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Coalition Prepares Response To Apparent Syria Chemical Attack; Sen. Chris Murphy On Syrian Chemical Attack And Pompeo Confirmation Hearing; AT&T's First Witness Rebuts Government Expert In Antitrust Trial; James Comey Breaks His Silence In First Interview. Aired 7:30- 8a ET
Aired April 13, 2018 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:30:02] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So what is the United States going to do in terms of responding to this suspected attack in Syria? There's confusion. Why?
Well, the president tweeted to Russia here come the bombs, they're coming. Then he says well, I didn't mean they're coming right now. They may come soon, they may not come at all. And now we understand that the people -- the brains in the room that are trying to figure this out, they haven't come to a decision in terms of what to do.
But some of President Trump's international allies are preparing to join the U.S. in any military action.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Northern Syria.
As I keep saying to you, you are in the best and worst of places to be. You are where we have seen what some of the possible implications of military action could be because a lot of people here, Nick, were surprised to hear you report that U.S. forces on the ground and Russian proxy forces on the ground have come under conflict already.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and that is one of the major concerns here about any potential escalation, as Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis mentioned.
I have to tell you though, Chris, six years coming in and out of here, I'm none the wiser about where we go in the next 24 hours.
What is absolutely clear though is that we have a complicated 24 hours ahead of us because on Saturday, U.N. chemical weapons inspectors -- the OPCW -- start their work trying to find out what exactly was used in Duoma and in Damascus last Saturday to kill 40 people.
The U.S., the U.K., France say increasingly they have proof. They believe this may have been a chemical agent. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has just said there is serious evidence that chemical weapons were used there.
But it's hard to launch military airstrikes when a U.N. investigation like that is underway. They're kind of saying you don't have much respect for that process. You could possibly carry it out before they get on the ground but you've got a matter of hours until that now and you've got a U.N. Security Council meeting discussing this at 11:00 your time.
So the window for action is tight and quite clearly, Donald Trump hasn't really made his mind up or is certainly wavering.
But all the same, this long lead time has led many to be concerned about what exactly will be left for investigators to find in this supposed crime scene given that it's now occupied by Russian troops and the Syrian regime.
In fact, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has just come forward and given it another possible theory that he believes possibly a foreign special service has been involved in staging this attack.
We're into a minefield here really, frankly, in terms of the blame game. The question is though how does the U.S. and its allies match its stern decision about retaliation with the timetable it has right now -- Alisyn.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Nick, you have spelled out all of the complications there. It's so good to have you on the ground. Thank you very much for your reporting.
So joining us now to discuss this is Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thank very much for being here.
I want to start with Syria and, of course, that was the question that you were talking to Mike Pompeo about -- you were asking him about in this interesting exchange that you had with him and whether or not he believes that the president has unilateral authority to use military force in Syria.
So let me play this for our viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT), MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: You said you believe that the president has the authority to strike Syrian forces. What is the -- what statutory authorization do you draw on to make -- to come to that conclusion?
MIKE POMPEO, NOMINEE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator, I believe that the president has that authority. He certainly has it under Article II of the Constitution.
MURPHY: The war powers refers to an attack on the United States. There's been no attack on the United States from the Syrian regime, correct?
POMPEO: Senator, that's correct.
MURPHY: And there's no imminent threat of attack on the United States from the Syrian regime. POMPEO: Senator, I'm just trying to be very careful. Yes, I think that's -- I think that's correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Senator, he agreed with your points, so what did you take away from his answers?
MURPHY: Well traditionally, the War Powers Act says that you need congressional permission to take military action overseas unless there has been an attack against the United States or an imminent attack. And, Mike Pompeo admitted yesterday what we all know, that there has been no attack by the Syrian regime against the United States and there's no threat of imminent attack and so you need congressional authorization.
President Obama recognized that. He came to Congress for congressional authorization prior to taking strikes. He didn't get it and he didn't take those strikes.
And my worry is that if President Trump continues to take military action against the Syrian regime without any authorization or debate in Congress then there is potentially no limits to his unilateral military power overseas.
Why then, couldn't he take a massive military strike against North Korea preemptively, setting off a war in the Korean Peninsula without congressional approval?
So I think there's a real dangerous precedent that continues to be set here if the president doesn't come to Congress, notwithstanding a discussion about the merits of a strike.
[07:35:00] CAMEROTA: Yes, and did you feel the same way exactly a year ago when the president launched those 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian Airbase? It got a lot of positive reaction because people felt that it somehow did forestall or delay anything that Assad could do in terms of launching another chemical attack.
MURPHY: I did oppose it and, in fact, I opposed the proposed military strike that Obama brought before Congress during his administration. So I've been consistent in my belief a) that a president needs prior authorization from Congress, and b) that there's really no evidence that these military strikes are having a deterrent effect on Assad.
In fact, that strike last year did not prompt Assad to decide not to use chemical weapons. He used them again. Since that time --
CAMEROTA: But maybe it stalled him.
MURPHY: -- Assad has been --
CAMEROTA: I mean, I understand that it's not a comprehensive strategy but maybe it stopped it for some time period.
MURPHY: I don't see any evidence of that and there's also no evidence that it stopped any of his conventional military activity. In fact, the atrocities that this regime has taken out in places like Eastern Ghouta have gotten even worse since those strikes. And so it suggests that all these strikes did was just add chaos to the battlefield and give him, and Iran, and Russia even more reason to double down.
Listen, you have to think about what the other side is going to do when you launch these strikes. You suggest maybe it prevents them from launching futures strikes but there's also plenty of military analysis that it suggests that it leads to a process of escalation which is, in fact, what I think what has happened in the last year. And if that's the consequence of strikes that are taken out this weekend then that's not good for anybody -- the United States or the people of Syria.
CAMEROTA: Look, in terms of whether or not the president has the unilateral authority, it seems to be open to interpretation.
We just had Gen. Michael Hayden on. He had been at the head of the NSA and the CIA as, of course, you know.
And he said that he does think that you could make a case for there being an imminent threat against the U.S. because of the troops in theater -- in the region. So if they're in danger when Assad launches a chemical attack then there is a threat to the U.S. and that would give the president unilateral decision-making.
Speaker Paul Ryan said something similar. He said yesterday that he would not want to see an AUMF (military authorization) that made it any more difficult for our military to respond to keep us safe or that tied the hands of our military.
So what do you think of those interpretations?
MURPHY: Well, let's just take that argument to its natural extension -- to its endpoint.
If any possession of serious weaponry next to or close to U.S. troops means that the president doesn't have to come to Congress, then the president can launch military strikes in dozens of countries around the world without the authorization of Congress.
In fact, John Bolton has made this argument in the North Korean -- in North Korea. He has said that simply because North Korea possesses a nuclear weapon and the U.S. troops are on the peninsula that the president doesn't have to come to Congress to launch war against North Korea. That is preposterous.
And so I think this just gets Congress out of the business of declaring war against the American public -- out of the business of having a debate on war if just because there are weapons next to U.S. troops the president -- that could be used against them, the president doesn't have to come to Congress. I don't think that's what our founding fathers were imagining.
CAMEROTA: OK, very quickly. Do you believe that Mike Pompeo will be the next secretary of state? MURPHY: Alisyn, I think it's going to be a close vote. You know, Senator Paul -- it doesn't look like he's going to support him.
I didn't see Director Pompeo winning over Democratic votes yesterday when he refused to condemn the president's attacks on Robert Mueller's investigation. When he wouldn't answer these questions about president's authorization to launch military strikes.
So, stay tuned. I think it's going to be a very, very close vote. I haven't made up my mind. I wasn't given much confidence by what I heard yesterday but I think it will come down to the wire with this.
CAMEROTA: That's interesting. So then -- but I mean, given that you seem inclined to disagree with his worldviews, certainly about Syria, then why are you considering voting for him?
MURPHY: Well, so I don't know that I'm considering voting for him. I'd say I'm leaning against.
But I will say this. I think Mike Pompeo understands the power of the State Department. He's obviously got a reputation as a hawk.
But I actually do believe that he's going to restore morale to that department. That he may actually try to push out the boundaries of diplomatic power in certain places.
And so, you know, I'm going to think about his testimony yesterday. I think in some ways, he's better than Tillerson. In some ways, he's probably going to give worse counsel to the president.
CAMEROTA: Senator Chris Murphy, we really appreciate you giving us your perspective. Thanks so much for being here -- Chris.
MURPHY: Thanks a lot.
CUOMO: All right, another story we have to keep an eye on.
AT&T begins its defense in court to acquire Time Warner. Why its first witness says the merger will be good for consumers, next.
[07:43:45] CUOMO: AT&T calling its first witness to the stand as it tries to argue against the Justice Department's case to stop its acquisition of Time Warner -- of course, the parent of CNN.
CNN's Hadas Gold is live in Washington with more. What do we expect?
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Chris, the last two days have really been pivotal in this case. What we had were really two dueling economists -- one from the government's side, one from AT&T's side.
These are both expert economists from top two universities, both of whom actually have worked in the government. Ironically, the administration's expert economist worked under Obama and AT&T's expert economist worked under Bush.
And they came to this from two different sides.
The government's economist said that he created a model that showed that AT&T owning Time Warner and all of their content, like CNN and HBO, would cause consumer prices to go up -- would be anti- competitive.
AT&T's economist said that's not the case. He claimed that the government's economist was using a model that was just theoretical. That he wasn't using real-world data. He wasn't using actual information like long-term contracts or the fact that the industry is completely changing. The fact that we can get T.V. shows on Netflix and things like that.
And so, these two days were so pivotal because it's the information that's being presented to the judge -- the only person who will get to decide this case. He has to take all that information in and make his decision, along with all these other witnesses. These two economists are the ones providing the real data here that the judge has to use.
[07:45:06] CUOMO: All right, Hadas. Thank you very much.
And, of course, you don't have to put on a defense but in a case like this that's so sophisticated you'll see a case from both sides.
Fired FBI director Jim Comey speaking out for the first time. Could he be in legal jeopardy for talking about these sensitive subjects? That's next.
CUOMO: Breaking news.
Fired FBI director Jim Comey speaking out for the first time in a new interview. The president (sic) talking to "ABC NEWS" about the most salacious details in the Russia dossier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES FORMER, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: He says he may want me to investigate it to prove that it didn't happen. And then he says something that distracted me because he said, you know, if there's even a one percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible.
And I remember thinking how could your wife think there's a one percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?
I'm a flawed human being but there is literally zero chance that my wife would think that was true. So what kind of marriage to what kind of man does your wife think there's only a 99 percent chance you didn't do that?
[07:50:11] And I said to him, sir -- when he started talking about it -- I may order you to investigate that. I said, sir, that's up to you but you want to be careful about that because it might create a narrative that we're investigating you personally. And second, it's very difficult to prove something didn't happen.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, ABC "GOOD MORNING AMERICA," ANCHOR, ABC "THIS WEEK", CHIEF ANCHOR, ABC: Did you believe his denial?
COMEY: I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth but I don't know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Now, for all the potential light that could be generated by this book, that statement right there is going to generate a lot of heat and almost guarantees a response from the President of the United States.
Let's discuss. CNN contributor Larry Nobel serves a general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. And, CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin.
First of all, either of you disagree with me that that is the piece of sound that is going to trigger the president most, so far?
LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, GENERAL COUNSEL, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FEDERAL ELECTIONS COMMITTEE: Well --
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO ROBERT MUELLER, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think it probably is.
CUOMO: Now, what do you think of Jim Comey -- Larry, let me start with you -- saying something like that? The former director of the FBI saying that that kind of event is possible, though he doesn't offer any proof of why he thinks that.
NOBLE: I haven't read the book yet book --
NOBLE: -- but from the parts I have seen in the press, he seems to get into a number of subjective views of things. And, you know, it's interesting -- I think people may like it. I'm not sure really what that proves.
So again, it's -- you know, it's his crossline on what's going on. But from a legal standpoint, I'm not sure how much weight that carries.
CUOMO: Well, I mean, it's not about what it carries legally, it's about what it's going to mean to the dialogue and to how he's perceived.
Michael, your take? ZELDIN: Well, frankly, I didn't like that conversation at all. I don't know why it's relevant to anything.
The only thing that struck me of interest to it was the question of whether or not the president had asked him about the possibility of investigating that and Comey saying back to him maybe you should think about that. That's the only thing that interests me.
The other stuff --
ZELDIN: Because the other stuff is just speculation.
CUOMO: Why did that interest you?
ZELDIN: Why did it interest me? Because we have conversations that followed that where the president is sort of demanding that other people push back against the media that there are stories out there that aren't true about him -- that I am not under investigation.
This seems to be the beginning of that formulation of an idea that he's going to ask people to be pushing back in the media against stories that are derogatory about him. And that begins this narrative of did he engage in obstructed behavior going forward.
CUOMO: Larry, everybody's going to look at this book through the lens of what they're interested in. What are you looking for?
NOBLE: Well, what I'm going to be looking for are the various legal aspects of it -- of what President Trump may have done that's illegal and what other people around him may have done.
And I think Michael is right is that what you see here is the beginning of a scenario -- part of the scenario of him pushing back on any criticism. And that is going to -- I think that is relevant to the questions of whether or not he knew that people were being paid off not to speak and whether there were non-disclosure agreements. He's obviously incredibly sensitive about any personal criticism or any personal information.
In the Stormy Daniels non-disclosure agreement there's a sentence that I've found fascinating which says that the parties agree that they have spent a lot of time and effort to hide the president's personal business and business from the public and from the media, and I think that's a narrative that goes throughout all of this.
And so here's something where there was a report -- there's -- you know, there was nothing to back the report at that time about what the president may have done in Moscow and yet, he is very focused on that. And I think, as Michael pointed out, that focus continues through everything he does and that's where the legal jeopardy may come in, in the future.
So I'm going to be looking at the book for those type of things. CUOMO: OK. So just to be clear, Michael, if this book makes clear once and for all that the president is almost exclusively concerned with his own perception and his own personal politics, none of that is illegal but it could shed a light in terms of why he was asking for other things to happen.
When that comes to paying people to be quiet or any type of NDAs or any type of movements of money, what would trigger a line of legal concern?
ZELDIN: Well, it's motive and intent. What is it that he did, what is it that he asked other people to do, for what purpose? And were there any acts that were undertaken that constitute illegal campaign contributions, wire fraud, bank fraud, extortion, threats? It's all of that stuff.
There isn't evidence that we can point to yet that says he did anything along those lines or Michael Cohen did anything along those lines or the media organizations that worked with Michael Cohen did anything along those lines. But as an investigator, it's that string that you begin to follow to see where it takes you.
[07:55:05] CUOMO: Right, but how can Comey satisfy any of that in this book? Wouldn't it be, almost by definition, part of an ongoing investigation that he's not supposed to talk about, Larry?
NOBLE: Yes, there is that problem. But some of the things that we're now concerned about, such as the non-disclosure agreements, such as the payments -- the potential payments to keep people quiet are part of an investigation and Comey may be able to give some -- at least some color to that.
And again, maybe he'll be able to give examples of things in this book that lead you to think that it's more plausible than not that he was so concerned with his -- with how he looked -- with the perception of him and these type of things that he was willing to go out there and ask people to -- you know, to be quiet and pay them to be quiet. And he was willing to demand non-disclosure agreements.
I don't think Comey's going to talk about those specifically but again, you're looking for things to give you an idea of whether this seems plausible.
ZELDIN: And so, Chris, you have here -- what you have here, in a sense, is Robert Mueller and his -- Robert Mueller and his team are being deathly silent. We don't know anything from them. There's no leaks coming out of that organization.
Jim Comey started this --
CUOMO: Well, not big leaks but go on, Michael.
ZELDIN: I don't know if there's anything coming out of Mueller.
But in any event, Comey was the one who, in March, started this investigation so when he speaks about it we are getting, in some sense, the first insider's view. He was only there from March to May but we're getting an insider's view of the state of mind of the president and the reaction of that state of mind by the investigator.
So he's sort of like tipping his hand, at least, about how he was hearing this evidence and how that might impact how he would carry out the investigation were he in charge. Now, Mueller's got that investigation and we'll see whether he feels the same way that Comey does about those subjective evaluations that Larry's been talking about.
CUOMO: Reporting about the president's intentions to pardon Scooter Libby.
NOBLE: Yes. I think all of this is relevant to how he views the role of -- the role of the president in terms of trying to let people go and how he views the loyalty of government officials and I think it may reflect that he thinks that Scooter Libby was loyal and was trying to defend his president and therefore, he should be let go.
But, I mean, it's not -- I don't think it's relevant to anything -- any legal liability but he has ---
CUOMO: But the timing?
NOBLE: -- he has the right to do it.
CUOMO: The timing, Michael?
ZELDIN: Well, it's -- again, it's prohibitive of the president's state of mind. You can't -- you know, this is sort of like the ghost of Christmas future here.
Scooter Libby, remember, was convicted of perjury, false statements, obstruction of justice in the leak of Valerie Plame's identity. So a leak investigation about a war that he campaigned he was against.
And the defenders of Scooter Libby say that Scooter Libby really was loyal to Vice President Cheney and took the fall for him.
So you've got all these things coming together -- loyalty, lying, obstructionist behavior. And again, it's not legally prohibitive of anything other than what does the president think about loyalty, and obstruction, and lying, and what will that portend in the future --
ZELDIN: -- with respect to pardons or other things.
CUOMO: I mean, this is going to be underreported today because of the Comey book and what's going on with Syria, and people can look at that different ways. But I'm bringing it up because it's quite the coinkidink, Larry. My
-- I could be wrong but my research on the situation is that there's no adjutancy (ph) facing Scooter Libby right now. There's not a potential health concern, nothing's really happened to him on the inside, nothing's really changed in the status of his case. So to do this now seems curious.
NOBLE: Yes, and look, you could -- you could say that it's a message to those around him that he is willing to pardon people. That he does think that loyalty, no pun intended, trumps other things and that if you do get into trouble yes, I have the ability and the power -- and he does -- to pardon you.
But, you know, I fear sometimes I may be reading a little too much into it. But I think -- but I think other things he has done reflects that. That he thinks if he puts loyalty above almost anything else -- I think the quotes from the Comey book -- the Comey book reflect that so this may just be part of that.
And I think you're right. That's not going to get a lot of publicity.
It is perfectly -- again, it's perfectly legal for him to do it but it just --
NOBLE: -- may be a sign of how he looks at these type of things.
CUOMO: Don't -- go ahead, Michael, final word.
ZELDIN: I was going to say --
CUOMO: Got to go.
ZELDIN: -- is his -- is his audience a person of one, Paul Manafort?
CUOMO: All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much. There'll be --
NOBLE: Thank you.
CUOMO: -- much more to discuss.
We are following a lot of news. It's Friday the 13th, did you know that? Let's get after it.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, April 13th, like I said, 8:00 in the east.
We begin with breaking news.
Fired FBI director Jim Comey speaking out for the first time. There's a new interview and Comey is opening up about President Trump. Their first meeting in Trump Tower. His surprise the president-elect
did not seem concerned about Russia's election meddling except to the extent that it might jade perspective on him.