Return to Transcripts main page


Massive U.S. Bomb Kills Dozens of ISIS Fighters; Growing Fears North Korea will Conduct Nuclear Test; Sources: British Gave U.S. Info on Conversations Between Trump Associates and Russians. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 06:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We lost our satellite feed for a moment there. We do want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. And we do have breaking news for you.

[05:59:33] You were just listening to the U.S. military's top commander -- commander there for U.S. forces about what has happened in Afghanistan just outside of Kabul. The U.S. dropped the Mother of All Bombs, the MOAB. Let's see what the commander is telling us. I believe we have our satellite back. Listen.

GEN. JOHN W. NICHOLSON, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: ISIS has murdered male family members, kidnapped their wives and daughters and forced them... (AUDIO GAP)

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's -- we're obviously having satellite issues. But we are monitoring that press briefing. Let's bring in Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent for all of the breaking news that she has.

Barbara, what's the latest?


Well, I think one of the most interesting things General Nicholson said there right at the beginning: no evidence of civilian casualties on the ground that now, at first light, U.S. and Afghan forces are at the site, trying to determine exactly what the impact has been.

I think we have the satellite feed back now.

NICHOLSON: ... and have killed and wounded hundreds of innocent civilians.


NICHOLSON: They have sent suicide bombers into mosques and murdered people during their prayer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) NICHOLSON: And just last month, they shot and stabbed hospital patients lying in their beds. They are animals.


NICHOLSON: The Afghan army and specifically their commandos are leading this fight against these barbaric terrorists. They are doing it on behalf of the people of Afghanistan and indeed, they're doing it on behalf of all of us.


NICHOLSON: The United States is committed to Afghanistan in this fight.


NICHOLSON: We are united with the Afghan government to prevent terrorists from establishing safe havens in Afghanistan.


NICHOLSON: The U.S. coordinated with the government of Afghanistan to conduct yesterday's operation, just as we have since we started these operations in early March.


CAMEROTA: OK. So we were just listening there to General John Nicholson. He is the commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. We want to bring back now our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, tell us the latest of what's happened.

STARR: Well, let's explain for a minute about this press conference you're seeing, because you hear the Afghan translator there. General Nicholson is having this press conference in Kabul this morning, mainly for the Afghan press, to explain this mission to the people and the government of Afghanistan. Very important part of the coalition.

What he has told us is that Afghan and U.S. troops are now back on the ground at this remote site in eastern Afghanistan, looking at the damage caused by this bomb being dropped. Right now, they don't see any evidence of civilian casualties on the ground. They're trying to assess did they get after the part of the target they wanted to?

The Afghan government has said 36 ISIS fighters killed. A number of tunnels and ammunition destroyed.

What it helps us understand is why the U.S., why General Nicholson decided to use this massive bomb, 21,000 pounds. You know, the largest non-convention -- conventional bomb in combat to date. Pardon me. The reason is it is a complex of caves and tunnels that they were going after in an extremely remote area. Little risk of civilian casualties, but yet, they wanted to get to this very widespread target. A more conventional bomb. You drop it, precision guidance, it goes right to the target, it explodes.

This was a more diffuse target, if you will. So this is an air blast weapon. It detonates in the air, and the blast spreads out. And -- and the killing of the target, the killing of the people that you're going after is caused by that concussive blast.

[06:05:09] A bit of controversy here, because General Nicholson had the authority for the last several weeks to use this bomb at his discretion. Something that obviously was kept very quiet.

And the question, of course, is did President Trump have to authorize it specifically? Was President Trump informed? We saw the president being asked that yesterday, what he knew about this mission, and he was somewhat careful not to be very specific. He talked about the fact that he has authorized the military to do, you know, missions that they deem necessary.

I think it's important to say it's unlikely that the White House didn't know anything about this. But you do see a president who is authorizing his military commanders more and more to take on the responsibility to order the missions as they see fit. I can tell you, I've talked to a number of commanders who say that may be the case, but they are still going to make sure the White House and President Trump is informed.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. General Nicholson calling this the right weapon for the right target, noting, as you said, Barbara, that U.S. and Afghan forces are now on the scene of that bomb blast. They see no evidence and heard no reports of civilian casualties. We'll stay on this throughout the morning. Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

And of course, Afghanistan right now, not the only hot point in the world. The world on high alert with mounting concerns that North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear test this weekend. China is warning that conflict could break out as the rhetoric from the North and the U.S. is intensifying.

CNN's Alexandra Field is live in Seoul with the very latest.

Alexandra, what are you learning?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there. Good morning, John. Even Washington is saying it's not a question of if, but when North Korea will conduct its sixth nuclear test.

Now, the other question is how the U.S. will react. That is one of the reasons that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is traveling to the region. He'll be talking to his counterparts, his allies in Seoul and in Tokyo, Japan, to discuss all of the options about how to deal with the nuclear threats coming from North Korea. Even, as they have said, looking at the military options that could exist.

This week, they sent warships to the waters off the Korean Peninsula meant to be a deterrent to North Korea. The move has, of course, enraged Pyongyang, state news now saying that the presence of nuclear strategic assets in the region threatens global security, threatens global peace and could push the region to the brink of thermo-nuclear war.

That, of course, is the propaganda from Pyongyang. Along with that, they've been pumping out pictures this week of their leader, Kim Jong- un, commanding exercises, training exercises involving the special forces there.

We are coming up on the most important day on the North Korea calendar, the celebration of the founder's birthday. That happens tomorrow. It is important, because in the past, North Korea has timed its provocative actions to coincide with this holiday in a show of force, a demonstration for the world.

John and Alisyn, we should point out that analysts and officials in the U.S. say that, based on their observation of data collected by satellites, they do believe that Pyongyang is ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test at any moment. And we expect it would come without any warning.

CAMEROTA: All right. Alexandra, thank you very much for all that reporting from South Korea for us.

We have a lot to talk about. Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analysts Abby Phillip and David Drucker; also CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Spider, I want to start with you. Let's start with what happened in Afghanistan. So this Mother of All Bombs, the MOAB bomb, was dropped. I was interested to read that a Pentagon official said this is a weapon of psychological operations because of the message that it sends to drop this. The biggest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed by the U.S. What do you see having happened here?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the message to the guys that were the fighters that were underneath that bomb was, you made a bad choice.

It not only has an amazing psychological advantage, but it really is a kinetic weapons system. We're talking about ten tons of explosives that have an air burst and then this conical-shaped concussive effect within this very restrictive area. You can just imagine any fighter in these restricted tunnel complexes and this shock wave comes moving through and just crush them in a second.

So it really -- I mean, General Nicholson had the authority. It's a weapons system that exists within the arsenal. And based on the conditions on the ground, he certainly has complete authority to use it. He made a decision based on the criticality of that target, the intelligence that he had. Probably was very actionable. Made a decision at that point to conduct that.

And then clearly, what he described in the news conference, which we just saw, is that they are conducting -- Afghan forces and U.S. forces together are conducting battle damage assessment. Already confirmed zero civilian casualties. And then trying to determine if there is other intelligence that might be -- the U.S. forces might be able to get, in concert with the Afghan forces, from that strike.

BERMAN: General Nicholson made clear he felt it was the right weapon for the right target.

President Trump, Abby, yesterday said that his generals have total authority now to conduct military operations around the world. General Nicholson had the authority to drop this without checking with the White House. Barbara laid out how we're not quite sure whether the White House knew about it or not beforehand.

But what's behind the strategy right now from the Trump administration to say, "Hey, the military commanders, they have authority over this. They can do what they want." What does that mean for the civilian control of the military?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, this White House is looking back at their predecessor, President Obama, who had a reputation of having a lot of control over the operational activity of the military, wanting to authorize strikes, wanting to be involved in the decision-making process. And trump is taking a different track. He believes the military should be left to their own devices to do what they need to do.

I don't think you should equate that, necessarily, to Trump not being aware of what's going on. But the question is who is making the final decision? And Trump has clearly made it -- has clearly said that he's going to take a step back.

At the same time, though, there is a reason why we have civilian control of the military. And one of those reasons is to sort of have a check on the instincts of military commanders in -- who are in the forces at the moment. And there is going to be a point at which Trump has to -- to sort of express some leadership over the situation, making really tough decisions that sometimes it might contradict the advice the military leaders are giving them.

CAMEROTA: David, I think he talked about this on the campaign trail.


CAMEROTA: I mean, he talked about how, you know, that in the field, that our military commanders had felt hamstrung by bureaucracy. He was going to untether them. They're the experts. Give them the autonomy. And the only -- well, one of the questions is, if something goes terribly wrong, as it did in, say, the Yemen raid, where scores of civilians were killed, then whose responsibility is it?

DRUCKER: Right. Look, I think the president is going to own the successes and failures over time, regardless of whether he gave specific orders or not.

I think what we're seeing from this White House is we're on more of a war footing than a police action footing. And even though I think President Obama doesn't get enough credit at times for the activity that the military was involved in overseas, that he gave the go ahead for, there was a sense from his White House that we were downplaying international threats and the threats of international terrorism and trying to keep them at a sort of low level.

And I think what President Trump is doing, not unlike, really, President George W. Bush, is elevating -- elevating the fight symbolically and both from military standpoint and treating it more as though a war that we're fighting and not simply some low-level police action. And I think that's what we're seeing in terms of the use of this new ordnance that was used yesterday and the fact that he has given his commanders more tactical flexibility to not have to run everything up the chain and have it lawyered to death.

BERMAN: And just look at the context, the last ten days, "Spider," of what we've seen here. We've seen this giant bomb dropped in Afghanistan, the missile strike in Syria. We know there was a friendly fire incident in Syria, as well. There's a lot of military action around the world.

You know, these ships going off the Korean Peninsula right now. If you're Kim Jong-un looking at this bomb blast in Afghanistan, do you think, "Hey, the Trump administration, it just might act against me"?

MARKS: North Korea is continually aggrieved. They always assume that they're at the brink -- you know, tensions are so incredibly high that they're at the brink of some -- either a fire or a disaster. Whatever description you want to use.

The issue here is that the tension on North Korea is where it -- on the peninsula is where it routinely is. The fact that The Carl Vinson carrier battle group is in the Sea of Japan is quite normal. There's nothing unprecedented about any of that.

The obligation that we have is we, the coalition that exists in South Korea and the allies in the region, is to ensure we ratchet that down.

North Korea will always do its very best to pump a lot of air into this and a lot of -- a lot of volatility where it does not actually exist. So of course, you can draw a conclusion that the United States used the MOAB in Afghanistan. It's a logical assumption that they would use it in North Korea. Folks, there is no reason for us to use it in North Korea. There is no increased tension that would cause us to use that. And Kim Jong-un simply is making a political statement, which he does as matter of routine.

CAMEROTA: All right, guys.

[06:15:12] MARKS: And if I -- if I can.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

MARKS: Absolutely. I want to make sure we -- I want to make sure that there isn't this cavalier discussion. I'm not suggesting there is. That military understands that it works for civilian bosses. The civilian control of the military is not in anybody's discussion who wears a uniform. It's crystal clear to those of us who serve. Not an issue at all.

CAMEROTA: Spider, very quickly, but don't you think that they now feel that they have more autonomy to make decisions?

MARKS: No. It's always been like this. You have an authority. You've got a weapons system. You have authority. You have an assessment that you make. Authority is either delegated down to you and if not, then you go do a "Mother, may I" and ask the question up the chain of command.

But in this case, I can guarantee you, everybody in the chain of command knew that this weapons system was going to be used. It was available. It was the first time it was going to be used. The reasonable person standard is let's make the sure the bosses and the boss's boss knows that we're about to use there.

BERMAN: The question is should politicians be circling, you know, sites on a map and choosing what weapons we're using against it.

MARKS: They should not. Thank you, John. That's right. They should not.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Stick around. A lot more to discuss.

Conversations between Donald Trump's campaign associates and the Russians intercepted by intelligence agencies. And it wasn't just the United States that caught them. We have new details coming up.


[06:20:28] CAMEROTA: So we now know the U.S. intelligence agencies are not the only ones who intercepted conversations between Trump campaign associates and the Russians. CNN has learned the British and other European nations captured them, as well, and then shared them with their American counterparts.

CNN's Pamela Brown is live in Washington with her reporting on this. What have you learned, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we've learned that British and other European intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Trump associates and Russian officials and other Russian individuals during the campaign and then 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.

And the various communications were captured during routine surveillance of Russian officials and other Russians known to Western intelligence. We don't know their name, but we do know that they were on the U.S. radar.

And this happened over the course of several months. The sources said that British and European intelligence agencies, including GCHQ in Great Britain, were not proactively targeting any members of the Trump team or then candidate -- presidential candidate Donald Trump. But rather, picked up these communications during what's known as incidental collection of monitoring the Russian officials overseas.

And we have learned that the FBI is now using this information that was passed along as part of its counter intel probe of possible coordination between Russians and Trump associates. And of course, this information could be passed along to senators on Capitol Hill who are involved in the intelligence investigation right now. This is all classified, so it wouldn't necessarily be released publicly. It can be used part of that investigation.

Back to you.

CAMEROTA: Pamela, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

Let's bring back in our panel. We have Abby Phillip and David Drucker. Also joining us now, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official, Philip Mudd.

Well, this answers some questions, Phil. Because this is -- this citing of the GCHQ, OK, which is their government intelligence agency in Britain, if you'll recall, this came up. You know, there was this FOX News analyst who said that President Obama had gone around the FISA court and done something illegal and used JCHQ [SIC] to find out about Trump associates.

Well, now we know that, in fact, it was the British intel agency that tapped the U.S. intelligence agency on the shoulder and said, "We're finding something that looks suspicious to us."

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, but time out. The FOX News analyst suggested the British were targeting American politicians. That's a lie. Let me tell you how this works.

I can't wait to see this play out in Washington today and tomorrow, because I guarantee there will be some conspiracy theory that's nuts. Let me tell you reality.

There's a huge volume of local -- what we call traffic in the intelligence business. E-mail, phone. That includes Russians, Chinese, Iranians. Think of this as burden sharing, resource sharing. The Americans don't want to collect all of it and have their closest allies, maybe the British, collect all the same stuff. They have agreements about what kind of stuff each is going to collect. When they collect it, they share it. This has been going on for decades

In this case, what would have happened is the Americans might collect some Russian lines. The British collect the others. The British aren't looking through it saying either "How do we target Trump people?" or "How do we find Trump stuff in our intelligence and pass it to the Americans. They're just passing Russian stuff. Within that haystack of Russian stuff is some Trump communications with the Russians, what we call incidental collection.

So I think this is going to be portrayed as a conspiracy, as it was on FOX. That is entirely incorrect. It's a simple intel sharing agreement that includes some Trump stuff.

BERMAN: It's a simple sharing agreement. But what it does mean is that the British know that conversations were going on at some level between Trump associates and the Russians early on. And David Drucker, this is -- this is more smoke. I mean, we have the

Carter Page incident coming out this week, where we learned there was a FISA warrant against him. You have this British collection.

But you think that, even though there's more and more smoke and the facts may be getting stronger and stronger here, the impact might be less and less as long as the U.S. relationship with Russia gets less close by the day.

DRUCKER: Well, exactly, John, and I think a lot of what has fueled this fire politically for a long time has been the fact that President Trump has coddled Vladimir Putin, apologized for him. Said we're just as bad as he is. And has couched U.S.-Russia relations as though we need to try and get along with them.

And what we're seeing over the past couple of weeks, is an administration that is recognizing the Russians for what they are. A regime trying to undermine the U.S. Influence in the world. That is not in U.S. interests. We saw just a couple of days ago a very combative news conference between the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov, and Rex Tillerson, our secretary of state.

[06:25:13] And so I think when you have all of that, and you put it together with these facts that continue to emerge, it's less of a political problem for the president.

And we have to wonder the president, at the time that he ran for office, was such a blank slate, as we're finding out, when it came to matters of foreign policy. And had so few people around him. It's possible that associates of his, supporters of his were freelancing and talking to the Russians. They shouldn't have been, and influencing some of his foreign policy thought.

So it will be interesting to see whether or not this ever reaches up closer to him. But it could have been that he was influenced unknowingly, which is -- which is an issue, but less of an issue if his administration is treating the Russians the way they should and if he stops apologizing for Putin.

CAMEROTA: Abby, what do you think this changes?

PHILLIP: Well, I do think that we need to keep in mind here that one of the main reasons we're talking about this in the first place is because there was Russian interference in the election. And one of the core questions that investigators are trying to answer is was there any coordination or collusion between Trump associates and the Russians? We don't know the answer to that question.

But it is a very serious -- it's a very serious claim, and it's one that I think goes beyond the question of are we -- are we trying to broker more favorable relationships with Russia on a diplomatic stage? I think there's an element here of sort of -- of interference in an election, which is a sort of international scandal that goes beyond that. And that's the core -- that's the real core of the question at this point. I think whether they were trying to just have a -- to sort of broker a

better relationship with Russia is not out of bounds with what they would be doing in -- either in a campaign or in an administration. And that wouldn't, at the end of the day, be a problem, whether that was true or not.

BERMAN: So, interesting development overnight, not disconnected to this, which is the CIA director, Mike Pompeo, he came out hard against an entity which President Trump said he once loved.


BERMAN: I'm talking about WikiLeaks. Obviously, candidate Trump said he loved WikiLeaks on the campaign trail. Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, says now it's a great danger. If we can, if we have the sound, I want to play you some of the love that was given by candidate Trump to WikiLeaks and then what the CIA director said overnight. Watch this.


TRUMP: Now this just came out. WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks. And I said, "Write a couple of them down."

And by the way, WikiLeaks just came out with lots of really unbelievable things. Just minutes ago. In fact, I almost delayed this speech by about two hours, it's so interesting.

By the way, did you see another one? Another...

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. And it's encouraged its followers to find jobs at the CIA in order to obtain intelligence. 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.


BERMAN: So Phil Mudd, I guess the capstone to this week of policy U- turns, maybe it's not surprising that the Trump administration, you know, all of a sudden, doesn't love WikiLeaks as much, though he campaigned on it.

MUDD: I agree with that, John. I love this stuff. For an intel guy, this is better than Netflix. It saves me a lot of money.

Let me tell you how to interpret this, and this, I think, would be interpreted very positively at the CIA. There's a fundamental question when a politician becomes the CIA director. And that is, can he exit from being a political person with views on WikiLeaks that are, as you heard, to saying, "Can I put on an intel lens, discard what I thought six months ago and

represent an intel view."

I think at Langley today, the CIA headquarters, people are saying, "This is a hardline Republican who had certain partisan views in Congress, and he has the capability to look at information independently and say, 'Maybe now I have a different view'."

Let me tell you why this is important. One example: the Iran nuclear deal. Mike Pompeo was very tough on the Obama negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal. Now the intel guys are going to be saying, "Regardless of what you thought in Congress, our job is to assess whether Iran is complying. Can you look at this strictly through an intel lens?" This is a clue that says he can.

BERMAN: The one person who hasn't condemned WikiLeaks yet is...

CAMEROTA: Yes. The president. We will see if he still -- if he now considers it a hostile intelligence service.

Panel, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. President Trump, he swore the United States would not be the world's policeman, but after dropping what is called the Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan, is the president living up to that promise? That's next.