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President Trump Tweets about Possible U.S. Military Action in Syria; President Trump Tweets Response to Russian Claims to Shoot Down Missiles in Syria. Aired 8-8:30a.
Aired April 11, 2018 - 8:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to your NEW DAY. We begin with breaking news. The president has been tweeting and it is some of his strongest rhetoric yet, specifically on the issue of Russia and Syria. Here is just a taste of what has been going on. Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming. Nice and new and smart. You shouldn't be partners with a gas killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So that was his response to a threat from the Kremlin hours earlier. Russia is now accusing the U.S. of trying to destroy evidence of the chemical attack.
U.S. markets are down sharply on all of this back and forth and this bellicose rhetoric between the U.S. and Russia. So CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live in Damascus, Syria, for us with all of the breaking details. Fred?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. Yes, certainly this seems like a major escalation in that standoff between President Trump and Vladimir Putin over the Syria conflict in the wake of that alleged gas attack that happened here on Saturday. The president also following up with a second tweet saying, quote, "Our relationship with Russia is worst now than it's ever been, and that includes the cold war. There's no reason for this." He goes on. "Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race," he says. So some very strong words.
As you've noted the Russians have fired back at the U.S., the Russian foreign ministry putting out a Facebook post saying that America should aim its missiles at terrorist rather than what it calls the legitimate government of Syria, of course meaning the Assad government. And the Russians also not only saying they'd shoot down U.S. missiles but also saying they would shoot down or shoot at the bases where those missiles were fired from. Of course that could mean ships that the U.S. would potentially file cruise missiles, but of course also planes, for instance, as well.
I've been in Syria 20 times including several times with the Russian military and they certainly have a lot more hardware here in this country than many people think. They obviously have their base, their military air base with some air defense systems, some air defense systems around the country. They also have a naval corps. But guys, they also have a lot of ships in the Mediterranean. I was on a Russian destroyer late last year and all of a sudden while we were there two submarines came up and started firing cruise missiles at ISIS positions. So the Russians have a lot of hardware here in this country and it's also some of their newest hardware, Chris.
CUOMO: All right, Fred, thank you very much. You're in a very dangerous place. The best to you and the team. Be safe.
All this is playing out as President Trump considers what the military response will be to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon with more. How is this playing out there, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Chris, it's hard to see how this is anything but the president of the United States declaring war on Twitter, using Twitter to tell Russia missiles are coming. They will be coming. That is what the president is saying.
But he may be -- for a guy who said he didn't want to reveal his military hand, he did just that and he has done more. Look at that keyword in his tweet, "smart." And the Russians keyed in on that immediately. The Russians tweeted in about smart missiles. What we are talking about, and the Russians well know this. These are missiles that are guide today their targets by a satellite, very precise. The Russians well know that the U.S. has tomahawk missiles off ships and submarines in the Mediterranean. They know what the U.K. and the French have in their inventories.
And if you look at a map, he has basically handed off tactical surprise here because to get to these targets in Syria, you either have to fly over the Mediterranean, over Turkish air space to the north. You could come up from the Persian Gulf in the south, but that requires a lot of refueling and air rights over a number of countries. The Russians are not stupid. They know what the map looks like. They know what missiles are in U.S. inventory. And last night we saw European air-traffic control authorities issue a warning that there could be missile attacks within the next 72 hours, warning commercial air traffic in the eastern Mediterranean, Chris, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: All right, Barbara, thank you very much for the report from the Pentagon. Let's bring in now CNN political analyst and "New York Times" national political correspondent Jonathan Martin and CNN political analyst and "Bloomberg Business Week" national correspondent Josh Green. Obviously, none of us are any strangers to the president tweeting things in the morning, but this one isn't about Roseanne Barr's ratings. This isn't even about ire at CNN. This one is about bombs and missiles and war and peoples' lives. And Josh, I'm just wondering if there's anybody in the White House who at this moment is telling the president to throttle back.
[08:05:07] JOSH GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I doubt it. If they are he's not listening to them. This isn't the first time that we've had Trump's making these kinds of threats to foreign potentates. He would go on twitter and go after Kim Jong-un and talk about nuclear weapons and that sort of thing. So for Trump, this is old hat.
I think part of what might be driving this in addition obviously to the appalling images out of Syria of gassing children and that sort of thing is that it's pretty common with Trump when he's tired of what is dominating a news cycle, and yesterday it was Michael Cohen, Trump's own anger blowing up at his staff and the possibility of firing the special counsel. Trump wants to turn the page. He knows exactly how to do it. Hop on Twitter and start creating a different news story, and that's exactly what he's done here.
JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's such a good point, Josh. The fact is, to Trump, war and peace, the use of American military hardware, it's all just part of the same approach to him which he's been doing long before he had his hands on the U.S. nuclear codes, and that is I don't like the story today. I'm going to create new news and information to change the story tomorrow. It's just now he's doing it with the full force of the U.S. military arsenal.
And that's why it's so extraordinary. This is the first time in American history I think it's fair to say that we have seen a president, a commander-in-chief, use social media to announce a coming military strike, and that's what just happened in the last hour. The president of the United States said we're going to attack a foreign country and has done so with a tweet. That's where we are.
CAMEROTA: This is when -- as we know, the president before he was president always said I would never tell the enemy what was coming. You never lose the element of surprise.
MARTIN: That's what's so striking.
CUOMO: Hold on. We have some sound of him doing that then and now thing. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, here's what we're going to do. I don't have to do that.
The late, great, General Douglas MacArthur and General Patton are spinning in their grave when they hear what we do, how we announce exactly what we're going to do.
I don't broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is. I'm not going to call you up and say, Matt, we have a great plan. This is what Obama does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: J. Mart, here's the thing. It's hypocritical, double speak. No kidding. We've heard it before. Here's what I think the specific concern that's being ignored. The president is the commander-in- chief. He's going to meet with the military. They're going to come up with something they want to do because Assad is a bad guy and they basically think they can get a free punch because whenever they want because of the might of the military.
We just had one senator on and we've had lots of other lawmakers on. They completely talk about this as if they were movie critics on the Trump show. Here's what I think about his tweet. I wish he would do this and I wish he would do that. They are going to sleep on their job again.
The law is clear. A president cannot bomb any bad guy he wants whenever he wants without Congressional approval. They have to debate and vote. They're going to rely on the War's Power Act, and I've got to tell you I've been studying the thing like it was midterm. They don't have the authority unless they want to give it over to him. Are you hearing anything from lawmakers and leadership that he's going to have to come to us, we're going to have to not just advise and consent, we have to debate and vote and authorize?
MARTIN: I'm very skeptical that there would be any kind of movement to make him do that.
CUOMO: Where's the outrage? Shouldn't there be outrage at that. Who knows what happens if we bomb? Russia just said they're going to shoot down the missiles, you don't know what Iran is going to do, you don't know what Assad is going to do. And we're just going to let it happen?
MARTIN: Not to play Trump defender, but if you look at the history of the American presidency in the last few decades, whether it's Democrat or Republican, you've seen presidents of both parties take these strikes without the approval of Congress.
CUOMO: Because they give him the power.
MARTIN: The video you guys just showed was so striking, and kudos to the folks that put that together, because covering the campaign, Josh knows this well, in 2015 and 2016, if you could call anything a Trump doctrine at all, it was this. I don't want to give the enemy advanced notice. And now he's not just doing that but he's doing that on Twitter talking about how our missiles are coming. Look, in fairness, maybe this is already planned, maybe it was already clear that we were going to do this, it is not really a sneak attack. But still he's going back on the one thing he talked about that he wanted to pursue as president when it came to military strategy.
GREEN: And I think that's a clue here that his intention with these tweets is not necessarily a military strategic one but a public relations one. He wants to seize control and manipulate the news cycle in a way that only Trump can do.
[08:10:01] And by going out on twitter and broadcasting his intentions like this regardless of whether they're hypocritical and contravene everything he said during the campaign, he's still having the same effect.
CAMEROTA: But Josh, we just had Senator Ron Johnson on, OK, and I was asking him if he sees this in a different category than any of the aforementioned tweets. And he said, well, you know, maybe this is just a negotiating tactic. This is how the president, you know, the president likes to negotiate. Aren't the stakes higher? Have we all become so normalized to these heated tweets?
GREEN: Of course the stakes are higher, but this is the fallback Republican position when they're unhappy about Trump on anything but afraid to stand up to him. You heard them say this on the tariffs that Trump summarily proposed, that, well, we think this is just a negotiating position. You can hear this on, you know, the threats to fire Mueller and Rosenstein. We have assurances that this isn't really going to happen. Here Johnson can come out and say we hope that Trump is just beating his chest or doing whatever on Twitter and this is really just a negotiating position. It absolves them from the responsibility of having to confront Trump directly in a way that you expect Republicans would want to do.
CUOMO: It doesn't solve it. You're right, you are 100 percent solid. No question. But it doesn't absolve them. It doesn't. This is one of those hashtag DYJ moments, do your job. On tariffs, the president is only able to do it by direct statutory authority that outlines a national security threat basis. He never articulated one. It clearly doesn't meet that standard from a commerce perspective alone let alone any kind of existential one.
And here on war it's even more clear. And Ron Johnson never said a word about what he was going to do to fulfill his legal obligations and duties here. And they get a pass. I'm telling it's something that should have a lot of people in our business and in Congress a lot more upset, J. Mart, because if they don't have a plan and they just give him the stamp, and they say, well, as long he comes back to us in a few weeks. A few weeks would be too late if you go into a situation like this without a real plan.
MARTIN: The question is, is this going to be a one day strike like we saw in April of 2017 where you basically go in and you do basically cosmetic attack, or is this going to be a days-long, prolonged strike. And if that's the case, Chris, then I think you'll see at least some conversation taking place in Congress about whether or not to offer authority.
CAMEROTA: Jonathan Martin, Josh Green, thank you very much for the analysis.
CUOMO: All right, so fresh off dinner with President Trump last night, Alan Dershowitz, famed Harvard professor, did he give legal advice to the president? What did he hear from the president? How does he feel about what's being said by Twitter right now about the administration of our justice system? He is live next.
[08:16:20] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Multiple sources telling CNN President Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a move gaining currency and urgency because of the FBI searches targeting the president's personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Joining us now is Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School. He had dinner with the president last night at the White House.
Good to see you, sir, as always.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Thank you.
This was a prearranged, prescheduled --
CUOMO: Supposed to be about the Middle East, right? Supposed about the peace process.
DERSHOWITZ: I spent the whole morning with staffers in the Middle East. I'll be back in the White House talking more about the Middle East.
This is the fifth president that I've advised on the Middle East. You know, I've written half a dozen books on it. I'm very passionate about the subject and I'm honored that any president will listen to my views in the Middle East and I'll continue to offer them to any president who will listen.
CUOMO: Good and wisely served right now with what's happening in Gaza, there is any progress forward, however, there are other exigencies which I'm sure demanded your attention at this dinner.
Do you believe the president of the United States can directly fire a special counsel?
DERSHOWITZ: It's a very complicated issue. The Supreme Court case that's look in both directions. He can certainly effectuate the firing of the special counsel --
CUOMO: Explain what that word means to the laymen and women who are listening right now, effectuate.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, he can order -- he can order his cabinet member to do it and then fire the cabinet member or replace the cabinet member.
I think it is a moot issue. I do not believe he's going to fire Mueller and the case for firing him has gotten weaker now with part of the case being moved to the Southern District, because even if the president were to fire Mueller, the southern district investigation would continue and --
CUOMO: But you have said, professor, that given, you know, the unified executive theory that the president can stop any investigation he wants even if he is apart of one unless you can show corrupt intent for an obstruction charge.
So, by your own theory, couldn't he stop the Southern District case? Couldn't he stop any case one way or another?
DERSHOWITZ: Look, President Jefferson, President Lincoln and President Roosevelt have all directed which investigations should be conducted and which not. Historically, presidents do under executive authority have the right to determine who should be investigated and who not. But here's a long traditions of president's not doing that and I think it would be a serious mistake and a mistake that would lose himself support on many of his Republican --
CUOMO: Have you seen this president respect any tradition of that nature since he's been president?
DERSHOWITZ: I think that he should respect this tradition. It would be a mistake to do any firing.
On the issue of Rosenstein, there's a very different issue, though, and that's Rosenstein should be recused from any participation in any obstruction of justice investigation involving Comey because he's a core prime witness. I mean, any president's lawyer would be calling Comey -- I'm sorry would be calling Rosenstein as the primary first witness.
Didn't you tell the president in writing that he had the authority to do it --
CUOMO: Did you give the president that talking point because he said exactly that, maybe within the time frame of your own time with him?
DERSHOWITZ: The only advice I give the president is on television which ebb the right to watch --
CUOMO: You spent a whole dinner with him and President Trump sat across from one of the most esteemed lawyers in the country and didn't ask you for any advice on these legal issues?
DERSHOWITZ: I only give advice to those I'm in a lawyer-client relationship --
CUOMO: So, what did you say when he looked at you and said, what should I do here, Alan? Do you think I should get rid of this guy? How would I do it? You said this is a beautiful piece of chicken? What did you say?
DERSHOWITZ: No, I don't give advice to the president about legal issues and I don't -- I'm not asked for advice about legal issues.
[08:20:01] Remember, that I'm not in a lawyer/client relationship with him. My conversations with him are not protected by lawyer/client privilege unlike his conversations with Michael Cohen.
CUOMO: But there are exceptions.
DERSHOWITZ: There are exceptions. But obviously, none of the exceptions would apply in a situation like the one we're talking about here.
CUOMO: Why not?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I just want you to imagine if instead of reading his lawyers files --
CUOMO: Searching --
DERSHOWITZ: -- they would have the doctor's files or they went after spousal files or confessions to a priest or rabbi --
CUOMO: In what context?
DERSHOWITZ: -- or this if were Hillary -- an investigation of --
CUOMO: Investigation of what?
DERSHOWITZ: If Hillary Clinton had been elected president and they were investigating her e-mails --
CUOMO: They did.
DERSHOWITZ: -- and they went after her lawyer's files, you would be up in arms, the ACLU would be up in arms.
CUOMO: It depends on the context.
DERSHOWITZ: Of course it does. And the first thing you should do is try to get the material through other sources. If you're interested in bank records, subpoena the bank records.
CUOMO: How do you know they didn't?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, we know they went after the lawyer --
CUOMO: No, how do you know they didn't try to get it before?
DERSHOWITZ: We know -- well, they could've gotten it before. They set up a taint team. Think of what a taint team is.
It's other FBI agents and other government officials looking into the most confidential privileged material and saying, oh, this is too privileged.
CUOMO: It's a protected mechanism.
DERSHOWITZ: It's not a protected mechanism. It doesn't work. It might work on Fifth Amendment.
CUOMO: Hold on, Professor, you're going too fast for me.
DERSHOWITZ: You're going pretty fast too. So --
CUOMO: I'm trying to actually slow you down. I have tremendous respect for what you have to say. I have no problem admitting that to the entire audience. I look to Dershowitz all the time for good counsel and he's never failed me.
But you're outthinking me right now. So, let's just slow down.
CUOMO: The context matters. There are exceptions to the privilege if and when investigators can make a case to a judge that we need to search this attorney even though there is a privileged involved with somebody he is that is the subject of the investigation because we believe there is probable cause that they are involved in potential criminal opportunities with the client.
That's the context. It's not just breaching a priest, you know, in the confessional. There has to be context. The priest and the person who is the confessor that they are both involved in nefarious act that we want to look at. Context matters.
DERSHOWITZ: I'm waiting with baited breath to actually read the affidavit that justified the search to see if they make the argument that this might be the --
CUOMO: But why do we assume that a federal judge gave them wrongful authority when we haven't even seen the proof of it yet?
DERSHOWITZ: I just don't know if the federal judge was aware that they will be searching for lawyer/client protected material. Remember --
CUOMO: You think they asked for a warrant to go into Michael Cohen's offices and didn't explain to the judge who he is and what they'd be looking for?
DERSHOWITZ: Let me explain to you what they do. They get a warrant to get everything, including lawyer/client privilege information. A warrant does give them the authority to seize the information.
Then they give it to a taint team. And the taint team which consists of FBI agents reads it off and if they read something that's lawyer/client privilege, they say that can't go to the prosecutor to use.
Imagine if what they were reading was not lawyer/client privilege but medical privilege or confessional privilege or spousal privilege, none of us would accept the fact that FBI agents should be reading our most intimate conversations and that's what happens here. Taint teams are not appropriate in the Fourth and Sixth Amendment context. They're only appropriate in the Fifth Amendment context.
CUOMO: So, you're being general in your criticism. You're not saying in the instant case, you're saying overall you have a concern about this. Let's bring in one of your --
DERSHOWITZ: And every single libertarian should have a concern about it. CUOMO: I hear you, but --
DERSHOWITZ: And I'm appalled at the silence of the ACLU and the civil liberties group, would be up in arms if this were Hillary Clinton's lawyers being searched.
CUOMO: I hear the criticism and as we all know, the sense of outrage right now is almost by definition partisan, OK?
DERSHOWITZ: And it shouldn't be.
CUOMO: Whether it's leaks or these prosecutions or these investigations. If it's helping your party you're OK with it. The hypocrisy is staggering.
DERSHOWITZ: The only good thing is resulting that finally conservatives are becoming civil libertarian and liberals are becoming much more supportive of law enforcement.
CUOMO: We'll see. We'll see. Politicians act at a consequence, not conscience. So, we'll see where they go on that.
DERSHOWITZ: I agree.
CUOMO: But let's bring in a better mind than mine and one of your former students, Jeffrey Toobin.
DERSHOWITZ: Sure, hi, Jeffrey.
CUOMO: Senior legal analyst.
So, what we're trying to parse out here and the professor often gets misunderstood on this and you know this Jeffrey as well as I do. He's talking in general. I don't like taint teams, not that this taint team did anything wrong, not that this search necessarily is wrong because we haven't seen the affidavit, but in general.
But specific to this, my point back to him was, one, if they believe there's probable cause that the attorney and the client are involved in criminal activity -- well, that's different than just saying we want to look at lawyer private communications with their client, isn't it?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. And just as a general matter, lawyers, doctors, priests, all of whom have privileges that are protected by the law, none of them are exempt from having search warrants executed against them.
[08:25:07] They are not above the law and there are systems in place for searching doctors' offices, for searching lawyers' offices and religious institutions, and that's what is going on here. It's relatively unusual but it's not unprecedented and there are systems in place designed to protect the privileges.
DERSHOWITZ: And the systems aren't good enough is my point because the privilege under the Fourth and Sixth Amendment is not like the privilege under the Fifth. The Fifth Amendment only says it can't be used in a criminal case, that's what taint teams are for.
But you should not have government officials reading the potentially protected confidential material and that's what happens under taint teams. And we think it's enough if the FBI agent reads and says, oh, this is confidential but I'm not going to tell anybody else about it. That's already a violation of the Fourth and Sixth Amendment. It's just not good enough.
I have an article this morning making the point, distinguishing between the Fifth Amendment protection and taint teams and the Fourth and Sixth amendment where taint teams just aren't good enough.
TOOBIN: OK. But remember, you know, Michael Cohen, let's use the specific as well, he was negotiating business deals for Donald Trump, he was negotiating, you know, the hush agreement with Stormy Daniels. They're not -- none of those conversations are covered by the privilege, none of those financial transactions are covered by the privilege, lots of what Michael Cohen did for a living had nothing to do with the attorney/client privilege.
DERSHOWITZ: But all of that material could be subpoenaed from the people he negotiated with from the banks, from the IRS. You don't search a law office as a first recourse. You search it as a last recourse --
TOOBIN: But you don't know that this was the first recourse.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, it came very early after they were assigned to do the case, and I have enough experience with the Southern District, you do too to know that they will sometimes overstep their bounds.
What I would like to see it all the material turned over to a judge. Let a judge do the filtering rather than some FBI agent or some U.S. attorney.
CUOMO: Here's my concern, a little bit is optic, much of it is deeper than that.
You went to dinner with the president. You've been making general arguments that are seen as playing in his favor and you wind up getting painted as a partisan that you're in favor of the president. That's optics.
CUOMO: You can deal with that on your own time.
CUOMO: Here's what I don't like. The president comes out and says this is an attack on our country, this is a raid, this is wrong. He keeps attacking the institutions that he sees as oppositional to him. He is the president of the United States.
Do you endorse that kind of attack on the institutions of our democracy when they don't serve his personal purpose? DERSHOWITZ: For 53 years I've been criticizing the institutions of
democracy, overzealous prosecutors, overzealous FBI agents. And now, finally, we have some support from the right. I wouldn't have used the same words that he used, the same tone --
CUOMO: The words matter, professor.
DERSHOWITZ: Of course they matter.
CUOMO: You're a master of language and this man says this is an attack on our country. You can't agree with that?
DERSHOWITZ: I've been critical of the things he's said, including what he said or didn't said at Charlottesville, what he said and didn't say about immigration. I'm critical of many of the president's policies.
I'm not here speaking on behalf of the president. I'm here speaking on behalf of what I believe or lawyer/client privilege, constitutional rights and the rule of law. I did the same thing with Hillary Clinton. I did the same thing with Bill Clinton.
I'm going to continue to do it whoever is the president because nobody else is speaking up on behalf of the Constitution and civil liberties today.
CUOMO: All right. Professor, thank you as always.
Jeffrey, I needed the help. Thank you for spinning in here on quick notice. You can't take him on one-on-one. You need two on one here.
Thank you very much fellows. It's an important conversation. We'll continue it.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Chris, back to our breaking news this morning. President Trump taunting Russia, telling them to get ready that missiles are coming to Syria. We get reaction from a Democratic on the Senate arms services committee next.