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EARLY START

President Trump And Others Condemn Chemical Attack In Syria That Russia Calls A Hoax; U.S. Denies Syrian State Media Reports Of U.S. Missile Attack On Homs Airbase; Top Of Bus Sheared Off In Crash That Leaves 40 Injured; Jury Is Seated In Bill Cosby Retrial. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 9, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:31:20] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: The world awaits President Trump's next move. How will he respond to yet another alleged chemical attack in Syria?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: The president, for the first time, calls out Vladimir Putin by name, while Russia calls reports of a chemical attack a hoax.

MARQUARDT: And the Pentagon had to deny that the U.S. was behind a strike on a Syrian airbase overnight. We're now learning more about who might have been behind it.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.

KOSIK: Good morning, I'm Alison Kosik. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

And the big question hanging over Washington this morning, how will President Trump respond to the horrific gas attack in Syria?

Before we show you the very graphic video from Eastern Ghouta we want to warn you and suggest you look away if you don't want to see these disturbing images.

Now, CNN cannot independently verify what you're seeing in this footage which was taken by anti-government activists and doctors. The Assad regime denies it's behind the apparent attack.

MARQUARDT: President Trump, on Sunday, hinting at unspecified consequences to come, calling out Russian President Vladimir Putin by name for the first time.

He said in two tweets, "Many dead, including women and children, in mindless chemical attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to 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 whatsoever. Sick!"

Now overnight, President Trump spoke with his counterpart in Paris, President Emmanuel Macron. The White House saying afterwards that the two agreed that the Assad regime must be held accountable and that their governments would coordinate a strong response.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump once again finds himself responding to an alleged chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Assad regime in Syria. This time, he's 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 been 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 the 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.

TOM BOSSERT, ADVISER; HOMELAND SECURITY: We're looking at --

MARTHA RADDATZ, HOST, ABC "THIS WEEK": So is it possible they there will be another missile attack?

BOSSERT: I wouldn't take anything off the table. These are horrible photos. We're looking into the attack at this point.

PHILLIP: The president's National Security Council is expected to meet on Monday about this 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 altogether.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: All right, thanks, Abby Phillip at the White House.

Now overnight, a missile attack on a Syrian airbase. Syrian state media initially pointed the finger at the U.S. for that strike.

CNN's Ben Wedeman joins us from Beirut. Ben, the Russians are now saying that it was the Israelis who carried out the strike and we know that they've hit Syria before. What more are we learning this morning?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this came in a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry Alex, which said that two Israeli F-15s overflew Lebanon and from Lebanese airspace fired eight missiles at what -- at what is known as the T-4 Airbase which is about 60 miles northeast of Damascus. According to the Russians, five of those missiles were intercepted, three hit their targets.

[05:35:25] Now, the Syrian Arab News Agency, the official Syrian news agency, is saying that there were fatalities and casualties but they're not going into any detail.

The Israelis, for their part, are declining to comment which is normally what they do in these circumstances. It's well-known that over the last few years the Israelis have conducted more than 100 airstrikes inside Syria. Normally, their targets are either operatives from Hezbollah or Iranian forces, and it is known that the T-4 base does host Iranian personnel.

It was from there, on February 10th, that the Iranians launched a drone that entered Israeli airspace and on that occasion the Israelis did respond by attacking T-4. But one of their F-16s, while returning to Israel, was shot down by Syrian defenses -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: So if this was, indeed, an Israeli strike it might not even be tied to this alleged chemical weapons attack. It might just be coincidental.

Ben Wedeman in Beirut. Thanks very much.

KOSIK: OK, joining us this morning live from Washington is CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogin back with us. Good morning to you, again.

MARQUARDT: Good morning, Josh.

KOSIK: You know, we continue talking about this alleged chemical attack in Syria -- the horrific pictures that no doubt the president has seen -- and it begs the question what is the president's next move going to be?

And you kind of get an inkling from that of what his move is going to be by what he's tweeting. And in one of his tweets last night he said big price to pay and it makes you think of a so-called red line. And, Lindsey Graham talked about this.

There you go -- his tweets there. Toward the end there he said, "Big price to pay. Open area immediate for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. Sick!"

I want you to listen to what Lindsey Graham said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, 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, so Assad's at it again. They see us -- our resolve breaking, they see our determination to stay in Syria waning, and it's no accident that they use chemical weapons.

If he doesn't follow through and live up to that tweet he's going to look weak in the eyes of Russia and Iran. So this is a defining moment, Mr. President. You need to follow through with that tweet and show a resolve that Obama never did to get this right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: "If he doesn't live up to that tweet."

How do you see this playing out, Josh?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it's important to note a couple of things.

First of all, this is not the first chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime since we struck last year. They've been doing it on a semi-regular basis this whole time. I remember only a few weeks ago when -- where similar chlorine attacks.

There was a debate inside the Obama administration -- I'm sorry, inside the Trump administration over whether or not to strike and ultimately, they couldn't attribute the attacks. They couldn't get enough evidence to support a case for a strike so they didn't strike.

Now it seems to me that this time they will have a similar problem, due to lack of access in the area, to build an evidentiary case that they can defend not just internally but on the world stage to make a strike.

Now that doesn't mean they won't strike. President Trump is liable to do anything, right? He's shown a willingness to sort of break all the rules.

But I would just caution here that it's going to be tough for this National Security Council when they meet today to present the case to the president and that he could present to the world that will lead to a strike on Assad.

Now, if that strike doesn't happen there's still a range of things that the United States can do. It could be more sanctions, it could be diplomatic pressure. Perhaps, President Trump could acknowledge that the United States has national interests in Syria and maybe pull back on his promise only from last week to cut and run.

These are all of the other options.

If he does nothing -- if he simply just lets it go and the tweets are a lot of bluster with no follow-through, in that case I think that Sen. Graham has a good point here which is that American credibility will be lessened, the bad actors in Syria will be emboldened, and we can expect further uses of chemical weapons because the Assad regime will get the clear message that the international community doesn't care.

MARQUARDT: But Josh, if the president is talking about a big price to pay and there is some sort of strike that plays out, that would mean the U.S. getting more involved in Syria at a time when the president has talked about being less involved in Syria and pulling out U.S. troops.

Let's take a listen to what he said recently about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:40:05] MARQUARDT: So that obviously would be at odds with a strike and getting more involved in Syria.

But Josh, the question to you is that language about pulling out Syria, doesn't that encourage the Syrian regime and its allies to act with more impunity and do whatever they want and carry out chemical weapons attacks like the one we may have seen over the weekend?

ROGIN: Yes, I think that you're right about that, Alex. I would say two things.

One, the Assad regime's strategy is not primarily based on U.S. policy. Their strategy is to take back territory they've lost through the cruelest and most criminal means possible, and they're going to do that no matter whether we say it's OK or it's not OK.

They've been mass-murdering civilians for years. They're going to keep doing it until they feel the war is won. There's never been enough pressure to bring them to the negotiating table and that's not likely to change.

Now the fact that President Trump has been all over the place, back and forth -- we have to have a strong response, we have to pull out -- sure, that contributes to the confusion and leaves a vacuum that is filled by bad actors. That's certainly -- and it harms the U.S.' ability to do what it really has to do which is to get a coalition of countries to bring their collective power to bear to put pressure on Assad, Russia, and Iran to stop what they're doing, the mass murder of civilians.

So overall, yes, if he strikes it does signal a reversal of his policy that he just announced last week. It does signal a U.S. commitment to doing more in Syria but it doesn't actually give you a strategy.

A strike is not a strategy. A strike is just a strike. It puts U.S. credibility on the line but it doesn't answer the question of what do we care about in Syria? What are we willing to do to defend our interests, what are we willing to do to defend the interests of our partners, and what are we willing to do to defend the interests of innocent Syrian civilians undergoing mass murder and slaughter?

None of those questions have been answered by Trump's tweets, by Trump's administration, or by the Trump administration strategy documents and I think that's a huge problem.

KOSIK: All right, Josh Rogin. Thanks so much for your expertise this morning.

MARQUARDT: Thanks, Josh.

ROGIN: Anytime.

KOSIK: A question for you. Was your information exposed during Facebook's data leak? You may soon find out.

The company faces criticism for allowing Trump campaign consultants to access the information of 87 million users without their consent. And beginning today, Facebook will inform those users with detailed messages on their news feeds. The majority, more than 70 million, are in the U.S. The rest in the Philippines, Indonesia, and the U.K.

Last week, Facebook raised its estimate of affected users from 50 million to 87 million. But over the weekend, the Facebook whistleblower warned that number could grow.

Either way, CEO Mark Zuckerberg accepts responsibility for Facebook's failure to protect user data, a crisis that has angered users, advertisers, and lawmakers.

And now, Zuckerberg's going to be heading to Capitol Hill. Beginning tomorrow, he's going to face questions from two congressional panels about how Facebook handles user data. That is going to be an interesting hearing to watch.

MARQUARDT: Yes, and I just pulled up Facebook to see if I got any sort of notice. Nothing so far.

KOSIK: Nothing yet.

MARQUARDT: So hopefully, that's a good sign.

All right. As President Trump points the finger at Vladimir Putin, Russia is calling reports of a chemical attack in Syria a hoax. We're live in Moscow, next.

KOSIK: Hitting the road this summer? You could face the highest prices at the pump in years. Details on "CNN Money," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:47:33] MARQUARDT: Russia is calling reports of a chemical attack in Syria a hoax. Russia's Foreign Ministry claims that rebel forces in Syria are fabricating the allegations to provoke an international military intervention.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Nic Robertson.

Nic, the Syrian regime's allies are rallying around it after this alleged attack, dismissing these reports out of hand. What are the Russians saying?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. Well, we've heard from one senior Russian lawmaker who is sort of comparing this situation in Syria -- the chemical strike there -- with the -- with the poisoning of a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain just over a month ago, saying essentially, it's all the same fabricated narrative. It's all about blaming Russia.

The Russian military is putting the strongest face on this, saying that there could be dangerous consequences. That they will take down U.S. missiles and target American carriers -- the ones presumably they're implying there that would fire those missiles. So the Russian military -- the general staff has taken a very strong line.

What we're hearing from the foreign ministry here, very strong, very tough as well, pushing back. Again, making allegations that these are just fabrications, that this is a hoax, and reminding the United States that Russia has service personnel on the ground in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government.

This is how the Russian Foreign Ministry is framing its case here, pushing back on the United States saying you -- implying the United States is doing this. "Using farfetched and fabricated pretext for a military intervention in Syria where Russian servicemen are deployed at the request of the legitimate government is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to the most serious consequences."

So the words we're hearing from the Foreign Ministry here again ratcheting up the possibility of a response should President Trump decide strikes are necessary at this time on Syria.

MARQUARDT: And interesting, Nic, the Russians actually said a couple of weeks ago that they saw the rebels were preparing chemical weapons to carry out an attack to then accuse the regime of carrying it out, which would -- which they called a provocation. So rather interesting in light of the attack over the weekend.

Nic Robertson in Moscow, thanks very much.

KOSIK: OK, let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

As trade tensions between the U.S. and China escalate, fears of a trade war are really rattling markets. The Dow lost 572 points on Friday, led by big exporters like Boeing and Caterpillar. The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 also fell more than two percent.

[05:50:07] A trade war would be devastating for U.S. investors, for consumers, and companies. It also threatens global growth.

So this week, investors are hoping that earnings are going to turn the tide. First quarter earnings season kicks off Thursday with reports from some big banks like BlackRock, JPMorgan, and Wells Fargo. Analysts expect a strong earnings seasons thanks partly to corporate tax cuts.

But, Wall Street could wind up seeing a really big rebound today. Right now, we are seeing global stocks and U.S. futures higher.

As the summer driving season approaches, Americans face the highest prices at the pump in years. The average price per gallon hit $2.70 last week. That's the highest level since 2015.

So why the jump? Well, as major oil producers -- oil exporters continue to cut production, crude oil prices are rising and that is pushing gas prices higher. But don't panic just yet. Prices are still well below the all-time highs.

OK, we all know that kids love YouTube but advocacy groups accuse it of illegally profiting off underage viewers and want YouTube to pay tens of billions of dollars in fines. The groups claim YouTube is violating the Child Online Privacy Protection Act and are asking the FTC to investigate under the law.

Companies have to notify parents before collecting data on kids under 13. But here's the thing. Now, YouTube's terms of service say no one under 13 can have an account but anyone can watch YouTube videos. Research shows 45 percent of kids between eight and 12 years old have a YouTube account.

It's like the wild, wild west.

MARQUARDT: Facebook not the only ones coming under fire for mining information --

KOSIK: Absolutely.

MARQUARDT: -- mining data.

KOSIK: Yes.

MARQUARDT: All right.

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

And, Jimmy Kimmel versus Sean Hannity. How an apology could now put their Twitter fight to rest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:56:24] KOSIK: Authorities are investigating after the roof of a charter bus carrying dozens of students was literally sheared off by 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 high schools, and five chaperones -- it had just returned from a European trip and investigators say they were heading from JFK Airport to a shopping mall to meet up with their parents.

Police say the driver did not seem to know the roadway's commercial vehicle height restrictions.

MARQUARDT: Horrible.

And, a jury is seated in the retrial of Bill Cosby that is scheduled to begin today at 9:00 a.m. Eastern in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The 80-year-old comedian pleading not guilty to three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

Former Temple University employee Andrea Constand claims Cosby drugged and assaulted her in 2004 at his Philadelphia home.

After opening statements this morning, prosecutors will call their first witnesses. They're expected to start with five women who claim that Cosby sexually assaulted them in the same way he allegedly assaulted Ms. Constand.

KOSIK: Later this morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to announce he's running for the U.S. Senate. Scott has two events scheduled today in Orlando and Fort Myers and he plans to declare his intentions live on Facebook at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

If he does challenge Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson it will be one of the most anticipated and expensive races in the country.

MARQUARDT: And late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel now apologizing for inciting what he called hatefulness in his clash with Fox News host Sean Hannity. On Sunday, Kimmel posted a lengthy apology on Twitter for tweets he wrote about Hannity that some critics have deemed homophobic.

It all started after Kimmel mocked Melania Trump's accent on a show last week. Though Kimmel didn't specifically apologize to Hannity or the first lady, he said in part, he didn't mean to upset members of the gay community and apologized to those who took offense to his tweets.

KOSIK: OK, let's go ahead and end on a laugh. Alec Baldwin back on "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE." He is, of course, using Trump's tariff threats for laughs. Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR, NBC "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Hello, 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 tariffs on more Chinese products, including fireworks and finger traps. We've also expelled the infamous Chinese billionaire P.F. Chang.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: He hasn't said that yet, but we should wait -- MARQUARDT: That's actually a really good show. I watched it last night.

KOSIK: -- for you, and you're up this morning. What a star.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Alison Kosik.

MARQUARDT: And I'm Alex Marquardt. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Syria blaming Israel for carrying out a missile strike against one of their airbases last night.

BOSSERT: We've seen the photos of that attack. I wouldn't take anything off the table.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: He needed to set the agenda, making it very clear that if we draw a red line in the sand that we're going to honor that red line.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I was pleased the president mentioned Mr. Putin. That was a significant change.

GRAHAM: It's a defining moment in his presidency if they see our determination to stay in Syria waning.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Mr. Pruitt, ethics matter, impropriety matters. Stop acting like a chucklehead and stop the unforced errors.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, SECRETARY, U.S. TREASURY: Scott has just done a fantastic job on policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has the confidence of the president and he's getting the job done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's just not as influential with Trump as people thought he might be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)