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U.S. Led Coalition Launches Missile Strikes Inside Syria; Russia Calls for Emergency U.N. Security Council Meeting After Airstrikes in Syria; Vice President Pence Speaks about Syria Airstrikes at Press Conference in Lima, Peru; Living Conditions for Civilians in Syria Examined; FBI Reportedly Seized Taped Conversations from Trump's Attorney Michael Cohen in Office Raid. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired April 14, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- for the U.N. Security Council now entering hour four. Right now heated debates about the U.S.-led airstrikes targeting Syria. Russia condemning the attacks, calling it U.S. aggression. The U.S., Great Britain, and France striking Syria's chemical weapons facilities overnight and sending a clear warning to Syria, do not repeat the horrific attacks like the ones seen in Douma week ago.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded. When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.


WHITFIELD: The Pentagon saying last night's joint strikes successfully hit each target, crippling Syria's chemical weapons capabilities. CNN is covering every angle of the situation in Syria. We begin with President Trump, who has been praising the joint military operation, in fact, saying mission accomplished. Earlier we heard from a U.S. State Department spokeswoman who explained what the president meant.


HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: I think the president means mission accomplished in terms of we took out and significantly degraded three chemical weapons sites in Syria. That is significant. We hope that that will bring Syria to the table, help Russia bring Syria to the table. We are letting them know that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated. Let's take a look back at the number of people who have been killed, innocent civilians, in the past numerous years since this all started -- 500,000.


WHITFIELD: I want to bring in Elise Labbot, CNN's global affairs correspondent. We also heard from the Syrian ambAssador to the United Nations. What was said? ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Very similar to what

the U.S. ambAssador was criticizing Russia aggression, saying that this is an illegal and an affront to Syrian sovereignty. I think the message from the Syrian government is they're going to continue fight terrorists. They consider all the opposition terrorists. They really don't make a distinction between terrorist groups. They're denying that they were responsible for a chemical attack.

So, I mean, think it's -- you know, listen, the U.S. said it was going to respond. It made clear that it's not going to try to get involved in the civil war, not looking for regime change. But I think you heard from Nikki Haley very clearly that if the Syrians plan on using chemical weapons again -- look, we haven't really heard the evidence that the U.S. and its allies have, but by all accounts the Syrians -- this was a chemical attack. They were used from helicopters in the air. The Syrians are the ones with those delivery mechanisms. So there is a general consensus that it was Syria. The problem is, what do we do now, Fred?

WHITFIELD: And of course, Nikki Haley says these strikes are a deterrent. U.S. State Department spokesperson I spoke with earlier said that this would help open the door for diplomacy. Is there really any hope that the U.S., Syria, Russia would actually come to the table and have a conversation about all this?

LABOTT: I think there is a general consensus from the U.S. and its allies there needs to be a genuine political situation in Syria. The U.N. has been running the so-called Geneva process for years. It's not going anywhere. And I think that there needs to be a more concerted effort at a political solution.

Just last week President Trump was saying he wanted to get out of Syria. And so we just heard from Senator Lindsey Graham, a real critic of the president's Syria policy. I want to read a little bit of a statement. He said, quote, "I fear that when the dust settles the strike will be seen as a weak military response and Assad will have paid a small price for using chemical weapons yet again. It's not the sustained game-changing strategy that will lead to Assad, Russia, or Iran reevaluating their strategy in Syria." And, Fred, I think there is just going to be a lot of pressure on President Trump now to stay the course in Syria. And, you know, there's still a job to be done against is, but in terms of protecting civilians --

WHITFIELD: Let me ask you to hold your thought. Let's go to Lima, Pru, that's where the vice president, Mike Pence, is right now. Let's listen in.

MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Let me say because of the strong leadership of President Trump and the strong support of our allies in France and the United Kingdom, last night the United States of America conducted a successful military strike on critical chemical weapons infrastructure in Syria that has significantly degraded and crippled the ability of Syria to conduct chemical weapons attacks and a chemical weapons program against innocent civilians.

This was the morally right act to take. And as I spoke to the president this morning, we couldn't be more proud of our American forces and our allies who conducted this attack with such professionalism and brought about an extraordinary success.

[14:05:07] The president has also made it clear that the United States of America is prepared to sustain this effort to reestablish the deterrent framework that exists in order that the Syrian regime and its patrons know that there will be a price to pay if chemical weapons are used again against innocent men, women, and children.

I've been heartened by the support that's been expressed here at the summit of the America's and from leaders around the world. Many world leaders here at this summit in Lima have expressed support to me privately, many have publicly, for the joint action last night, and expressed appreciation for President Trump's strong leadership in the efforts of our armed forces.

So we stand against, as the civilized world has for more than a century, we stand against the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians. And America, with the strong support of the United Kingdom and France, took action last night to bring our instruments of power to bear to see to it that the Syrian regime understands and its patrons understand there will be a price to pay if there is any additional use of chemical weapons against innocents.

That being said, in addition to that topic, we've had productive bilateral discussions with a number of countries. I've met this morning with the president of Peru. I also spoke with the president of Colombia and with the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico. We had in each case substantive and meaningful dialogue about our relationships with each country.

The focus of this overall summit is on the tyranny and humanitarian catastrophe that is Venezuela. We appreciate the strong leadership of the new president of Peru and their country in formulating this summit around that principle first organized around dealing with corruption, which is an issue I'll speak about before the plenary session today, and an issue of great importance and significance. Nevertheless, we'll also, the United States indicated that we'll be supporting a declaration today that will help many signatories here at the Summit of the Americas condemning the repression, the collapse of democracy, and the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. I've just completed a meeting with President Santos of Colombia and he expressed appreciation for the additional --

WHITFIELD: All right, Vice President Mike Pence there in Peru, Lima, Peru, for the summit of the Americas, and right off the top using a lot of language, harsh words and declarations as it pertains to Syria. Strong leadership from Trump and the U.S. allies, successful military strike on chemical weapons, degrade and crippled.

Elise Labott with me now. You were listening to him, too. He talked about the extraordinary success, really underscoring, perhaps, the message incoming from the president of the United States, mission accomplished. But the vice president also said this is an indicator that we're prepared to sustain this effort. There will be a price to pay for chemical weapons are used again. He repeated that message to Syria. That, he said, this has been a crippling mission, that it has degraded even the chemical weapons capability in Syria.

LABOTT: Well, I mean, look, degraded and crippled are two different things. Did it degrade it? It had to because it struck three chemical weapons sites and that's three less than they have right now. It also went against the research facilities. So in that sense, yes, it did do a dent in the chemical weapons program. But it's not completely crippled. It's not completely decimated. I guess if the Syrians wanted to --

WHITFIELD: Let me stop you right there. He's taking some questions. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- Iran and Russia. Did you take that into any consideration when you were planning targets? Did you specifically target any of their assets?

PENCE: Well, I can assure you that any time our commander in chief puts our armed forces in harm's way we consider every potential response by the enemy. And every eventuality was explored over the past week, and we continue to monitor the environment in the region very, very carefully.

[14:10:04] The United States is ready to respond to defend our forces. And to be clear, the United States is also ready to take additional action in a sustained way to ensure that Syria understands there will be a price to pay if they ever use chemical weapons again. But we carefully examined the possibility of a response by Syria or by its allies, Russia and Iran, in this calculation, and the president made the decision to target chemical weapons facilities, having counted all the cost and the potential of those decisions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, Mr. Vice president --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice president, in the year between the U.S.' first strikes on Syria and these latest strikes, Syria carried out a number of suspected chemical weapons attacks. Why do you think that the action that the U.S. took last night will change the regime's calculus in any way?

PENCE: The action last night at President Trump's direction with the strong support of our allies in France and Britain was focused exclusively on the chemical weapons program, and we believe that it has significantly eroded and crippled the ability of the regime to produce chemicals that they've been using against innocent civilians. The attack a year ago was against a military base that had deployed that type of ordinance. This attack, the president made the judgement, was to be focused on the actual chemical weapons regime itself. And our hope is that Syria and their patrons got the message. But Syria should know, their supporters in Russia and Iran should know, that the United States and our allies and the civilized world are prepared to continue this effort until we are assured that chemical weapons will never be used again against innocent civilians in Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said their capabilities were crippled, but they do still have the ability to carry out further chemical weapons, correct?

PENCE: We believe that we significantly degraded their program. We believe that we significantly degraded their ability to produce chemical weapons. But this was also about reestablishing what we call a deterrent framework, of working with our allies, as President Trump reached out to the United Kingdom and France. Almost daily telephone calls, negotiations between our various national security teams to arrive at the targets, to arrive at the strategy. When the president made the decision to go, it was all in an effort to do everything in our power, not just to destroy aspects of the chemical weapons program, but also to send a message to Syria and to their patrons in Russia and Iran that there is a price to pay if they ever use chemical weapons again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, when you talk about a deterrent framework, other than additional military strikes, what does that look like? Obviously the United States tried in 2013 to cut a deal whereby Assad was going to get rid of his chemical weapons and Russia was going to guarantee that. Clearly that has not happened. So what you're your administration plan to do to make it happen in this case.

And secondly, the president tweeted this morning mission accomplished with regard to this. Do you agree with that assessment, and do you think it was wise for him to use that phrase given the history of it?

PENCE: Well, first, let me be clear, the president's decision here was to use military force in concert with our allies to make Syria pay a price for using chemical weapons against innocent men, women, and children. And let's just think about that for just a second. The images of seared the conscience of the world and troubled every American.

And this president worked with our allies to come to the place where we use the instrument of American power that is military force to degrade their ability, but also to send a very clear message that there will be a price to pay if Syria ever uses chemical weapons again in the future. And that price will involve the use of military force.

That being said, we, as the president also said last night, while we don't -- we don't look for an open-ended commitment of military troops on our mission to destroy ISIS in Syria, we are reaching out and have been in recent days to our allies in the Gulf states to invite a greater participation, a greater level of support, so that American forces, Syrian democratic forces, our coalition in the region that has been so successful on our primary mission in Syria, which is to defeat and destroy ISIS, will be in a position to facilitate a political solution.

[14:15:10] Ultimately that's the hope, is that we -- that we have -- we have managed to store a deterrent framework so that the brutal Assad regime understands that chemical weapons are no longer available to them to use without paying a very high price. But our ultimate objective is to destroy ISIS in Syria but be a part of the what will be a widening effort across the world to achieve a political settlement in the long term. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What chemicals do you believe were used in that

attack? And why did the United States not wait for the inspectors to finish their work in Syria and to make a very clear determination of what was used before taking this action?

PENCE: Well, let me say all along the way, it's a process. When you're dealing with a brutal and a tyrannical regime like Syria, the ability to obtain evidence is complicated. But we went into this effort absolutely confident that the Syrian regime had conducted this attack, despite what some of their apologists around the world are saying, and high confidence that at minimum the chemical weapon of chlorine was used in this attack.

I will tell you that that investigation is ongoing, and we may well ultimately determine that sarin was, in fact, used in this attack, as it had been in the past. But the president made this decision with high confidence of our intelligence community, supported by our allies, that Syria had conducted the attack and dropped these chemical weapon bombs and ordinance on innocent civilians and that at minimum it was the chemical weapon chlorine. Ken?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice president, if I can follow up to Julie's question, did you think the president's tweet about mission accomplished was appropriate given the nature of this conflict? And separately, he had a very important -- two very important meetings with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. What are your hopes for a deal on NAFTA within the next month? Do you think that's a possibility? And separately, did you ask President Pena Nieto to help fund the border wall? Did the border wall come up in your discussions?

PENCE: Well, let me thank you for the other question. Let me say, last night the objective of the mission the commander in chief gave our military forces and our allies was completely accomplished with swift professionalism. I was heartened this morning to at least hear initial reports from the Pentagon that despite having have fired between ourselves and our allies over 100 cruise missiles that there were at this point no reported civilian casualties. We hope that continues to be the case. But that was the report this morning.

But as I said before, the president and I couldn't be more proud. And I think the president's expressions this morning were a strong affirmation that the mission that he gave our military to go in and destroy key elements of the chemical weapons infrastructure in Syria was completely and professionally and swiftly accomplished.

The meetings with Mexico and Canada were very productive. I will tell you, we -- with regard to Mexico, the topic of funding of the wall did not come up. I think President Pena Nieto understands that he and President Trump have a difference of opinion on that. But we spoke at great length about areas where we are making great progress. We spoke about changes that Mexico is deliberating over their own immigration policies that will impact transnational migration. I spoke as the president has appreciatively of President Pena Nieto's recent efforts to intervene a caravan of over a 1,000 that were traversing Mexico to come attempt to come across the U.S. border. And we talked a great deal about NAFTA. I will tell you in my

conversations with Prime Minister Trudeau and with President Pena Nieto, I'll leave this summit very hopeful that we are very close to a renegotiated NAFTA that will -- that will be a better deal for the American people and will have the kind of fairness to it that will permit us to go forward in a productive mutually beneficial relationship with the people of Mexico and the people of Canada.

[14:20:02] It's not done yet. There are still issues that need to be resolved but we believe there is a real possibility that we could arrive at an agreement within the next several weeks for a renegotiated NAFTA that will be a better deal for the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we've got to go. One more. Jen?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice President, Russia today condemned the U.S. actions and has generally speaking it seems the U.S.-Russia relationship has gotten a little frostier just in the past week over this issue. What's your message to Russia now?

PENCE: Our message so Russia is you're on the wrong side of history. It's time for Russia to get the message that President Trump delivered last night, that you're known by the company you keep. It was 2014 when then secretary of state John Kerry negotiated an agreement that he would represent and that administration would represent eliminated 100 percent of the chemical weapons in Syria. And Russia agreed to be the guarantor of that agreement. And now we see the atrocities, the horrific images emerging from the brutality of this monster in Damascus. And all the while we understand that Russia has been standing by, aiding and abetting and supporting this brutal regime.

And the time has come for Russia to join the family of nations in condemning the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons and demanding that they live up to the commitments that they made in 2014 under the last administration. Denying on the world stage, offering resolutions that were properly rejected at the U.N. security council a few hours ago, is not a pathway toward a better relationship with the United States of America and the wider world for Russia. Russia and Iran are on the wrong side of history, and last night President Trump called on them, called on them as we call on every nation across the world to join us in condemning the use of chemical weapons, and, again, restoring the kind of deterrent framework that will ensure, whether it be in Syria or anywhere else, that these types of weapons have the capacity to suffocate and murder innocent men, women, and children are never used again in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roberta didn't get one yet. Go ahead, Roberta.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks. At the beginning of your meeting with President Pena Nieto, the remarks seemed pretty brisk and to the point. He made the comment in his remarks that there needs to be mutual respect is in the relationship. And I'm wondering if he brought up the use of the tone of some of President Trump's recent remarks about putting National Guard troops on the border and other issues. Did he bring that up? Was he angry? And if so, how did you sort of reassure him? PENCE: The United States of America has a strong president, and

Mexico has a strong president. And when you have two people with strong personalities they occasionally have strong differences. We talked about that.

But we also talked about the fact that Mexico respects the right of the United States of America to defend our border, respects our national sovereignty. We also focused on the areas where we are working in greater concert every day. And so we spoke a bit about that. We talked through those differences, some of which we set aside for a later date.

But I have to tell you, I left the meeting with the president of Mexico grateful for his leadership and more confident than ever that we are very close to the kind of breakthrough on issues of immigration, of drug interdiction, and of a renegotiated NAFTA deal that will be a benefit to both of our peoples and will set the stage for much better relations for many years to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we've got to go, guys.

WHITFIELD: All right, Vice President Mike Pence there at the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, tackling quite a few subjects there. On the issue, however, on Syria, he says, and I'm quoting him now, we believe we significantly degraded the ability to produce chemical weapons, and he also said there is a price to pay -- he repeated that multiple times when talking about Syria and its continuation of the use of chemical weapons and the price would be paid.

[14:25:09] And then he also said that we may determine sarin was used, and since his comment we've also learned from a senior official briefing reporters, and I'm quoting now, saying that, quote, we assess that both sarin and chlorine were used in the attack and while the available information is much greater on the chlorine use, we do have significant information that also points to sarin use.

I've got with me global affairs correspondent Elise Labbot and at the White House Boris Sanchez. So first to you, Elise. First, the inference coming from the vice president that there may be sarin use and now we're hearing from the senior official saying a combination of chlorine and sarin. Why is that significant?

LABOTT: Well, it's a couple of things. Significant because what they do is they mix it. It's mostly chlorine which is kind of weaponized, and they mix in a little bit of sarin to make it more deadly. That is a nerve agent banned by the treaty on chemical weapons.

WHITFIELD: Chlorine is not?

LABOTT: Chlorine is not, but the weaponization of chlorine is banned under this convention.

However, the U.S. is being very fuzzy about what the evidence is. They say we assess. And then Vice President Pence said we may come to. They're making a determination based on the absolutely evidence they have right now. WHITFIELD: Meaning the visual?

LABOTT: Meaning the visual. Meaning the video they see. These frothy mouths. Those horrible images we saw, symptoms that are consistent with an attack. These people have to be hosed off. They're coming from helicopters, and the opposition doesn't have helicopters.

WHITFIELD: No direct chemical evidence samples?

LABOTT: We're not really sure who has the samples and whether the so- called chain of custody would give the U.S. high confidence. What officials said to me yesterday was, well, we have the symptomology. Who else could have done it? It looks like a chemical weapon. It walks like a chemical weapon. We have proof enough.

But I think in terms of this attack now the international community is right to -- and the Russians and Syrians are going to ask for more evidence. But he also talked about the price to pay and degrading the whole chemical weapons program. The Syrian government has killed upwards of 500,000 people. That's half a million people. The vast majority of those people did not die from the use of chemical weapons.

WHITFIELD: Mostly conventional?

LABOTT: Correct, and these horrible barrel bombs that are very deadly and very painful, I mean much more brutal than regular airstrikes. And so the question is, how are they going to stop the violence? Because even if they stop, Fred, the use of chemical weapons, they're not saying anything about stopping the brutal --

WHITFIELD: Right, if there is a red line as it pertains to just conventional weapons, just killing people, period.

LABOTT: And so the Russians and the Syrians might take that to say, OK, kill whoever you want, just don't use chemical weapons and you're safe. Obviously the U.S. doesn't mean it like that, but, you know, I mean, the president may be forced to kind of extend his red line if now the Syrians change their tactics and use other more types of weapons.

WHITFIELD: So Boris Sanchez at the White House. Boris, we heard the vice president there say that the price would involve the use of military force. The vice president seems to be very consistent with the messaging coming from the president of the United States, that there has been real degradation as a result of this. The president going as far as saying mission accomplished. But it also sounds like an acknowledgement from the vice president, too, that more potentially may be coming, especially if, you know, more chemical weapons are used.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. President Pence essentially saying that the United States is prepared to act again if necessary. Shortly before he started speaking to reporters in Peru, we actually got off the phone with some senior administration officials who were briefing us on the details of this strike, and to dovetail into some of the conversation that you were having with Elise, specifically about sarin and chlorine gas agents being used, these officials sort of reiterated the evidence that justified these strikes last night, saying that though they have harder evidence on chlorine gas agents being used, they do believe sarin was used in part because of some of the symptoms they're seeing on the ground in Syria.

Further, they emphasized the working relationships that they have with foreign counterparts, specifically the British and French in not only examining this evidence but further in carrying out these strikes. They also did not give us many details when it comes to the president's thinking on these strikes, specifically what other options he had. They wouldn't really give us a timetable as to how this decision was made.

As you noted, the president was tweeting about it this morning. And I want to bring it up for a reason. The president wrote, quote, "A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine military. Could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished."

[14:30:04] You heard Vice President Mike Pence there trying to clarify that the president meant that the mission that was carried out last night was accomplished, but the question of the broader picture, the future of the United States' involvement in Syria still a question, especially when you consider that just a few weeks ago President Trump surprised and allies and even officials within his own administration when he said that he was looking to move U.S. troops out of Syria and limit the American presence there very soon, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Boris Sanchez at the White House. Thank you so much for that.

All right, much more on our breaking news on Syria straight ahead, including a look at some of those impacted by the years-long war in Syria. CNN takes you exclusively into a refugee camp full of survivors from last week's alleged chemical attack.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. For years, families in war-torn Syria have learned to deal with continuous bombings. Most have been forced from their homes and into refugee camps. And that's where we find CNN's senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon. She is talking to people who have managed to survive attack after attack.


[14:35:16] ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is going to end up being their life for who knows exactly how long. No one can answer that. What so many of these parents are so worried about is where are the children going to go to school? These two twins, they're seven years old. All they've known is war. They haven't had a chance to have a proper education. In fact, when they first came to this camp, their mother was telling us that they began actually digging a little trench for the ants. That's how they were playing a game so the ants could stay safe from potential bombing. And that is going to be the next big crisis that this region, this

country is going to have to deal with. Talk to anybody here and they will tell you that when you refer back to Ghouta, to Douma, what happened to them there is beyond words. The nightmare that they've lived, the fact that there are no buildings standing, the fact that you can't even recognize streets that you used to have.

And it is heartbreaking to be talking to these people. And when you ask them what their thoughts are about the reaction from the outside world, they feel as if they have repeatedly been betrayed. They feel as if these strikes are limited and they're not really about trying to save them or trying to end the suffering of the Syrian population, that they're more just another move in this broader global, sickening game of chess that's going on. And they truly feel as if there is no one standing by them in no one who really wants to protect them.

There has long, long been a sense amongst the Syrian refugee population, whether it's those who are internally displaced within their own country or those who are in neighboring countries trying to begin to build their lives that the rest of the world doesn't care about them, that doors are being shut repeatedly in their face, whether it's Europe or the United States. They have long felt as if America actually isn't going to come to save them.

And there is this complete and total sense of despair because fundamentally many of them actually do want to believe that if America truly wanted to it could save them, it could have ended all of this years ago.

And that is incredibly difficult for anyone to go through, never mind for people who have already been through so much, to have to try to begin to comprehend and understand. She is saying that people have forgotten the concept of children's rights. And when a child doesn't have an alternative reality, an alternative narrative, when they don't have an opportunity to go to school, to go to learn, all they know is this violent way of life, what sort of chance do they have at a future, what sort of chance do they actually integrate into society and begin to believe that the world can actually be a better place than the one that they know?

There are probably a few thousand families here, and this is just one of the camps that has been set up to try to receive those who were forcibly evacuated from Ghouta and Douma. There is a second camp that is significantly larger than this one. And if we were to somehow able to drive through this entire countryside in Aleppo and Idlib, you actually just see camp after camp after camp. It's endless.

And that, again, goes back to this whole issue of what happens to these families? What happens to these children? The nightmare scenario is that these camps somehow become much more permanent, that this then becomes their reality, that they are not able to go back home. They're not able to actually have a viable and real future in their own country. When you ask some of them why they stayed in these areas under siege for so long, some will tell you that it's because when you've lost so much in your life, when you've lost so many people that you love, you somehow just want to cling to whatever it is that is remotely familiar, and that's why some of them don't leave. Others don't leave because they don't have the means or they have elderly living with them. And yes, a fair number of those families who are here are the families of people that were fighting against the regime.

Every single person we've been talking to today has lost someone who they love. We have spoken to people who were impacted by the 2013 chemical bombing, who then were wounded in other bombings that happened afterwards.


DAMON: And, Fredricka, imagine living through a fear so deep, so intense that you actually can't find the words to describe it. The sense amongst most of the people who we were speaking to there in that camp is that these U.S., U.K., French strikes were really just part of a broader political game and that at the end of the day no one truly has the interests of the Syrian population at heart.

[14:40:12] WHITFIELD: So terribly sad. Arwa, thank you so much for bringing that to us, the perspective of what it is to be in those refugee camps there in Syria on the Turkish border. Appreciate it.

All right, straight ahead, what's next for the U.S. in Syria? And what could this mean for the president politically? We'll discuss that next.


[14:45:02] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. President Trump is praising the military response in Syria in a tweet this morning, saying it was perfectly executed and mission accomplished. He was referring to the joint operation carried out by the U.S., United Kingdom, and France. A senior administration official now says sarin and chlorine gas, their assessments were that it was a combination used in last week's deadly chemical weapons attack in Douma.

And now the question remains, will this turn into a sustained military response potentially, and how will the political climate shape this discussion and action? Here to debate, Republican strategist Kevin Paul Scott and Democratic political strategist Howard Franklin. Good to see you both. All right, so, Kevin, you first. The president has often stated that he wants to put America first and the U.S. shouldn't be involved in every foreign matter. Well, this means the U.S. is very much involved here with this strike. How might his supporters react to this?

KEVIN PAUL SCOTT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, absolutely. Well, politically it's tough for him because some of his staunchest supporters absolutely oppose this. They elected him on a platform of America first. But what's interesting is many of his detractors are saying this is the move that he needs to take. This is a sign that shows that he's not beholden to the power brokers in Russia and that he's going to do what's right, especially when called upon by the U.K. and France, our strongest allies, to stand up in the face of this Assad regime. So politically it's very interesting. I think morally it's the right thing to do. WHITFIELD: Howard, can you have it both ways? I mean, the president

on the campaign trail put it one way, saying the U.S. doesn't need to be in everybody else's business. It was just a week ago where he actually said the U.S. troops would be pulling out of Syria, and then now a week later the U.S. along with this coalition of France and the U.K. carry out these strikes.

HOWARD FRANKLIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I'm doubtful that you can have it both ways in a year lake 2018. It's already shaping up to be a blue wave at the Congressional level for the midterms for Democrats. This issue will certainly play into a number of the campaigns all around the country, and I don't believe in a sustained way that the president will be able to continue this push.

And really I think he's potentially between a rock and a hard place. To the point you made, maybe some of the conservative backers are not happy it's not America first and we're dabbling in foreign and global affairs, but then a lot of other folks may think he's not going far enough to topple the Assad regime.

WHITFIELD: Just militarily speaking, the president tweeted out, mission accomplished. The vice president had this to say while at the summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru.


MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The United States of America is prepared to sustain this effort to reestablish the deterrent framework that exists in order that the Syrian regime and its patrons know that there will be a price to pay if chemical weapons are used again against innocent men, women, and children.


WHITFIELD: And the vice president at the summit went on to say that, you know, price will involve the use of military force. So, Kevin, how much further potentially could the U.S. be engaged in this?

SCOTT: Yes, I think that's yet to be seen. It really depends on a couple of things that happen. What are Syria's responses? What's Assad's regime going to respond with? What's Russia's response going to be? Both of those have weighed heavily.

WHITFIELD: Both have already called this U.S. aggression.

SCOTT: They absolutely have. And so make no mistake, this is in lots of ways a proxy war. We are talking about Syria, a very tough situation, but you've got the west on one side of the table and Russia on the other. This is tough because we're talking about political issues here. And I understand they have political implications, but at some point we've got to do what's right. And when you watch those scenes of what's happening in Syria, I think that the west has to be compelled to jump in regardless of --

WHITFIELD: And you're talking about the suffering as a result of the chemical weapons? SCOTT: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: But then what about the use of conventional weapons? More than a half million people have been killed over a seven-year period in Syria. That's pretty horrible.

SCOTT: Fred, you're exactly right. We've done too little and it's entirely too late. Both the Obama administration and the Trump administration.

WHITFIELD: So now what, though? This is the precipice of what next?

SCOTT: And I think that is a very scary question. It's a very important one. Politically I don't know if it helps the president but I still believe the advisers he has in now, Mattis, when you talk about John Bolton, these are going to be people that are going to be pushing him into more aggressive, not less aggressive action on the world stage. And you're seeing this play out really early into Bolton's tenure, even.

WHITFIELD: So Howard, this strike taking place without any new congressional approval. Is it time that the White House defer to Congress, particularly if there is more military action? The vice president saying the price will involve the use of military force. Does this mean that Congress has to be on board?

FRANKLIN: I don't know if it means that it's time for certain, but I doubt that this administration decides it's going to go and seek that approval from congress.

[14:50:02] Remember, we're talking about a regime that has already struck with chemical weapons nine times in the Trump presidency. This is really cropping up at an inopportune time obviously politically. I respect and I wish I could agree this was just about doing the right thing for Donald Trump, but to me this is more about his approach to this perpetual pivot. Last week we were talking about a trade war with China, we were talking about 4,000 National Guard protecting and patrolling the borders, NRA and gun safety. I think next week or two weeks from now it may be on to the next thing. And that just happens to be the way this presidency has been run thus far.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Howard Franklin, Kevin Paul Scott. Good to see you both, appreciate it.

All right, after searching his home, his office, and a hotel room, more details on the key evidence the FBI seized from President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen.


WHITFIELD: All right, CNN has exclusively learned the FBI seized recordings that President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen made of his conversations with the former attorney for an adult film star and ex-"Playboy" model. Both say they had affairs with President Trump, something he has denied. Sara Sidner joins us now from Los Angeles with more on this. Sara? SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In our exclusive reporting we learned

from a source familiar with the matter that the FBI seized recorded conversations between the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and Los Angeles-based attorney Keith Davidson. Now that's important because Keith Davidson was the lawyer who represented porn star Stormy Daniels and former "Playboy" playmate Karen McDougal who both claim anyway had affairs with Donald Trump. The White House repeatedly denied the affairs happened.

But here's this -- both women were paid and signed agreements that effectively silenced them about their alleged affairs with Trump within weeks of the 2016 presidential election. Now Cohen, the president's personal attorney, is under scrutiny in part for his role in seeking to suppress the alleged affair and payoff to Stormy Daniels. Cohen has also been accused of being involved in squashing McDougal's alleged affair with Trump, which she sold to the parent company of "The Enquirer." The publication never published her story but denies Cohen or Donald Trump had anything to do with the fact that it was killed just before the election.

[14:55:00] The recordings could shed light on the inner working of deals we now know that Michael Cohen and attorney Keith Davidson both worked on. The recordings could prove valuable to the government's criminal investigation of Michael Cohen. And we also know, Fredricka, the warrant for the raids also specified that Mr. Cohen was being investigated for bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance issues. Fred?

WHITFIELD: And then, Sara, CNN has also learned that Cohen arranged a payment from a major GOP donor to a former playmate after he got her pregnant. What more do we know about that?

SIDNER: Look, we've discovered Michael Cohen was involved in yet another confidentiality deal with the same attorney here in L.A., Keith Davidson. Sources tell us that in the latest deal to come to light, it happened in the summer or early fall of 2017. And Cohen represented then deputy finance deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee Elliott Broidy in a case that involved an affair with a former "Playboy" playmate who says Broidy had gotten her pregnant.

According to a source who has seen the hush agreement, the deal was that Broidy would pay his mistress $1.6 million over a series of payments to be made on a quarterly basis for unspecified personal injury claims. Broidy has denied responsibility for those claims. I want to show you the statement he sent out that he did, indeed, have a mistress. He said at the end of our relationship the woman shared with him that she was pregnant. She alone decided that she did not want to continue with the pregnancy. And he says he offered to help her financially during the difficult period. And he says they have not spoken dins. A few hours later, we should say Broidy did step down from his lofty position at the Republican National Convention. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Sara Sidner, thank you so much for your reporting, appreciate it. And thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka

Whitfield. We have so much more straight ahead in the Newsroom with Ana Cabrera starting right after this.