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Interview With Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed; California School Shooting; New Syria Red Line?; White House Sends Possible Mixed Messages After Syria Strike; Tension Rise as USS Vinson Heads to Korean Peninsula. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did the White House just draw a new red line in the sand when it comes to military action in Syria?

THE LEAD starts right now.

What is the next move against Bashar al-Assad and Syria? Different emphases in the Trump administration on regime change, and then this afternoon, the White House seemed to draw a new line when it comes to use of barrel bombs.

Sending a message. U.S. warships take a turn for North Korea. Will it rattle Kim Jong-un and his nuclear dreams or have the opposite effect?

Plus, shocking video of authorities roughing up and possibly injuring a United Airlines passenger who didn't want to give up the seat he paid for to a United employee. How on earth is the airline explaining this?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin with some breaking news in the national lead today, a terrifying day for students and staff at a California elementary school. Police in San Bernardino, California, say someone fired shots in a classroom at North Park Elementary School. Two people are dead, and two students are in critical condition.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is just arriving in San Bernardino for CNN, and she joins me now live.

Stephanie, what happened?


What we are learning happened this morning here, Jake, is that there was an adult male who entered a classroom to visit this classroom and that he then shot a female adult who was in that classroom, before turning the gun on himself and killing himself. We also know that two children in the classroom were also injured.

They are in critical condition, and what we understand is one was taken by ambulance, one was airlifted, and they do not believe those children were targeted or that they were related to either this man or this woman, but just happened to be in close proximity of that woman and that's why they were injured.

We also know that at this point they have not found a note. There was nothing on this male adult to explain why this would have happened, and also we know the school will be closed for the next couple of days while they do research this.

Let me just show you what's behind me here right now just to give you a perspective of what's happening. They are having the adults, the parents, the guardians come here to this high school which is right down the street, Cajon High School.

There, they are processing them and making sure that they are the guardian, the parent who is allowed to come and get their child. The children are going to the Cal State University that's nearby, Cal State University, Santa Barbara. They're having the children there, and then they are slowly bringing the parents there to reunite them as they also need to process some of these children and talk to them and see what they may have seen.

Same thing with some of the people who may work at this elementary school. Still developing here, but what it looks like it may be a potential murder-suicide that happened here inside this elementary school -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Stephanie Elam, thank you.

And CNN will keep you updated on the story as it develops.

But let's turn to the world lead now. The White House today saying further action will definitely be considered by the United States against Syria. The Trump administration has not been known to speak with clarity on its Syria policy, and today Sean Spicer made comments which seemed to suggest a new red line for the administration.

And that is only adding to the fog of war after last week's missile strikes. Here's what U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told me yesterday on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Regime change is something that we think is going to happen, because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.


TAPPER: But there seems to be a different message coming from others in the administration, including from America's top diplomat, the secretary of state. Let's go live now to the Pentagon and CNN's Barbara Starr.

Barbara, does the U.S. want regime change in Syria, and will it force regime change in Syria?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the one thing that is clear is the Trump administration wants Assad out now. They seem to all be in agreement on that point that he has to go, but how you get that regime change suddenly may be sounding an awful lot like the Obama administration.


STARR (voice-over): As Syrian jets resumed combat operations at the air base the U.S. struck, the Pentagon says the missile strike resulted in damage or destruction to 20 percent of Syria's operational aircraft, plus damage and destruction to fuel, ammunition and air defense capabilities at the site, and confusion about what happens next, with the U.N. ambassador saying one thing about the future of Syria's dictator, telling CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION":

HALEY: There's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.

STARR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemingly to say another, as he heads to Russia, Tillerson emphasizing the Trump White House puts a top priority on fighting ISIS.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe the Syrian people will ultimately be able to decide the fate of Bashar al-Assad.


STARR: White House spokesman Sean Spicer acknowledging both goals.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We all recognize that that happens and there can be a multipronged approach. We are ensuring that ISIS is contained and there is a de-escalation of the proliferation of chemical weapons at the same time creating the environment for a change in leadership.

STARR: Tillerson, attending the G7 foreign ministers meeting in Italy, says the world cannot stand by and watch. State Department officials tell CNN Tillerson's message in Moscow, Russia bears responsibility for Assad's actions.

And there may be more leverage, as a dossier of responsibility for the nerve agent attack takes shape. According to U.S. officials, Assad either knew about this specific attack or had given commanders standing authority to use nerve agent. More chemical sites in Western Syria likely exist, and scientists are still alive who know how to make nerve agent.

The U.S. also looking for direct evidence Russian commanders on the ground knew about the planned attack.


STARR: So, is there a new red line for the Trump administration? At the White House briefing just a short time ago, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, seemed to suggest that.

He talked about barrel bombs and that if there were gas-filled barrel bombs that the Trump administration would seek to go after those, but not entirely ruling going after all barrel bombs.

So let's explain for a minute. A barrel bomb is a very deadly weapon used by the Assad regime. They throw these things. They're filled with chlorine or shrapnel or nails or other explosives out of helicopters. They cause massive death on the ground, not even from the chlorine.

That's happened a few times, but from this other explosive power. If you want to draw a red line and start going after those helicopter- borne weapons, that would in fact be a massive military enterprise for the U.S. -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's right, Sean Spicer saying that it would prompt a response. He didn't necessarily say what kind of response, but it is an interesting remark.

Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

The White House says it is not ruling out more military action in Syria, especially if there are more chemical weapons attacks or barrel bombs. Will Congress go along with the administration's possible new red line? The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee will join me next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let stick with the world lead.

The White House seemed to draw a new line for Bashar al-Assad today. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, declared -- quote -- "If you gas a baby, if you use barrel bombs, you will see a response from this president."

The White House also saying today it cannot envision a stable future in Syria with Assad remaining in power.

Now, this all comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepares to meet his Russian counterpart this week amid a growing divide between the two world powers.

Joining me to discuss this all is Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island. He's an Army veteran and the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator Reed, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: So, the president said ordered the strike, according to the White House, because it was in the -- quote -- "vital security interests of the United States."

Do you agree?

REED: I think it was important to respond to the despicable behavior of the Syrian regime, Assad regime, but it hasn't changed the facts on the ground, which is that Assad controls significant territory. There's Russian support.

But in terms of stopping, if you can, the chemical weapons attacks against the people of Syria, I hope it succeeds.

TAPPER: The White House said today they would hold open the possibility of further military action against the Assad regime, and they said there's no change in their posture, but Sean Spicer, your fellow Rhode Islander, also said that gassing a baby or using a barrel bomb would prompt a response from the president.

How did you interpret that comment?

REED: Well, there's been several directions that the administration has taken over the last several weeks.

One is seeming to concur that Assad should stay in power, there's no attempts to remove him. Then the latest rhetoric is that he cannot stay there for a long period of time.

The initial response with respect to the attack was, I think, appropriate. This was to prevent any further chemical attacks. I think they are still searching, frankly, for a policy and for a strategy, and one of the factors on the ground is the significant presence of the Russians, so they have to consider that.

TAPPER: In September 2013, as you know, President Obama declined to strike Syria after President Assad crossed the red line that President Obama had drawn, Assad using chemical weapons on his own people outside Damascus killing about 1,400.

Now, you have said that failure to act had -- quote -- "adverse consequences." Do you wish that President Obama had done in 2013 what President Trump did last Thursday?

REED: Well, I think the major issue is by declaring a red line, you have to follow it.

I think what the president saw was, first of all, any lack of strong support in the Congress. It was an attempt to provide some authority. That failed with bipartisan opposition. And then he also saw the opportunity to remove the chemical weapons. He chose the latter. But the real issue is -- and this is where Trump administration has to be careful too -- is, if you draw a red line very clearly, you have to be able to follow up just to maintain the credibility and credence of the president.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the chemical weapon removal, because President Obama and his administration heralded a great degree.

I want you to hear what President Obama's former national security adviser Dr. Susan Rice said in January -- quote -- "We were able to find a solution that didn't necessitate the use of force, that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria in a way that the use of force never would have accomplished. We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give us its chemical weapons stockpile."

Dr. Rice got four Pinocchios from the "Washington Post" fact-checker on that comment today.

Do you think the Obama administration misled the public about how many of the chemical weapons had been removed from Syria?

REED: I think there was still always a lingering suspicion first that there were some chemical weapons, a small amount perhaps that were retained, and the other reality, too, as you point out, there are scientists there that can fabricate these weapons given time and the precursor chemicals. I think they achieved for several years a situation where weapons -- chemical weapons weren't used, but the reality is they can be replaced and they were apparently were replaced or retained.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island -- thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.

REED: Thank you.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

Look -- coming up next, we will talk with an individual who flew the unfriendly skies. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's turn to the politics lead now, the start what have could be the most critical week for Commander-in-Chief Trump on the world stage so far.

[16:20:04] The president is facing a full plate of geopolitical crises and military maneuvers, as we mentioned earlier. The world is waiting to see if his Tomahawk missile strike on a Syrian airbase will lead to a more clear policy and strategy and what the threshold might be for further U.S. military engagement in Syria.

CNN's Sara Murray is live for us on the north lawn of the White House. And, Sara, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today, quote, "If you gas a baby, if you use a barrel bomb, you'll see a reaction from this president." Did they mean to set a new red line on the use of barrel bombs?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Sean Spicer pointed this out twice during the briefing, certainly giving the indication that the president may not just draw a line at chemical weapons. This administration may respond even to acts of conventional warfare. Now, this comes on a day when the president got perhaps the biggest win of his domestic agenda.


NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: I, Neil M. Gorsuch, do solemnly swear --

MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump celebrating his first major legislative win today with a Rose Garden even formally placing Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most important thing that a president of the United States does is appoint people, hopefully great people like this appointment, to the United States Supreme Court, and I can say this is a great honor. And I got it done in the first 100 days. That's even nice. You think that's easy?

MURRAY: Trump basking in a high point for his young presidency and touting what may end up being the most significant accomplishment of his first 100 days in office.

The president also enjoying accolades on the foreign policy front.

TRUMP: I ordered a targeted military strike --

MURRAY: A new CBC News poll shows 57 percent of Americans approve of his decision to launch strikes against Syrian military targets following a grisly chemical weapons attack against civilians by Syrian government forces. But the most vexing question, what comes next?

Today, Trump's White House press secretary suggested that chemical weapons attacks are not the only kind that may spark a response.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb in to innocent people, I think you can -- you will -- you will see a response from this president. That is unacceptable.

MURRAY: Even if he insisted the president's core mission has not wavered.

SPICER: The Trump doctrine is something that he articulated throughout the campaign, which is that America is first. We're going to make sure that our national interests are protected.

MURRAY: The public is skittish about further action. Seven in 10 say the president should get congressional approval before authorizing any more strikes. Democrats are echoing that sentiment.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS, JUDICIARY COMMITTEES: President Trump needs to come to Congress and work with us to get an authorization for the use of military force. We need to hear a strategy.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, the White House is trying to tamp down reports of staff turmoil inside the West Wing, particularly the tensions between chief strategist Steve Bannon and the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

SPICER: He understands that we have some pretty smart, talented individuals who are opinionated on a lot of subjects, but that are battles in our policy differences need to be behind closed doors.


MURRAY: Now, sources are telling me at least for now, there seems to be some kind of truce between Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. Unclear exactly how long that will last but today White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump is very confident in the team he has around him -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray at the White House for us -- thank you so much.

Sending strong signals to North Korea, a U.S. carrier strike group heads to the region. But will it stop Kim Jong-un from launching another missile or will it have the opposite effect?

Stay with us.


[16:27:56] TAPPER: We're back with more in our world lead.

Just days after North Korea tested yet another ballistic missile, the U.S. military is trying to send another message to the Kim Jong-un regime by deploying the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, along with guided missile destroyers to the Korean peninsula. This as North Korea is vowing to bolster its defenses, claiming that the U.S. military strike against Syria proves that its nuclear program is justified as a defense against the United States.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent Will Ripley, the only U.S. journalist on the ground inside North Korea.

And, Will, you were with North Korean officials when they found out the USS Carl Vinson was sailing towards them.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's remarkable, Jake. They are watching the movements of the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group very closely. You'll remember it was here in the region several weeks ago for joint military exercises for South Korea and the U.S., and another round of exercises kicking off today.

And so, they were not surprised by this. They also watched very closely the missile strike in Syria. They say both of these were provocative acts on the part of the United States that only encouraged them to further accelerate their development of the nuclear weapons and the missiles that could potentially carry them to the U.S.

TAPPER: And, Will, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said over the weekend that China also agrees that North Korea also poses a nuclear threat. Has China ever signaled any change in its approach to Pyongyang?

RIPLEY: There was no mention in his statement after the meeting with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago from Chinese President Xi Jinping, no mention of specifics about North Korea but we have learned, Reuters is flashing that, in fact, Chinese traders have been ordered to return shipments of North Korean coal, also reports that South Korea and China's nuclear envoys have agreed to take very strong measures in the event of a potential sixth nuclear test which U.S. and South Korean officials believe really could happen at any time.

It's interesting, Jake. People in this country are so isolated from news from around the rest of the world, but the movements of the USS Cole, a carrier strike group in the airstrike Syria, are being very covered extensively by the state-controlled media here because it fits right into the government's narrative that they've been telling people for years that this country is under the imminent threat of invasion by the U.S.