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Trump Considers Military Action in Syria; Paranoia, Unrest Among Trump Staff; Tillerson Speaks in West Palm Beach. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired April 6, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:25] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news out of the White House today, sources telling CNN that President Trump is now considering military action in Syria in retaliation for that chemical attack that has, as he called it, standing there in the rose garden, horrific, noting dozens of children have been killed.
This comes after a survivor of the 2013 chemical attack in Syria made a plea to President Trump right here speaking with me yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KASSEM EID, 2013 CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK SURVIVOR: If I may say a few words directly to President Trump --
EID: -- if you will give me the chance.
EID: Mr. President, Mr. President, please, please, in the name of every woman, child and elder who got killed by the Assad regime, please come in and help us. Don't make the same mistake that President Obama did. You criticized President Obama for failing to act when Assad crossed the red line. Now is the moment of truth. Now you should show the world that those days are over. We can't just keep living in these unprecedented crimes against humanity. We can't just keep living like this. I would personally like to come to the United States and meet you and tell you my personal story and give you a firsthand account about what's happening in Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: That was Kassem Eid.
Now, we'll talk to Ben Wedeman, our CNN senior international correspondent, along the Syria/Turkish border.
Ben, you know, hearing these words at the White House, maybe military action, how does that ring for Syrians who are meeting there, ben?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SWENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the Syrians, obviously, they are desperate for some sort of help. That is, those Syrians who do not support the regime of Bashar and Assad or don't support some of the more extremist factions within Syria. What we're hearing from the Turks, however, is quite a reaction to the possibility of intervention. In fact, the Turkish President Erdogan just today said if there is an intervention in Syria, it should be more than just words. He went on to say that we will do whatever is needed if intervention is the case. Now, of course, Turkey has long been an advocate for a regime change in Syria. In fact, the Turkish leadership was very frustrated with the administration of President Barack Obama. They felt they simply weren't strong enough and that the Americans should have done more and therefore if the United States takes some sort of hard concrete action against the regime in Damascus, at least in Turkey, they'll have supporters -- Brooke?
BALDWIN: Ben, when we were talking yesterday, you were saying for a lot of these Syrians, the words would just ring hallow, just words that they've heard for years. Tell me just a little bit more about the people you're meeting there along the border.
WEDEMAN: These are people who are desperate. They have lost everything. They are refugees or they have -- for instance, people we spoke to yesterday have fled in the aftermath of that horrific chemical attack early Tuesday morning. It's important to keep in mind for the vast majority of Syrians, they have lived in sort of a limbo for decades. They have lived under regimes in which they had very little say in what's going on and those who aren't living under the regime are living under the rule of rebel groups, jihadist groups that don't take much regard of what they say either. They are desperate for respite from this endless war in Syria now into its seventh year with hundreds of thousands of people dead. Now, would they welcome some sort of U.S. military intervention? That's questionable given what we've seen the impact of intervention by the United States in Iraq, for instance. Therefore, I don't think you'll find too many enthusiastic people welcoming an American military intervention in Syria. These people want just some sort of peace.
BALDWIN: Seven years now, this war.
Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for your reporting. We appreciate you.
[14:34:58] BALDWIN: Coming up here, we are watching and waiting, the West Wing. Only a few know what actually happens behind those closed doors, but new reporting indicates there is plenty of paranoia and unrest among the president's top staff. Gloria Borger, Jamie Gangel will be here with me. They have the details. Don't move.
BALDWIN: And we're back. You're watching CNN.
76 days in office, and sources inside the White House are telling CNN that the president's top-level staffing roles are being re-evaluated, maybe even replaced. Most notably, as we've been reporting here, chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was abruptly removed from his post on the National Security Council. There are also theories swirling around chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Sources telling CNN the president doesn't even ask him for advice. All of this, as son-in- law, Jared Kushner, and daughter, Ivanka Trump, expand their roles in the West Wing.
I have two ladies here who are in the know. They are CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel; and CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Ladies, this is an incredible read on CNN.com. There are details about how these folks in the White House are obsessing over facetime with the president. He's consistently asking outsiders, quote, "What do you think of my team?"
Jamie Gangel, what does all of this mean? What are they telling you? How is the president feeling?
[14:40:45] JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Very simply, Donald Trump is not happy. When was the last time -- Donald Trump used to like to talk about his poll numbers and ratings. When is the last time we heard about it? He's not happy about the controversies or the failure of health care and not happy about the poll numbers, that he doesn't seem to be doing well. I think what we're seeing is he is recalibrating, looking around, saying how do we fix this? Newt Gingrich one said to me, you can't tell Donald Trump what to do, he has to figure it out. He's figuring out that it's not working. Maybe not this week, maybe not next week, but I think we're going to see some changes in the staff and who -- some new rising stars.
BALDWIN: That was a tease.
Gloria, what's your scoop?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, you know, this is a very top-heavy White House. There are lots of cheeks here. The president likes to bring people into his office and talk to a lot of people and it's also a White House that has different ideological views. You know, you have the Steve Bannon on this sort of more populist ideological view and the spectrum and then you have the Gary Cohen, former president of Goldman Sachs, Dina Powell who is now on the National Security Council. You have the more establishment Republicans. And the conservatives jokingly called him the Democrats inside the White House. And I think they're all kind of competing for the president's brain and for the president's time and the president, as we all know, is not necessarily as ideological as anybody else inside it his White House. He just wants to win and he wants to be successful and you add to this brew the fact that he's got family inside the White House. Not only is it top heavy but you have his daughter and you have his son-in-law and they are very actively involved and that makes for a very, very difficult White House to run.
BALDWIN: But back on Steve Bannon, and he's on the plane heading to Florida with the president to meet with the president of China. We pulled video of Steve Bannon because you don't often see him from out and about. Has his role been diminished? BORGER: I think his role has been diminished and I think it was
purposeful. Clearly, General McMaster wanted it diminished. I'm told that the alliance he once had with Jared Kushner has broken apart. If you recall, during the campaign, people were remarking, gee, that's a funny couple, Jared Kushner has never been known as a populist, and Steve Bannon, and I think that relationship has really frayed at this point.
BALDWIN: And then with regard to Jared Kushner, Jamie, what does his rise and how -- sort of the secretary of everything, how are others within the White House feeling about that?
GANGEL: I was joking the other day, he's become the Zelleg (ph) of the Trump administration. He's every place. Look, Donald Trump is -- I swore I wouldn't say it, but he's pivoting. Not the way we've expected. He's pivoting to Jared and Ivanka because they are people he trusts, and pragmatic. They are not ideologues. They also have one ideology and that's being loyal to him. So he's going back to them.
Just to circle something that Gloria said about Steve Bannon, I cannot tell you, from the Republican establishment's point of view, how happy they are to see this demotion or things change with Steve Bannon. It may not be ding-dong the witch is dead but maybe he's on his way out. He makes the Republican establishment very, very nervous. They feel he's taking Trump in a different direction. So they're really hoping that this is moving toward people, like Gary Cohen, Dina Powell. Those are two people who may very well be -
GANGEL: -- economic adviser, Dina was just moved into the NSC, got a promotion there. Both of them are very close to Jared and Ivanka. And I think those may be two of the rising stars.
[14:45:54] BALDWIN: Jamie, thank you very much.
Gloria, thank you as well.
Speaking of the president, at any moment now, we'll be seeing Air Force One touching down in Palm Beach, the airport there. Live pictures ahead of this crucial meeting with the president of China, Xi Jinping. We'll take you there live.
Also ahead, we're learning that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be speaking in Florida as well, there in West Palm. The topic unclear at the moment. We'll take that live as well.
Lots going on. Stay with us.
BALDWIN: Here we go. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about to address the media in Palm Beach, Florida. Let's dip in, shall we?
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: First, I want to thank President Trump for hosting these very important discussions, and asking members of this cabinet to join him here in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, to spend time with our Chinese counterparts. It's going to be very useful to all of us.
It is an honor to receive the Chinese delegation at Mar-a-Lago and build on the dialogue that I began last month in Beijing with President Xi and other leaders in China.
In the past 40 years, the United States and China have developed deep ties and this administration is committed to ensuring these ties endure for the next 40 years. We do desire to establish policies that maintain a constructive, cooperative and results-oriented trajectory. High on the list of our priorities is an economic relationship that is fair on both sides.
Today, will be a time to exchange candid views on the nature of the U.S./China relationship. And we look forward to additional discussions in the future on topics of mutual importance.
[14:50:52] As President Trump has said, the chief goal of our trade policies is the prosperity of the American worker. To that end, we will pursue economic engagement with China that prioritizes the economic well-being of the American people.
We're also looking to make progress with China on areas of foreign policy, those that serve our interests as well as the region's. And we're hopeful China will find ways to exercise influence over North Korea's actions to dismantle their nuclear weapons and their missile technology programs. Whether it's using their authority on the U.N. Security Council or utilizing new levers power, China can be part of a new strategist to end North Korea's reckless behavior and ensure security and stability and economic prosperity in northeast Asia.
Yet even as we share a desire to work together, the United States recognizes the challenges China can present to American interests. We renew our strong commitments to our allies in Asia and around the world who have been valuable partners in preserving shared values and security interests. Similarly, the United States will protect our citizens and our institutions against cyberattacks.
On other areas of disagreements, such as human rights and religious freedom, the United States will be firm in representing our core democratic values and advocating for the right of all people who live in freedom.
The Trump administration remains dedicated to working with China towards our mutual goals of respect, security and prosperity. As we do so, we will not shy away from frank discussions which are necessary to narrow our differences.
I hope President Xi, first lady, Madam Wu (ph), and the entire Chinese delegation enjoy their visit to the United States and we look forward to our discussions with them.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION).
TILLERSON: Obviously, the events that have occurred in Syria with the chemical weapons attack here in the past day I think have just horrified all of us and brought to the front pages and to our television screens as well the tragedy that is part of the Syrian conflict. There is no doubt in our minds, and the information we have supports that Syria, the Syria regime under the leadership of Bashar al Assad, are responsible for this attack. And I think further it's very important that the Russian government consider carefully their continued support for the Assad regime.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does Assad have to go?
TILLERSON: Assad's role in the future is uncertain, clearly. And with the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And what steps is the United States prepared to take in order to remove him from power?
TILLERSON: The process by which Assad would leave is something that I think requires an international community effort, both to first defeat ISIS within Syria, to stabilize the Syrian country, to avoid further civil war, and then to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So will you and President Trump organize an international coalition to remove Assad?
TILLERSON: Those steps are under way.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you been talking about that with other leaders.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION
TILLERSON: We are considering an appropriate response for this chemical weapons attack, which violates all previous U.N. resolutions, violates international norms, and long-held agreements between parties, including the Syrian regime, the Russian government and all other members of the U.N. Security Council. It's a serious matter. It requires a serious response.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Appreciate your time. Thank you, everyone.
BALDWIN: OK. So that was the first time -- I think that is the most amount of words uttered publicly in front of cameras from the secretary of state Rex Tillerson.
Let's just put it plainly, hearing from him as we're now watching pictures of Air Force One touching down in Palm Beach. We're about to see President Trump get out of that plane, head out to Mar-a-Lago in his meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. Let me underscore the key words that Secretary Tillerson used. First, talking on China and outlining the importance of this meeting over the next couple of days and, of course, highlighting North Korea and saying that China can be a part in the strategy with regard to North Korea and dismantling the nuclear weapons and also acknowledging the challenge in those discussions as well.
[14:55:01] But he was asked about Syria. And this is the important piece. He acknowledged how horrible, how horrified he's been, of course, as we all have been, in seeing these pictures of dead children after this chemical attack in Syria, reinforcing what we finally heard from President Trump yesterday, that, yes, indeed, it was Bashar al Assad responsible for that attack. But he mentioned Russia in a way that President Trump never mentioned Russia yesterday. Let me just be precise and look at my notes. Said, "The Russian government needs to consider carefully its continued support of the Assad regime." And a question was thrown in about removing Assad, and he said, quote, "Those steps are underway."
I have a number of people standing by as we watch these pictures of this plane ahead of this major meeting with the president of China.
David Andelman is here with me, Dana Bash, Lanhee Chen, and General Tata.
David, since you're sitting next to me, and we were listening to Secretary Tillerson very closely. To me, I want to start with Syria. Let's lead with that. He did finally see him addressing the media, which is enormous, in and of itself, and, two, his remarks on the Assad removal.
DAVID ANDELMAN, EDITOR, WORLD POLICY JOURNAL: Right. It's all quite remarkable. We heard more words from Rex Tillerson than we have in the entirety of being secretary of state. He asked if there was a coalition and he said that's underway. Remember, the last time we dealt with a red line, back when Obama was president. He tried to go in, in the last chemical weapons scare or incident, he was never able to assemble a coalition. The British pulled out entirely after a four-hour debate in the House of Commons. The French were the only ones who would agree to go in, and, frankly, with only the French behind him, Obama didn't see he had a coalition. He pulled out of that and left the French hanging and they still can't forget that.
BALDWIN: It's important.
And, General Tata, do I have you with me?
BRIG. GEN. ANTHONY TATA, U.S. ARMY, RETIRED: I'm here, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Good, General Tata, here's my question. We don't know a lot. We don't know, as we're hearing sources telling us that President Trump is considering some sort of involvement in Syria. What we don't know is that it could be retaliatory or it could be longer term. I mean, what are some of your questions as you're hearing also from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just now? TATA: I think what we really have to look at, Brooke, is the
applications of all elements of international power. We've talked about this before. We have diplomatic power, political power. We have to use that to isolate Russia. We don't want a shooting war with Russia over Syria. At the same time, you've heard the president and the secretary now be very explicit that this is a line. And I actually believe that a line has been crossed, and this president and administration is going to do something about it. And so, the first step is to isolate Russia somehow so they can politically save some kind of face, get them to back off, and then you've got to know where the delivery mechanisms are and where the weapons are to really do something concrete here.
If you recall, several years ago, when President Obama drew his line, he actually had Secretary Kerry broker a deal with the Russians that ultimately did nothing. And so now we've got to get the Russians out of the picture, know where their stockpiles are, where their weapons are and delivery mechanisms are. And I think that President Trump is going to destroy those meetings of weapons of mass destruction.
BALDWIN: General, stay with me.
Jim Acosta is joining me as well, as we have the door flung open on Air Force One.
Jim Acosta, I want you to set up this incredibly important next couple of days for both of these presidents and also the words from the secretary of state moments ago.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That was extraordinary what you heard from the secretary of state a few moments ago. Keep in mind, it was several days ago when the secretary of state indicated that, well, we're just going to have to deal with Bashar al Assad being the leader of the Syrian regime. This chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of children, it appears, has changed that calculus. And so you're now hearing the secretary of state almost changing U.S. policy on a dime here, saying this was a serious situation that require as serious response, warning the Russians that they need to rethink their policy when it comes to Syria and support for Bashar al Assad. And indicating that the United States, at this point, appears to be looking at military options.
Brooke, in the last several minutes, the president touched down here in Palm Beach, Florida, and --
BALDWIN: We have it. We have live pictures of the president and Melania.
ACOSTA: Yeah. He did poke his head back in the press cabin and took a few questions from reporters. And the question was asked, do you think Assad should leave power. President Trump said, quote, "I think what Assad did is terrible. I think what happened in Syria is an egregious crimes. It shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't be allowed to happen." Have you talked to Putin about this? "At some point, I may. I haven't. But at some point, I may." Do you think --