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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Police: 4 Dead, 15 Hurt in Stockholm Truck Attack; New Images of Syrian Airfield After Strikes; Interview with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired April 7, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We have more breaking news.
[16:30:00] CNN is learning one person has been arrested in that deadly truck attack in Stockholm, Sweden.
The prime minister said, quote, "Everything indicates it was an act of terror." A Swedish official told CNN at least four people were killed, 15 others seriously injured after the truck rammed into pedestrians this morning in the busy heart of the city.
Let's bring in Per Nyberg. He's a journalist from Stockholm.
Per, shortly after the attacks, Stockholm police released a photo of a person of interest. Is the person arrested the same person? And what do we know about the arrest?
PER NYBERG, JOURNALIST: Well, basically, Jake, it's the same person in the photo who was arrested. The guy matches the person in the photo. However, we don't know whether or not he was the actual driver of the -- of the truck.
Police are saying they don't want to confirm it just yet. They need more witnesses to come forward and tell what they said or what they saw from this attack before they can 100 percent for sure say this was in fact the driver.
TAPPER: So, from what you're saying and what police are saying, it sounds like police are not sure that there was just one person involved. This could have been multiple terrorists?
NYBERG: Absolutely. I mean, the police are saying that there's still full force trying to search through buildings just around us. I mean, the -- the central Stockholm, there's a huge area that's been cordoned off standing just about 100 yards away from where the truck is still at. This is the center, the heart of Stockholm. You've got the main train station just over there, and police are -- have also closed the borders so they are checking everyone leaving the Swedish territory to make sure they are not one of the terrorists.
So the police are working full force trying to identify the guy they arrested and also looking for any other terrorists. TAPPER: There have not been a lot of terrorist attacks in Sweden
unlike in other European countries. Are Swedish police, Swedish officials prepared to carry out an investigation like this?
NYBERG: I mean, that's what they are saying. Just a few days ago, they actually had a big training exercise between the security service, Stockholm police and also the army. They all had a big training exercise together.
They have seen what happened in London. They have seen what happened in Berlin. They have seen what happened in Nice. So, this type of attack was actually not unexpected, that's what police said today during a press conference.
They have trained for this type of scenario. You know, immediately they closed off large parts of Stockholm working to try to find this driver, and it looks like they may have actually now arrested the driver. However, they still don't know.
TAPPER: All right. Per Nyberg, reporting for us from Sweden, thanks so much, sir. Appreciate it.
We return to our top story now: a U.S. official now saying intelligence suggests a Russian drone flew over the hospital in Idlib that was treating victims of the chemical attack. That was before the same site was later bombed by an unknown aircraft. Now, the Russians often operate drones in the area, so the Pentagon says it cannot be certain that the operator knew what was happening.
Also this afternoon, new images showing the damage done by last night's U.S. military strike in Syria. The Pentagon now says that 59 of the 60 Tomahawk missiles fired at Shayrat airfield severely degraded or destroyed their intended targets. The airfield is just outside the city of Homs. New images show the inside of supply bunkers and you can see what appears to be planes charred and blown to pieces.
CNN's Tom Foreman is over at the magic wall with a closer look at the airfield.
And, Tom, Russia says as a result of this U.S. strike, it will now bolster its air defense system in Syria. Exactly, what is that system?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That system is a system that has militaries all over the world paying attention because it is something to behold. Yeah, we have new images of the damage that went on there at this airfield, where, you know, the Syrians are losing something that they real very to value, which is their fighter jets. They can't easily replace them. They need to keep the ones they have operational and yet the Russians stood by and let this happen when they could have stopped it with this or possibly stopped it with this.
This is the S-300 missile system. There's also the S-400 which is an upgrade from this, or as it's often known the Grumble. It's a highly mobile system. It was put into Syria last fall, and the Russians then said, we can stop anything coming into this country, including cruise missiles, because this launches defensive missiles that fly at hypersonic speed. They are touted as being able to hit something as small as a football traveling at very high speeds as well, and theoretically if this had been activated, with all of its radar there, there would have been some resistance to these cruise missiles coming in.
But that was not the case. It looks like the Russians simply stood by and let the missiles come sailing in, even though they had a system that could have done something about it.
That's one of the big mysteries here, Jake. Why did the Russians do it? What is simply not a big enough target for them to engage?
[16:35:04] Were they being complicit in the some way saying the White House gave them warning, so they will step aside or did they simply not want to reveal the full capabilities of this system that has so many militaries around the world wondering how much it can actually do in an operational setting?
TAPPER: But the Russian presence at this base, tom, also suggests that they would have known about the Assad regime planes involved in Tuesday's chemical weapons attack against the innocents of the city of Idlib.
FOREMAN: Not just there, Jake, but in other places as well. If you look around the country, these are all different spots where there may be sizable numbers of Russian troops. We know of at least four more or less permanent bases that had been built up by the Russians there. And, yes, we had this idea, as the Obama administration was ending, an official of that administration said, look, our program to make Syria give up all their chemical weapons worked. They are all gone.
But there were few others who are saying, we think maybe they held on to some. It certainly looked like the Russians may have had a lot of reason to know that they were there and a lot of reason to know that an attack was under way -- Jake.
TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.
What do the strikes in Syria and Russia condemning the United States mean for Congress' investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election? We'll talk about that with a member of the House Intelligence Committee, next.
Stay with us.
[16:40:51] TAPPER: Welcome back. We're sticking with the world lead.
The U.S. military strike against the Syrian regime in response to Tuesday's chemical weapons attack against innocent people in Syria.
Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's also a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
You and other Democrats have called on President Trump to explain the situation going forward. You want him to seek an authorization for use of military force. What do you think the United States should be doing when it comes to Syria?
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, Jake, there's really only one long-term answer in Syria, which to get all the involved parties which I mean some pretty unsavory folks, the Russians, the Iranians, the Syrians, the various countries in the region that have an interest together to come to an agreement about what Syria looks like going forward. There is no end game military solution here, and, in fact, you know, while I saw the utility of the strike taking out some of Assad's machinery of death, you know, they are apparently already flying airplanes off of the air strip there, and this was, you know, in the strategic sense really not anything that alters the chessboard much.
TAPPER: You said that it doesn't -- it doesn't alter the chessboard much. I've heard you say that before. In 2013, you were one of the supporters of the deal brokered between the U.S. and Russia to remove Syria's chemical weapons. Clearly, that didn't work.
Do you in anyway wish that President Obama in 2013 had done what President Trump did last night?
HIMES: You know, I've been asking myself that a lot today and I sort of one add. I felt this way at the time. I felt that this way when former President Obama went into Libya. These kinds of military incursions have to be done in concert and with approval of Congress.
And so, I don't like any of those raids or the possibility of the raids when they haven't been done, but I will say I couldn't help but think that this raid, had it happened many years ago, had Assad had a lot fewer tools at his disposal over a lengthy period there, would probably be thousand of more Syrians alive today than are because the decision was taken not to take that strike.
TAPPER: So, in a way it sounds like you do wish that President Obama had done in 2013 what President Trump did last night?
HIMES: Well, you know, it's hard to look back on that. That was a time a little closer to -- to the Libyan -- the Libyan incursion which did not go well. Libya is now chaotic. I -- at the time, if you had told me I guess, and this is with the virtue of today's look-back, if you had told me that we could take out the tools that Assad would use to gas his own people to commit the crimes he has, I -- I might have ended up voting yes for it, provided that it had come before the Congress and it had been so limited and wasn't going to grow into a decapitation strike like we saw in Libya.
TAPPER: Eighty-six people were killed in the Tuesday chemical weapons attack. According to the United Nations, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed since this civil war started in 2011.
Do you think the U.S. needs to commit to doing more than taking a stand when it comes to chemical weapons attacks?
HIMES: Well, this is another reason why I think last night's raid was warranted. We have to respond more aggressively when we see somebody going over a line which in this case has existed for 100 years which is that you do not use chemical weapons.
Now, the counter to that which I think is also fair is that, you know, we saw an awful lot more people killed over the -- by three orders of magnitude, hundreds of thousands of people killed, and to the poor individual, to the poor victim, I'm not sure it matters a whole lot whether that individual dies by barrel bomb or by chemical weapon. So, there is a powerful question that can be asked of the United States: what -- apart from the fact that we should stabbed up and oppose the use of chemical weapons, why these particular deaths after so long and after hundreds of thousands of deaths? What, as you asked, could have been done earlier to try to stem a conflict that has been so bloody in the region?
[16:45:16] TAPPER: Congressman, as you know, the response from Russia has been quite adversarial with criticisms coming from the Kremlin about this move by President Trump. What, if any effect do you think this might have on the investigations by the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee on the possible collusion by officials near the Trump campaign with Russians known to U.S. intelligence and the clear interference by Russia in the 2016 election?
HIMES: Yes, Jake, I think the answer is no effect at all. Just because the President might have done something that the Russians would prefer not to have happened doesn't mean that the questions around the Paul Manafort or Roger Stone or all the lengthy list of people associated with the President who have had contacts with the Russians, who have not been honest about the contacts with the Russians, those questions still remain. And, Jake, if I -- if I can offer a theory, I really don't think the Russians in any real way minded what happened last night. You know, Putin himself did not speak about it. You know, even though -- even though they have supported Assad, I think the Russians are embarrassed by Assad. I think it's hard even for the Russians to be in bed with a man who gasses his own people and, remember, this is also a man who humiliated Putin and the Russians because the Russians were the primary guarantor of the original get the gas out of Syria deal. And Assad just stuck his finger in Putin's eye. So I don't think the Russians at all minded in a real way. Of course, they had to object, at least in word, but I don't think they minded this strike at all.
TAPPER: All right. Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, thank you so much for your time, Sir. Have a great weekend.
HIMES: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Coming up, a Syrian activist says he's been waiting six years for the United States to act as it did last night. He'll join me along with others to discuss what next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with more in our coverage of the U.S. strikes in Syria. I'm joined now by my roundtable, we have with us Retired Major General Paul Eaton, Robin Wright, a middle east expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, that's not her, Moaz Mostafa Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, and Jen Psaki, former White House Communications Director for President Obama who you saw earlier.
Moaz, let me start with you. You were born and raised in Syria. You've long advocated for American intervention in Syria, and you're rejoicing over what happened last night. Tell us why.
MOAZ MOSTAFA, SYRIAN EMERGENCY TASK FORCE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Absolutely. I honestly want to start off by thanking the President of the United States for taking actions in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against children, and I think that this might be the first step to now what I encourage to move urgently to bring an end to all killing in Syria once and for all.
TAPPER: And these strikes obviously still leave much of the Syrian regime's capabilities intact. General Eaton, what do you think.
PAUL EATON, UNITED STATES ARMY RETIRED GENERAL: Well, two big points here. One, I grieve for the men, women and children we lost in this chemical strike, and I would expect that the President of the United States will convert teleprompter empathy to actual refugee flow back into the United States akin to what President Obama went for. And second point is, this was far more messaging than it was a military outcome. This was a message delivered by tomahawk that it's time for the adults to sit down and solve what really is a political problem.
TAPPER: And is that such a bad thing, Jen Psaki? I was just asking Congressman Himes who was taking great pains to not say he wished that President Obama had done in 2013 what President Trump did last night, but he seemed to feel that he wished that President Obama had done this back in 2013.
JEN PSAKI, PRESIDENT OBAMA FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Sure, and he's not alone. Look, I've talked to a lot of my former colleagues in the national security arena, and a lot of them support this action, and they -- there's a little bit of a hangover from 2013. Now, there's a lot that has happened -- that happened since the President Obama's decision not to move forward in 2013 that Trump conveniently leaves out, but the real question now is what is next and what was this about? What are you trying to achieve? The next big moment is probably when Secretary Tillerson goes to Russia, and we'll see if this actually had an impact or not.
TAPPER: What do you want to see happen next? What should happen next for there to be any reasonable change, meaningful change, in Syria?
ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: Well, the problem was this was a limited military strike. It doesn't change the military balance, and it doesn't answer any of the broader questions. We're no closer at the end of a war that's created the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. It's the messiest modern Middle East Civil War, and there's no movement towards finding a peace process that would get us to end the war or in identifying people who might be alternatives, viable alternatives, credible leaders to President Assad. The Russians and the Iranians have said, the United States often well, if you don't want Assad, who do you have, and neither the rebels nor the political opposition forces have come up with someone who is an alternative. And so, it's great that people feel better perhaps that the world has said that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, but we are no closer to ending a war that will -- that could kill, you know, hundreds of thousands of more people and that the future of the -- of Syria is at stake. The stability across the region that has extraordinary consequences for us. The Trump administration by acting militarily has now intervened in the civil war. That's what the Obama administration wanted to avoid because it knew once you break it you own it. Now we own part of the solution, and we have to come up more aggressively, more ambitiously and with greater imagination to solutions.
[16:55:14] TAPPER: General, do we own it? I mean, it seems to me that President Trump and his famous flexibility would suggest that he thinks that it's possible he could do this strike and then just walk away.
EATON: Well, we have a mismatch in level of national interest. Syria is not a vital national interest to the United States. It is a vital national interest for the Turks, for the Iranians, certainly the Russians, and we have President Assad who views the outcome as existential. When you have a mismatch of existential to conditional national interests, things are going to go wrong, and you're going to have misunderstandings. We have a political problem. We sent a very clear message to the Russians, to the Iranians and certainly to the Syrians that we have to have a political outcome here
TAPPER: Moaz, let me ask you. What if this is it? What if -- what if President Trump just walks away from it after that? Because the signal that he's saying is that was just a limited targeted strike at this air base, and I don't know that there's going to be more than that. What then?
MOSTAFA: Well, I think that, first of all, what the President has done is, he's put a down payment on restoring American leadership and credibility in the world. Once again this regime has used chemical weapons so many times, not just in 2013, big strike and this one, and never has there been any consequence, any accountability whatsoever. I think what needs to happen as the President had outlined in his speech after -- when he was declaring the strike is to bring the United States allies, the U.S. and its allies and bring Russia to the table whether it's in Geneva or in Washington and outline a settlement package that includes an enforcement mechanism that never existed with his predecessor and the killing in Syria.
TAPPER: They would have to have Assad leave office, and I'm sure you would --
MOSTAFA: Assad has not been -- I mean, look at the deal that was struck with President Obama's administration and with the Russian guarantees. The Russian are complicit in this attack and he's just not an (INAUDIBLE) that anyone can trust. The guy kept chemical weapons, used them over and over again and then used sarin. He used chlorine today in the suburbs of Damascus which I'm sure will come up in the reporting later. But this isn't someone that you can trust or negotiate with. The facts is, we should bring Russia and we should lay out (INAUDIBLE) that could be imposed on the parties. The killing in Syria must end. That should be the focus.
TAPPER: One other thing Jen, I that obviously, the chemical weapons deal that the Russians and the United States and the Syrians had signed off on in the Obama administration heralded, obviously it was not a success. Obviously, sum chemical weapons were left behind. It's great that so many were taken out, but, still, Syrians continue to be killed at the hands of the Assad regime by chemical weapons. In that way can it be seen as a failure, that deal?
PSAKI: Well, I don't think that's entirely fair. First of all, it was declared chemical weapons. We always knew there was a possibility that some would still remain. The reality is, there was a huge percentage of chemical weapons that were removed. If that had not happened, it is entirely possible that ISIL could have taken control over chemical weapons, used them against the Syrian people. Obviously now Russia is not holding up their end of the bargain and being a signatory of that deal. So clearly we need to start over and start moving forward from here but I think it's not fair to say it wasn't a success. We haven't had an attack in three and a half years. Obviously, there's more that needs to happen now.
TAPPER: Well, there was one in last August, wasn't there? I mean, there have been others. Maybe not --
MOSTAFA: Hey use chlorine regularly.
PSAKI: Chlorine. That was not included in the deal. So I think, you know, it was not perfect, but I don't think saying that it wasn't a success takes into account the fact that ISIL could have had access to a great deal of chemical weapons.
TAPPER: And let me just ask you because the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif was out there tweeting how shocked he is that the United States is now doing what they can to side with ISIS and Al Qaeda.
WRIGHT: It's ridiculous. Obviously, the irony is that the United States and Iran and Russia want to solve this and that -- but we may be further apart than ever because of what's happened in the last few days, because of the reversal of the peace process or the fact that the Russians and the United States looked like they might be able to work together to figure out some kind of transition plan. The Trump administration has reversed course, and there is now, as it says, there is no role for Assad. That makes it very hard to figure out a diplomatic outcome.
TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all for being here. Really appreciate it. Great conversation. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or tweet the show @theleadcnn. Bes sure to tune into CNN's Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION", my guest U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, it all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Sunday. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.