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Unfriendly Skies; New Syria Red Line?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 16:30   ET



WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Because it fits right into the government's narrative that they have been telling for years, that this country is under the imminent threat of invasion by the U.S.

You can probably hear behind me it's now 5:00 a.m. here in Pyongyang. This is the alarm that sounds citywide to get people up and going for the day. The nighttime alarm happens at midnight, and they are up hat 5:00 a.m. to begin working for this regime.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Will, later this week, North Korea set to celebrate its biggest holiday, and as you have told us many, many times, the country has a tradition of celebrating these holidays with missile launches. Are there any signs that there might be another one?

RIPLEY: Well, there was activity at North Korea's Sohae missile launch site that was detected several weeks ago. Unclear if that's going amount to anything. There's been some satellite imagery showing military machinery being assembled, which could be for a military parade later this weekend.

But, also, again, there's activity at that nuclear test site, North Korea's nuclear test site that indicates really at any moment North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could order a nuclear test. And it was around this holiday that is coming up on Saturday, the Day of the Sun, five years ago that North Korea attempted to launch a satellite into orbit.

There's also a major political gathering kicking off here today, and don't forget Vice President Pence is coming to the region in a matter of days as well. So, these are all potential opportunities where Kim Jong-un could decide to push the button on a nuclear test. It would be a very provocative and defiant message for the United States -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley in North Korea for us, thank you.

That's quite an alarm clock.

More on our world lead. In a matter of days, the president did a 180 on his Syria policy and now differing messages from top administration officials on where to go from here.

Joining me now to discuss this is former homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff. He now heads the Chertoff Group, which is a consulting business with an emphasis on security issues.

Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: Do you hear a coherent, understandable message from the administration on what the United States government's posture is towards Syria?

CHERTOFF: Yes, I actually do.

I think that, first of all, the strike was a meaningful and appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons, which, by the way, demonstrated that the agreement that was supposed reached in 2013 was not a real agreement.

So I think that was important. I think what you now see is a recognition that in the long run you can't have a sustainable settlement with Assad staying in power. For one thing, the bad blood that's been generated by his atrocities will mean the Sunnis will never accept his control over the entire country.

So the Russians also have to realize at some point if there's going to be a stable resolution to this, he's going to have to be eased out.

TAPPER: So the president obviously had a completely different position on this in September 2013, after the first and the worst chemical weapons attack, 1,400 Syrians killed outside Damascus. He now has a different position. He said that the images after last Tuesday's chemical weapons attack changed his mind on this.

Do you think it is important, though, for the president to explain why he had this change of mind? Because we saw the same -- those of us who follow the news saw the same types of images back in September 2013, innocent people, many of them children, some of them babies, dying because of this horrific attack that was said to have been perpetrated by Assad.

CHERTOFF: I think what you see is the natural occurrence when someone becomes president and it becomes your responsibility and it's on your watch.

And I remember back with President Bush, you know, during the campaign, he talked about he doesn't want to do nation-building, and then we had September 11. All of a sudden, you're confronted with Afghanistan and now you have to suddenly adjust your position based on new circumstances and maybe more than that new responsibilities.

So I think he explained in his brief statement what his reaction was. I think in this case it was not rash. It appears that there were several days of discussion about options, and I think President Trump picked a calibrated option that sent a firm message without overreacting.

TAPPER: And one of the messages is this tremendous sympathy that he feels for the innocent victims in Syria. Of course, a lot of people say, well, where is that compassion for Syrian refugees? I asked the U.N. ambassador from the United States, Nikki Haley, about that yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION."

Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: They said they couldn't vet properly. They said they didn't have enough information.

And I think you have got a president here who is not going to risk American lives and have that threat when it can't properly be vetted.

TAPPER: But certainly you don't think Syrian children pose a risk to the American people?

HALEY: Well, Syrian children have to come with Syrian adults, and you don't know. It's hard to know based on the vetting process.


TAPPER: What do you think? You have been an advocate for the Syrian refugee program and other refugee programs. What do you make of that?

CHERTOFF: I think generally the vetting process actually for refugees is better than it is for a lot of people who come to the U.S. It's a very long process, and it takes at least 18 months to two years.


But, look, the administration is entitled to kick the tires and satisfy itself that it doesn't want to make adjustments. I hope they go about that quickly and that we then are able to resume bringing in deserving people who are fleeing from a very bad situation.

TAPPER: When you were in the Bush administration, you served as a member of the National Security Council. What do you make of all the unrest on the National Security Council, first the national security adviser hired, then fired?

Then you have Stephen Bannon on the National Security Council, kicked off the National Security Council. What do you make of it? I don't know if you're still in touch with people from the council.

CHERTOFF: No, I think this was a somewhat slow transition.

And, therefore, unlike maybe in past transitions where there was almost a group in waiting ready to slot in, in this case, they added people. The issue with General Flynn came up. He left. So I think you're seeing a little bit of a kind of stepping up into a situation that was not fully baked.

But I do think they are getting to the point they have some very experienced people there. You have General McMaster. You have the homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert. You have Dina Powell, who I worked with, as well as with Tom.

So I think you have got some solid, experienced people there, and it sounds to me like things are beginning to settle down.

TAPPER: Lastly, let's turn to the Russia investigation. The chairman has recused himself, Devin Nunes from California. And there is a call from the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, who works for CNN, for Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, to recuse himself.

He writes -- quote -- "Both Nunes and Schiff are equally to blame for the committee's loss of focus. How can a committee which handles sensitive classified information conduct its business when the purportedly secret information is discussed even by insinuation publicly in front of the media?"

What do you think?

CHERTOFF: I think there's a lot of talking to the media on a kind of play-by-play basis, which is not helpful.

I look at the two congressional investigations. The Senate investigation is proceeding in a bipartisan way. It's deliberate. There's not a lot of talking out of school.

I think the House has got itself into a position now where in a sense everybody has been running in front of the cameras. Honestly, you could easily say let's save the money on the House investigation, let the Senate do its work, let it be comprehensive. Answer the questions, and then when it's all over, we will see what is actually found.

TAPPER: Secretary Chertoff, thank you so much for joining us. Happy Passover.

CHERTOFF: Happy Passover to you, too.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

An overbooked flight with not enough for people to volunteer to give up their seat for hundreds of dollars were offered. What did United Airlines do? They picked one man and they dragged him off. A passenger who saw the whole thing and taped it for joins us next.



TAPPER: We're back with our money lead now.

Fly the friendly skies, United Airlines promises, and when you parse that statement, you realize they are saying that the skies are friendly. They aren't necessarily saying that they are. And we saw evidence of that today, after United Airlines sought volunteers from an overbooked Chicago-to-Louisville flight Sunday to make room for four United employees. The problem is, the airline did not get enough volunteers, so the

airline called in police to forcibly remove this man. A fellow passenger captured this video showing the passenger literally being dragged down the aisle and off the plane.

CNN's Rene Marsh with me here.

Rene, what on earth does United have to say?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have a lot of explaining to do, but for starters, they are saying sorry, as they should.

I mean, the video is pretty unbelievable, considering this happened because the airline overbooked the flight. And just a short time ago, Chicago's Airport Police says that the officer seen in that video dragging that passenger, well, he has been placed on administrative leave.


MARSH (voice-over): A United Airlines passenger was dragged off of an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville when he refused to give up his seat Sunday night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He busted his lip.

MARSH: Passengers were horrified as they saw three Chicago Airport police officers board the plane and yank the man from his seat. His head hit the armrest and blood flowed from his mouth as he was pulled down the aisle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. Look what you did to him.

MARSH: Witnesses say the flight crew was trying to free up seats for United Airlines employees.

TYLER BRIDGES, PASSENGER: Once they dragged the guy off and subsequently the United employees come on the plane, the other passengers were just berating the employees, saying things like you should be ashamed of yourself. You should be embarrassed to work for this company.

MARSH: In a statement, United said the flight -- quote -- "was overbooked. Normally, when this occurs, passengers are asked to voluntarily give up their seats for compensation, and the situation is resolved. However, this was not the case on Sunday night's flight, and United was forced into an involuntary de-boarding situation."

Perhaps the compensation was not good enough. The airline didn't get all the volunteers it needed, so its computers picked which passenger to kick off. Families and unaccompanied minors were given priority to keep their seats.

Passenger rights advocate Charlie Leocha faults the airline for not offering more compensation. CHARLIE LEOCHA, PASSENGER RIGHTS ADVOCATE: The maximum to deny board

which the government requires to you pay is $1,350 in cash. And so they could have offered the maximum. And that would have taken care of the problem.

MARSH: The incident sparked outrage on social media, one person tweeting: "United Airlines is please to announce new seating on all domestic flights. In addition to United First and Economy Plus, we introduce Fight Club."

The backlash so fierce, the airline's CEO was forced to respond, tweeting: "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened."


[16:45:17] MARSH: Was the passenger wrong in any way for refusing to get off?

CHARLIE LEOCHA, TRAVELERS UNITED PRESIDENT: I don't think he was wrong. I think - my only way of saying that he's wrong is, well, I've never seen this happen before. I've never ever seen a passenger roughed up and dragged off a plane to put a flight attendant on. I mean, that's just idiocy.

MARSH: In their statement, Chicago's airport police say that they're reviewing the incident and they admit the officer seen dragging the passenger off the plane, quote, "was not in accordance with standard operating procedure." We should point out, it's unclear how much the airline offered these passengers as compensation. Some passengers say $400, another said $800. That's unclear.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: I learned some new terms today. There's re-accommodate, re-accommodate, that's what the President of United said, and involuntary de-boarding situation, an involuntary de- boarding situation. That's what they call dragging somebody off against their will off an airplane.

MARSH: That's what they call it, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you. That's a good corporate speak. I like it. Rene Marsh, thanks so much.

And joining me now is Jayse Anspach. He was sitting a few seats away from the altercation. He took video of the incident. Jayse, set the scene for us. You've already boarded the plane. What then?

JAYSE ANSPACH, WITNESSED MAN DRAGGED OFF UNITED FLIGHT: Well, they first had some maintenance stuff to take care of, and then, soon as - after that was done, they -

TAPPER: Sounds like Jayse - looks like Jayse's signal has gone down. We'll come back to him. When we come, we're going to take a quick break, and when we come back we'll talk to Jayse Anspach. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. We're having some satellite problems. United Airlines referred to an involuntary de-boarding situation with that horrific video of a passenger being dragged off. We had one of those with our satellite issues as well. Let's go back to Jake Anspach, he was sitting a few seats away from the man being dragged out of his seat and off the plane. He took video of the incident. So set the scene for us. You boarded the plane, they did some - they'd adjust something and fix it and then what happened?

ANSPACH: Yes. One of the attendants came up to the front of the plane, let us know that four personnel needed to be in Louisville that night because they had worked the next day and so they needed to make room. Ask for four volunteers and there was no volunteers so they basically said, "we're not leaving until there's four seats opened up for these personnel." And it took about 10, 15 minutes until they decided to go ahead and make the decision for us. And so, one of the attendants left. She came back with four slips with a seat number and name and started going to those seats and just basically telling them we chose you. You got to get off the plane. And, yes, so they approached this - this doctor, told him to get off the plane and he refused because he had work the next day. He's a - he's a medical doctor here in Louisville.

TAPPER: And - so he - you could hear some of the conversation and he was saying he couldn't do it because he was - he's a doctor, he had patients to see the next day.

ANSPACH: Yes, exactly. He was very emphatic. I can't be late. I'm a doctor. I've got to be there tomorrow. In fact, actually, he volunteered, him and his wife, they volunteered initially for a second, but once they found out that the next flight wasn't until today at 2:30 p.m., he said I can't do that. I've got to be at work, so he sat back down. So maybe that had something to do with them choosing him. Yes.

TAPPER: And then - and then he came back on the plane and he - and he looks like he was bleeding.

ANSPACH: Yes. So after they dragged him off - I mean, he's waiting from - he hit his face when they initially dragged him off as you guys saw. And it was ten minutes later, he just comes running back in, and runs to the back, his face is bloody and just clings on to the post at the back and just saying, I got to go home, I need to go home, I need to go home. And it wasn't until like 30, 45 seconds later until authorities followed him. So I don't know what happened in the - in the jetway but he managed to escape from them and runs back into the plane.

TAPPER: Ultimately he was taken off the plane and did not get to fly to Kentucky.

ANSPACH: No, he didn't. He's taken off twice.

TAPPER: And lastly - ANSPACH: He was dragged and once put on a stretcher so -

TAPPER: Lastly Jayse, does this - will this affect whether or not you fly United Airlines again?

ANSPACH: Probably, yes. I mean, the way they handled the situation was - wasn't right. And so that will affect it, yes.

TAPPER: Jayse Anspach, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it. Now to the first federal election since President Trump took office. This week begins two months of special elections where democrats hope to flip four republican House seats and hold on to a fifth. First in Kansas where Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo stepped down to become CIA Director. Then in Georgia, the seat of former Republican Congressman Tom Price now Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and Montana, former Congressman Ryan Zinke has new title as Interior Secretary. Democrats feel almost certain though keep California's 34th Congressional district, Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra resigned to become the state's Attorney General. And then, there's South Carolina, Republican Mick Mulvany is now President Trump's Budget Director. Asides from California which leans way left democrats may have the best chance to flip Georgia and as CNN's Jason Carroll reports democrats are trying to ride a wave of what they hope is momentum all the way to Capitol Hill.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For decades Georgia's Sixth Congressional District has been reliably republican.

[16:55:02] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a real opportunity to flip our district.

CARROLL: But there are signs times might be changing.

JON OSSOFF, GEORGIA SIXTH DISTRICT CANDIDATE: I'm proud of the momentum that we've been able to build.

CARROLL: Meet Democrat Jon Ossoff. At 30 years old, the former Congressional aide and documentary filmmaker has never held public office, but he has become the candidate to the beat.

OSSOFF: This thing has taken on a little bit of a life of its own and people are watching across the country because it is the first competitive contest of this new era.

CARROLL: Traditionally, voters here in the Sixth District, which includes part of Atlanta and the city's affluent northern suburbs have sent to Congress the likes of Newt Gingrich and most recently Tom Price who is now Health and Human Services Secretary. It was thought that one of the 11 republicans running in this special election would claim the seat until Ossoff turn the race into a referendum on President Trump.

OSSOFF: I want to go to Washington, hold people accountable and that includes the President of the United States.

CARROLL: Trump carried the district by a little more than a point last November. In 2012, Mitt Romney swept it by more than 20 points.

OSSOFF: I think spring has sprung.

CARROL: Ossoff hoping to tap into angst among democrats over Trump has been running ads critical of the President.

OSSOFF: We can't let Donald Trump put us at risk.

CARROLL: How effective do you think that has been for you so far?

OSSOFF: There are clearly people who have serious concerns about the President's approach to governance.


CARROLL: GOP candidate Bob Gray isn't afraid to embrace the President, hiring several of Trump's former state operatives to help his campaign.

GRAY: It's pretty clear that this is a district that's getting behind our President.

CARROLL: While former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and former State Senator Dan Moody question if the district is truly on the verge of turning blue.

KAREN HANDEL, GEORGIA SIXTH DISTRICT CANDIDATE: They're dreaming about this, but the republicans are going to hold on to this seat.

DAN MOODY, GEORGIA SIXTH DISTRICT CANDIDATE: The republicans will ultimately select a candidate that can beat the democrat.

CARROLL: Claire Wise has not decided on a candidate but -

CLAIRE WISE, GEORGIA VOTER: It will be a republican candidate. I think Jon Ossoff is too liberal.

CHERYL SYKES, JON OSSOFF SUPPORTER: We are so excited to hear.

CARROLL: Cheryl Sykes also a registered republican disagrees. He's backing Ossoff

SYKES: I think he is dedicated and I really feel like we need more balance and more middle of the road people in Washington.

CARROLL: And Dave Ferguson, a self-described independent summed up his reasoning for supporting Ossoff.


CARROLL: Ossoff has raised more than $8 million and has 2 million in the bank. His momentum not lost on republicans who've added staff and ratcheted up their attacks. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ossoff wasn't exactly fighting against terrorism. He was fighting against restrictions on keg parties.

CARROLL: When GOP Super PACs spending more than $2 million on ads targeting Ossoff including one that shows video of him in college.

OSSOFF: I'm Han Solo, captain of the millennium falcon.

I can't say I mind the comparison to Han Solo too much.

CARROLL: Ossoff called for the April 18 primary is to get more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a June runoff.

Do you feel any sort of sensitive extra-pressure?

OSSOFF: Yes, I do feel it. you know, I'm human, too. And there's a lot of eyes on the race, there's a lot of people I want to make proud.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN Roswell, Georgia.

TAPPER: And our thanks to Jason Carroll. We also have some story -- a story developing in politics right now. It's not every day a republican state legislature is trying to impeach a republican governor, but a sex and corruption scandal has set the stage this week for just that. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley stands accused of using state resources to try to hide an affair with a former top staffer. CNN just learned that the Governor has called an emergency staff and cabinet meeting for this afternoon after hearings to consider his impeachment started earlier today. A special prosecutor for the State House Judiciary Committee laid out his claims after releasing an explosive 130-page report last week. Governor Bentley's troubles largely started in 2014 after his ex-wife recorded an explicit phone call between her husband, the governor, and the staffer.


ROBERT BENTLEY, ALABAMA GOVERNOR: You know what? When I stand behind you and I - and I put my arms around you and I put my hands on your breasts, and I put my hands on you and pull you in real close. Hey, I love that, too.


TAPPER: Good lord. The special prosecutor claims Bentley tried to hide that recording and ordered law enforcement to find who had copies. Last week, the Alabama Ethics Commission recommended he'd be charged with two felony counts. If found probable cause that the governor violated campaign finance and ethic laws. Bentley denies breaking any laws. He was married to his now ex-wife for 50 years so get another chance to defend himself tomorrow when he's scheduled to testify at the impeachment hearing. If you ask that long.. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.