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President Trump Tweets: "No More DACA Deal"; Former V.A. Secretary Shulkin Fired Or Resigned, Why It Could Matter; Who Does President Trump Listen To?; Mixed Messages On Syria; Pentagon Talks About Sending Dozens More Troops to Northern Syria, In Direct Contrast To What The President Said A Few Days Ago; Will There Be A Putin-Trump Summit Meeting? Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 2, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:46] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So the President did a little tweeting today over the weekend as well and late into the night on DACA, declaring it dead for a variety of reasons, attacking Amazon the company, endorsing a big local broadcasting chain, attacking his own Justice Department with justice in scare quotes, in short burning up the old electoral Twitter machine.

Now, the question is did it reflect our reporting that he's been told that his base worries he's going soft on issues like immigration. Is it because of who did or didn't have his ear down in Mar-a-Lago this weekend? Is it because he's now a bit more free to just be himself? We'll talk about all of that in the hour ahead.

But first CNN's Boris Sanchez joins us from the White House.

So, let's talk about these tweets. Just in the last hour alone, what has the President been saying?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Anderson. Yes, the President picking up pretty much right where he left off over the weekend and early this morning, tweeting about immigration, attacking Democrats and using some of the harshest language that we've seen from President Trump going back to day one of his campaign, when he said that Mexico wasn't sending their best and called some Mexicans rapists.

Here's one tweet from President Trump sent within the past hour. He writes, "As ridiculous as it sounds, the laws of our country do not easily allow us to send those crossing our southern border back where they came from. A whole big wasted procedure must take place. Mexico and Canada have tough immigration laws whereas ours are an Obama joke. Act Congress."

The President then went on to write, "Honduras, Mexico, and many other countries, but the U.S. is very generous to sends many of their people to our country through our weak immigration policies. Caravans are heading here. Must pass tough laws and build the wall. Democrats allow open borders, drugs, and crime." Two quick things to point out Anderson, this entire tweet storm began shortly after a report aired on a cable news network having to do with immigration. And I did want to note you're not seeing the President call for Mexico to pay for the wall anymore. He's demanding action from Congress, a marked shift in his possession dating back to the campaign, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. You mentioned that in the news report. I mean, is there any sense also how this sort of renewed attack or focus on immigration may be connected to, a, whom the President was socializing with at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend, and also any fears he may have or message he received from them about possibly his base losing some support from his base because of a perception he hasn't delivered on immigration?

SANCHEZ: Well, what sources are telling us indicates that these tweets are connected to conversations that he had this weekend at Mar- a-Lago. Sources have told CNN that the President spent the weekend with some immigration hardliners, some Fox News hosts like Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity as well as a former Fox News Executive, Bill Shine. And sources familiar with their conversation tell us, that they told the President they believe his base believes that he is getting soft on immigration. They went as far apparently as to tell the President that successful Republicans in the November midterm elections depend on his ability to show that he's made progress in building his long promised border wall. We know that has been a sore subject for the President, as I noted earlier.

Also worth mentioning, who wasn't at Mar-a-Lago this weekend? The President without his Chief of Staff John Kelly and without Hope Hicks, the former communications director for the White House, who had her last days here last week. You can't really manage President Trump from what we've heard from sources, but at least those were moderating forces that are no longer around the President, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Boris Sanchez, thanks very much.

I want to turn next to a pair of political professionals, one -- former Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager.

Ken, the President tweeted about multiple groups in one day. I'm wondering what you make of it because, I mean it does seem members of Congress are essentially just now ignoring him. You don't really hear Congress or people on Capitol Hill really responding to these tweets anymore?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, not directly. But I do think that he's driven some discussion today on Mexico and illegal immigration. And Mexico historically been pretty tough on illegal immigration to its country. But this -- you hear the talk about the caravans, and you saw that one in the President's tweets. Those aren't new. Mexico and on for while, Mexico is tough on their southern border unless you're going through to the U.S. and this is something that periodically makes the news and goes away.

[21:05:10] But the President gives it more life by tweeting about it. Even if he kind of misuse his terms, he tweets DACA as if it's all illegal immigration instead of this specific program. But the point is still made, and it's at a time when he's talking to Mexico about NAFTA. So there's probably some attempt to get some leverage here too.

COOPER: Robby, do you think it's about leverage, or is it a President that's frustrated that his agenda on immigration isn't getting done the way he would like it to?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean with all due respect, I think we're assigning way too much strategery to what the President is doing here. Clearly someone was buzzing in his ear or he's responding to cable news, probably all of the above. You mentioned a number of different factors here. I think this is a President that's clearly frustrated about something. Almost all of this is baseless. Almost none of it is true. You know, including some of the topics that weren't focused on immigration.

So, I think these are more rants from the President, and as you said, you know, Republicans and frankly some Democrats in Congress have just stopped bothering to respond. It's not worth it. I do wonder -- you brought up the midterm elections. I'm sure Republicans are going to try to pull out, you know, their same bag of tricks on division over the question of immigration and hyping up, you know, things that aren't very true. But I wonder how much this kind of behavior will be tolerated if the stock market continues to decline. The President has been standing on one leg, and that's a strong economy, and if that goes away, I don't know that people are going to tolerate this kind of behavior anymore.

COOPER: Ken, the President does have --


CUCCINELLI: Less leg to stand on.

COOPER: The President does, though, have a story on immigration that has been successful in terms of just the sheer percentage drop of people crossing over illegally, it's down at some points as much as 60%. I just don't quite understand why this latest storm, you know, of the tweets. He seems to mix up on DACA. It doesn't actually exist right now, and if it did, it wouldn't apply to those who arrived after 2007.

CUCCINELLI: Right. I think what you see here is frustration over the complete failure to see any movement on the immigration issue during his entire tenure. Now, what are we at, 15 months or so. And they got close to -- or what seemed like they were close to some movement in the March time frame, February-March. Of course the Democrats played -- rolled the dice on a government shutdown. That didn't work out very well.

And the President himself has been frankly stung a little bit by his own base because he keeps backing off. He's expanded DACA from people who actually participated in DACA, the 690,000 or so, to the estimated 1.8 million number. Then you hear about citizenship instead of just legal presence. He keeps backing up, and the Democrats, I think, see it as him adding to just the border wall with getting rid of the visa lottery and chain migration. But those two make so much sense, you know, on a pure substance matter, the American people are with the President on this. I think he could do a better job of making his case, but he's pushing it to the forefront. It's an odd time to push it to the forefront, but he has pushed it to the forefront, and it is not a bad issue if they can actually try to make some headway.

COOPER: Robby?


MOOK: Yes, if I could just jump in here, I mean the American people don't at all agree with what the President is doing, and I think the biggest problem here is that the President won't keep facts straight. He's throwing out all kinds of things that aren't true. And then, I actually agree with Ken. He's flubbed this at every turn. He throw -- you know, he makes big pronouncements. He told the Democrats he wanted to make a deal. The Democrats came closer to him. A deal was in the making, and then he backed off, and he continues to do that.

And when we talk about American public opinion, the American people have overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive reform of our immigration system, which I think everybody agrees is very badly needed since the Bush administration. And it's the ultra extreme right wing of the Republican Party, the freedom caucus and others in the congress --


MOOK: -- that every single time, tank a deal. Because they're so far out of the mainstream. Almost everybody agrees --

CUCCINELLI: No, no, no.

MOOK: Let's strengthen the security of the border, and then let's clean up and clarify the system. It's a mess.

CUCCINELLI: It is a mess, and there's lots of bipartisan ownership of it. But let's not kid ourselves here. The American people don't support giving citizenship to people who came here illegally, have stayed here illegally, some of whom have broken our laws and been deported before.

[21:10:12] The position that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are taking right now is so far out of the mainstream it isn't tenable. Does that mean that the President is addressing this in terms of his rhetoric the right way? No, but he's a heck of a lot closer to what the American people support than the unified Democratic left wing of this country. They're just out of it. They're out of it.

And look, Robby says everybody knows, just like everybody knew Hillary was going to win the election. I think Donald Trump knows something here that Robby doesn't.

COOPER: All right. Ken Cuccinelli, Robby Mook, I appreciate it. Go ahead Robby and then we going to go.


MOOK: Well, I was just going to say -- now, what the Democrats are supporting is basically what George W. Bush supported as President, which is let's get people in line to get citizenship. They have to pay their back taxes. They have to, you know, take the exam. They have to do everything that full citizens need to do. These are -- there are literally millions of people here without proper citizenship. There's no deporting them all. And everybody agrees let's get criminals out. Let's strengthen border security. But we support what George W. Bush and the Republican Party used to support. So let's just get together and get it done and the right wing needs to take a break here.

COOPER: All right. When we continue.

CUCCINELLI: Chamber of commerce solution.

COOPER: When we continue more -- more and how the President got from promising a bill of love on immigration to declaring DACA dead. And later, mixed messages on Syria. We're learning about the prospect of sending more U.S. troops just days after the President said that American involvement was ending, in his words, very soon.


[21:15:21] COOPER: President Trump hit send on a couple of tweets over the eastern weekend that once again put the future of those so called DACA kids, the hundreds of thousands of children born here in the United States to illegal immigrants in serious doubt. Border patrol agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the border, the President wrote. Because ridiculous liberal Democrats law like catch and release getting more dangerous caravans coming. Republicans must go to nuclear option to pass tough laws now no more DACA deal.

Joining me now to discuss, Michael Caputo and Maria Cardona.

Michael, I mean isn't President Trump the one who rescinded DACA last year after a court ruled against what President Obama had done and then refused the Democrats' deal on funding part of the wall in exchange for a DACA deal?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Well, I think the President as you know rescinded the DACA deal. It was to give Congress a chance to create, you know, immigration law, through legislation, not the administration, he gave them six months to do it. And that was the right way to do it. I mean immigration policies most properly formed by the United States Congress, not by, as with President Obama, through Homeland Security.

Unfortunately they were given this opportunity, and they squandered it to score political points. I don't think that the President was going to take what they offered when they offered it to him. The President controls the administration. The Republicans are in charge, and the House and the Senate, and unfortunately Congress has been unable to come to some kind of a conclusion on this.

COOPER: Maria, is it clear to you that the President understands how DACA works? He did say that --


COOPER: -- that the big flows of people are trying to take advantage of it, but you obviously can't sign up for DACA anymore.

CARDONA: No, Anderson. This President is not just clueless when it comes to DACA. He is completely clueless when it comes to immigration laws, period. Everything that he tweeted this weekend was just completely untrue. Let's start with what you mentioned, which is DACA. Yes, nobody that comes here today can take advantage of the DACA deal, because that is not what is written into the current executive order, number one. Number two, he also cynically calls these caravans of people making it sound like our country is going to soon be under attack. He even said our country is being stolen. That is a cynical dog whistle to his anti-immigrant base.

If he would be at least a little bit curious and want to actually solve the problem, he would know that these, quote, unquote, "caravans" of people are actually majority women and children and people that are fleeing poverty and violence and want to come here seeking asylum. And by the way, a third of them are seeking to stay in Mexico with their families. But we know that this is not a President who focuses or cares about the facts.

COOPER: Michael, I should also point out I think I may have misspoke. I said DACA for kids who were born here -- born in United States, since obviously kids who were brought here as children through no fault of their own. I mean what do you make of what Maria is saying here about the President's characterization of caravans of people coming? is that accurate?

CAPUTO: Well I know the caravans are there. They've been reported widely on the media. I think there's reason to be concerned about more illegal immigration and the fact that the Mexican government seems to just let them go right through. You know, I agree with the President that we need enhanced border security, but we also have to fix immigration. I think one of the reasons why immigration is still stymied, still stalled just like it was in the eight years of the Obama administration is because Democrats keep playing politics with it just like Maria did. I mean you can't tell me that the President doesn't understand what he did in September.

And if you remember on September 5th --

CARDONA: He's clueless.

CAPUTOR: -- the President also said if Congress doesn't fix this, I will revisit it. That's a September 5th tweet, and I believe he will revisit it. I think the Democrats have to get off their hands and finally do something to permanently fix this problem.

CARDONA: OK. Here's some more facts for you, Michael. The President from day one used these kids as political pawns.

CAPUTO: As have the Democrats. CARDONA: No. Democrats --

CAPUTO: Absolutely the Democrats have.

CARDONA: Democrats never --

CAPUTO: They used them as political pawns all along.

CARDONA: Michael, I did not interrupt you.

COOPER: One at a time. Nobody can hear you if you're both talking (INAUDIBLE) --

CARDONA: Exactly. Thank you.

COOPER: -- we'll go back to Michael.

CARDONA: Thank you. So Democrats never called for the deportation of these kids at their rallies. That is something that Trump did again to rile up his anti-immigrant base. He has never cared about these kids. If he really wanted a legislative solution, he didn't have to end DACA. He could have pushed in good faith both sides to fix this from a legislative standpoint, which we all knew from the beginning is the only way to fix this.

[21:20:13] But Republicans were the ones who in 2010 did not want to pass the DREAM Act, in 2013, did not want to pass the bill that actually passed the Republican Senate but -- Republican House, and John Boehner was very clear to Obama that he's not going to bring it up on the floor because he could not pass a bill that would not have majority Republican support.


CARDONA: So don't talk to me about people who are playing politics with this because that's the Republicans.

COOPER: OK. Michael, I want you to respond.

CAPUTO: Well, I'll tell you, we don't have to look any further than Maria to see Democrats playing politics with this issue. As a matter of fact, you know, if this thing ends the way it looks like it's going to end DACA will end, you know, abruptly and roughly, and nobody wants to see that happen. If the Democrats don't come to the table with reasonable expectations and compromise in their hearts to fix this thing, they're going to be held responsible for its falling apart as well.

CARDONA: Michael --

CAPUTO: That the voters want things fixed. OK. Is it your turn to interrupt?

CARDONA: No. Go ahead. I'm going to wait until you're done.

COOPER: Let Michael finish. CAPUTO: Go ahead.

CARDONA: Well, what I was going to say is did the Democrats not offer $25 billion for the Republican and Trump's ridiculous border wall that frankly even many Republicans don't even think that it is reasonable? But Chuck Schumer offered $25 billion to Trump for his border wall in exchange for citizenship for these kids. He said no. If that is not a good-faith effort on behalf of the Democrats --

COOPER: I want Michael to respond.

CARDONA: -- then I don't know what is.

CAPUTO: The President's reform --


CAPUTO: -- for immigration and border security don't just balance on a border wall. He also was talking about chain migration. He was talking about diversity visas and other reforms that are necessary to make our immigration system more effective and to protect our nation. But if you think you can just lay out some kind of an expenditure for a border wall and not get the rest of the reform, that's not the President you're dealing with. Donald Trump wants true reform, and we'll get it.

COOPER: All right.

CARDONA: That's not what talked about. He talked about DACA.

COOPER: We got to end the conversation there. Maria Cardona, thank you. And Michael Caputo is a proud son of Buffalo. I want to wish you a very Happy Dyngus Day.

CAPUTO: Happy Dyngus Day, Anderson.

CARDONA: Thanks Anderson.

COOPER: All right. But yes (ph), see you later.

The outgoing V.A. Secretary David Shulkin says he was fired last week. The White House says he resigned. We'll explain why that matters next.


[21:26:07] COOPER: Well, the former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is out of a job, you probably know that. Still in the news though, the reason has to do with how he became the former V.A. secretary and why it might matter to the White House. Here he is on CNN's "New Day."


DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER VETERANS AFFAIR SECRETARY: I came to Washington with the commitment to make our system work better for veterans. That's the commitment that I went to work every day. I continue to feel strongly about that. There was no reason why I would resign.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So why don't you just say you were fired?

SHULKIN: Well, I -- I think that's the alternative to resignation. I received a phone call saying that the President wanted to make a change, and that's certainly his prerogative to do that, and that's what happened.


COOPER: Now, for its part, the White House says that Shulkin resigned, was not fired, which brings us to why this might matter. I'm joined by Mike Shields and Kirsten Powers.

Mike, does it strike you strange that the highest office of the land and they can't seem to delineate whether someone was fired or resigned, and does it in fact matter?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the reason it matters is a legal matter in terms of what the acting V.A. secretary can do. But in terms of what the American public cares about, it doesn't matter. If the President wants you to resign and sort of forces your resignation, then the law gets kind of gray about whether or not you're fired or whether or not you're asked to resign. And therefore you've resigned after being asked. But the reality of the matter is, look, we have to understand who Shulkin is. He was in the Obama administration. He was appointed by President Obama, and President Trump kept him. Then he got caught up in a scandal where he and his wife were abusing their office and getting tickets to Wimbledon and flying around. He didn't handle that very well, and the President wanted to make a change.

And I think the American people are fine with that. Until our veterans are getting everything that they need, we could have four or five V.A. secretaries, and the country's going to go great. I hope that they keep getting rid of them until someone is doing the right thing. And so, I think this is an inside sort of baseball kind of conversation about whether or not he was fired or resigned. And in reality the American people are going to go, I hope our veterans are getting the care they need.

COOPER: Well Kirsten, I mean you do think if Shulkin did resign, there would have been some kind of a paper trail here that the White House could have easily produced that. And of course this comes against the backdrop of we know for a President who is famous for saying, you're fired, and actually does not like to be the person who fires anyone, which is obviously somewhat ironic.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean if he resigned, then -- then there would be a resignation letter, and so they should just produce the resignation letter. The implication, I guess, is that there is this federal vacancies act, and if the person resigns or dies, then you can temporarily fill the position. So it does have some implications for how you get the next V.A. secretary. So the White House does have some interest in this. But I think that, again, if you resigned, people typically in the government do, even if it's very brief, do a resignation letter, and then they should just produce that.

COOPER: Mike, I mean this isn't the first time there's been a shifting narrative on a personnel issue from the White House. Does that say something about how the President's being served by his own staff or how the White House is organized?

SHIELDS: I think it says something about his style more than anything. I mean he wants to make a change, he makes a change. And there's previous Presidents have had all sort of layers of bureaucracy around them. This President doesn't like to operate that way. He's in charge. He's the communications director. He's the chief of staff. He's the head of cabinet affairs in this case. And that's the way he likes to operate. Is the way he was successful. He came to Washington, D.C. to be a disruptor, and so it's always going to look weird to political analysts like me that are watching this administration because it hasn't been done that way before, but he's going to do it the way he wants to do it. And if he wants to change out the Veterans Affairs secretary, he's going to do that.

And again, I think the American people are fine with that as long as things are getting better and our veterans are getting the care they need. That's what the American people are going to care about, and they're not going to care about his style of how he did it.

COOPER: Kirsten, do you think this style of running the White House is working for this President, is protecting him, is working well for him?

[21:30:04] POWERS: I mean it may be working well for him personally because this is his style and this is how he likes to do things. And it's -- Mike is correct. He is free to fire whomever he wants. I mean he put these people in place. He chose them and he's free to fire them.

I do think there is some sort of lack of decency, which I find problematic, which is, you know, if you've ever had anybody who's worked for you, which I think we all have, this just isn't how you treat people who worked for you. That you should -- if you -- I think you should have the conversation if you're going to fire a cabinet secretary. But if for some reason you can't, I think that you do it in a way that is less publicly humiliating.

So if people don't care about that, I think that that's kind of a sad commentary on our country, but I do think that there is just this real lack of decency, and it does obviously go very much against his sort of macho bravado that he loved to fire people and was always firing people when, in fact, he doesn't actually fire anybody.

COOPER: Yes. Kirsten Powers, Mike Shields, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

POWERS: Thank you.

COOPER: When we continue, a close friend of the President weighs in on the President's tweeting, DACA, and more.


COOPER: In one form or another, we've been talking tonight about how every president until now has spoken and acted versus how this President does. That's how former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta put it tonight. But it's also how many Democrats and Republicans see it, some proudly so.

[21:35:07] Mike Shields before the break said that this president is different, and that's a good thing. He is. Someone who agrees is NewsMax CEO, Chris Ruddy, who happens to be a friend of the President. I spoke with him earlier this evening.


COOPER: Chris, the president's chief of staff wasn't with him for the weekend down in Mar-a-Lago. I know you were down there. The President also talked with Jeanine Pirro from Fox News, Sean Hannity, former Fox News executive Bill Shine, as I understand very well. Do you just have a sense of what went on this weekend that ended up in this -- the kind of -- the tweets that we saw coming from the president, whether it was about DACA, or the Department of Justice, or, you know, even Sinclair?

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: I don't think any of them are related to the visitors he had. It was Easter weekend. He was spending most of the time with his family, who were all down here, Melania. He seemed in a very good mood.

In fact, we were talking quite a bit about the economy and the fact he was touting the fact he has the lowest unemployment in 50 years record consumer and business confidence. So, you know, people sometimes misinterpret it. General Kelly usually doesn't come on the trips down to Florida. So I don't know why the Washington Post and others are reading into it so much.

COOPER: The reporting was that some of the people sent him a message this weekend, whether -- some of the Fox News folks saying, look, your base is concerned that you're getting soft on immigration. And then we saw these tweets about DACA. Do you -- you don't think that had anything to do -- you don't think he was given a message by some of the people he talked to and that resulted in some of these tweets?

RUDDY: Well, this has been an issue that he's felt very strongly about for a long time. There's been reports on Fox News that there's a caravan of people heading to the U.S. border. I think that might have sparked -- I don't know if it was any meeting that he had down here.

The President's been very strong on the border. In fact, he's been very effective because he stepped up border enforcement laws. There's been a decline of about 60% of illegal crossings. I think that's a huge, very significant number.

But, you know, it's a serious issue, and I think the polls show that most Americans don't want unfettered access. And as the President said in his tweet, when you read it, it's usually fairly accurate. He says when you go to Mexico, you can't just walk across their border. They'll arrest you very quickly if you do, and they'll send you back to the United States pretty quickly.

So, you know, he just wants to have national borders and national sovereignty. I think it's an OK position.

COOPER: But there certainly are folks like Ann Coulter who have been critical of the President, essentially believing he's weakening on immigration. Do you share any of those concerns? I mean, he was talking about DACA as a policy of -- you know, I don't want to put words in his mouth, but, you know, a policy of love. You know, he seemed early on to almost echo some Democratic positions before going back to Republican positions.

RUDDY: Well, I think Ann's position on immigration is extreme. I disagree with it. I like the president moving more to a positive -- we are a nation of immigrants. I'm the grandson of immigrants, and the president is the grandson and son of a Scottish immigrant. So I think the President likes immigration. What he doesn't like is illegal immigration, unfettered access, just like most countries today just don't let anyone come in.

So I hope the President -- I think he wants to deal humanely with the illegals that are in the country or people that want to work and seek restitution. He's been very open in dealing with DACA. But the Democrats don't want to afford him the right to build a border wall, and he campaigned for it. He promised it. Polls show the American people want a border barrier.

So I don't understand, you know, if he's angry because they won't compromise, I think that's a legitimate position. I would not take necessarily Ann Coulter's position on the matter.

COOPER: Just in terms of how the President listens to those around him, how he seeks advice, you obviously talk to the president. You're down at Mar-a-Lago. How does it actually work? I mean, does -- you know, some presidents want to hear contrary views. Some presidents feel like they get enough contrary views and they want -- maybe on a weekend they want to be around people who are going to be giving them -- echoing maybe their own views. How does it work with this President based on your own experience?

RUDDY: Well, I've known him over many years. I'd describe him as a feedback junkie. He loves information. He loves hearing people's thoughts. And even if it's critical, he's actually open to a lot of that.

The press tries to play that he doesn't want to hear anything. He likes fresh ideas. He likes new ideas. So -- and he asks a lot of people -- I saw him several times over the weekend. He was asking me a few questions. A very typical of him, and I think it's a very positive attribute. So he adjusts course. The press again tries to spin it like he'll stick on one position and never change. [21:40:01] You know, at one point he was calling for deportation of 10 million people under a policy pushed by Steve Bannon. That's not even talked about anymore. I think the President has a view that he secures the border and that he's going to live out that promise.

COOPER: Chris Ruddy, appreciate your time as always. Thank you.

RUDDY: Thank you.


COOPER: Coming up, what is U.S. policy? More U.S. troops in Syria or none? I'll try to sort out what seemed like mixed messages from the White House, next.


COOPER: Statements about U.S. policy toward Syria have gotten more mixed in recent days. CNN has learned that the Pentagon has been talking about sending dozens more troops to Northern Syria. It's in direct contrast to something the president said a few days ago.


TRUMP: I don't want to tell the enemy how I am thinking.

Does that make sense? Surprise. You remember they used to call it the element of surprise.

[21:45:05] I keep saying, whatever happened to the element of surprise?

You know, I've been saying the element of surprise.

We're too predictable.

We need to be unpredictable. We have to be unpredictable.

We want to be unpredictable, folks. We want to be unpredictable.

I'm not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don't talk about military response. I don't want to be one of these guys that say, yes, here's what we're going to do. I don't have to do that. You know why? Because they shouldn't know.


COOPER: That was the President talking about the importance of U.S. policy in war zones and elsewhere being unpredictable during the campaign. Well, here he was just a few days ago.


TRUMP: And by the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon, we're coming out. We're going to have 100% of the caliphate, as they call it -- sometimes referred to as land. We're taking it all back quickly, quickly. But we're going to be coming out of there real soon.


COOPER: Saying the U.S. is going to be pulling out of Syria very soon. A national security meeting is set for tomorrow to discuss the administration's plan for fighting ISIS in Syria. We'll have plenty to talk about. And joining me now is General Mark Hertling, Admiral John Kirby, and Mike Rogers.

Admiral Kirby, what do you expect at the NSC meeting tomorrow is going to actually look like? To talk about being on different pages, because that seemed to surprise, I guess a lot of folks about what U.S. policy was actually going to be.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, it certainly did, not to mention international partners as well. Look, I think it's good that they're having this meeting. It's always healthy to dip your toe in the stream and see how your strategy and your policy are being implemented whether you need to make changes.

I strongly suspect that the State Department and the Pentagon will use this meeting tomorrow to make the case that while ISIS is definitely on the ropes, they are not defeated. They still have ground in Syria. They still have a capability to reconstitute themselves.

Remember, Secretary Mattis talked about this as a strategy of annihilation, not attrition. Going to wipe them off the face of the map. They're still on the map.

I think also they will make the case that pulling out precipitously is a big gift to Russia and Iran. And for an administration that says they're going to be tougher on Iran than the one before them, this is a funny way to show that, because Iran would like nothing better than for the United States and military forces there to get out of Syria.

Lastly, Anderson, I really hope they spend a little bit of time tomorrow talking about the diplomatic strategy. That is not something we've heard much about from this administration. They've basically pulled out of the U.N. process. They've given over leadership to any of the political talks and discussions to Russia. That obviously hasn't worked well. I think it's important for the United States to get re-engaged diplomatically.

COOPER: Chairman Rogers, you heard the President say, you know, other nations need to be doing more. Let them handle it. Pull out U.S. troops. I'm wondering what you make of that statement.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, listen, I agree you don't want us to be predictable on what your strategy on the ground is, but you absolutely need to be predictable on what your intentions are. And I think that confusion could be hurtful not only to our allies, but it emboldens our adversaries as well. And if you look at those precipitous pull-outs in Afghanistan that later led to now 15 years in Afghanistan and the precipitous pullout in Iraq and what that meant for our ability to keep our coalitions together in Iraq, doing that in Syria today I think would be a disaster. And I agree with the Admiral, but it's not just helpful to Iran and Russia. It's also helpful to ISIS and Al Qaeda. That confusion helps them, you know, measure those seems pretty well, and they're very good at that. And so that confusion, I think would -- is candidly is just not helpful to the overall goal of bringing stability, security, and by the way, getting rid of Assad eventually.

COOPER: General Hertling, I mean, for someone who's served on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere, what is it like from the ground level when you get mixed messages from the top about what U.S. policy is?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, everything that both Admiral Kirby and Congressman Rogers have said is exactly right, Anderson. Only I would add a couple more things. There's also the element that Turkey is going to provide as part of this strategy. And we've got a bunch of friends there, and if we just focus on the battlefield and the confusion and the complexities of what is going on between us and our allies, the Kurds, the Syrian free fighters and others, others in the coalition -- and I'm talking about the U.K., several other special operations forces that have been fighting there. All of that element is based on trust. That's the coin of the realm of the battlefield.

And when you're talking about a disconnect between the policy makers and the commander-in-chief versus his or her soldiers on the ground, that causes a great deal of problem. And what I'd say is when you're on the battlefield, the narrative doesn't matter. You can make as much and as many excuses as you want about what's said and what was meant.

[21:50:01] What matters on the battlefield is facts, and I will tell you talking to a couple commanders on the ground in Syria and in Iraq, they will tell you that many of our coalition partners are not confused. Are we still with them or are we not with them? What the President said, are we coming out or we're staying longer? Is ISIS really defeated or is there a long way to go?

You know, we talked a lot about strategy over the last three years since we've been engaging in tactics, what has been really good on the battlefield is adaptive tactics. The military personnel on the ground have done magnificently in adapting their tactics to a very complex situation. But I'll quote Sun Tzu for you here, Anderson, Sun Tzu said something like, "Tactics without strategy, and we don't have a strategy yet for Syria, is a lot of noise for defeat. If we don't get the end state of what we want to do, we're going to be in a lot of trouble in Northern Syria.

COOPER: Chairman Rogers, I mean, how would a split between what the President wants and what the military wants playing to how Congress reacts to a possible troop patrol?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, I -- the President is going to win because that's exactly where he's determined to go. I think the good news here is that he has been inclined to listen to his military leaders and intelligence leaders along the way. And he didn't -- you know, he gave himself some wiggle room by not being so definitive.

Again, it sends a very, I think a very poor signal to our allies, very poor signal to our adversaries. But I think tomorrow is going to be full of all the examples and why it's bad for our long-term security if we just pack up and go home and leave our allies stranded in an emboldened Russia, even Turkey as General Hertling talked about who has now been more aggressive in creating a little bit of their own confusion in Syria. All of that needs to be lead, that political solution needs to be lead by the United States. And the only way we're going to lead that solution is if we are there following through with our commitments to again to our allies in the region.

COOPER: Chairman Rogers, Admiral Kirby, General Hertling, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Coming up next, will there be a summit meeting between Vladimir Putin and President Trump? The President, that's coming up.


[21:56:06] COOPER: President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the possibility of a White House meeting during a phone call last month. At the same call which the "Washington Post" reported he was not to congratulate Putin on his election victory, he did anyway and apparently more.

Now the White House confirms the gist of the conversation, but tonight says the invitation was casual and not a formal invitation for official talks.

Joining us is Matthew Rojansky, our Russia expert and director of the Kennan Institute at The Woodrow Wilson Center, and Jill Dougherty who's at the Evans School at the University of Washington and a former CNN Moscow bureau chief.

So Jill, I mean, the Russians bringing this March 20th call back up now. You say it's a reminder to President Trump. What do you mean?

JILL DOUGHERTY, EVANS SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: Well, I think it's a bit of little trolling perhaps reminder, hey, you're the person who suggested this. That's what the Russians are saying, that during that conversation it was President Trump who said come to White House, and now they're saying you made the suggestion so follow through. Let's do it.

COOPER: Matthew, I mean, pleasant phone calls are one thing. There's also a bigger picture with Russia layered and frankly fraught with some tension. How do you see this idea of a joint meeting?

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR, KENNAN INSTITUTE THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Right. So, the notion that the Russians are now saying that there's a proposal for the two presidents to meet is not all that shocking considering that 10 days ago, they released a pretty detailed statement coming out of that phone call which sort of called the White House out and forced the White House to confirm the contents of that call. But the big focus was that the two presidents should discuss how to save the nuclear arms control regime. That's actually a real problem, and when presidents meet and have a conversation that's called a summit.

So in that sense we kind of knew about these 10 days ago. Now the Russians are putting a finer point of it. And I would just point out, they understand the politics of the United States. They get that that's going to provoke reactions and going to make it actually harder for Trump to have that meeting. So I agree with Jill, there's an element of trolling here, there may be an element also to try to divide and conquer.

COOPER: You think really, that's an -- I mean, what you're saying is, it sounds like it's an extension of their efforts during the election to divide people, to sew dissension.

ROJANSKY: Not only in the American domestic political contest, we're obviously fomenting, you know, opposition from Democrats, from other Republicans who don't want the President to have a summit meeting with Putin, the Russians maybe that being to their advantage. But also in the aftermath of these diplomatic expulsions, these coordinated steps by the United States and our European allies, this may be an attempt to try to divide the United States from Europe. Say, hey, look, the European heads of state are giving the Russians a hard time but the American president wants to meet with Russia.

Again, this is very typical with what we're seeing from Russians, but they understand they're not going to get a summit meeting by forcing Washington's hand this way.

COOPER: Jill, I mean there's still a question of why President Trump has not taken a more aggressive public stance against Vladimir Putin. I mean, there's obviously recently been the diplomatic expulsions which are significant, but the President has not publicly said anything, you know, that's not complimentary, frankly or about Putin.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. I mean, that remains the big question. But, you know, I think there's another dynamic also, which is very interesting in all of this that's going on right now. Which is, look, Russia would love to have a summit. If they had a summit, it would be like the good old days when the USSR existed and it was on a par with the United States looking like one of the major countries in the world. That's one thing. They would love a summit.

They also, I think, President Putin would love to sit down with Donald Trump directly, because right now they can't do that. They're getting messages from all of his officials, contradicting everything. He wants to sit down and maybe convinced Mr. Trump of what he thinks.

[22:00:03] COOPER: Jill Dougherty, appreciate it. Matthew Rojansky, thank you very much.

Before we go, I just want to wish a Happy Dyngus Day to our Polish and Polish-American viewers who are celebrating tonight especially in Buffalo, New York, the Dyngus Day capital of the world in case you don't know.