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EARLY START

Awaiting Trump's Response To Syrian Gas Attack; National Guard Deployed To Mexico Border; Top Of Bus Sheared Off In Crash, Injuring Dozens. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 9, 2018 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[05:00:00]

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Before we show you these very graphic video images from Eastern Ghouta, we want to warn you, and suggest that you look away if you don't want to see them.

Now, CNN cannot independently verify what you are seeing on the screen, which was taken by anti-government activists and doctors. The Assad regime denies it is behind the apparent attack. President Trump on Sunday hinting on unspecified consequences to come and called out Russian President Vladimir Putin by name for the first time.

In two tweets, he wrote, "Many dead including women and children in mindless chemical attacks in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian army making it completely inaccessible to the outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason. Sick."

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: The situation now testing the administration hours after the tweets that the administration was forced last night to deny the Assad regime claims that the U.S. had launched an air strike against the Syrian airbase.

Overnight, President Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron. The White House saying afterward the two agreed the Assad regime must be held accountable and that their governments would coordinate a strong joint response.

For more, we go to CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump once again finds himself responding to a chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Assad regime in Syria. This time calling out Vladimir Putin and Russia and Iran for enabling Assad. He says there will be a big price to pay for this latest provocation.

But President Trump also criticized his predecessor Barack Obama. He wrote on Twitter, "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 President Trump in the past had actually said that President Obama should not have responded to Assad at that time. Now, he finds himself having drawn his own red line and this is what the president's Homeland Security adviser, Tom Bossert, said about the options available to President Trump now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, it is possible, there will be another missile attack?

TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: I would not take anything off the table. These are horrible photos. We're looking into the attack at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: The president's National Security Council is expected to meet on Monday about the Syrian issue as is the U.N. Security Council. But President Trump is coming into the situation having said in recent weeks that he wants to pull the United States out of Syria all together.

And of course, his national security team is not fully formed. He is still waiting for the confirmation of his CIA director and secretary of state and his new national security adviser, John Bolton, his first day on the job is today.

KOSIK: OK, Abby, thank you. And as we mentioned, the Pentagon had to deny Syrian state media reports that the U.S. carried out a missile attack was on the air base in Homs. We've now learned who could be behind that strike.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is live in Beirut. Ben, what are you learning?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We heard early in the morning local time that there had been a missile strike on what is known as the T4 Airbase, which is one of the largest air bases in Syria, about 60 miles northwest of Damascus. Initially the Syrian media was saying it was probably an American strike.

Of course, the Pentagon quickly denied it. Now we're hearing just a little while ago from a statement from the Russian defense ministry saying that it was Israeli aircraft that launched those missiles.

According to the Russian statement, two Israeli F-15s while flying over Lebanon fired eight rockets at the T4 base. Five of them were intercepted. Three hit the base. We don't know the specifics of damage or whatnot. The Syrian news agency in their statement did say there were casualties and fatalities.

There have been reports that perhaps there were Iranians among those figures because in the past that was a base that had been used by the Iranians to launch drones toward Israel going back to February -- Alison.

KOSIK: If Israel did carry out this missile attack, it is unclear as to the timing and why they did this at this moment. CNN's Ben Wedeman live for us from Beirut. Thanks.

MARQUARDT: Joining us this morning live from Washington is CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist, Josh Rogin. Josh, good morning.

KOSIK: Good morning.

MARQUARDT: Now, Josh, the president in the wake of this alleged chemical attack said Animal Assad will have a big price to pay and he is being urged to respond by several people, including noted hawk Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[05:05:06] SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's a defining moment in his presidency because he has challenged Assad in the past not to use chemical weapons. We had a one-and-done missile attack. Assad's at it again. They see us resolve breaking. They see our determination to stay in Syria waning.

This is no accident they used chemical weapons. If he doesn't follow through and live up to the tweet, he will look weak in the eyes of Russia and Iran. This is a defining moment, Mr. President. You need to follow through with that tweet. Show resolve that Obama never did to get this right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: So, Josh, in light of his own strong language which is matched by others, does the president have any choice but to respond somehow militarily in Syria?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, of course, he has a choice. I would say right now, although, we don't know what will happen in today's meeting. The likelihood of a strike is actually relatively low in my view. I mean, if you follow the administration's deliberations on this, every time this comes up, they have to go through a process and evidentiary threshold to prove what they are striking is in response to something they know what happened.

And there is evidence to attribute what they are responding to in this case the deadly gas strike to the Assad regime. All of this is very difficult in the current environment. You will have people inside today's National Security Council meeting arguing for a strike. Others arguing against it.

You know, I wouldn't prejudge that. There are a lot of other options the president has. As for Lindsey Graham's overall point, I agree with him that, you know, the administration risks losing credibility if it doesn't respond strongly.

But I disagree with him in the sense that, you know, the president has already signaled to Iran, Russia and Syria what his view on Syria is. He said last week he wants to pull out. He said let others handle it.

OK, so whether does a strike or he doesn't, his overall strategy is clear. He wants the U.S. to be out of the Syria game. So far, despite what we saw yesterday, we have not seen him pull back on that basic sentiment.

KOSIK: You know, Josh, we see what the president is tweeting, and many can interpret it as a red line. You look in the past and as early as Sunday President Trump blaming President Obama for allowing Assad to cross President Obama's so-called red line.

Let's look at a tweet from 2013 that Donald Trump had written as just Citizen Trump saying, the only reason President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his dumb red line statement. Do not attack Syria. Fix U.S.A."

Then Sunday, he tweeted "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." Does President Trump had kind of acknowledged here or realized that he is laying out a red line himself and he is being hypocritical in his tweets?

ROGIN: Yes. I would say that this is the latest in years' worth of confusing and contradictory statements about Syria coming from first, Citizen Trump and now President Trump. That kind of message confusion and contradictory approach is a real hallmark of the president's Syria policy.

Some days he is for a very tough humanitarian response and some days he says it is not our problem. Some days he says we promises that will kill ISIS. Some day he says we will get out. This overall strategic confusion is what undermines the effectiveness of the U.S. policy in the region in my view.

You know, the bottom line here is that nobody understands what President Trump is willing to do and what he will do and in that vacuum, other actors are advancing. This is not the first chemical strike by the Assad regime in Syria since President Trump struck last year. He has been doing it the whole time.

The message that the Assad regime and his partners have gotten is that there won't be a strong response. If there is a strong response today that could change the calculus. Overall, what we have seen over the past year is the Assad regime, Russia and Iran increasing its killing of civilians, starvation sieges, and torture and mass detention, mass murder. That is the pattern.

They are winning the war. They are advancing on the rebels. They are taking back territory. They see this total confusion of strategy and messaging in Washington as an opportunity to advance their interests, which again -- against the interests of the United States and its partners.

So, that confusion is really untenable. If the administration is now going to come together with a new national security adviser who starts today, John Bolton, and come up with the serious strategy that is coherent and can be explained and implemented, that would be a positive thing. It doesn't have to include strikes, but it has to include a clear (inaudible) of what the U.S. national security interest in Syria is and how we're going to achieve it. That's what we never understood.

[05:10:05] MARQUARDT: Yes. A lot of questions facing Donald Trump and as Josh noted, his new National Security Advisor John Bolton. Josh, thanks very much.

KOSIK: As trade tensions with China escalate, Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow says Beijing has not talking in earnest amid threats of new tariffs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMICS ADVISER: After we made the first round, the Chinese response was unsatisfactory to put it. The president is trying to get their attention again. The process may include tariffs. I cannot rule that out. It may rest eventually on negotiations. We will see how the president wants to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Yes, we will see. Last week, President Trump threatened an additional $100 billion in tariffs on China. That followed an earlier announcement on tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese goods. China then retaliated with its own tariffs on U.S. exports.

Kudlow emphasized that no tariffs have been implemented yet. He was one of a number of White House officials Sunday out on there on the talk circuit trying to downplay talk of a trade war. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says he doesn't expect a trade war while Trade Adviser Peter Navarro said tariffs are a negotiating tactic.

And Sunday morning, president Trump tweeted that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping will remain friends no matter what happens with our dispute on trade. The hope is to calm Wall Street. A possible trade war is really shaking markets.

The Dow lost 572 points on Friday or 2.3 percent. The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 also fell more than 2 percent, but maybe their words on Sunday did help the markets. I am seeing green arrows to start the day.

MARQUARDT: Actually, markets would like them to get their messaging straight as well, get on the same page. All right. National Guard troops have been deployed to the border by order of the president. CNN is on the ground in Texas next.

KOSIK: And the frightening crash of a bus full of school kids near New York overnight. The story behind this video ahead.

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[05:16:17]

MARQUARDT: Welcome back. Texas officials are deploying the first wave of National Guard troops to patrol the state's 1,200-mile long border with Mexico. Once those troops are in place and mission and requirements and locations are determined, thousands more could be deployed.

We get more from CNN's Kaylee Hartung.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Today, 250 National Guard troops will be in place in their operation roles along the Texas and Mexico border. Many of these troops arriving over the course of the weekend, though, were planners. They walked right into meetings with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol agents to discuss the resources that needed to be allocated in different areas of the border and determine the operational roles that the rest of the troops would be falling into.

At this point, we have no pictures to show you of troops lined up on the border. What we can show you is a look inside the meetings that were taking place over the weekend. Discussing the resources needed to be allocated. Handshakes shown through Twitter feeds showing border agents welcoming National Guard troop leaders to the command posts.

There's an important point to be made here that federal troops cannot be involved in a law enforcement capacity, so you won't see National Guard troops apprehending anyone illegally trying to enter the United States.

Rather, they will be taking on roles that will allow the Customs and Border Patrol agents to do their jobs better out in the field. These National Guard troops will be taking over desk jobs and surveillance to allow agents more flexibility and visibility to get out in the field and secure the U.S. border.

KOSIK: OK, Kaylee, thank you.

Authorities are investigating after the roof of a charter bus carrying dozens of students was sheared off. Police say the bus slammed into an overpass on Long Island in New York. More than 40 people were injured. At least six of them seriously.

The bus carrying 38 students from various Long Island schools and five chaperons had just returned from a European trip. Investigators say they were heading from JFK Airport to a shopping mall to meet up with their parents.

Police say the driver was being evaluated and did not seem to be familiar with the roadways commercial vehicle height restrictions.

MARQUARDT: The biggest names in golf all vying for the famous green jacket. It wasn't Rickie, Jordan, Tiger or Phil who captured the 82nd Masters. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report" coming up next.

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[05:23:17] MARQUARDT: All right. Captain America is now the Masters champion.

Patrick Reed, just 27 years old capturing his first major championship in thrilling style.

KOSIK: Congratulations. Coy Wire has more in the "Bleacher Report." Good morning.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison, Alex. He earned the nickname Captain America when he became the driving force behind the United States victory over Europe in the Ryder Cup. Now in the same town where he led Augusta (inaudible) two Division One National championships in a row, Patrick Reed has earned the title Masters champ.

The 27-year-old Texans is known for being fiery, but he had ice water in his veins Sunday. Reed started the final round with a three-stroke lead but had to fight off two on the back nine, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.

Reed held strong, though, finishing with a one stroke victory in that famous green jacket. Reed sharing the moment with his caddie and brother-in-law. He's now the fourth first-time winner in a row at Augusta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK REED, 2018 MASTERS CHAMPION: It is a dream come true. You know, I haven't come off the cloud nine yet to finally be sitting down and have my first major be the green jacket and wearing it is a thrilling moment for me. It is something I'll never forget. It makes me hungry to get back out there and try to win more and just go out and enjoy the ride and moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: Reed's fellow Texan, Jordan Spieth, so close to producing one of the greatest comeback in tournament history. Nine shots back at the start of day. He came all the way to grab a share of the lead at one point. Spieth posted eight under 64 round, which ties the lowest final round ever played in the Masters.

[05:25:00] He said he had no idea how close he was to winning. He did not look at the scoreboard until the end.

Expectations were sky high for four-time Masters champ Tiger Woods. You have to look down the leaderboard, 32nd place. He put together a strong final round. Tiger is putting his comeback tour for a while. He will take three weeks off like he usually after the Masters.

All right. From Captain America's Masters win to what some are calling the man who is faster than a speeding bullet super dad, Andy Scholes meet Nolan Robert Scholes. He weighed 8 pounds and 13 ounces. Andy was covering the Masters for us in Augusta, but zoomed home, which was two and a half hours when he learned his wife, Lauren, went into labor. Congratulations to the family from all of us at CNN. KOSIK: I like how he is wrapped in the blanket with his name on it. You always get the same blanket, the pink or blue. Not him. He gets a special blanket.

WIRE: What a special little guy. Nolan has better hair game than I ever had. He is competing with Alex this morning. Strong, strong Scholes.

KOSIK: I won't touch it.

MARQUARDT: Great Andy got home in time. His other sons had Augusta shirts on as well.

WIRES: Big old smiles.

MARQUARDT: Thanks so much, Coy.

KOSIK: Just days ago, President Trump talked about getting out of Syria. Reports of a deadly chemical weapons attack may compel the president to take action there. Reports from Washington, Moscow and Beirut next.

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