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Soon: Trump's Secretary of State Pick Faces Grilling by Lawmakers; Pressure Mounts: Trump Faces Raid Revelations, Syria Decision; French President: "Proof" Assad is Behind Syria Chemical Attack. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 12, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR:A nice tribute. I'm John Berman. A special coverage of the Mike Pompeo confirmation hearing begins now with Wolf Blitzer.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We're reporting live from Washington for CNN's special coverage on what's quickly becoming one of the more consequential days of the Trump presidency. In just moments, President Trump's pick for Secretary of State, the current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. He will face a grilling up on Capitol Hill. At issue, among various issues, his past views on torture, his fitness for the job, and his reputation as a war hawk.

We have team coverage of all of this morning's hearing. We'll bring it to you live once it begins. That should be very, very soon.

Also happening right now, there is breaking news that could influence military action against Syria. The French president saying he has proof, proof that the Bashar al-Assad regime attacked its own people with chemical weapons.

In just hours, President Trump's National Security team, they will meet here in Washington to decide potential U.S. military action. All of this comes as we learn that -- learn for the very first time, by the way, that President Trump was actually named in an FBI search warrant, that warrant led agents to raid the home, the office, the hotel room of the president's long time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

We're covering all of these late breaking developments. Let's start with CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's over at the White House to set scene for us. Kaitlan, the president is talking about the Russia probe. More this morning. What else is he saying?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We're seeing him continue this very aggressive approach that he started taking recently towards the special counsel here, Wolf, tweeting this morning, responding to some "New York Times" reporting saying that, "If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December," as the "New York Times" reported, he said, "as reported by the failing "New York Times," I would have fired him. Just more fake news from a biased newspaper!"

Now, Wolf, we're continuing to see the president lash out at the special counsel, but also continuing to fume about those FBI agents who raided the home and office of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, recently. And now, new reporting shows what exactly those FBI agents were looking for, and part of that is communications between Michael Cohen and the Trump campaign and the president himself regarding that "Access Hollywood" tape that came out shortly before the election and threatened many people thought the president's chances of winning that election.

And now we are -- this is the first time the president has been named in a search warrant like this, and it goes to show that these FBI agents were looking to see what role Michael Cohen played in this in suppressing negative information about the president. And, Wolf, that's not all, there is also an "Associated Press" report out today that shows that the parent company of the "National Inquirer," "American Media," paid $30,000 to a doorman and a Trump organization hotel in New York because they wanted the rights to this rumor he heard about the president fathering a child with a woman they paid him this payment in 2015. And I should note that there is no evidence that this rumor is true. But, Wolf, this is a further signal of just how far some people went, including the "National Inquirer," potentially his lawyer, Michael Cohen in protecting the president's image leading up to that very contested election.

BLITZER: And amidst all of this, Kaitlan, the president issued yet another statement about potential U.S. military action against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Tell our viewers what he said.

COLLINS: Well, it is quite a different story than what the president was telling on Twitter just 24 hours ago, this morning, he's now saying that he "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place." He notes that it "Could be very soon or not so soon at all." He says, "In any event, the United States, under my administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our 'Thank you, America?'"

So, Wolf, that tweet comes just one day after the president signaled on Twitter yesterday that a missile strike on Syria seemed to be imminent. He was telling Russia to get ready and now it seems like he's attempting to muddy the water here, especially after he was criticized because for so long he mocked his predecessor for what he said was telegraphing his military moves. And now it seems like the president is trying to signal that there is a little uncertainty surrounding the strike, even though it is widely believed that is the mood that they will decide to take. He's been meeting with his military commanders here at the White House. And there is, I should note, a National Security Council meeting scheduled today. Though, Wolf, it is still unclear if the president plans to attend that meeting. BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins reporting from the White House for us, thank you. Any moment now the president's pick for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, faces lawmakers up on Capitol Hill.

CNN's Manu Raju is setting the scene for us up there. Manu this will be very, very important whether or not he gets confirmed or not confirmed.

[10:05:05] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf. Already we're seeing significant Democratic opposition to his nomination. There were 15 Democrats who did vote for him for CIA director when he was confirmed last year. But a number of them have raised concerns about his candidacy for Secretary of State. The question today is two key Democrats on this committee, Jeanne Shaheen, Tim Kaine, who did vote for him for CIA director. But they have told me separately, they have a lot of questions about what he will say today.

So, this is a very significant hearing. Expect a lot of questions about the Iran deal, what he'll do about that, something he's been telling senators privately he's not prepared to scrap just yet. He wants to see it fixed first. In addition to Russia, something he's promising to take tougher action against Russia and what the administration plans to do about North Korea and Iran. And one thing, Wolf, that he's trying to make clear going forward is that he is not a war hawk. That is something that reputation of sorts that he's trying to dispel.

This is what he says according to the excerpts from his testimony. He says, "So when journalists, most of whom have never met me, they will meet or any of you as hawks. We're hard-liners or worse, I shake my head. War is always the last resort. I would prefer achieving the president's foreign policy goals with unrelenting diplomacy rather than by sending young men and women to war." So, the question, Wolf, will any Democrats agree to go along?

One Republican has already on this committee who said he'll vote no. Rand Paul, that means that they're not enough Republican votes to give a favorable recommendation to send him to the floor and on the floor he going to need at least one Democrat to jump ship and confirm him. So, that means today's testimony is critical to determining whether or not he gets the votes to get the job. Wolf?

BLITZER: Manu, you're also getting some new information about that meeting the president had last night with congressional leaders, all Republicans. Tell us about that.

RAJU: Yes. I just spoke to John Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, who was in that room last night. Now, one thing he said was that they did not discuss the Russia investigation, the president has been concerned about, and criticizing significantly. They did not discuss Robert Mueller, the prospects of firing or Rod Rosenstein, the number two at the Justice Department, even though those same lawmakers in the room have raised concerns about the damage that this could cause for the Trump presidency. None of them brought this or urged him not to do it according to Cornyn. He said they talked about other issues, they did talk about Syria, but, Wolf, the president did not lay out his options or his thinking about what he would do on Syria. That's cording to Cornyn. So, they voided some of the hot button issues to pin the president down, particularly on the Russia investigation. They hope - Republicans certainly hope he doesn't do anything to fire the special counsel or Rod Rosenstein. But significantly he did not urge him not to take that step, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly. a lot going on this day here in Washington. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. We'll get back to you.

Let's bring in our panel right now, Nia Malika Henderson is joining us. She's CNN's senior political reporter. Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent, retired rear admiral John Kirby, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Michelle Kosinski, our senior diplomatic correspondent and Phil Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst.

John Kirby, the French President Macron, saying he has proof, in his words, "proof" that not only were chemicals used in that attack against civilians, but that Bashar al-Assad was responsible, was behind it. Describe what that proof might be because we've all seen the horrific video of these kids suffering, but what about the proof?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think the video is part of the proof. I think he's probably got testimony and talked to some of the medical professionals on the ground, no question about that. They have been very public about what they have been seeing and how they have treated those who have survived it. There is no question that Assad has significant, still, chlorine at his disposal that can be weaponized. And it's an industrial agent. Weaponizing it is against international law. And if you just look at some of that video, it has all the signs of what would be a chlorine attack, and when Macron said that, he said we have evidence of at least chlorine. So, the frothing at the mouth, the red eyes, the respiratory - the problems that some of the survivors had, all of that certainly indicates just from a circumstantial look at it as evidence of chlorine.

BLITZER: How far is the State Department, Michelle, in going in saying there is 100 percent proof that Assad was responsible for this poison gas attack and potentially that the Russians knew about it?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: We're not going to hear them go that far at this point. But they sounded very close to that the last time we heard them talk about it. They said that they have evidence that this is the Syrian regime. And they stated that pretty definitively. I mean they didn't leave a whole lot of room in there for it to be anything different.

BLITZER: What do you think, Phil, because you used to work at the CIA. You know, a lot of people are skeptical when the U.S. says it has hard, you know, concrete, you know, evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Sure, but there is a couple of additional characteristics here, if you look at the intelligence. Typically, in intelligence, you're looking at things like human sources, intercept communications, Admiral Kirby talking about photographs, imagery we might have.

[10:10:04] In this situation, you might also have people on the ground, for example, humanitarian workers who are reporting. They might be getting samples. So, the array of intelligence here doesn't just fit into the classic secret stuff, the variety of stuff, remember the French have a long history of presence on the ground in Lebanon and Syria. The array of stuff the French could have access to passing the United States is pretty broad.

KOSINSKI: It is also the way this was delivered. When you look at how it happened and also, the activities surrounding hospitals, the attack on ambulances, I mean, it does leave very little room for this to be orchestrated by anything other than a regime.

BLITZER: It is interesting, Dana, because the president seems to be sending some conflicting signals about U.S. military action. Let me read that tweet that he put out earlier this morning.

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our 'Thank you, America?'"

Earlier in the week, he did use the words very soon?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the diplomatic term for this is cleanup on aisle nine. I mean there is no question that he understood the pushback and the dangerous precedent and perhaps ramifications for the tweet that he sent. The impulse that he had to do what he did yesterday for whatever reason and effectively telegraphing that the -- that the -- some military response very soon. Not only is it something that he made fun of every single leader for doing, when he was running for president, but also something that the people who were in and around him were obviously very uncomfortable with. Not just when it comes to the United States, but maybe even more importantly I heard you talk about this, Admiral Kirby, when it comes to our allies. And when it comes to the very necessary coalition you need for any kind of robust action and trying to stop Assad. Particularly because you already have, you know -- you have factions that are pretty well drawn. You have Iran, you have Russia, you have Assad and then you have kind of everybody else. And the president needs to keep everybody else and feel that they can be trusted.

BLITZER: Nia, earlier in the week, the president did say get ready, the next 24 to 48 hours, he specifically said the next 24 to 48 hours you'll see something. It has been now more than 48 hours.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Now more than 48 hours. He also kind of telegraphed that something would happen because he cancelled that overseas trip and said that he had to monitor world affairs and monitor and oversee the Syria response. We heard this candidate Trump and then President Trump say over and over that he wouldn't telegraph what the kind of response he was going to make.

We heard criticism from John McCain essentially saying because the president said at one point that he wanted people out of Syria, that they meant -- that may have given Assad some assurances that the -- that the U.S. didn't want to have any further involvement in Syria, and caused Assad to do this. And that regime over there to do this heinous act. So, yes, the president is all over the place with this. And then you have Jim Mattis essentially saying no decision has yet been made. And presenting what is typically a response from a leader basically saying there is still conversation and coalition building to happen.

BASH: And unfortunately, this is -- this coincides with what is going on in the domestic front in a big way. Not just the fact that the president is obviously worked up about the raid on the personal attorney's office and hotel room, but also that -- the notion he's gotten so much pushback for not saying very much about Vladimir Putin at all. Now he's finally doing it as it relates to what happened in Syria. But the question is not only is it too little, too late, but is he doing that as a way to try to show finally that there was no collusion because he's willing to stand up to Vladimir Putin.

BLITZER: I want to point out to our viewers, you're looking at member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they're now walking in to that hearing room up on Capitol Hill. It is about to begin, the confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, to become the next Secretary of State. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, he will gavel this session into order. He'll make a statement, Bob Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, the ranking Democrat, he'll make a statement.

There will be other supporters of Pompeo who will speak, Senator Pat Roberts, former Senator Bob Dole, Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, they will speak. Then Pompeo will make his opening statement and then for the next five or six hours there will be a lot of tough questions for the CIA director that will be asked.

As we get ready for this hovering over all of this, John Kirby, is a military strategy, if the president, the commander in chief gives the order, do something in Syria right now, it is clear -- here we see Mike Pompeo walking into the hearing room right now with his aides surrounded by security.

[10:15:13] If the president gives that order, it is not that simple. You can certainly just launch a few tomahawk cruise missiles, but if you're going to do more than that, potential complications, Russian troops there, Iranian troops there, Hezbollah troops there, it could get very, very dicey.

KIRBY: It is. Even in a normal -- a year ago it was dicey. Now it is even more dicey because the Russians have had a year now to improve their air defenses in the region, to bolster Assad's forces. They can make it much more complicated on the targeting front. May not be so easy to hit a discreetly Syrian target now because the Russians and Iranians may be co-located. Everything is harder this year than it was last year. Not to mention as Dana brought up you got allies who are probably going to participate. They bring different capabilities and forced protection of them and their forces also becomes a little bit more complicated.

BLITZER: What do you think we'll hear from Pompeo this morning about a potential U.S. military strike against some targets in Syria?

KOSINSKI: I think he'll be in support of that. I think he'll be as caged in as possible on stepping beyond the bounds, because he's trying to prove to these Democrats and many Republicans that he's not too hawkish. I mean for something like this, of course, the nominee is always going to try to strike a perfect balance. But it is even more critical now since he's faced these issues in the past. He was questioned for his nomination for the CIA director and there were a number of questions that he didn't really answer fully on exactly these kinds of sensitive issues, on Iran, on surveillance, on his stance towards Russia, it goes on and on. So they're going to dig deeper and deeper and he's going to have to -- he's going to have to find that battle.

BASH: You said Democrats and Republicans, the one I'm going to be watching is Rand Paul, who is -

BLITZER: He's already said he's -


BASH: He said he's going to vote against it. He has a platform because he sits on this committee, to really press Pompeo on these issues of surveillance, but maybe not so much -- well, that would probably be his issue that is Rand Paul's big issue, but on broader world view issues with regard to this administration. So that's going to be a really -

BLITZER: Even if he loses Rand Paul, which he almost certainly will, Rand Paul said he's going to impose his nomination, and even if John McCain, let's say, is recovering from brain -- from brain cancer, out in Arizona. He can't show up for a vote, there will presumably be some moderate Democrats who will support this nominee. There were 15 who supported his nomination for CIA director.

HENDERSON: That's right. And a lot of those were those red state Democrats who are up for re-election in states that Donald Trump won by a whopping margin. So, they did vote for Pompeo. We'll see. We have two on this committee. Tim Kaine and Jeanne Shaheen, who did vote for Pompeo to be the CIA director. So, it will be interesting to see what their questioning of him is, are they still going to vote for him? Or they're looking for ways to draw him out and in a way they would be in conflict with him, to not vote for him?

We'll see. Somebody else to look for, Dianne Feinstein, who voted for Mike Pompeo but now is getting pressure from progressives not to vote for him again.

BLITZER: We saw some protesters in the hearing room with some signs opposing Pompeo's confirmation as the next Secretary of State. And, Phil, you used to work at the CIA, he's been the CIA director now for a year. This is a guy who was a member of Congress from Kansas, a Republican, he graduated number one in his class from West Point. He went to Harvard Law School. He's clearly very intelligent, he's got some serious political experience. What are you hearing from your former colleagues over there, how he did at the CIA?

MUDD: I think OK. I think a lot of them would say State Department is a better place for him. Then the CIA, for one simple reason, he's got strong views on foreign policy. For example, in the Iran nuclear deal. When you're at CIA, you got to put your personal --

BLITZER: All right, hold on. Here is Bob Corker, the chairman.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: -- our committee members for being here. If I could just do two housekeeping measures while Senator Burr, Senator Roberts and Senator Dole are making their way in, hopefully very quickly. OK. I would like to say two things. We have a number of people that we love here who sometimes like to protest. Good to see you. Thank you for waving.

I, in the past, have been able to cause people who are arrested to be un-arrested, but that has ended. And so, please don't do anything that causes us to have to call you out of order because the process, once it starts, cannot be stopped anymore. So, we thank you for being here. We thank you for being considerate and respectful of people who are here today besides yourself. Secondly, we had planned to have a markup on the AUMF on Thursday.

[10:20:02] The minority has asked that we delay that markup for a few days as they consider -- consider it a little bit more fully. So, it will be likely that we will do the AUMF markup instead of next Thursday sometime early in the next week and we'll be releasing the documents relative to that on Friday. But we thank you all for your continued work on this issue. With that -



MENENDEZ: I appreciate you taking a little more time on the AUMF, because as we speak we do not have a final version. And so in order to give members time on one of most important votes they ever take, which is the authorization for the use of military force, you know, I think members want to considered approach. I would urge the chair to consider, once he has a final version, not only to share it with us, but also to consider the possibility of a singular hearing on that specific AUMF. And then that would give members an informed opportunity to develop whatever views they have on it, what votes they may want to take and what amendments they might offer. But I appreciate in the first instance giving the time.

CORKER: Sure. I think you know we were prepared to release it today. We'll probably wait until tomorrow and maybe -- maybe what we do with consultation with you is consider having that hearing next Thursday instead and then having a markup to follow. Obviously, this has been something we have all discussed for many, many, many, many years.

With that, we have three distinguished senators here who have other things to do. We typically would give our opening comments first from the dais, but out of respect for their time and who they are, we would like for them to go ahead and give their comments and then we'll move back to regular order. Again, we thank you all for being here. And I don't know what order you would like to start, but it sounds like we're starting with Senator Roberts.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would -- microphone.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: That would help. Thank you, Chairman Corker. And ranking member Menendez and distinguished members of the committee all. It is an honor to be here today and support of my friend and colleague, Mike Pompeo. As the president's nominee for Secretary of State.

For more than a decade I have known Mike, first as a friend, a business leader, then a Congressional colleague, and most recently as the leader of our Intelligence Community. At home, Kansas knows Mike as a family man. A devoted husband, citizen and father to Nick, both of whom are here, I know how proud you are.

They know him as a man of integrity, and honesty, of hard work and perseverance. He built a successful business, understood the responsibility of maintaining a payroll, and helped to bring job growth and prosperity to Wichita, Kansas. They know him to have Kansas common sense. And to be plain spoken, to tell it like it is. Senator Dole and I might -

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to continue to monitor this. We're awaiting the opening statement from Mike Pompeo. The CIA director has been nominated by President Trump to become the next Secretary of State. Our special coverage continues right after this.


[10:27:50] BLITZER: We're continuing to monitor the hearing, the confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, to become the next Secretary of State. We have been hearing some opening statements and welcoming statements. There you see former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas supporting Mike Pompeo. Also, from Kansas. Just heard Pat Roberts, the senator from Kansas. Also anticipating that Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee will make a statement in support. That will be followed by the chairman, the ranking member of the committee. Before we actually hear from Mike Pompeo.

Amidst all of this, Dana, there is so much going on, especially in New York. These raids on Michael Cohen's office, his home, his hotel room, for a decade plus he's been the president's personal lawyer, his friend, his fixer, and now all sorts of sordid details are emerging about what they're look for, the FBI.

BASH: That's right. And we know that at least as far as has been made public by sources, this is the first time the president's name has been mentioned in a warrant, this is according to reporting by Gloria Borger and Shimon Prokupecz that they -- that the feds, when they broke in, they were looking specifically for any communication between Michael Cohen and then candidate Donald Trump about trying to suppress the "Access Hollywood" tape, the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, in addition to anything that has to do with trying to pay off and suppress Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, others that say that they had affairs, consensual affairs, with Donald Trump.

So the fact that this is all happening as the president is dealing with Syria, he's trying to get his new team in place, as we're seeing go on Capitol Hill, I think we have seen in past history, you remember, Wolf, during the impeachment situation when Bill Clinton was in the White House, he was dealing with that, he was dealing with potential - he was dealing with military strikes in the Balkans. So, this is not unusual for a president to have to deal -- not unheard of, unprecedented, to deal with an investigation while actually being commander in chief. The question is how they deal with it. And so far, he's sort of conflated the two in a way that's very uncomfortable for many of these military leaders.