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WH Accuses Russia Covering Up For Syria; Haley: I Think Russia Knew About Syrian Chemical Attack; Tillerson Issues Ultimatum To Russia Before Meeting; Trump: We Are Not Going Into Syria; Spicer Apologizes After Saying Hitler Didn't Use Chemical Weapons; Spicer: Hitler "Didn't Even Sink To Using Chemical Weapons"; Trump: Kim Jong Un Is Doing The "Wrong Thing"; Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 11, 2017 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER HOST: Thanks for watching. Erin Burnett OutFront starts now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: Next, breaking news. The Trump Administration accusing Russia of a cover-up. Did Russia know about the Syrian chemical attack in advance? Trump's ambassador to the U.N. tonight says yes. And Sean Spicer says Hitler never used chemical weapons on his own people. Mr. Spicer, you are wrong. Plus, the United Airlines P.R. debacle. Tonight, the booted passenger speaking out. Let's go OutFront. And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OutFront this evening, the breaking news, Russian coverup. The White House tonight making a huge accusation against the Russian Government. Charging that Vladimir Putin is covering up for Syria and Bashar al- Assad's chemical weapons. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in an exclusive interview moments ago with CNN took it even further. When asked if Russia knew in advance about the chemical weapons attack in which more than 80 people were killed. Here is what Haley said.


NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I think that if you look at the fact that when this information came out, they were so quick to defend. They didn't look shocked. They didn't look surprised. They were so quick to defend. And then the evidence comes out and we see exactly what it is. And we know exactly what the environment was. Then you realize --


HALEY: I think that they knew, yes.


BURNETT: Haley's comments tonight in contrast to what we have been hearing from others in the administration.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECETARY: At this time, there's no consensus in the intelligence community that that's the case.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm not seeing any hard evidence that connects the Russians directly to the planning or execution of this particular chemical weapons attack.


BURNETT: It seems like a basic thing. Did Russia know about a Sarin gas attack and did Russia cover up a Sarin gas attack? These are basic, very crucial things. Why can't the Trump Administration get its story straight? We begin our coverage with Barbara Starr at the Pentagon tonight. And Barbara, mixed messages coming from this administration this evening.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PEBTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A lot of ambiguity, Erin, on the question of Russian involvement. We've talked to very top- level officials about it. They say -- they they're not ready to finally make that final connecting of the dots. Ambassador Haley obviously having a different view. But there was more ambiguity of the Pentagon today when Defense Secretary James Mattis made very clear that he didn't want to get into the question of whether the administration would take the next step in Syria and that is to attack Assad's barrel bomb activities. He just would not get into that but he was not ambiguous about the rest of it. The Pentagon top brass, not yet ready to say Russia was complicit but definitive on Bashar al- Assad's involvement.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself.

STARR: The U.S. missile strike telling Moscow the Trump Administration will use force and it's already not ruling out further military action against Assad. But hoping that the Russians temper their own actions.

MATTIS: I'm confident the Russians will act in their own best interest and there's nothing in their best interest to say they want this situation to go out of control.

STARR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arriving on Moscow today also lay down a marker.

TILLERSON: I hope that what the Russian Government concludes is that -- is that they have aligned themselves with an unreliable partner and Bashar al-Assad.

STARR: But Russian President Vladimir Putin calling the missile strike reminiscent of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This very much resembles the situation 2003 and the war in Iraq. The Iraq campaign was launched and it finished with the destruction of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat and nothing less than the emergence of ISIS.

STARR: The U.S Intelligence Community now investigating how much the Russians knew about the attack ahead of time. The U.S. knows there were Russian forces at the base and they likely knew about chemical weapons at the base and slight operations happening there. The U.S. also knows a Russian drone flew over the hospital treating victims. And an unknown fixed wing aircraft dropped a conventional bomb five hours later trying to destroy evidence.

Only Syrian and Russian aircraft fly in the area. The latest in how badly damaged the Syrians got in that U.S. missile strike today, the Pentagon saying that there were 23 Syrian aircraft damaged or destroyed, about 20 percent of the Syrian operating air force. Erin?

BURNETT: Obviously put in those terms, a very significant move. Barbara, thank you. And this comes as the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow tonight hours from his first meeting. But as of this moment, he is not scheduled to meet with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. By the way, that is a history making thing if it doesn't happen. Our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is OutFront live, she is in Moscow tonight. And Michelle, this comes as the secretary is giving some tough before these crucial meetings.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erin. Yes. You know, what we've heard today coming from each side just seems to be widening the gap of understanding between the U.S. and Russia. It seems to be making cooperation even more difficult. You look at some of the things that were said over the last couple of days, Russia calling U.S. strikes on Syria an active aggression. That's only drawing the U.S closer to a clash with Russia.

The U.S. saying that it would be willing to take further military action. Seems like at this point Tillerson and he's about to go into this crucial meeting with at the very least the Russian foreign ministers is going an extra length to not project too strong of a line, saying things today like he hopes Syrian President Bashar al- Assad is not a part of the future of Syria, that he hopes Russia will change course because what they're doing is not in their best interest. Listen.


TILLERSON: Russia has really aligned itself with the Assad regime, the Iranians and Hezbollah. Is that a -- is that a long-term alliance that serves Russia's interest or would Russia prefer to realign with the United States, with other western countries and middle east countries who are seeking to resolve the Syrian crisis?


KOSINSKI: it was that statement that prompted Republican Senator Lindsay Graham to say he thinks that in some ways Tillerson is being naive here that Russia might want to change its behavior. Graham called Assad and Putin both war criminals cut from the same cloth. At this point though, each side, officials from America and Russia are saying that they are looking for cooperation, so -- I mean, it's just so intriguing to imagine what these statements are going to be tomorrow when we hear from Tillerson and the foreign ministers after that meeting. Erin. BURNETT: All right. Thank you, Michelle, live in Moscow tonight. And now, the Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman of California who's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the center of all this. Congressman, thank you. Donald Trump, the president just spoke for the first time since the strike about Syria in five days. Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going into Syria. But when I I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons, which they agreed not to use under the Obama Administration but they violated it.


BURNETT: He says the U.S. isn't going into Syria but then he says, but, he won't tolerate chemical weapons. Is he sending a mixed message, Congressman?

BRAD SHERMAN, (D) FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: We have three objectives in Syria. One is to protect the Syrian people and hopefully provide them with good governance in the future. The second is to eradicate ISIS and the third is to try to protect the chemical weapons convention which is constrain counties around the world for the last 50 years and longer. And it is only the third objective that these strikes are relevant to and hopefully they will prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again. We do owe a huge debt of gratitude to Obama who got 2.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals out of Assad's hands to the international community where they destroyed and one can only imagine how terrible things would be in Syria if we hadn't been successful under the Obama Administration in getting most unfortunately not all in --


BURNETT: -- when there were still Sarin gas and dozens of children just died of course. To your point about the chemical weapons though, chlorine is among the chemical weapons that are still left along with Sarin. The defense secretary today loud and clear about that, Congressman. He said chlorine is a chemical weapon. And this may end up being crucial as to whether the U.S. goes to war. Here's what he said.


MATTIS: As far as barrel bombs with chlorine. I mean, chemical weapons are chemical weapons and if they use chemical weapons they are going to pay a very, very stiff price.


BURNETT: Congressman, Assad uses chlorine more often than Sarin. Human Rights watch says he used it eight times in 30 days at the end of last year. If the defense secretary says those attacks, chlorine will meet a -- with a very stiff price. That can mean a much bigger U.S. military response. Would you support it?

SHERMAN: We need to protect the chemical weapons convention and that includes chlorine gas. The one thing about chlorine gas is many entities have access to it and it will be less certain that it was the regime if when chlorine gas is used. We do know that the enemies of the regime also have access to chlorine gas but they don't have access to Sarin and nerve agents. So it will be a ---

BURNETT: Do you support though further strikes if chemical weapons are used. Chlorine or Sarin, either one?

SHERMAN: I would have to see the situation, but I think that the response that we've made so far underlines the fact that the U.S. supports the chemical weapons convention and will impose a price on those who violate it. What we should do in the -- in the future, we're just going to have to see as that hypothetical develops.

BURNETT: All right. Congressman, you're going to stay with us in just a moment. Thank you. I want to go briefly though to Jamie Gangel our special correspondent because Jamie, you spoke to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. What she had to say was very, very clear, that she said -- and we just heard her and her response to you, the Russians knew about this chemical attack before it happened. If true, that is an incredible violation. That would mean they were equally responsible for a chemical attack on innocent civilians.

GANGEL: Correct. Just for some conetext, she did not say we have hard evidence. She said I think, but she said very clearly that looking at their reaction, that it -- you know, she said yes. I said, you know, is it there? She also said that -- she went on at great length. And we're going to play another part of the interview that everyone in the world sort of knows that Russia has been behind this. So let's just play that.


HALEY: You know, anything the Russians say at this point, no one's believing it. No one is. I mean, you can -- the international community seize this for what it is. The international community has watched Russia cover up for Assad for years.


BURNETT: So there she's saying not only did they know before but then afterwards they were covering up for Assad?

GANGEL: Right. So I don't think that she was meant to contradict the administration on this. She's not saying that there's hard intelligence. But I think she was giving her opinion straight out from what the reaction was. And my guess is that what we're seeing is that's what the administration is saying privately as opposed to the other members of the administration who wanted to say one thing publicly, that they do, according to Nikki Haley, believe from the Russian reaction it (INAUDIBLE)

A spokesman for her called just a few minutes before we went on the air and pushed back a little and said she really didn't mean what she said, but we have the whole transcript here. It's pretty clear.

BURNETT: She said it again and again and again.

GANGEL: Right.

BURNETT: And it's interesting that she's saying that clearly saying what she believes when Rex Tillerson is saying something different than are there two different messages from this Wihte House. So she's simply more courageous than he. What is the whole game here? Next, the White House Spokesman Sean Spicer weighing in on this today, also apologizing for his stunning statement that Hitler did not use chemical weapons on his own people. So what was a gas chamber? Plus, President Trump tweets that North Korea is "looking for trouble." Is he provoking the unstable Kim Jung-Un? And Jeanne Moos on United Airlines public relations debacle.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We're United Airlines. You do what we say, when we say and there won't be a problem.


BURNETT: Tonight, Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologizing on CNN after saying that Hitler did not use chemical weapons on his own people. In today's White House briefing, let me just play to for you what Spicer said because someone summarizing it really can't do it justice. Here is Sean Spicer.


SPICER: You know, you had a, you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to the -- to the -- to using chemical weapons.


BURNETT: Obviously, that is not true, right? A gas chamber? I don't know what he thinks was in a gas chamber. It caused immediate up war, moments later in the same briefing, Spicer was asked to clarify, given a chance to clarify, here's what he said.


SPICER: I think when you come to Sarin gas, there was no -- he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. There was not in the -- in the -- he brought them into the holocaust center and I understand that. Rather saying in the way that Assad used them where he went them into towns, drop them down to innocent -- into the middle of towns. It was brought. So the use of it --


BURNETT: Right. I guess there is a difference, right? Because Hitler put people in concentration camps and gas them and Assad is gassing them in their actual villages. Is that the distinction he's trying to make? Jeff Zeleny joins me live from the White House. Jeff, it was a stunning statement and now an apology. Do you know how this is playing with the president?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDNT: Erin, it was a full-throated apology unlike any we have seen in the first three months of this administration from a top White House official. It did not play very well with the president at all or other senior administration officials, top advisors. They instructed the Press Secretary Spicer to apologize and clean this up. So he told our own Wolf Blitzer that he is sorry again and again. Let's watch.


SPICER: Frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the holocaust for which frankly there is no -- there is no comparison. And for that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.


ZELENY: So, again, Sean Spicer, you know, really not apologizing once. Apologizing multiple times to our Wolf Blitzer earlier this evening. And I was talking to Sean Spicer after that, Erin and I asked him, you know, what led him to do this and he said, A, he apologized for being a distraction to the president's policy on Syria. He also said I wanted to set the record straight. But Erin, this is not the first thing the press secretary has had to walk back this week.

Talked about barrel bombs yesterday, other things here. So this is an example. Again, unlike we have seen in the first three months that I can recall at least, the press secretary, one of the most visible faces of the administration saying, look, I made a mistake and I'm sorry. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Jeff, thank you very much. And Congressman Brad Sherman is back with me, senior member of the Jewish Members Caucus along with Jeffrey Lord, Trump supporter who was Reagan political director and John Avlon, Editor in Chief of the Daily Beast. Congressman, let me start with you. What is -- was your reaction, your gut reaction when you heard what Sean Spicer said this afternoon about Hitler?

SHERMAN: It was simply outrageous. It was painful at this Passover season and it worries me to think that Sean Spicer or anybody that high up in the administration would have such a lack of knowledge of the historical context. But I'm just as worried that Spicer made some other comments today that shows that he doesn't understand what's happening in the world to civilians in at least a dozen different locations where atrocities are happening right now. So he doesn't know the current context and his comments about the historical context were painful and uncalled for.

BURNETT: So -- I mean, John, here's the thing. He -- I understand he's apologizing again and again and again, right? OK. Take him at his word for that. But saying what he said about Hitler isn't something you just say by accident with a slip of the tongue. JOHN AVLON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: No. He kept digging at

the -- at the podium which is what's so painful. Look, first of all, you don't make Hitler comparisons (INAUDIBLE) you don't do it in the White House podium and you don't do it during Passover. This is -- this is a triple major unforced error by the press secretary. I think it was -- it was a mistake that he apologized sincerely for. I know that democrats are calling for his head and certainly probably some representatives in the White House are trying to knife him over this as well. But this is a major unforced error that compounds ignorance with a lot of the negative -- narrative we say.

BURNETT: I mean, Jeffrey, it is -- it is stunning that somebody with any historical sense at all would say that he didn't use chemical weapons. I mean, he used gas chambers.


BURNETT: I mean, I find the whole thing stunning. I'm taking the apology at face value but what he said, he said.

LORD: As somebody who spent a lot of time reading history, I mean, even this congregationalist boy knows that it's Passover. And -- that one would hope we could all agree that the use of chemical weapons and the holocaust was just -- I mean, evil and carnet of which I can think of no greater one in the entire history of the world and that's going some. I mean, there are competitors out there with Stalin and Mao, et cetera.

But Hitler is a standalone. I agree with John, you know, just don't go there and he stood up. He's apologized and, you know, for heaven's sakes , let's move on. One other thing though, this constant comparison in certain quarters of Donald Trump to Hitler is of the same thing. Donald Trump is not Hitler. The president of the United States is not Adolf Hitler and they need to stop with that as well.

AVLON: Not particularly relevant to the conversation but I completely agree with you.

BURNETT: Congressman, though Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and your party has come out, her statement about Sean Spicer where Sean Spicer must be fired. I quote her, "either he is speaking for the president or the president should have known better than to hire him." Do you agree with Nancy Pelosi?

SHERMAN: Well, I think he showed himself to be out of his depth and not understanding history. But as I said, I was just as concerned about his comments that implied that anywhere in the world that there were atrocities occurring to children and babies that there would be an administration response because there are terrible atrocities going on right now as we think of the holocaust. We've got to think about the victims in Southern Sudan and East Congo, Somalia and Yemen and so many terrible things happening as we speak. And For Spicer, without a strategy, without a plan, without even knowing where these places are, to say that we're going to respond to tragedies like this when he knows it's -- well, he should know that they've -- BURNETT: Yes.

SHERMAN: -- that they have no plan to do that.

BURNETT: To your point, John, there are some within the administration who may have knives out for him. I'm not saying Nikki Haley is among them but she did weigh it on it in her interview with Jamie on what Sean Spicer said about Adolf Hitler. Here she is.


HALEY: It's unfortunate and we should never have comparisons with Hitler ever. That was a terrible time in history and it's just not something people want to hear about or think about or think that there's another comparison to it.


BURNETT: Clear and definitive.

AVLON: Clear and definitive. And it appears there's one thing we can all agree on which is Hitler comparisons are always a terrible, terrible, terrible idea when you don't expect it come from the White House Press Secretary. I don't think that she was suggesting that Sean Spicer should be fired over it.


AVLON: But, you know, there seems to be a broader common ground that at least we can agree on that.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. I appreciate it. And next North Korea warns it is ready for war as U.S. warships close in on the region. We're live in Pyongyang. And the United Airlines CEO finally apologizing a complete 180, when he said the guy was belligerent last night. This as the passenger speaks out for the first time.


BURNETT: Breaking news. Donald Trump with a stern new warning to North Korea's Kim Jong-Un tonight.


TRUMP: We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier, that, I can tell you. And we have the best military people on earth, and I will say this. He is doing the wrong thing.


BURNETT: Those bellicose comments coming after North Korea announce it's preparing to launch a nuclear strike against the U.S. If provoked. Will Ripley is OutFront tonight in Pyongyang. WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brand new images of

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un presiding silently over the supreme people's assembly in Pyongyang. The man they call supreme leader sitting beneath giant statues of his father and grandfather. North Korea's two late leaders, the symbolism is clear. The third generation leader like his father and grandfather before him continues to hold absolute power over North Korea and its growing nuclear arsenal.

That arsenal has become central to what many here see as a potential showdown with the U.S. after a frantic series of North Korean missile launches, this week, the U.S. moved warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson off the Korean Peninsula. That move prompted an angry response from the North Koreans overnight hand delivered to us in Pyongyang. Calling the warships "reckless acts of aggression". The government told us, "If the U.S. dares to choose a military option, the DPRK is willing and ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S."

President Trump responded in-turn on Twitter today writing, "North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them. USA." And in a second tweet, "I explained to the president of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solved the North Korea problem." Blunt words for the Kim Jong-un regime and for Chinese President Xi Jinping who made no specific promises of specific action against the North Korean government after meeting Trump at Mar- a-Lago last week.

China is North Korea's only meaningful trading partner, but it's not clear how far China is willing to go to rein in Pyongyang, or even if economic pressure would work. Tensions on the Korean peninsula after a highest level in years, with U.S. warships off the coast and just days after President Trump ordered a missile strike on the Syrian government, received by some inside North Korea as a thinly veiled threat.

This North Korean news reader saying, "We are not intimidated". North Korean state media warning of a nuclear strike if provoked.


RIPLEY: You may hear the music playing behind me. This is a song that plays several times a day, blasted on loud speakers across Pyongyang to remind people who live here about the sacrifices of the two late leaders. And, of course, loyalty to the current leader Kim Jong-un is the reason that people are allowed to live in this city, Erin.

This is an unprecedented situation because never before have the North Koreans dealt with a U.S. president who has engaged in this kind of rhetoric, these tweets, which still North Korea has to release an official response after that very strongly worded threat of a nuclear strike if the U.S. provokes this country.

And with this flotilla of warships heading for the Korean peninsula expected to arrive in a matter of hours or days, nobody knows how these two sides are going to respond. It could potentially be a dangerous situation, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Will.

OUTFRONT now, Gordon Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World", the former Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, also a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Marks is also here with me, Spider Marks.

So I just think there's an eeriness, General, of that song.


BURNETT: Which just says something so much about the brainwashing and what we see in North Korea.

MARKS: Uh-huh.

BURNETT: I want to play, though, what Donald Trump just said because he is upping the ante from his tweet. Here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier -- that I can tell you. And we have the best military people on Earth, and I will say this. He is doing the wrong thing.


BURNETT: He's bragging about an armada, saying submarines are even more powerful than that. Is that smart?

MARKS: Well, the carrier battle group has an amazing capability, Erin. You have surface, you have subsurface, you've got submarine, you've got aircraft that are available and you have an interconnected ability to provide this amazing air defense capability. And it's -- it's a carrier battle group. The term "armada" is certainly a bit dated.

But the message is very powerful. And the United States has full ability and certainly it's not unprecedented for them to be in the Sea of Japan with the carrier battle group. So, this is not unusual, kind of makes sense and it's very prudent.

BURNETT: So, Gordon, when you're the president of the United States saying, "I have an armada coming in and it's very powerful and my submarines are very, very powerful, and he's doing the wrong thing," you combine that with his tweet that he came out and said that North Korea is looking for trouble. Is that the right way to speak to Kim Jong-un?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": Yes, I don't think so. You know, there's a very fine line between provocation and deterrence. What he -- what Trump said was frightening because he said the submarines were more powerful than strike. And on submarines, they carry nuclear-tipped missiles. So, essentially, what he was doing was saying, "I'm going to obliterate you. I can do that."

BURNETT: I nuke on you if I want to.

CHANG: And you got to remember also that Kim Jong-un has a very low threshold of risk right now because of those four incidents starting from the end of January, showing instability in the regime. So, we don't really know how all these statements are going to affect him. But we know that he's probably going to act in ways that are going to surprise us.

BURNETT: And, Colonel, what are you saying? I mean, you know, he has come out and hand delivered that message, as Will Ripley said, in which he said, self defense had been preemptive strike capabilities with the nuclear force at the core. That is what North Korea said it is justified to do.

When Donald Trump comes out and talks about his nuclear armed submarines and take the statement out of Pyongyang, how close are we?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, FORMER AIR FORCE COLONEL: I think we're very close. I say that carefully, because this is the brink. I mean, obviously, when you go into something like the Korean War back in the '50s, that was a hot war. We don't want to go there.

But what we're seeing is this ramp up of rhetoric where you have a very intransigent regime in Pyongyang. You have a seemingly intransigent president in the United States. You've got bystanders who have their respective positions, and especially China.


LEIGHTON: So, you have a whole issue there where you have to bring all these people together but they're rapidly diminishing the possibility of reaching some kind of a negotiated settlement which would involve either the North Koreans not doing something from a nuclear perspective or some reduction in force on either the U.S. or the South Korean side and, of course, on the North Korean side.

BURNETT: So, General, when they say preemptive strike that North Korea believes it would be justified to do that if provoked, is Donald Trump walking towards that line of provoking? I mean, is he trying to walk up to the line of testing Kim Jong-un as to whether he really would do a preemptive strike?

MARKS: I would suggest not. But the United States has a readiness posture both in the South and in the region that is at the highest levels 24/7. And, in fact, when you're on the peninsula, the way that you approach your job every day is be prepared to fight tonight. Be prepared at the level of readiness. Nothing else is acceptable.

So, the provocation, if we're trying to evaluate the level of tension, I would say it doesn't exist any differently today than it did the day before. The issue is what took place in Syria sends a very powerful message to the Kim regime and Pyongyang, which is: this president is not afraid to strike and not afraid to take kinetic military action, and we have a carrier battle power group that has immense, powerful -- powerful precision capabilities.


MARKS: They know that. The North knows that and have known that for years. So, I think we need to kind of take a little bit of the air out of the balloon here. I don't think we're ratcheting up the tension.

BURNETT: Gordon?

CHANG: Well, a little bit. I mean, when you send a carrier strike group into the Sea of Japan, that's one thing. You know, you say --


MARKS: Yeah.

CHANG: -- that is we always or often have a carrier there.

BURNETT: But the president of the United States isn't usually out there saying, I can nuke you if we want to.

CHANG: Right. The one thing though is that we didn't see a strike group into the Yellow Sea in 2010 because the Chinese were vehemently opposed to that, and because we didn't do that, the North Koreans did strike out against South Korea, shelling the island, killing four civilians. So, this is going to be difficult to recalibrate the use of force or the sense of intimidation.

MARKS: Less is better in this case, I really think. Very little needs to be said. There's immense capabilities in the United States military and there are some very senior people in charge of both the Defense Department and National Security Council, the president probably didn't need to say a thing.

BURNETT: You may be right, but, of course, he is not a man of less is more.

LEIGHTON: That's the issue.

BURNETT: And that is not how he's talking tonight.

All right. Thanks very much to all of you.

OUTFRONT next, the breaking news: President Trump and Vice President Pence trying to rush in in a close race in Kansas. Polls close moments from now. This one is crucial.

And take two on United Airlines. You know what? They defended themselves yesterday. And now, a complete 180. Jeanne Moos on the re-accommodation that has outraged the world.


[19:42:52] BURNETT: Breaking news at this moment: polls about to close in Kansas, a crucial congressional election that Republicans are scrambling to win in Kansas. President Trump, Vice President Pence both jumping in at the last minute. Trump tweeting about the race also today. The seat was actually left empty because Mike Pompeo became the CIA director for President Trump.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing, sir?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Springtime on the Kansas plains usually brings tornadoes, not political earthquakes, which is just what rookie politician Jim Thompson is trying to deliver in one of the more conservative congressional districts in the country.

JIM THOMPSON (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I think it's an anti-ultra conservative vote.

LAVANDERA: Thompson is a civil rights lawyer, an Army veteran and a Bernie Sanders Democrat. Donald Trump's shadow looms large over this race.

THOMPSON: Trump has made a lot of people nervous, though. I mean, I do see a lot of people here worried about some of the things that they've seen coming out of the Trump White House.

LAVANDERA: Democrats lost the fourth congressional district in southern Kansas back in 1994, and have been out in the wilderness here ever since. Donald Trump won this district by nearly 30 points.

The Republican candidate is Ron Estes, the Kansas state treasurer, and he's happy to ride the Trump bandwagon.

(on camera): When you saw yourself to voters, do you connect yourself with Donald Trump? I mean, do you think that's a viable connection?

RON ESTES (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I think it is in the district. I think there's a lot of people that really like the message that we need to change Washington.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): But hitching your campaign to the president does have its pitfalls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to apologize, I didn't vote for you.

ESTES: Oh, no. That's terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you're going to do a wonderful job, represent Republicans very well because I think you're a good solid person.

ESTES: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just disagree with the Republicans philosophy that tax cuts generate jobs.


LAVANDERA: It's that kind of moment that forced Republicans to make a last-minute push to keep the seat. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have recorded robocalls to voters in the district.

[19:45:01] TRUMP: Ron is going to help us, big league, but I need Republicans like Ron Estes to help me get the job done.

LAVANDERA: Texas Senator Ted Cruz even flew in to rally Republican voters.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The eyes of the whole country are on Kansas. This election, the special election tomorrow makes a difference not just for Kansas but for the whole country.

LAVANDERA: And the national Republican Congressional Committee has dropped $100,000 on television ads in the final days.

AD ANNOUNCER: James Thompson supports abortion even if parents don't like the gender of their baby.

LAVANDERA: Just a few weeks ago, no one had ever heard of Jim Thompson.

THOMPSON: It's a badge of honor that I'm wearing.

LAVANDERA: Now, he's got the political world's attention.

THOMPSON: My candidate can't beat me himself. He's got to bring in, you know, the president of the United States and the vice president and a senator and the speaker of the House to try to beat me. And I say line them up and I'm going to keep knocking them down, because the people here want a change.


LAVANDERA: And, Erin, a lot of people didn't realize what was going on in this race until the early voting numbers started coming in. About 30,000 people voted early. About 14,000 of those were Republicans, 12,000, Democrats. Even though the Republicans have a lead in a district like this, that kind of margin was just too close to call.

So, the eyes of the political world watching this congressional district race here tonight. Polls close, Erin, in about 15 minutes.

BURNETT: All right, Ed. Thank you very much.

And next, the man dragged off the American Airlines flight speaking out for the first time as outrage grows around the world to United Airlines. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Breaking news: the passenger captured on video being forcibly removed from that United Airlines flight speaking out tonight for the first time. In a statement, Dr. David Dao's family says he's appreciative of all the support he's gotten and says Dao is still in the hospital recovering from injuries.

Meanwhile, the CEO of United Airlines has released a new statement with a complete 180, apologizing for the incident. Last night, you know, he described Dr. Dao as, you know, escalating to being belligerent and disruptive. Now, he says what happened to him was truly horrific. It's a statement that for many is just too little too late.

Alison Kosik is OUTFRONT.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the video that stunned the world, United Airlines passenger Dr. David Dao being dragged off and bloodied on an overbooked flight. The incident and response sparking outrage around the world on social media, with threats to boycott the airline, turning into a PR nightmare for the third largest airline in the U.S. by passenger traffic.

[19:50:12] Today, almost 48 hours after Dao was physically removed from the flight, an apology from United CEO Oscar Munoz. In a statement, he calls what happened "truly horrific", and pledging, "We will work to make it right."

But Munoz had nothing but praise for his customers last year.

OSCAR MUNOZ, UNITED AIRLINES CEO: All good relationships are built on trust. We know that and we know that we have to earn yours, every day on every flight.

KOSIK: But his response so Dao's removal has been widely criticized. Initially, he apologized for having to re-accommodate him and three other passengers. Then, in an email to staff Monday night, he promised to stand by his employees and expressed regret over the situation, but he also called Dao disruptive and belligerent, and said employees followed established procedures.

When Oscar Munoz became United CEO in September 2015, he worked not just on building trust with customers, but building it with his employees too.

MUNOZ: My first big strategic move was to determine that we've lost the trust of our employees. So, how do we regain the trust of them and therefore our customers?

KOSIK: PR Week's Steve Barrett recognized the strides Munoz made in under two years.

STEVE BARRETT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, PR WEEK: He rebuilt trust. He'd signed all the union deals ahead of schedule, which is unprecedented, the share price was up, customer service levels were up, and he was well-liked by staff.

KOSIK: Munoz made such a name for himself. PR Week in March awarded him the coveted Communicator of the Year Award, an irony critics now are quick to point out. But Barrett says Munoz wouldn't get the award today.

BARRETT: It's fair to say if we were awarding it now, we wouldn't give it to him because I don't think the response has been up to scratch and has been good enough.

KOSIK: The 57-year-old came from modest beginnings and work his way up. He was the first of nine children in his family to graduate from college, and five weeks into his position at United, he had a heart attack and underwent a heart transplant, only to come back months later.

But whether he can come back from this is still up in the air. United airlines stock lost $250 million in market value just today.


KOSIK: And, Erin, this is really a global problem for United. There's been a lot of outrage on China's version of Twitter after seeing Dr. Dao, who's Vietnamese, being dragged off the plane. China is one of United's most important growth markets. So, their PR cleanup needs to go beyond just the United States -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Alison, thank you.

And now, our legal analyst Paul Callan, former prosecutor.

I mean, Paul, we've seen several angles on this video. It is shocking. You see Dr. Dao at one point running through the aisle.


DAVID DAO, UNITED PASSENGER: I have to go home. I have to go home.


BURNETT: He's saying, "I have to go home." He's got a bloody face as he does this. You hear him screaming, a high pitch scream that's so hard to hear. He says, "Just kill me" with that bloody face.

I mean, how does this play in a court case?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, lawsuits are about two things, what are the damages to the person who was hurt and who are you suing?

And here, the damages did not look enormous, although he is still in the hospital sand maybe it's triggered another heart attack. So, it could be a catastrophic injury. But assuming it's only an injury for that brief period of time, the target here, United Airlines, this is a public relations disaster for them. They, just today they were going between $250 million and $500 million in terms of, you know, decreased value of the company, and what that spells for a lawyer who takes this case ultimately is, to buy off a public relations disaster, they're going to have to pay this doctor a lot of money. This case is going to get a lot more than it normally would.

BURNETT: And normally, you're saying maybe $50,000, you're now talking multiples of that? What?

CALLAN: I'm talking about $500,000 to a million dollars if this case is handled properly, because they want to get this out of the newspapers, off the press, because people are stopping buying United Airlines tickets and it's going to be an ongoing United Airlines disaster. The only way you get out of the disaster, pay him money and get a sealed settlement and move on.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you, Paul.

And United Airlines clearly needs a new PR campaign after this week. Here's Jeanne Moos with the savage response.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Talk about turbulence, United better fasten it's seat belt, attacked on Twitter, boarded as a doctor, leave as a patient, we put the hospital in hospitality, parodied in late night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we say you fly, you fly. If not, tough (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at what you did to him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give us a problem, and we'll drag your ass off the plane.

MOOS: This movie clip from airplane has taken off.

[19:55:04] The word of the week is re-accommodate, as we can re- accommodate you the easy way or the hard way.

Getting ready to fly involves bubble wrap for man and man's best friend. The captain has turned on the "no passenger" sign.

Most of the online slings and arrows came via the hashtag #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos.

Mottos like, "We have first class, business class, and no class." "You have to admit, that's a lot of leg room." "United Airlines introduces new cabin class, fight club."

And check out the re-imagined safety instruction. "Please cover your head and brace yourself for a beating."

Old commercials are being turned into mash-ups.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Performing together with a single United purpose.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what makes the world's leading airline flyer friendly.

MOOS: There are parody as from other airlines, Southwest, "we beat the competition, not you." And an actual, real ad from Emirates Airlines, mocking United with its own slogan, and this, became "comply with me."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we'll beat you so badly, you'll be using your own face as a flotation device.

MOOS: United is now the one taking a beating and it's the Internet that's being unfriendly.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BURNETT: And we'll be right back.


MOOS: And thanks for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT anytime anywhere. Just go to CNN Go.

Anderson is next with "AC360."