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Trump Blasts Obama Over Crisis In Syria; Trump Contradicts Past Statements Blames Obama For Syria; White House Homeland Security Adviser Defends National Guard Deployment; Opening Statements In Bill Cosby's Trial Set For Tomorrow. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired April 8, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ZAKARIA: Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week, and I will see you next week.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and thanks so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Right now horror unfolding in Syria.

A suspected chemical attack killing dozens and injuring hundreds of men, women and young children just one year after one of the worst chemical attacks in the war-torn nation. This time it happened in one of the last rebel-held towns outside the capital of Damascus.

We want to warn you, some of the images you're about to see are very disturbing and graphic. CNN cannot independently verify these videos taken by anti-government activists and doctors. Activists say Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with toxic gas, suffocating residents and sending others into convulsions.

And you can see the chaos at the hospitals overwhelmed with injured people.

Back in Washington, the blame game is under way. President Trump pointing the finger at President Putin, Iran and even former President Obama. Meanwhile, Russia is firing back, saying reports of the chemical attack are a hoax.

The big question -- how will the United States now respond?


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: They see us, resolve breaking. They see our determination to stay in Syria waning and it's no accident, they used chemical weapons.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: The president needs to have the good advice. He needs to know what his options are and then I think he should act decisively.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't take anything off the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: Senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is on the ground there in Syria. Also with us, CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott and CNN military analyst and retired lieutenant colonel Rick Francona.

So, first, let's start with Fred Pleitgen in Damascus, Syria. He is the only Western television journalist on the ground in the region.

Walk us through what you know and what the conditions are right now.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka, those certainly are some troubling images that we're seeing there from the Damascus of Douma. Really all about happening only about eight miles from where we are right now. And it seems as though this alleged attack started late yesterday evening.

Now what these opposition groups are saying is that a helicopter from the Syrian government was hovering over that district, then dropped some sort of improvised device which appears to have leaked what they call a toxic gas. They say afterwards people started having those respiratory problems, and then you obviously had many people who were killed subsequently as well.

They say it's dozens of people who are dead. But they also say that the death toll could very likely rise as some people still seem to be in a very bad condition.

Now of course we always have to point out that we cannot independently verify the information that we're getting out of there from Douma and also not the images that we've seen as well. And the Syrian government for its part has strongly denied being behind any sort of chemical attack on Douma. They say simply that they have to reason to do that. They were on an offensive in that area, had that area encircled and so they were making big gains on the battlefield.

They're calling the allegations to ploy to try and hinder the offensive that has been going on. And it seems as though by now the Syrian government has actually reached a deal with the rebels who were inside that area of Douma for those rebels to be evacuated for the Syrian government to take control of that area once again.

Nevertheless, it's another one of those times, Fredricka, where we can see that there is immense violence here in Syria and that it is the civilians who are suffering the most -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you so much.

All right. Let's go to the White House now with correspondent Abby Phillip.

So the president is tweeting on this suspected attack and blaming multiple parties.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. The president has been briefed on this alleged attack, and is in harsh terms sharply criticizing Russia, Iran, Vladimir Putin by name, but also his predecessor, Barack Obama.

In some of these tweets, the president is calling on Assad to open up the area to the -- to inspection and also to allow humanitarian aid. He says, "Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever."

But the president also criticizing President Obama here in some of these tweets saying that, "Had Obama crossed his stated red line in the sand the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago. Animal Assad would have been history."

Now this criticism is not new for President Trump. Just a year ago, in the wake of another chemical weapons attack, the president announced that he would authorize some surgical airstrikes in Syria as some form of deterrent against Assad doing this again.

[14:05:04] But clearly, a year later almost to the day, Assad has shown that he will defy President Trump and the international community by doing another one of these attacks, but President Trump has also been somewhat inconsistent about whether he believes the United States should be involved in Syria at all. Back in 2013, when President Trump was civilian Trump, he criticized Obama. He said, again, "To our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria. If you do, many bad things will happen. From that fight the U.S. gets nothing."

So he really warned Obama against doing exactly what he chose to do a year ago and is now in a position where the world is looking to him to find out what the United States is going to do in the face of yet another provocation.

In the last week and a half, the president has been in talks with his own National Security team about the U.S.' future commitment in Syria. He had announced on the fly that he wanted U.S. troops to pull out but in the last week the White House announced that the United States would continue its commitment for now. He's also being warned by Republicans including the House Speaker Paul Ryan that the United States needs to continue to lead in Syria, and it remains to be seen whether the president is going to allow that to happen. He clearly does not like the continued U.S. commitment in that area. He thinks it's a losing game -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Abby Phillip, thank you so much, at the White House.

Let's bring in CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

So, Elise, what can take from the fact that President Trump called Vladimir Putin out by name in this tweet this morning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Fred, I think it's, you know, obviously the U.S. looks at Russian support for Syria as a main reason why the Assad regime feels emboldened to do that. And you heard a very strong statement from the State Department last night, from Heather Nauert. I want to read a little bit of it to you.

"The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately. Russia with its unwavering support for the regime ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians and the suffocation of Syria's most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons."

And if you remember, Fred, last year when President Trump launched those airstrikes against Syria -- the Syrian air base, it was also a message to Russia in terms of its support. And I think that, you know, that in turn kind of had the Russians on the Syrians backing off a little bit, and I think now since President Trump said at the time that he wouldn't hesitate to do it again if Assad used chemical weapons. I think he's almost kind of duty bound to answer.

I will say that this type of pictures for President Trump are really -- you know, that's what really get to him. If it's a humanitarian situation of this nature, whether it's in Syria, also Yemen, this is when you see President Trump, I think, take a little bit stronger action. So I think it's going to be really little interesting to see how he interacts with his National Security team over the coming days and will remember that John Bolton is starting as National Security adviser tomorrow, someone who does not really think that Assad should be given free rein, neither Russia or Iran.

WHITFIELD: All right. Elise Labott, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much.

Meantime this morning, Republican Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said President Trump should consider a strong response.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Last time this happened, the president did a targeted attack to take out some of the facilities that may be an option and that we should consider now. But it is further reason why it's so important that the president ramp up the pressure in the sanctions on the Russian government because without the support of Russia, I do not believe that Assad would still be in office.


WHITFIELD: All right. There are reports that France has called for a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the attack in Syria. The U.N. has released a statement that says, in part, and I'm quoting now, "The Secretary-General calls on all parties to cease fighting and restore the calm that have been place and adhere fully to Security Council resolution 2401." He reiterates there is no military solution to the conflict.

All right. Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona is a CNN military analyst and has extensive experience in Syria as a U.S. military attache.

Colonel Rick Francona, good to see you. So in light of what Senator Collins has said, was the last airstrike -- U.S. airstrike in Syria effective? And are we on the precipice of yet another one?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, we could very well be. It just depends on what the National Security Council recommends to the president.

You know, we've seen these chlorine attacks, and we're not sure what the chemical agent was being used yesterday, but if it was chlorine, we've seen this numerous times at least six or seven times, since that attack on Shirat air base last year.

[14:10:08] So it seems like we're willing to accept the use of chlorine, but if it goes into the nerve agent sarin, then we're willing to act. So I think that's a dangerous precedent because it emboldens the Syrians. It allows them to use what they believe is a chemical weapon.

The problem here, Fred, this was the stupidest thing the Syrians could have done. They don't need to do this. They have that area surrounded. They are reducing it by air power and artillery. The rebels inside there are going to have to agree to some sort of a cease fire to allow people to escape.

We've seen this over and over. It's the next logical step. So why they ramp this up like this is just beyond comprehension. They didn't have to do this, and look where they are now. Now they're facing the outrage of the Western world in a possible military intervention that they didn't need. So it's very, very confusing.

WHITFIELD: It is confusing. And Colonel, just days ago President Trump called for U.S. troops to be pulled out of Syria. White House Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert added to that by saying the U.S. also needs to reconsider its role in the Middle East. Listen.


TOM BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY AND COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: The pendulum has swung in the wrong direction for too long, and the United States of America has been taken advantage of in their responsibility to provide security for the entire world. It is time to move that pendulum back in a way that brings regional partners and others with equities in these matters all around the globe, and to putting their resources and their treasures and their boys and girls on the line and not just American troops.


WHITFIELD: So has the pendulum swung too far?

FRANCONA: Well, I think they're trying to swing it back but this is the exact wrong message to send at this time. We're on the verge of defeating ISIS. We need to show strength and resolve that we're going to get that mission accomplished, you know, because we're being faced with a lot of pushback from the Russians, Iranians and of course our NATO allies the Turks.

You know, the Turks have pretty much brought the anti-ISIS campaign to a standstill by their operations against the Kurds in northern Syria so we have to -- rather than indicate that we're willing to leave, that we're willing to turn this over to regional allies, that just sends the wrong message. And I don't know what regional allies he's talking about. This is a U.S.-led coalition. Without us the coalition falls apart. So we cannot be seen as wavering. And every time we do this, the Russians and the Iranians tell the Syrians, listen, the United States has lost its resolve, they lost their way, now is the time for you to get tough with the remaining rebel opposition. And that's exactly what they're doing.

WHITFIELD: And that's not too different from what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say about this, the idea of Trump calling out U.S. troops, pulling them out of Syria. Listen to Senator Graham.


GRAHAM: A complete, utter disaster to leave before the fight is done. Have we learned nothing what happens when you leave too soon? We pulled our troops out of Iraq. ISIS came back.


WHITFIELD: Do you see this as potentially a resurgence of ISIS, you know, stronghold if the U.S. were to pull out of Syria at this time?

FRANCONA: Exactly. The exact same thing that happened in Iraq will happen in Syria. I think Senator Graham must have read my last article on that.

No, I -- we've been saying this. All of the military analysts have been saying this. If we pull out now prematurely like we did in Iraq, all we do is give ISIS a chance to regroup and while the Turks have the Kurds tied up the ISIS will regenerate itself and they'll take on more territory.

It's not hard to understand. I don't see why we're even confusing the waters with these statements.

WHITFIELD: And what do you see potentially with Russia really taking the lead if indeed the U.S. were to pull out? It would be Russia that would, you know, have its tentacles, you know, in Syria deep.

FRANCONA: Yes. Well, you know, that's one of the Russians' primary goals here, Fred, is to gain a foothold in the Middle East. You know, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had effectively chase them out of the region. But now we see Putin reassert himself in the area. Syria was the first step. He's also looking at Libya. And of course I think in the end he's going to want to strike up some deal with the Egyptians.

He wants to be a player in the region. And I have to tell you, he's playing his cards exactly right, starting with Syria. But I do have to say, I would imagine the Russians are wondering, why did the Syrians do this? Because I can't imagine a Russian senior telling the Syrians they should do this. This is exactly the wrong thing to do.

WHITFIELD: Colonel Rick Francona, thank you so much.

All right. Still ahead, standing by the Chief of Staff John Kelly. The president slamming reports said his chief of staff's West Wing influence has sharply diminished, and that Kelly had threatened to resign.

We'll discuss that next.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Trump taking to Twitter this morning to lash out at the "Washington Post," saying its story on John Kelly isn't true, his words. That tweet, in response to an article characterizing the chief of staff's fading role in the White House. "The Post" reports Kelly grew so frustrated the day David Shulkin was fired as VA secretary that it took two Cabinet members to calm the chief of staff down.

Meanwhile, a war is waging over what to do with embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. Controversies coming to light over the cost of his security detail and a $50 a night room rental in Washington. Many Democrats are calling on Pruitt to resign but the president and several allies are coming to his defense.


GRAHAM: I think he's done a good job but I'm looking to see what the Oversight Committee is going to say.

[14:20:05] The one thing I can say is, if you're the EPA administrator and two lobbyists changed the locks, you've got a problem. The bottom line is, this doesn't look good.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now, CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer and Ryan Lizza.

Good to see you both.

All right. Julian, you first. You know, we've seen the president defend Cabinet members in the past only to eventually let them go. Is there a feeling here that Pruitt may face the same demise?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It could be. Pruitt's only real asset is that he's been moving forward on an agenda that matters a lot to the president, meaning rolling back climate change regulations, but we've seen this before. And if the damage is too much to the president he'll let him go.

WHITFIELD: Ryan, at the same time many conservatives are praising Pruitt's ability to slash regulations from the EPA. We know that's one of the reasons why the president like him, too. \

Here's Senator Mike Rounds. Listen.


ROUNDS: The reason why all of the emphasis right now is on Mr. Pruitt is because he is executing these policies, and they're not the most popular policies with a lot of people, but he is executing the policies of this president said he would put in place.


WHITFIELD: So, Ryan, is that what's going to give him staying power?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's two things. I think it's, one, as Julian points out, the policy agenda. But, you know, let's be honest, Trump is not that ideological when it comes to his picks. If he's personally embarrassed by someone, he's fine with letting them go. But congressional Republicans care a lot about the administration's policy moves and they do like Pruitt and want him to stay.

There's been a lot of reporting suggesting that senior Republicans in Congress are pressuring Trump to stick with him. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell is already worried about the confirmation of the new CIA director and secretary of State who both face difficult confirmations. Adding a new EPA director to that would be even more difficult in an election year.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And even though we know the pattern has been that oftentimes when someone gets too much publicity, the president doesn't like it especially when it's negative, and that, too, could be the kiss of death.

LIZZA: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: But we'll see. We'll see.

OK. So, Julian, CNN has also previously reported, you know, on Kelly's waning influence and airing his frustration at the job and threatening to quit. Whether the president likes what the "Washington Post," you know, has reported or not, is there a feeling that John Kelly's days may be numbered, that he may be the one so frustrated that he walks?

ZELIZER: Well, I think he is just realizing how limited his influence always was. I mean, there's been a myth about John Kelly asserting control on this White House. But if you look at the history since he joined, there's been all sorts of events and statements that shouldn't have happened but happened anyway. So I think right now the tension is increasing more between the president and the chief of staff, and that might create a pressure point where the chief of staff no longer wants to stay on. But we'll see. We're not there yet.

WHITFIELD: And, Ryan, this is another example of how the president does turn on, you know, journalism. You know, and the "Washington Post" among them. And this is a story in which it seems the president, you know, used again to attack journalism, the truth of the "Washington Post," its duty, its tenacity, all of that. But when you also have the backdrop of what appear to be real consternation within the White House, the president not getting along with people or being very critical of people. And this can't bode well for this White House, for this president. LIZZA: No. I mean, it's just -- you know, I'm always reminded of

what Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, said to a historian of the Office of the Chief of Staff after he left. Of course, forgetting the exact quote but it was something like, it was 100 times worse than you thought on the outside. And so I'm always reminded of that. And, you know, this piece in the "Washington Post," which was filled with really great granule of detail of what it is like and the frustrations of John Kelly.

And, you know, it's tough getting those details out of this White House, and you know, if you believe someone like Reince Priebus, it's even worse than we know on the outside. And the bottom line is that the way that the modern White House is built, with a strong chief of staff who controls access to the president and information to the president, Donald Trump is, you know, in his early 70s, he has a long career and he's never lived with a structure like that and he chafes under that kind of structure. So someone like Kelly is undoubtedly going to get frustrated.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there for now.

Ryan Lizza, Julian Zelizer, thanks so much.

LIZZA: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: In fact we're going to see you right after the break so this isn't really a goodbye, this is a so long. See you soon.

All right. Up next, the president blaming his predecessor for not attacking Syria during his administration but it was citizen Trump who called former President Obama foolish for even considering it. So why the shift in position? Coming up.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Trump is denouncing Syria for launching what he calls a mindless chemical attack on a rebel-held city in Syria. This morning the president pointing the finger at Iran and Russia, even calling out President Putin by name for backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Trump is also blaming his predecessor for the Syrian crisis saying, quote, "If President Obama had crossed his stated red line in the sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago. Animal Assad would have been history."

But back in 2013, if you'll recall, Trump had a very different message for Obama, Trump calling on him to stay out of Syria following two chemical attacks there and then there was this in 2014.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You look at Syria, the line in the sand. Remember the famous line in the sand and nothing was done. Not that it should be done and not that we should be involved, because we shouldn't be involved. But you don't say we're going to do this or that, and then they do it and then you don't follow up. By the way, I don't want them to follow up, but you never should have made the statement. We are in very, very serious trouble.


WHITFIELD: All right. Back with me again, hello again, CNN political analysts, Julian Zelizer and Ryan Lizza. All right. So, Julian, you first, you know, quite the turnaround from the president because there was involvement last year, and now just days ago, the president said, you know, the U.S. should no longer be involved with Syria. So, which is it?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think there is a "which is it" yet. I mean, I think he zigs and zags on his policy and President Obama did as well. I don't think he has a plan in terms of how he's going to respond, so I think it's an open question.

When an attack like this happens, what's the president's overall vision and agenda in Syria? It's important he has that before he takes any particular because this could become a real quagmire.

WHITFIELD: And so, Ryan, might this also demonstrated, this is, you know, the complication of being a president. Sometimes you are not really sure how you are going to handle something until you're there.

I mean, this latest chemical attack is almost a year to the day that the sarin gas attacked killed at least 74 people in Syria, and then Trump's response was to launch missiles -- you know, a surgical attack on an airbase a few days later.

And now there is greater anticipation on how he might handle this, because a year ago, he scored a lot of political points for that move.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He did. When the follow-up questions were asked about what is his view of intervention in Syria, the administration basically articulated the view that chemical attacks were a red line.

That the intervention there would not go beyond that, but if Assad used banned weapons then the United States would respond militarily. So, he's in a very position that he accused Barack Obama of being in.

That is setting a red line and now needing to do something about that. I think in Syria he's driven by two things. On most policies, he's driven by what did Obama do, I will do the opposite, right?

So, that really does seem to drive him, but more generally on the Middle East, he's driven by a sort of more isolationist view that the United States should not be meddling there, should not be involved militarily.

I think that's his instinct on foreign policy in general. The big caveat to that was that airstrike from last year, and so now he's boxed himself in a little bit. WHITFIELD: Right. And remember preceding that airstrike, he made it clear that it was daughter, Ivanka, who came to him. She was troubled by the images and so there was an exhibition of real compassion from the president. Then just days ago, Julian said, the U.S. should be out of it and leave this to somebody else. Is he likely re-evaluating what he just said and his actions one year ago?

ZELIZER: He might be reevaluating here. We don't know how long this reevaluation is going to take place as he hears more about what this will entail, whether it's a strike or something grand. We don't know really where the president goes with that.

There was a reason that Obama was hesitant to enter into this. It wasn't simply a blindness to what was going on. So, we need to watch and again, this is where the lack of any kind of doctrine or larger sense of advice becomes problematic with the president.

WHITFIELD: And there's a lot of ice, you know, going around. I mean, some members within his own party including Senator Lindsey Graham, are weighing in on this and actually challenging the president to live up to his tweets.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If it becomes a tweet without meaning, then he's hurt himself on North Korea. If he doesn't follow through and live up to that tweet, he's going to look in the eyes about Russia and Iran. So, this is a defining moment, Mr. President. You need to follow up with that tweet. Show a resolve that Obama never did to get this right.


WHITFIELD: Julian, how do you see it?

ZELIZER: Well, we can't have foreign policy following up on tweets. I think the argument is wrong and we can't use the tweets as a precedent for what he's going to do given the way tweets. That could be extremely dangerous and damaging. So, I'm not sure Senator Graham's advice there is the best one for the president to follow.


[14:35:01] LIZZA: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. The only thing dumber than not following through with what you said in a tweet on a Sunday morning would be taking some kind of military action because, you know, you've boxed yourself in to some provocative response that doesn't make sense strategically or militarily.

He needs to sit down with our allies. I know that France has called for Security Council meeting on this, and figure out a proper response, and not do something, you know, knee-jerk that gets a lot of people killed and doesn't actually do anything to solving the problem.

WHITFIELD: Yes, allies and perhaps even advisers in the White House, Julian, or at the Department of Defense, Pentagon? ZELIZER: All of the above. And this is where this White House oval office style we're talking about becomes problematic. He needs the input of the National Security Council. This is the time he needs not to tweet but to discuss, to think, and to figure out before he takes that first step where this is going to go. This is also where the payoff with Russia was always supposed to be, but it doesn't look like that's happening.

WHITFIELD: All right. This is not a game. This is the real deal, real lives. All right. Julian Zelizer, Ryan Lizza, thank you so much.

All right, catch and release is turning into catch and detain. President Trump has a new mandate for handling border crossings. This as hundreds of National Guard troops are being deployed to the U.S.- Mexican border in Texas and beyond. Details next.



WHITFIELD: Four days after President Trump proclaims U.S. National Guard members would be sent to the U.S.-Mexican border. Texas is in the process of deploying about 250 National Guard troops as soon as tomorrow.

This morning, White House Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert described their role.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know the National Guard can't legally apprehend anyone trying to get across the border, so what do they actually do?

TOM BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: There is a lot they can do. What we're going to do, the president did something separately that was not necessarily as well reported, and that is that he put out a memorandum directing his cabinet to not catch and release but to catch and detain. That's a big difference.

So, the Guard can do whatever the federal government in this case is authorized to do. What we've chosen to do with them is to augment the Customs and Border Protection officers, who are so well trained to interdict these border crossers.


WHITFIELD: All right. CNN's Kaylee Hartung is live for us on the border town of Hidalgo, Texas. So, Kaylee, any signs of National Guards members mobilizing and anymore about their roles?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we're hearing these numbers being advertised by officials. There's 250 National Guard troops coming to the Texas border in addition to 100 troops that Governor Abbot had already sent down here. And then don't forget about Arizona where 150 National Guard troops are expected to deploy there over the course of next week as well.

But what we've learned is that this initial wave of troops, they are coming here as planners, liaisons, with their federal partners coming here to meet and assess the needs and the resources of each of the sectors as they have divided up and organized the border of Texas.

Meetings began yesterday morning with Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol agents as the first wave of National Guard troops came to Texas. This tweet from the Texas National Guard account saying, "Breaking Texas National Guard are currently on the ground across the Texas-Mexico border with Customs and Border Patrol preparing for more operations and troop deployments.

But a handshake photo like that taken right here in the Rio Grande Valley between the National Guard leader as well as a border patrol agent. That sort of handshake photo is really the only evidence we're seeing of the presence of these federal troops in the state of Texas.

Another photo, very similar, taken in the Del Rio sector as well. Beyond those photos and another taken of a meeting that happened yesterday morning, we are not yet seeing a physical presence of these troops on the Texas-Mexico border because again they are planning, assessing the needs and what comes next here.

But when they do -- what we have come to understand, as you heard in that conversation with Tom Bossert, these troops will not be here in a law enforcement capacity. They are here to support the Customs and Border Control agents.

That means National Guard troops will be working desk jobs. They will be the eyes, if you will, of Border Patrol agents whether that be through surveillance or intelligence gathering to allow Border Patrol agents to get out in the field to do the job that they are trained to do to secure the U.S. border.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much for that.

All right. Bill Cosby back in court with opening statement set to start tomorrow for his sexual assault retrial. We have the latest next.



WHITFIELD: Less than a year after his first trial ended in a hung jury, Bill Cosby will stand trial again on sexual assault charges with opening statements set for tomorrow in a Pennsylvania courtroom. But the proceedings his time are unfolding in a markedly different atmosphere. Here's CNN's Jean Casarez.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the momentum of "Me Too" and public accusations against Hollywood --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been silent for 20 years.

CASAREZ: Only one major celebrity has been charged with a felony sexual offense, America's dad, Bill Cosby. The comedian and tv legend's retrial beginning now --

EMILIE LOUNSBERRY, COVERED COSBY TRIAL FOR VARIETY: The atmosphere has shifted. It's not a very favorable time to be defending yourself against accusations of sexual assault.

CASAREZ: Charged with three counts of felony, aggravated indecent assault, the 80-year-old Cosby could face a decade in prison if convicted. Prosecutors says in 2004, he assaulted this woman, Andrea Constandt (ph), at the time the director of women's basketball operations at Temple University in Philadelphia.

[14:50:12] Diana Parsons is her sister and said it took years before Constandt said anything happened and went to police.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said she just knew she had to lie down and she said that Bill Cosby helped her to the couch. She said she really couldn't walk on her own.

CASAREZ: Constandt told police Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her at his home in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Cosby denied the allegations. The district attorney at that time said the case was weak.

BRUCE CASTOR, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Did I think that I could prove beyond a reasonable doubt based on available, credible and admissible evidence, no, I didn't.

CASAREZ: No criminal charges against Cosby. Constandt then filed a civil suit. Cosby testified in a sworn deposition before they reached a comprehensive settlement. Fast forward to 2015, that deposition was unsealed revealing Cosby had admitted giving drugs to women he wanted to have sex with.

Prosecutors reopened the criminal investigation and days before the statute of limitations ran out, Cosby was charged in criminal court. Pennsylvania Defense Attorney Brian McMonical represented Cosby from the beginning. He pleaded not guilty.

A first trial last year ended in a hung jury. Now a new trial with some big difference, a new defense team for Cosby led by Tom Meserau, who got an acquittal in 2005 for Michael Jackson in his child molestation trial.

Before representing Cosby in 2015, Meserau told CNN how he would question Constandt.

TOM MESERAU, BILL COSBY'S LAWYER: The first thing I would asked her would be what's more important to you, money or principle? Did you take money and walk away confidentially or did you take this to a jury and do it publicly?

CASAREZ: In the last trial, one other woman who said Cosby drugged and assaulted her was allowed to testify for the prosecution, Kelly Johnson.

KELLY JOHNSON, BILL COSBY ACCUSER: I remember waking up in a bed with Mr. Cosby naked beneath his open robe.

CASAREZ: In this trial the judge said five prior accusers can take the stand, one who has been subpoenaed, former supermodel, Janice Dickenson.

(on camera): The defense, for instance, wants a witness by the name of Margo Jackson to take the stand. She knew Andrea Constand and would testify according to the defense that Constand said she could fabricate everything, that Bill Cosby drugged her and sexually assaulted her and then she could get a lot of money.

(voice-over): Prosecutors say that is blatantly false. With no forensic evidence, the case is all about credibility. Jean Casarez, Norristown, Pennsylvania.


WHITFIELD: Tonight, don't miss an all-new episode of "Pope, The Most Powerful Man In History." Here's a preview.


WHITFIELD: "Pope: The Most Powerful Man In History" airs tonight at 10:00 only on CNN.



WHITFIELD: Alex Baldwin returned to "Saturday Night Live" this week to reprise his role as President Trump and he took on several topics, including the chaos that unfolded with China this week.


ALEC BALDWIN A.K.A. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hi, how's it going, let's make this quick because I've got a lot of trade wars to escalate here, OK? That's why I just announced more tariffs on Chinese products including fireworks and finger traps. We've also expelled the infamous Chinese billionaire, PF Chang.

Here's the thing that no one else is saying and I'm the only one who is willing to actually say this. I don't care about America, OK? This whole presidency is a four-year cash grab, and admitting that will probably get me four more years, OK, but I do not care about any of you, OK? Does that basically answer all of your questions? OK, does it? OK.


WHITFIELD: All right. "SNL" so we've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM and it all starts right now. Hello again, everyone, and thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. President Trump sends a rare warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He will have a big price to pay after a chemical attack in war-torn Syria, killing dozens and injuring hundreds of men, women, and children.