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New Airstrikes in Syria; Bombed Syrian Air Field Back in Operation; Russian Reaction to Airstrikes; Trump Sends Letter to Congress Explaining Syria Airstrikes; Syria: U.S. Is a "Friend of ISIS"; Chemical Weapons Attack Survivor's Plea to Trump; Are West Wing Shakeups on the Table. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired April 8, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:04] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: 3:00 eastern, noon out west. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Great to have you with us on this Saturday.
We are starting overseas today, Syria, where American missiles hammered a military air base less than 48 hours. Right now, we are hearing the Syrian air basis opened again and Syrian war planes are taking off from there again. American Tomahawk missiles blew up the fuel tanks, airplanes and ammunition at that base on Friday. Pentagon officials say the strikes were meant to deliver a message to the Syrian government after a chemical weapons attack killed 89 people, including 33 children, earlier in the week.
Today, Russia response, promising more military help to Syria and moving a navy ship with missiles on board into the water off the coast.
President Trump today praised the troops who carried out the U.S. strike. Tweeted this morning, "Congratulations to our great military men and women for representing the United States in the world so well in the Syria attack."
Something else in Syria today. The town in Idlib Provence that was hit by the deadly chemical attack on Tuesday, it was bombed again today. Nobody knows who was behind the new air strikes or if anybody was hurt or killed.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in is nearby Turkey, in Istanbul; CNN's Phil Black is in Moscow; and CNN's Jeremy Diamond is in south Florida, not far from where President Trump is spending the weekend.
Phil and Jeremy, to you in just a moment.
But, first, back to the growing tragedy on the ground in Syria, 89 people have died, hundreds of people are badly hurt after this week's deadly attack. So many victims are children. We are hearing that town is being targeted yet again.
Let's begin with Nick Paton Walsh in Istanbul. Nick, what do you know of today's air strikes and who's behind it and what damage have been done?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Activists saying four dead and including one women. Hitting the site of those chemical weapons attacks that spurred the Trump administration into action. We don't know who's behind this. We can be pretty careful in the assumption it was the Syrian regime jets because they were hitting an area control by Syrian rebels. That's what's happened in the past four years, possibly maybe with some Russian assistant.
Ana, bear in mind, we're talking about a country responsible for those chemical weapons strikes. What happened in the last 24 hours is just daily business in this brutal civil war, for the last four years, and that's a small number of airstrikes like this. Often airstrikes have happened in more crude, using barrel bombs. That's an old barrel, an oil drum, filled with shrapnel, nails and explosives and dropped indiscriminately on a populated area. Sometimes even followed up with another barrel bomb immediately afterwards just to kill the first responders that arrive at the scene. That's the kind of war we're dealing with here. It is one that some say, frankly, Obama and Trump administration have tried to ignore to some degree and found itself thrust in the spotlight again because of those gruesome chemical weapon attacks -- Ana?
CABRERA: How effective was the message that was sent by the U.S. to the Syrian government, and what has been the Syrian government's response to those strikes?
PATON WALSH: Obviously, they declared of violation of international law and against sovereignty. The effectiveness -- and you can say it on two levels. The first one, it is a simple signal. The military course is on the table as an option for the U.S. administration. That has not been the case throughout the Obama years. Despite the crossing of Barack Obama's red line last time chemical weapons were publicly used in August 2013 near Damascus. Also to hit a rebel control area. That's now gone. The Trump administration makes it clear that we'll strike with military force. You can't underestimate how powerful that message may be. You can possibly overestimate the level of damage done to this airfield, not far away from Homs where these air strikes were launched from. Bear in mind, we don't know the full picture and the amateur videos shown of a jet taxing across that runway filmed by a Russian state TV news reporter, providing evidence that the runway is able to launch those jets again just as it's got bits long enough for a jet to pilot along. The Pentagon saying a message was delivered, we damaged equipment there, made it clear you can cross the line of using chemical weapons, globally, we will act. But you can't do this and expect no consequences. But at the same time, yes, was the damage severe, was it enormous, crippling to that air field? Possibly not, according to what we're seeing so far.
CABRERA: One other question for you, Nick. Why would Assad use chemical weapons, period? He's delivering several blows to his people without the use of chemical weapons.
[15:05:01] PATON WALSH: Let's break it downs three way. It is terrifying. Remember the domestic political calculus he's dealing with. He's focusing on his guns on Idlib, where the strike happened. It is the last big rebel stronghold and I am sure the strategy is to terrify as many people as possible. Nothing more terrifying than something you cannot see until your children are lying paralyzed. That was clearly delivered. He may also be trying to test the Trump administration and thinking, well, I goa away with this with Barack Obama, what is Donald Trump going to do, perhaps he's confused over health care issues, let's put him to the test. And you may say he miscalculated this and Donald Trump did change this on the backfield. Does that have a negative consequence for President Bashar al Assad? Possibly not. We look at the consequences now Russia, how much support they offered him. They're now fierily talking against America and sounding very much alongside Bashar al Assad, and pretty much it seems, certainly in the future, a strong ally for Damascus. That's certainly going to be working in his favor -- Ana?
CABRERA: All right, Nick Paton Walsh reporting, thank you.
Let's more about what Russia is doing. Now taking steps of its own in the aftermath of the airstrike and suspending some of its communications with the Pentagon and also sending a warship to the area where U.S. destroyers launched those missiles against the Syrian air base.
CNN international correspondent, Phil Black, joining us from Moscow.
Phil, a Russian warship is on the move towards the region, why is that?
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, Russia especially say this is a direct reaction to the U.S. strike. The Russian ship moving in is advanced, modern, it is cruise missiles capable. It has five cruise missiles. They're not saying this is a direct response to the U.S. strike but they are telegraphing its movements and telegraphing its capabilities, and they don't always do that. It is a further statement of intent by Russia that it continues to back the Syrian regime militarily. It continues to do that while the Syrian regime and Russia is coming under extreme international pressure.
CABRERA: What's the significance of this hotline or line of communication that's suspended with the Pentagon?
BLACK: It is significant because this is the line of communication that enables Russian and American forces to talk to each other while operating in close proximity. It means that they can keep responsible separation and they don't surprise one another and that accidents shouldn't happen that could potentially escalate dramatically, increasing tensions into the sort of conflict neither side wants to see.
Russia is so angry, it says, with the United States' strikes that it is suspending that cooperation. It seems like an illogical move, because it's putting its own forces at risk. But Russia says such is the outrage, even while it believes there is a greater chance of conflict, the current environment is one where the greater chance of contact is greater than these two forces. This is move that it is taking, effective as of today. These forces will no longer be communicating with one another.
CABRERA: Russia is making these moves days before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to go to Russia for meetings. We understand there was communication between the U.S. and Russia today. What can you tell us?
BLACK: We received a statement from the Russian foreign ministry of a phone conversation that's taken place between the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The statement says that Tillerson called Lavrov. Lavrov stressed that an attack --. I will read some of it to you - "on a government whose government is fighting terrorism only plays into the hands of extremists, creates additional threats to regional and global security. It goes on to say that Lavrov stressed in the conversation that "the allegations about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military in Idlib do not correspond to reality.
What that means is Russia is sticking to its own narrative, its own version on what happened. It still insists that the Syrian government did not use chemical weapons because they don't have them, it says. Instead, it was a rebel chemical weapons depot that was struck by a conventional weapon, and that's how we saw the horrific scene earlier in the week.
So the Russian view strongly, since this strike by the U.S., has been that it's unjustified, it's illegal, that there is no evidence to incriminate Syria in the way that America is suggesting. And that is the tone of the conversation as we move into this meeting you touched on there between Rex Tillerson and Russian officials here in Moscow later this week.
CABRERA: All right, Phil Black, reporting from Moscow tonight, thank you.
The president, meanwhile, spent the afternoon at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida. Video of him playing over the ridge there and in the video, he's wearing the white shirt and red hat.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is nearby in Palm Beach.
Jeremy, the president tweeted of the missile strike in Syria. What is he saying?
[15:10:23] JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. The president tweeted moments ago, quote, "The reason you don't generally hit runways is because they are easy and inexpensive to quickly fix." That's the president's reaction it seems to all of this talk as the Syrians have resumed flights at that air base that the U.S. struck less than 48 hours ago. The president seems to be defending of the target that was struck and the reason why they did not strike the runway where planes are taking off again today. The U.S. military hit taxiways, fuel depots and airplanes but did not hit the actual runway there. The president seems to be explaining that.
What we are hearing from the White House is that the president has sent a notification to the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader to explain and notify Congress of the strike and explain the legal rational behind why he felt he was able to act alone without the approval of Congress. Let me read you a portion of the letter: "I acted in the vital national security and foreign policy interests of the United States pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations and as commander-in-chief and chief executive. The United States will take additional action as necessary and appropriate to further its important national interests."
There you have the president laying the same rational out days ago explaining that this is in the national security interest. Rex Tillerson also explaining that the United States could not allow Syria's use of chemical weapons which is a violation of the international treaties. The U.S. could not allow that use of chemical weapons to go unchallenged.
So we have the president formally notifying Congress and explaining the rationale behind the strikes. All of that as there is a continuing debate in Washington surrounding the president's legal authority to conduct strikes without notifying Congress. I am sure we'll hear a lot on that in the coming days.
CABRERA: Jeremy, given he's reaching out to Congress now, is there any signs that Congress could return early from their break and actually talk about what the next move militarily could be in Syria?
DIAMOND: Well, we have not seen those signs yet. What we do know is President Trump and his administration had been insistent that this strike was meant to send a message and it was in response to a specific chemical weapons attack. They do not see it as a larger shift in their policy in the country. The dynamics are still shifting on the ground there. The president is saying they do not plan on taking further action against Syria unless there is some kind of retaliation. We'll have to see and monitor the movements based on Syrian reactions.
CABRERA: Jeremy, traveling with the president today in Florida. Thank you.
Still ahead, President Trump making this decisive move in Syria in response to the horrific chemical attacks. What is next for the U.S. when it relates to Syria, and what does it mean for Secretary Tillerson's upcoming trip to Moscow. We'll discuss.
Plus, unintended consequences. Could terror groups benefit from the U.S. airstrikes in Syria? More on how this is could play right into ISIS' hands.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFID MALE: We have been asking for protection and consequences for more than six years. Today, for the first time, it happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: That man survived a chemical attack in his homeland in 2013. Now, he's pleading with President Trump to take additional action in Syria. You will hear much more from him coming up.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[15:15:11] CABRERA: After launching a strike in Syria and wrapping up a meeting with China's president, the president is hitting the golf course today. The president is playing a round at his club in West Palm Beach, Florida. You see him there.
Let's flash back to 2013 when his predecessor was dealing with the Syrian conflict. Mr. Trump tweeted this at the time, "President Obama is not busy talking to Congress about Syria. He's playing golf. Go figure."
Let's talk about it with our panel, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Doug Heye; and White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," Sarah Westwood; and contributor for "The Daily Beast" and host of "The Dean Obeidallah Show" on Sirius XM, Dean Obeidallah.
Doug, I want to start with you.
Should the president be golfing today?
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Full disclosure, when I was at the National Committee, I was occasionally critical of Barack Obama playing golf. Let's get the hypocritical nature out of this. I think it is fine. It was fine, by and large, Obama was playing golf. The frequency he does so opens up skepticism and criticism. Any kind of criticism is going to come with Donald Trump anyway. It is not a big deal anyway. It is smart to not do it every week and not at a Trump club.
CABRERA: That was a nice moment of humility that you shared with us.
HEYE: They don't come often.
CABRERA: We appreciate that.
Dean, anything to read into the president playing golf today? Is there a problem with that? It is something that President Obama did as well.
DEAN OBEIDALLAH, HOST, THE DEAN OBEIDALLAH SHOW: Well, Donald Trump plays golf more objectively than President Obama and at the cost of $3 million according to "Politico" for a weekend at Mar-a-Lago. The local sheriff's office has incurred over $1 million on top of that. So am I happy my tax money is going to Donald Trump so he can play golf? No, I am not happy. He deserves vacation here and there. He's tweeting, while playing golf about the military strike. It seems no strategy, no planning, and it happenstance. And I don't know where we are going with the future. I don't know how if it will help the Syrian people or help himself with what he did the last few days.
[15:20:22] CABRERA: That's the larger question of what's next in Syria, given there were these airstrikes, a military strike, missiles launched, those Tomahawks happening on Thursday. There is still an ongoing situation there in Syria.
Sarah, President Trump sent a letter to Congress defending that strike. Why did he need to send that, and what does it signal of what could happen next?
SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: He faced criticisms from members of both parties that potentially there was not a sound legal basis for the strike. It is becoming a consensus of the hour. This one-off use of force was authorized. He should go to Congress and ask for an authorization of military force. It is crucial that President Trump articulate a vision for the U.S. and Syria. All we know of the administration posture is that Trump is not interested in regime change. That was a position that was interpreted as Trump saying he's not going to take any actions against the Assad regime. So it initially drew criticism. Now we know Trump is willing to use military force. Critics now question whether that military force marks a contradiction from Trump saying earlier he didn't want to depose Assad. The truth is, it is not a binary choice. There are dozens of options in between regime change and action that the U.S. can pursue. But Trump needs to articulate which one he wants the administration to take.
CABRERA: Doug, as a member of the president's Party, a Republican, would you like to see the president taking more action in Syria from a military standpoint?
HEYE: Well, I am pleased with what happened so far. I was working for Eric Cantor in 2013 and the White House in September came to us, and what it turned out is they offered that support publicly, and the Obama White House not only walked away from the vote but did not tell us about it. I found about it in the media. Not a lot of trusts between Congress and the Trump administration and certainly on the Democratic side. It will be smart for Trump to work together with members of both parties as he tries to move forward on this.
CABRERA: Dean, your response?
OBEIDALLAH: Well, publicly reported now, Paul Ryan and Jason Chaffetz very against President Obama doing any kinds of weapon strike against Syria and now praising it. Over 180 Republicans, according to Think Progress, who opposed President Obama.
I think what is lost are the people of Syria. I am Muslim. This has been an issue in my community when it is not covered in mainstream media. There are children being killed. I raise money for refugees personally. And I have been involved in organizations. There is a poster in my room drawn by a Syrian orphan whose parents were killed by Bashar al Assad. To me, the question is what's going to help them the most. This
strike is a good first step. If that's the only step, then this was about him. To be honest, in the Syrian community, I have a lot of contacts there, they're are happy. But they don't forget that Donald Trump during the campaign said, I can tell a Syrian child to their face that you cannot come to our country, and then two Muslim bans, banning refugees, and saying Syrian refugees are trojan horses, and plotting to come to America to kill Americans. So I don't believe him. But if he does more, I will applaud Donald Trump, and I didn't think that was possible, but I would for the Syrian children.
CABRERA: I want to play that clip that Dean just mentioned. This is on the campaign trail early last year. Listen to what the president, then-Candidate Trump said when he was asked specifically of Syrian refugees at that time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what your general policies are towards refugees. I am wondering if you could be able to look at the children in the face and tell them they are not allowed to go to school here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of them are here and some of them --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How long have they been here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of them are not here yet.
TRUMP: I can look them in their face and say you cannot come.
Look, look, we have a country. I will look them in the face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So, Doug, should the same rational be used that he applied to this particular case, seeing the children dying? Should that be applied to the Syrian refugee crisis?
[15:25:04] HEYE: In the circumstances, it should. I like to see more Syrian refugees coming. It is a big problem, not just for Syria, but surrounding countries, Jordan specifically, with an influx from Turkey and refugees come. We're a compassionate nation. I want to see us compassionate with them. We have to sort out what the larger Trump policy is, and that we don't know yet.
CABRERA: Do you believe that the president should reverse his travel ban stance?
HEYE: I would like to see that reversed, absolutely. We can put a temporary pause on things and try to sort out what the best policies are moving forward, but a blanket ban is not effective.
CABRERA: Doug Heye, Sarah Westwood and Dean Obeidallah, thank you for your time.
Straight ahead, the Syrian army responding to U.S. military moves in their country, calling America, a quote, "partner of ISIS." Up next, how terror groups could try to benefit from these strikes.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[15:30:10] CABRERA: We have new development out of Sweden where a deadly attack yesterday could have been worst. A bag of undetonated explosives was found in the truck that rammed pedestrians. Police are trying to determine if it is a bomb or flammable devices of some sort. The attack killed 14 people and injured many others. Police say a man arrested on terrorism charges is from Uzbekistan and known to intelligence services. The suspect is suffering burns from the faulty explosive.
Back to our top story. New developments out of Syria this week. The town that was hit by chemical weapons earlier in the week had been hit by new airstrikes today. It is unclear who's behind the new attacks. We can tell you that Russians and regime aircraft are the ones that's bombing the area.
Operations have resumed at the military base that was hit by U.S. strikes Thursday night.
The Syrian government is calling the United States a, quote, "friend of ISIS."
CNN contributor and co-author of the book "ISIS, Inside the Army of Terror," Michael Weis joins me now.
What do you see as an impact that U.S. strikes had on Syria's government, first of all.
MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It sends a symbolic message to Assad but a narrowly defined one. Do not use Syrian gas ever again. It was clear this will be the enforcement of Barack Obama's red line going forward.
Beyond that, when Assad comes out and say Americans are behind ISIS, from day one, March 2011, peaceful protesters kids on the streets, all al Qaida, sponsor by Israel, Saudi and he Wet. This goes back to the beginning of the crisis. Assad's government and Russia's government, by enormous level of material manpower, resources have gone into bombing non-ISIS and anti-ISIS rebel groups and civilians. The fight for the regime and Russia had never been with ISIS. They could have a point. If those jets had taken off today and instead of bombing the site of the Syrian gas attack, they went and bombed ISIS strongholds in Hama or Homs or Raqqa, but they did not do that? Why did they go back and hit the same site where they had just used WMD to stick a middle finger to the U.S. and say we are unbowed? You, the great superpower, cannot dissuade us from carrying this campaign of extermination.
CABRERA: It seems like they're trying to send a message back to the U.S.
Let me bring you this letter the president sent to Congress today. It' his explanation of being able to do what he did and ordered those strikes without going to Congress. But he talked about the goals of what those strikes were. Let me quote it. He says, "I directed this action to degrade the Syrian military's ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and dissuade Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons thereby promoting instability in the region and averting a worsening of the region's current humanitarian catastrophe."
That last part, is that what's happening as a result of those strikes?
WEISS: I'm not so glib as to say this accomplished nothing. Between 15 and 20 attack jets are taken out by this airstrike. The regime has got about 225 fighter jets. Those are 15 to 20 jets that can no longer drop bombs on civilians. That did some small measure of good for changing the balance of power in this country. Listen to the president's words carefully, it is about the chemical weapons. It is not about conventional material or detouring Russia flying sorties into Idlib or Aleppo or other parts of the country to bomb, also in my cases, groups that, until recently, had been backed by the United States, paid by the United States, armed by the United States, to try to push Assad back and try to bring him back to the negotiating table by detouring his regime on the battlefield. The question that I have is -- and this is something I hope the president and his council are taking seriously. I have been down this road before where rebels and opposition group, they get this burst of energy and this expectation that America has finally gone all in behind his revolution. I am not seeing any indication in terms of the rhetoric or policy coming out that that's the case. My fear is these rebels will start writing checks they can't cash on the battlefield, expecting America to come protect their bacon. If that doesn't happen and all of these hosannas you are seeing now, naming restaurants after Donald Trump, referring to the president as Abu Abunka al Mareki (ph), a sign of respect and admiration, that's going to go to dust, and the rebels will go through another cycle of recriminations --
CABRERA: We are talking about rebels and not ISIS and terrorist. We have the Assad government and their military, and then the rebels who are fighting that government. We have some of them fighting ISIS and other terror groups in that region. Now, when it comes to the battle against ISIS and terror in the region, which has been what the U.S. has been waging for so long now, is the strike that we saw by the U.S. this week, a game changer in the war on terror in any way?
WEISS: No, not at all.
WEISS: ISIS has been driven out of large quadrant of northern Syria. Well, if you want to go back in time, 2013, it was these rebels that I am talking about that pushed them out of Aleppo Province --
CABRERA: They'll be emboldened now, thinking the tension is off them?
WEISS: No, what ISIS had been selling from the beginning is the United States is bed with Russia, backed by Iran, by Assad, and by all the Shia in the Middle East to suppress and ethnically cleanse and murder and disposes Sunni Arabs. This delivers a hammer blow to their narratives. Jihadis did not welcome airstrikes. They want the high ground. They want to be able to say, you see the Americans abandoned you completely, you have to rely on us. By jihadis, I mean two groups in particular, al Qaeda and ISIS. Other groups took an enthusiastic line on this. This is great, this is what we have always wanted, why did it take six years. Now I am hoping that some realism is going to dawn on them. This is not a game changer. It doesn't mean the U.S. has their back. It never really did. It was kind of a finessing of the situation, even under Obama, the CIA program to back certain rebel groups, it was always about bringing Assad to the table in Geneva to get him to relinquish power, and that did not happen.
CABRERA: It is fascinated. It's complicated.
WEISS: It is.
CABRERA: As you point out. We'll be watching to see what the next move is.
Thank you, Michael Weiss, for joining us
WEISS: Thank you.
CABRERA: -- and for providing that expertise.
Tonight, the CNN special report. In November, you may remember Arwa Damon and her team entered eastern Mosul with Iraqi security forces and their convoy soon was under attack by ISIS fighters. The group was under seized for 28 hours. Now, two months later, they returned to the scene, tracked down the soldiers and families that they met in horrifying hours to find out about the continuing threat that's posed by ISIS. They're also to witness the ongoing humanity that is thriving in Mosul.
Here is a preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERANTIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And in the middle of all the chaos, you see this small act of kindness, like a man who brings tea to the soldiers or another soldier who pushes a family back in to their home, kissing the baby.
DAMON: And then it just gets so much worse than what we could have imagined. (EXPLOSIONS)
DAMON: Grenades land in the street and small pieces of shrapnel flies into this man's eye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGAUGE)
DAMON: A suicide car bomb takes out the back vehicle in the convoy.
DAMON: The attack feels as if it is coming from all directions.
DAMON: The front vehicle explodes in this massive ball of flames and we're trapped.
DAMON: Our vehicles take a direct hit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
DAMON: I don't know. Honestly, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Do not miss CNN's special report "Return to Mosul," tonight at 9:00 p.m. eastern, only here on CNN.
We're back in a moment.
[15:43:24] CABRERA: Hours before President Trump gave the order to launch a strike in Syria, my colleague, Brooke Baldwin, spoke to a survivor of a chemical weapons attack in the Syria War. It happened back in 2013. More than a thousand people died. This survivor talked to CNN about this sensation of fire in his lungs and about losing consciousness. He also pleaded to President Trump to do something.
Brooke spoke to that same survivor yesterday after the strikes by the U.S. This was his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KASSEM EID, CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK SURVIVOR: I woke up and I saw a lot of texts on my phone. I saw the news. I cried out of joy. I thank God -- I don't know. I was overwhelmed. We have been asking for protection, we have been asking for consequences for more than six years. And, today for the first time it happened for the very first time we see Assad held accountable just for once. Held accountable for his crimes against humanity. I was overwhelmed. I felt grateful for President Trump, I feel grateful for the United States, I feel grateful for each and every person who lobbied and kept on talking until someone actually listens. I didn't see each and every person who was demonstrating after the travel ban. I did not see you three days ago when people were gassed to death, I did not see you in 2013 when 1400 people were gassed to death. I did not see you raising your voice against President Obama in action in Syria that lead us refugees and getting kicked out of Syria.
If you really cared about refugees, if you really care about helping us, help us stay in the country. We want to stay in our country. We want to stay in our country with all due respect. This is hypocrisy. If you really care, help us stay in our country. We don't want to become refugees. We want to stay in our country. Help us establish our safe zone. Mr. Trump, what you did was amazing and powerful message of hope for a lot of people inside and outside of Syria. Please, don't stop on this. Please. Help us, help Syrians stay in our country. Please take out air forces so they won't be able to commit more atrocity using traditional weapons. 500,000 people were killed with traditional weapons just so people can know what we have suffered in the past six years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[15:46:25] CABRERA: Again, a man who knows this story has felt the effect of chemical weapons.
Still ahead at this hour, is a West Wing shakeup on the horizon? Senior Republican officials tell CNN Reince Priebus may soon be replaced as the White House chief of staff. Details next.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[15:51:10] CABRERA: Stories about palace intrigue have haunted the Trump White House from the beginning. This week, talk of a possible shakeup went into overtime. Much of that reporting concerns this picture taken this year at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort during a briefing on the Syria attack. Of interest is who's in the room and where they're sitting. Trump's Commerce secretary is there, Treasury secretary is there, Jared Kushner. Adviser Steve Bannon isn't at the table, but is in the room at the back table. Earlier this week, he was removed from the national security council.
Let's discuss more about the dynamics within the Trump White House with Michael D'Antonio, joining us. He's the author of "The Truth about Trump."
Let's take another look at that picture, Michael. When you look at it, do you see anything surprising about who's in the room, where everybody's sitting?
MICAHEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR: He has executives and billionaires drawn close. Obviously, Mr. Bannon seated off of his shoulder. If we read something into it, the cabinet matters, Jared Kushner matters, Steve Bannon not so much.
CABRERA: That's what you see?
D'ANTONIO: I do. I think this is consistent of the Trump I'm aware of.
CABRERA: How so?
D'ANTONIO: He's someone who values operational excellence in the people around him. He's the message guy. When you think about Steve Bannon, he's also a message guy. He came from the press, Breitbart.com. And his work previous in Hollywood. I don't think he's as valuable to the president as these more seasoned decision makers.
CABRERA: But when you talk about foreign policy, we're talking about Syria, he has those financial minds in there.
D'ANTONIO: Isn't that interesting?
CABRERA: How can they help him in that situation?
D'ANTONIO: He's thinking decision making and leadership. From Trump's perspective, leadership qualities transfer. So he's not about as much of the expertise of foreign affairs as he is about how is this going to work for me. When we see him acting now, I think he's sending a signal he's not yet committed to a policy. And again, that might be, I want to make the right decision in this moment and maybe a week from now I'll have to make a different decision. Everybody who feels whipsawed by this process should remember this is his natural way. We don't know where this policy is headed. We only know he's concerned about decision making process and that's why he's got those CEOs around him.
CABRERA: The unknown about what happens next is not comforting to a lot of people watching this play out in real time. But when it comes to decision making, we have seen President Trump give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, more power, influence and more responsibility. One guy dealing with foreign policy, he went to Iraq, he met with some of the commanders there, he's is supposed to be brokering Middle East peace in Israel and the Palestinians, and he has been tasked with doing development on the business front. Is he being stretched too thin?
D'ANTONIO: A lot is on his shoulders. We should consider that this these tasks may be shared by Ivanka. This is a duo. This is not just a single person operating. When we used to think about the Clintons, Hillary and Bill Clinton, almost talking as if they were co-presidents back in the '90s. This is a case where Jared and Ivanka have some very interesting discussions each evening and may be thinking what's good for Donald Trump the president we serve and what's good for the country. If anyone is looking at comfort when they viewed the erratic quality of the Trump White House, they might think these two young, yes, inexperienced, yes, but also perhaps more sensitive and aware young people may guide the president well.
[15:55:08] CABRERA: Family decision making.
Let me ask one quick question about Bannon. Given that he's sort of the head of that movement, a lot the Trump supporters liked what his positions are when it comes to some of the promises the president made on immigration, on the wall at the border, for example, those who do like the idea of a travel ban, if he goes, what does that mean for the president among his base?
D'ANTONIO: If you consider those people the ones who elected him, you're not seeing the picture clearly. He was elected by vast numbers of people who don't even know what Alt-Right means. They may have promoted and pushed him, but the Republican base is who turned out for Donald Trump. And those folks see that this is a display of strength, divisiveness, and I don't think they're going to react negatively to it. I think they're going to be happy the president did what he did. He may lose a fringe. Senator Rick Santorum described them as that last night. I think he's right. This isn't the crowd that's going to get Trump re-elected. And we know he's already concerned about getting reelected.
CABRERA: Michael D'Antonio, thank you for coming on.
D'ANTONIO: Thank you.
CABRERA: Good to see you.
We'll be right back.