that in our military panel ahead.

HARLOW: All right. Joining us now for more perspective on this, Hamdullah Mohib. He is Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States.

Ambassador, it's very nice to have you here. And the Commander, General Nicholson, of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan spoke at a press conference in Kabul earlier today and said, quote, "This was the right weapon against the right target." Just tell me about what you're hearing on the ground in Afghanistan in terms of how this is being received and the message that it is sending.

HAMDULLAH MOHIB, AFGHANISTAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, the important thing in Afghanistan is that there were no civilian casualties. That's what everyone had been watching out for, and the concern that we had been receiving.

The elders, community leaders from the area spoke and reported that there were none of those casualties, and that Daesh complex has been targeted. You know that in the last year, Daesh had intensified its attacks against the Afghan people, attacking a hospital and quite recently, just this week, another suicide attack that killed five Afghan civilians.

[09:05:02] BRIGGS: I want to ask you, Mr. Ambassador, about Hamid Karzai, a former president who has tweeted a three-part tweet storm, if you will, that this is brutal and inhumane. He criticized the U.S. for using Afghanistan as a testing ground for weaponry. Now, maybe he has a bone to pick with your current president, but what's your reaction to that criticism?

MOHIB: Well, this is not a nuclear or a chemical bomb. The target was a cave complex. And the important thing was to get rid of that cave complex so that Daesh has no safe haven in that area and for us to be able to clear, not just the district where they were currently present, but to make sure that they're incapable of launching attacks against Afghans anywhere, everywhere.

HARLOW: All right. It seems like no comment from you on the criticism from the former President Hamid Karzai there. Then let me get your take on this, because General Nicholson, who led this, and leads all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said this morning as well, quote, "We will not relent in our mission to fight alongside our Afghan comrades to destroy ISIS in 2017."

Do you believe that the American people and the Afghan people should expect an increase of military action and influence in your country this year?

MOHIB: Well, we're committed to making sure that we eliminate Daesh from Afghanistan this year. And as part of that --

HARLOW: But did you need the U.S. to do more --

MOHIB: Sorry?

HARLOW: -- to make that happen? Do you need the U.S. to do more to make that happen? Should they expect more U.S. action like this?

MOHIB: Well, in operations like this, we do do joint operations with the United States military, so, yes.

HARLOW: OK, you do expect more.

BRIGGS: So does this significantly deter ISIS in Afghanistan, or is it more of a signal that they've sent?

MOHIB: Well, this cave complex is what we were fighting against in the last week. There was a joint operation to clear that area from Daesh. And what had happened in this cave complex was, they had mined it quite heavily with IEDs, and the important part was to not just eliminate those IEDs and the terrorists but to ensure that their movement and their hideouts are taken out as well.

HARLOW: So you believe --

MOHIB: So it would have a significant impact on their activities in Afghanistan.

HARLOW: Because, you know, the number that we have so far is that 36 ISIS fighters were killed. There's between 600 and 800 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan. You believe, despite that number, that this overpressure bomb that can take out these IEDs was very effective in the fight against ISIS?

MOHIB: It's their hideout that was the main target. It's where they were --


MOHIB: -- they're able to launch attacks from and hide, and now they will have to surface, and easier for the Afghan security forces to track them.

BRIGGS: Sounds like it may clear a path for U.S. forces. Ambassador, thank you.

MOHIB: Thank you.

BRIGGS: Let's turn now to North Korea. Ramping up rhetoric this morning, saying just hours ago that America's, quote, "gangster-like logic," is pushing tensions to the brink of thermonuclear war. CNN's Alexandra Field live in South Korea with more.

Alexandra, who is saying this on the part of North Korea?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, this has been the response from North Korea directly put out by their state news agency. It comes as a result of the movement of the U.S. warships into the waters off of the Korean Peninsula, a move that Pyongyang sees as highly provocative. They have responded with that statement.

They have also gone on to say that, "This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the Peninsula. Nothing will be more childish and foolish for the U.S. to dream of bringing down the social system in the DPRK through cooperation with someone." Those words, part of the propaganda that Pyongyang has been putting out this week.

They also released images of their leader, Kim Jong-un, commanding training exercises for their special forces. All of this in advance of the most important day on the North Korean calendar, the Day of the Sun, the celebration of the founder's birth date.

Why is it important to the rest of the world? Well, it is typically a day around which Pyongyang plans other provocative measures. It is considered a show of strength for them to act around this time. They want to send a message to the world.

And that message would be certainly be received right now as we now that the vice president of U.S., Mike Pence, is going to be travelling to the region. He will be arriving in Seoul on Sunday. He's got a meeting set up with the Acting President of South Korea. And then on to Tokyo, where he'll be meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

[09:10:05] The most important topic of conversation on the agenda, how to combat the North Korean nuclear threat. They will be talking about all the options that the White House has been looking at, including the military option -- Dave, Poppy.

HARLOW: That sounds a lot, Alex, like South Korea and China are going to play ball a lot more in helping against that. Thank you so much. Alexandra Field for us in Seoul.

Joining us now to discuss all this and the Trump doctrine overseas as it unfolds. David Rohde is here, our global affairs analyst and national security investigations editor for Reuters. And Colonel Peter Mansoor joins us, former aide to General David Petraeus. Very nice to have you both here.

And, Colonel, let's just talk about the capability of this bomb. It is huge, it is massive. Choose your adjective. It has never been used in combat before, even though President George W. Bush and President Obama could have used it. What does it effectively do?

COL. PETER MANSOOR (RET.), FORMER AIDE TO GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: It creates an overpressure which can collapse tunnel complexes, destroy minefields, and kill troops and destroy vehicles and so forth. You know, had we had this weapon, say, back in 2001 at Tora Bora or 2002, Bin Laden might never have escaped into Pakistan. And so using it here against ISIS in a very fortified area, a remote area along the Afghan/Pakistan border, is a really appropriate use for this particular device. BRIGGS: But when it's called the mother of all bombs, many expect

certainly more than 36 casualties in terms of the ISIS fighters. Colonel, is that a proportional result, or should we expect more?

MANSOOR: Well, had you gone into this tunnel complex with infantry, you would have taken far more casualties. So it's not just the enemy destroyed, it's the friendly forces saved.

You know, an example here is the battle for Iwo Jima in which 7,000 Marines were killed, crunching their way across the island, you know, rooting Japanese out of these tunnel complexes with flame throwers and satchel charges. Wouldn't it have been nicer just to use these weapons and do it much more quickly?

HARLOW: David, the President talked about, you know -- I mean, this is the President who ran on America first, right? And yet he's taken a number of different military action. We just learned this morning, some U.S. troops, a limited number, being sent into Somalia to combat terrorism here.

Here's how the President explained the dramatic difference in stance he's taken on the global stage. Listen.


TRUMP: If you look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that, really, to what's happened over the last eight years, you'll see there's a tremendous difference. A tremendous difference. So we have incredible leaders in the military and we have incredible military, and we are very proud of them. And this was another very, very successful mission.


HARLOW: Has the world changed significantly, David, in eight weeks?

DAVID ROHDE, NATIONAL SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS: No. And frankly, there's a difference in Syria. You know, President Trump deserves credit for those who supported the strike and response to the chemical weapons attack. That's different than President Obama's approach.

But in terms of these insurgencies in Afghanistan or in Somalia, it's a very similar tactic. But the key I think -- and I agree with the Colonel, the use of the bomb was appropriate in this situation -- are we going to keep our advisers on the ground, fighting side-by-side with the Afghans?

You counter these insurgencies, you defeat ISIS with American advisers on the ground. General Nicholson who had the press conference, he's called for several for American advisers in Afghanistan. That's the question. That's how you can win in these conflicts.

BRIGGS: David, how about terms of the authorization the President has given the military, the trust he's put in his military officers? Is that a positive step? ROHDE: It's a change, and I think it is. But, again, I don't think

dropping a certain kind of bomb is going to defeat ISIS. I've covered Afghanistan. I have met Taliban, and they're eager to die. They're not intimidated by this very large bomb. They have a very different mentality.

So, again, it's going to take, I think, authorizing those troop levels that General Nicholson asked for. Again, Afghans leading the fight but Americans advising them, I think that's the critical tool that U.S. troops need in Iraq and Syria and in Afghanistan.

HARLOW: All right. Very quickly before we go, Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been a big proponent of more military action across the region, said in a tweet, "I hope America's adversaries are watching and now understand there's a new sheriff in town." Colonel, do they?

MANSOOR: You know, I think he's right. President Trump has given much more leeway to his military commanders to strike, and they're striking. And I think that does send a message around the world that America's back.

HARLOW: Thank you both.

BRIGGS: Certainly a different philosophy. David Rohde, Colonel Mansoor, thank you both.

[09:15:00] MANSOOR: Thank you.

BRIGGS: Enjoy the weekend. Still to come, the slow drip, drip, drip of Russian intel, and now sources telling CNN the British intercepted communications between Trump associates and Russian officials during the campaign.

HARLOW: And Bannon, who? Another adviser catching the president's ear. Are we seeing a major shift in who holds the power of influence in the west wing?

Also -- is the White House scrambling to get the Easter egg roll, rolling?

BRIGGS: Scrambling?

HARLOW: You can't make this stuff up. Wait until you hear this story. That's next.


BRIGGS: New details this morning about the investigation of then Candidate Donald Trump's associates and Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. CNN was first to report that U.S. intelligence picked up conversations between the two sides. Now we've learned that British and other European intelligence agencies did as well, and alerted their U.S. counterparts.

HARLOW: Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown joins us with the details. I mean, what do we know about sort of how this happened and what information, what intelligence was actually gathered?

[09:20:07]PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So we can tell you, Poppy, that there were these intercepted communications picked up by British and other European intelligence agencies between Trump associates and Russian officials, and other Russian individuals, during the campaign.

Then the Brits along with other European countries passed on those communications to their U.S. counterparts. This is according to U.S. and European sources talking to myself and my colleague, Jim Sciutto.

They were various communications. They were captured during routine surveillance of these Russian officials and other Russians known to western intelligence. It happened over the course of several months again during the campaign.

These sources said and they emphasized that GCHQ in Great Britain and other intelligence agencies in Europe were not proactively targeting any members of the Trump team or Donald Trump himself, but rather picked up these communications during what's known as incidental collection.

That is, monitoring other officials, in this case these Russian officials and during that incidental collection it picked up these conversations with the Trump associates according to these sources and now the FBI is using this information passed along as part of its counter-intel probe of possible coordination between Russians and Trump associates.

HARLOW: All right, Pamela Brown reporting for us. Again, CNN breaking that development. Thank you, Pamela. We appreciate it.

BRIGGS: All right, let's bring in our panel now, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor of "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein, and politics editor at "The Root," Jason Johnson. He is also professor of politics at Morgan State University.

All right, let's start with you. Certainly, the smoke is getting thicker regarding possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Is there any fire yet?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think depends who you talk to, but really this -- because of how this investigation has been stirred, this lies primarily with the Senate Intelligence Committee. They have been looking into this. They have been relatively quiet about it to avoid blowing up the investigation, much like happened on the House side.

And the more you hear about these, about things like Pamela was talking about the less good it is for the Trump administration because anytime we're talking about his advisers and the Russian government, it's not a good look for them.

HARLOW: Ron Brownstein, to you, my friend. Summing up this week, it's been a remarkable week when you look at sort of the reversal of course of this administration on a number of economic policies and a number of words they choose to use to describe China and such.

But also on this core principle that the president got elected on, and that is the principle of America first. Take a look at this map, because this is going to show all the countries where we have seen U.S. military action under this president, in 80-odd days. Is this America first, Ron Brownstein?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, we are seeing an incredible amount of change at an unbelievable pace on many fronts. But the pace, first of all -- on many of the policy issues, on particularly on trade and international alliance, the change is in a very consistent direction.

It is away from the populist, nationalist themes, the America-first themes that he ran on towards a more conventional Republican outlook on America's interactions with the world. I mean, that has been the magnetic pull from away from those kind of distinctive notes of his campaign back into the fold.

Immigration is a big exception where under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, still motoring down the path that he said during the campaign. But on these other fronts, you are seeing I think the kind of impact of lack of an infrastructure in the Republican Party for those ideas.

It really is not kind of much there in Congress or think tanks or interest groups that want to push in this direction. All the push is in the other direction, and that's where you've seen the president move.

On the military force, look, I think what he said during the campaign was he was not going to get involved on the ground. He is not going to try to reshape societies, but he would try to strike from afar from those he viewed, those we view as America's enemies.

I think that is the pattern that we are seeing, but the overall tenor is I think more activist, I agree, than we felt during the campaign.

HARLOW: You're right. Ground troops we have not seen and he did say in multiple interviews this week that we're not going on the ground.

BRIGGS: Well, to that point, Jason, the "Washington Post" writes, editorial board, Trump's recent flip-flops are actually something to cautiously celebrate, his evolutions or flip-flops moving in a direction that should be applauded?

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, "THE ROOT": No. No. Look, look, there are lots of attitudes and beliefs that President Trump has that may or may not be healthy for America. But the way in which he consistently changes his opinions, sometimes within 24 hours. Who's our enemy? Who isn't? What newspapers are fake news and what aren't?

[09:25:01]It makes it a very dangerous and volatile world for our enemies because no one knows whether you can trust him for our allies, they don't know if they can trust him, for the Republican Party in Congress. They don't know what's coming out of his mouth. There is nothing wrong with a president changing his mind. There is something wrong with a president changing his mind without any sort of logic behind it and failing to explain it to the people he's got to work with.

HARLOW: So the question becomes, who is tipping the balance? Who is influencing? If anyone. It could just be the president. But if it is someone, who's tipping the president this way? There is so much reporting, a fascinating piece on the "Washington Post" about Gary Cohen, a former Goldman Sachs president, who has by the way donated a lot of money to Democrats and Republicans, right?

He says in meetings I'm not a Democrat, not a Republican. I like to get things done. Jackie, to you. Is this the Gary Cohen, the rise of Gary Cohen?

KUCINICH: In fairness, so did President Trump donated to Democrats and Republicans before he ran as a Republican.


KUCINICH: But you do see the rise of this more moderate traditional Republican and Democrat stances on everything from Chinese currency manipulations this week. He said he would keep the (inaudible) Bank. He said that on the campaign trail that could be done away with.

There are several -- he said that Janet Yellen would likely stay on. So you are seeing this rise of the Jared Kushner, Gary Cohen ideology. Really starting to take hold and become real policy, and at the same time, you're seeing Steve Bannon and the folks around him go under the radar.

I had a former Trump staffer say to me once that you want to get close to the sun but you don't want to fly too close to the sun. And it seems like Bannon got a little too close.

BRIGGS: Well, another contrast emerged yesterday regarding Wikileaks and it's founder, and the new CIA chief talked about that. Listen to what Mike Pompeo said yesterday, swinging for the fences against Wikileaks.


TRUMP: Now -- this just came out. This just came out. Wikileaks. I love Wikileaks.

By the way, did you see another one? Another one came in today. This Wikileaks is like a treasure trove.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: It's time to call out Wikileaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.


BRIGGS: So certainly in stark contrast there, Ron. Does this -- does this contradict what the president said or more again the education of a president?

BROWNSTEIN: No. I think it simply contradicts what the president said, and unequivocally and directly. The entire arc of this story from the very first Wikileaks releases through where we are now with these continuing reports of investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian sources that were involved in the leaks reminds me so much of what we saw where I live in Los Angeles, what we saw in the North Korean hack of Sony.

Where initially everyone was just, you know, kind of salivating over the salacious details of what was revealed in the internal workings and gradually came to realize the real story was how they got that in the public view in the first place.

The magnitude of the threat, leaving aside any question of the immediate political impact on President Trump, the idea that the Russian government felt that it could, in fact, penetrate and disrupt the American electoral system because of nothing else, they have spread enormous doubt and clouds over this election, they have similar efforts underway in Europe with their elections.

This is a genuine new threat that we simply were not prepared for and if you go back to your first story, the British intelligence are complaining the CIA and FBI were very slow to act on the information they provided them.

This is a real issue and we saw the president during the campaign kind of welcome it, when, in fact, it should have been a moment of concern for all Americans regardless who gained a tactical advantage over it.

HARLOW: All right, guys, thank you very much. Jackie Kucinich, Ron Brownstein, Jason Johnson, have a great weekend.

BRIGGS: All right, still to come, the United States military might on full display, but what lasting impact will that massive bomb have on Afghanistan and the war or terror largely?