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U.S. Drops Massive Bomb; Annual Easter Event at White House; Ex-Goldman Chief Trump Aide. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired April 14, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:37] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, new video of the so-called mother of all bombs slamming into northeastern Afghanistan yesterday. The ten-ton behemoth is the largest non-nuclear bomb that the U.S. has ever deployed in combat. Afghan officials say it killed some 36 ISIS fighters entrenched in a series of caves and tunnels, and, importantly, knocked down a key hiding ground for those terrorists.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan. He joins us live from Irbil, Iraq.

Good morning to you, Nick.

Knowing the enemy, knowing the terrain there, the dropping of the largest non-nuclear bomb, will it be effective in deterring ISIS in Afghanistan?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it sends a strong message that fire power is certainly being used in ways it's never been used before and that may show the U.S.' resolve here. I mean $16 million is how much each one of these devices costs. So that in itself, frankly, is staggering if you think of 36 dead ISIS militants, probably lost their lives at a cost of $400,000 each to the U.S. taxpayer. So, yes, I mean it shows financial resolve certainly. But there have been air strikes in that area by the U.S., their drones, for the past years certainly targeting ISIS camps, trying to degrade they're capabilities there. The broader question, of course, with this bomb is, was it successful ion destroying the tunnel network where the high-profile ISIS leaders perhaps they were after in that particular area and did it take enough of them out potentially to disrupt their ability to plot operations?

[09:35:06] Now, ISIS have moved into that area of eastern Afghanistan very remote, very rugged. A place, frankly, where the U.S struggled to maintain and secure bases over the period of time that they were in that part of Afghanistan. ISIS moved in, some saying coming across the border from Pakistan, got a foothold in society, kicked a lot of residents out. In fact, that area may well not have had many civilians in it at that stage, and then began to sort of lose ground when the Afghan army pushed back in, but they've recovered and are now capable of launching attacks in Kabul. A key one recently against an Afghan defense ministry (INAUDIBLE) right across from the U.S. embassy. So they're a potent force certainly in Afghanistan and they're

thriving on the disenchantment with the Taliban that many feel - many fighters feel and, to the young, the fact that they are sort of a cooler, newer ideology to hang their coat on. But it is sort of a different kind of ISIS there. A lot of these, the longer term fighters, just changing their shirt, basically.

Back to you.


BRIGGS: Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Iraq. Thank you.

HARLOW: All right, we do have breaking news. Authorities in Wisconsin say they have arrested the man suspected of stealing an arsenal of weapons after mailing a manifesto of grievances to President Trump.

BRIGGS: According to the Rock County Sheriff Office, Joseph Jakubowski was taken into custody in a nearby county shortly before 6:00 a.m. at a campsite. He's right now being returned to Rock County for further investigation and charges. We'll bring you more updates as they come in.

But still to come, the battle for the president's ear. A Wall Street insider may have the inside track in the West Wing. Are we already seeing the results?


[09:40:49] BRIGGS: The president facing some major tests the past few weeks, and add this one to the list, the White House Easter Egg Roll. Sounds trivial, yes, but this is considered the biggest social event held at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A tradition for more than 100 years.

Here's the problem. As of earlier this week, many key vendors and schools say they haven't heard a peep about it. Back in mid-February, the company that manufactures the event's eggs tweeted out to the first family, FYI, manufacturing deadlines for the Easter eggs are near. Please reach out. Will this whole event flop and what does it say about this administration?

Joining me to discuss, "New York Times" reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Good morning to you, Julie.


BRIGGS: Was it actually that tweet that reminded the White House they'd forgotten about an event that's gone on for more than 100 years?

DAVIS: Well, apparently they had been planning and somewhat aware of this event, but they didn't have a lot of staff in place to actually execute on what is really sort of a beast of an organizational challenge to get 35,000 people in and out of the White House and doing a lot of different activities. And so they had been underway in terms of discussions about the event, but they hadn't reached out to key vendors like that company that manufacturers those eggs, like talent that has been there in the past, costumed characters from "Sesame Street" and the like, toy companies that they wanted to work with. They just - they were just very late on the uptake in terms of actually setting out the goals they needed to achieve before they could actually put this thing on.

BRIGGS: We know many of the school districts that genuinely expect tickets hadn't yet heard from the White House as well. And this is supposed to be a light-hearted, a fun event at the White House. But, larger, what is it indicative of if they do struggle with the event?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, I think, like a lot of other things with this White House, what we've seen is a lack of staffing, a lack of organization, a lack of understanding of sort of the magnitude of the task. And once they got going, I mean I think they are going to have - they have ordered the eggs. They're going to put on the event. It's going to be about half as big as it was in previous years. There's not going to be anywhere near the amount of talent. There's no a-list talent that they're planning to have.

But I think what it - what it shows you is, you know, this is a group that has not done this before. They were very, very slow to get key people in place in the West Wing, much less the East Wing, which is still very understaffed. And so, you know, it just - it just shows you what happens when you come into a challenge like this without any sort of understanding of what it's going to take to pull it off. And we've seen that on the policy side. Obviously we're seeing it on a little bit more of a light-hearted side with the egg roll.

BRIGGS: Largely a reflection of the staffing. You hear about that with foreign policy crises as well. But last we have to ask you about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who dressed up as the Easter bunny back in 2008 when working for the Bush administration. Considering the week or weeks he's had, might he reprise that role for the White House Easter Egg Roll?

DAVIS: Well, it is not clear. He was asked about it at the White House briefing earlier this week and he did not say. I have to say, given everything that's going on with Sean right now, I would be surprised if he showed up in an Easter bunny suit, but it's always a possibility. And like I said, there are very - there are many fewer people working on this event than there have been in years' past, so they could use a volunteer.

BRIGGS: Right. Right. And it might be a fitting punishment from President Trump. Get back in your bunny suit, Mr. Spicer.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis from "The New York Times," thank you.

All right, coming up on the program, one of the president's top advisers, a registered Democrat? And are we already seeing how much pull he has?


[09:49:10] HARLOW: So, the millionaire advising the billionaire. The president's dramatic shifts in economic policy are really stunning some of his core supporters this week. And now more and more people are pointing to former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn as the man who may be behind the president's increasing move to the middle. Cohn heads the president's Council of Economic Advisers and some even see him as potentially next in line for chief of staff.

With us now, Stephen Moore, CNN senior economics analyst. He's also a former Trump campaign senior adviser. And Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama.

All right, guys, let's start with the gossip about Gary Cohn. You both know the man. You know, big name, huge name on Wall Street, former president of Goldman Sachs.

Stephen Moore, because you know the president's economic policy so well, you advised him on it during the campaign, this is a breathtaking shift. Is this the rise of Gary Cohn, a man who has given to Democrats and Republicans, just like the president did, but also who even in meetings now, according to "The Washington Post" says, you know, I'm not a Democrat, I'm not a Republican, I am a guy that likes to get things done. Is this his influence?

[09:50:19] STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Well, he certainly has kind of risen as the alpha male in this White House. There's no question about it. He's become maybe the most influential person, certainly when it comes to economics. And, by the way, Poppy, you said he's somebody I know. I think Austan probably knows him better than I do because he's -


MOORE: He's kind of run with the Democrats as much as he has for Republicans. I've never actually met the man, but all my sources in the White House say he has really become the key voice on economics. In some ways I like that. I think he's moderated some of Donald Trump's more harsh positions on trade. But on other issues like taxes, you know, he wants to rewrite the whole tax policy that Larry Kudlow and others - and I and others put together for him. So I'm a little queasy about that.

HARLOW: I know. It's driving Kudlow nuts. You can tell from his quotes.

Austan, how do you see it, because it - in new quotes dropped from that "Wall Street Journal" interview with the president, when he was asked about changing staff - because, of course, the question is, does Cohn come in at the expense of Bannon, the president said, "I don't intend to." But he added, "from day to day, I don't know."

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHMN., COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS FOR PRES. OBAMA: Yes, and he said, Steve Bannon is a guy I know who works for me.


GOOLSBEE: You know, or just some disparaging thing like that.

I think, look, there could - there could be ways - if Gary Cohn is having an influence on the president and is tempering his impulse control problems, that would be great. That would be great for the United States and for the world. I'm a little dubious, I guess, for the only reason that the - if you look at why Steve Bannon is on the outs, it's not because of some ideological decision, it's not because he advocated something that failed and made the president look bad. It's because Bannon was getting press, and evidently the president is very jealous of the fact that Steve Bannon's face was on the cover of "Time" magazine.


GOOLSBEE: OK. If that's true, then Gary Cohn's time in the sun is going to be highly limited, and the fact that you're doing a segment about him is likely to endanger his future.

HARLOW: Right. Right. With that big, full screen - with his - with is face right there.

MOORE: You know, let me just have one thing about this.

HARLOW: Yes, Stephen.

MOORE: Yes, are you talking about the one when Bannon had the horns coming out of his head? Look, I'll say this, that, you know, you can - you can disagree or agree with some of the things that Cohn has done or some of the decisions he's made, but so far so good on the economy. And I always go back to this, Poppy, that, you know, for all the stories about all of these other things going on, I know how important that Easter Egg hunt is on that White House lawn, but, you know, what's - there is a clear pickup in the economy. The stock market's done well, although it has faltered a little bit in the last few weeks.


MOORE: And that's where I think the rubber really hits the road. And - and -

HARLOW: So did -

MOORE: And Cohn as the chief economic architect of this, you know, he's going to be judged on whether the economy's performing or not.

HARLOW: It's an important point. Jobs report last month, not so great, but I digress. I will say, what's really interesting about Gary Cohn, guys, this is sort of the, you know, emblematic of the guy that the president spoke to in the campaign. This is a very middle class guy. You know, he came out of school. He went to work for a steel company in Ohio. He comes to New York, convinces a Wall Street guy to share a cab with him from the airport, you know, sort of fakes that he knows finance, and that's how he gets into the Wall Street gig. I mean this is a like - this is a bootstrapping kind of guy and how he made - made it -

GOOLSBEE: Wait, wait, wait a minute - wait a minute, Poppy, are you -

HARLOW: You do not -

GOOLSBEE: Are - you're making the argument that him hiring the COO of Goldman Sachs was a populist move?

HARLOW: That's not what I'm arguing. What I'm arguing - what I'm arguing - no, do not misquote me. What I'm arguing here is that the roots of Gary Cohn, the roots of Gary Cohn and where he came from and the economic policy that he is leading here, that's what I'm talking about, Austan Goolsbee.

GOOLSBEE: Well, I think his roots - maybe they could get his roots and put them into place for designing economic policy. I think your characterization perhaps -

HARLOW: You don't think that's influencing him?

GOOLSBEE: Of what he's actually advocating now are not maybe necessarily the populist roots that he grew up in.

HARLOW: I hear you. I hear you. So let me - I - look, fair argument. Let me read you this. This comes from Gene Sperling, who was praising Gary Cohn, who ran the NEC, the same, you know, job that Gary Cohn has, under President Obama with you guys. He wrote - was quoted in "The Post" saying, "while others seemed engaged in an ideological house of cards like staff warfare in the White House, he," Gary Cohn, "quietly and quickly focused on the first rule of governing, he hired some competent, professional staff at the NEC and it has paid off for him." What do you make of that, Austan?

GOOLSBEE: I agree with that. You know, I think - and I have met Gary Cohn a few times and I think he's obviously a smart guy and is doing a reasonable job of hiring people around him that are competent. I do think he does not have a whole lot of policy experience. So when it comes to, say, writing the tax plan, the fact that they're saying they're going to take Steve's tax plan and rip it up and start a whole new one, I don't know that Gary Cohn is capable of doing a job like that. So we're going to have to see where they go.

[09:55:16] MOORE: Yes, I agree with Austan on that.

HARLOW: Thirty seconds, Stephen Moore, final word.

MOORE: Yes, I agree with Austan. I mean, look, I think he - he certainly has the business and finance experience to do this job. But Austan is right, on policy, you know, he's new to the game. And Austan, he's also kind of new to the politics games in terms of understanding what conservatives want out of this president. And some of the things that he said, maybe we should have a value-added tax or a carbon tax, those are things that don't go over very well with conservatives like me. So we'll see whether he can grow into this. But he is certainly, right now, I think, the most influential person in the White House, other than Donald Trump and Mike Pence. HARLOW: The alpha male, as you put it, right here on the record,

Stephen Moore.

Thank you, guys, very much. It's so nice to have you. Stephen Moore, Austan Goolsbee, have a good weekend.

MOORE: Have a great Easter.

BRIGGS: I think funny, though, that Austan suggested Cohn could be now in trouble because of the attention focused on him.

HARLOW: Got to stop putting those full-screens up. And if he's on the cover of "Time" magazine, what's going to happen?

BRIGGS: Not good.

All right, still ahead, from a critic of the president to one of his biggest defenders, Nikki Haley sits down with CNN's Jamie Gangel to talk about her rising role in this new administration -


BRIGGS: And why President Trump doesn't stop her from speaking her mind.