Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. Drops Massive Non-Nuclear Bomb in Afghanistan; North Korea: "Merciless" Response to U.S. "Provocation"; Trump Sign Anti- Planned Parenthood Law in Private. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:00:40] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Dave Briggs in for John Berman on this Good Friday.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow, happy Friday to all of you. New this morning, moment of impact. The Pentagon released this dramatic video of the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed by U.S. forces. The 10-ton bomb took out dozens of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan and destroyed their tunnels and hiding caves. That blossoming mushroom cloud you see visible from some 20 miles away.

BRIGGS: But the intended audience may be all the way across the continent with North Korea maybe just hours away from a new nuclear test. Is this confrontational dictator paying attention to President Trump's second military action in a week?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know if this sends a message. It doesn't make any difference if it does or not. North Korea's a problem. The problem will be taken care of. I will say this. I think China has really been working very hard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us. Good morning to you, Barbara. The thought being this sends a signal, the dropping of this MOAB bomb to North Korea. Is North Korea sending a signal right back to President Trump?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the rhetoric and the tensions may be escalating on the public stage. U.S. military officials say they continue to watch North Korea all the time, trying to figure out if there might be more missile tests or even an underground nuclear test, but the U.S. military not getting into the politics of all of this. They are adamant that this mission in Afghanistan and the video really spells it out, was all about hitting an ISIS complex of tunnels and bunkers in this remote mountain valley in eastern Afghanistan.

Earlier today, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan made the point that he didn't see it when he ordered it as being anything influenced by what he called outside events. Have a listen to a little bit more of what General John Nicholson had to say about this mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOHN W. NICHOLSON, COMMANDER U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: We had persistent surveillance over the area before, during and after the operation. And now, we have Afghan and U.S. forces on the site and see no evidence of civilian casualties, nor have there been any reports of civilian casualties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So, General Nicholson taking a moment there at that press conference to send a message to the Afghan people that this mission went as planned. Back at the White House, President Trump yesterday was asked about whether he authorized this mission and he spoke very cryptically about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you authorize it, sir?

TRUMP: Everybody knows exactly what happened, so. And what I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world and they've done a job, as usual. So, we have given them total authorization and that's what they're doing. And frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately. If you look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what's happened over the last eight years, you'll see there's a tremendous difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: But I think it's probably important to remember that the military actions taken by the Trump administration have largely, in this last week, been what you would call standoff, missiles into Syria that are, of course, unmanned. No U.S. troops at immediate risk there. This bombing in Afghanistan, also no U.S. troops at immediate risk there. And of course, it's important to remember there was an airstrike in Mosul that potentially killed a large number of Iraqi civilians. Back to you guys.

BRIGGS: We're told 18. Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon for us. Thank you.

Meanwhile, White House officials, they say President Trump is being kept informed on North Korea's activity while in Florida this weekend. He's in Mar-a-Lago. This as North Korea ramps up its rhetoric, saying just hours ago, that America's "gangsterlike" logic, pushing tensions to the brink of "thermonuclear war."

CNN's Alexandra Field, live in South Korea with more. Alexandria, what are we expecting ahead of a national holiday there in North Korea?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Washington is preparing for the possibility of a sixth nuclear test at almost any moment and we know that it will come without warning. So, what they are doing here is looking at the possibility that it could come this weekend.

[10:05:03] That is because North Korea is preparing for its most important day on the calendar, the Day of the Sun, which is the celebration of the founder's birthday. It is also a day around which they have in the past, planned military provocations, other kinds of missile launches, as a show and a demonstration of strength on the Peninsula.

There is more reason that Kim Jong-un could order a test or a missile launch this weekend. That's because you have the U.S. vice president making his way to the region. He is here to discuss with his allies in Seoul and in Tokyo. The variety of options that the White House is considering when it comes to trying to counter the North Korean nuclear threat. One of those options, of course, we know, the consideration of a military option.

Just now, you've had "KCNA", which is the state news in North Korea, publishing comments from an army spokesperson that says, any military provocation conducted by the U.S. would be met with a merciless response, the toughest response that North Korea could muster. Pyongyang has already been enraged by the presence of a fleet of U.S. warships that have been sent back to the waters off of the North Korean Peninsula.

Washington says they are there to act as a deterrent. The question is whether or not the presence of the "USS Carl Vinson" will instead act as a provocation. Again, analysts in the U.S. have been closely analyzing satellite images, saying it appears that North Korea is ready to pull off a nuclear test at any time. Dave, Poppy?

HARLOW: Alexandra field in Seoul, thank you so much for that. It is quite a world stage that this president is facing right now. Let's talk about all of it with our panel, Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, CNN military analyst and advisory board member at Academy Securities. Also, Bob Baer is here, our CNN intelligence security analyst and a former CIA operative and Peter Bergen joins us, our national security analyst.

And Peter, let's begin with you, you wrote a fascinating opinion piece on this. You obviously spent a tremendous amount of time studying Afghanistan in Afghanistan. You, of course, interviewed Osama bin Laden. You write in this new opinion piece, the timing of this that the war in Afghanistan is at a critical point. What message did this send? And will it be effective?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, one strike doesn't make a strategy, obviously. But when I say it's a critical point, the Taliban now control or contest a third of the Afghan population and that is a development that most Americans haven't really noticed because there's been not that much coverage of the Afghan war.

HARLOW: Right.

BERGEN: We have 8,400 American soldiers there right now. General Mick Nicholson, the commander who spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan has asked for a thousand more advisors. I mentioned advisors. That would not be a combat presence. That would be an advice and assist and train the Afghan Army.

And clearly and also, there's a review going on at the National Security Council and at the Pentagon. General McMaster, the national security advisor, is going to travel to Afghanistan, you know, soon to see for himself. And there will be, you know, hopefully a more laid- out strategy that says, you know that Afghanistan's important, that we are not going to place arbitrary withdrawal dates and that we're going to sort of beef up our presence there.

BRIGGS: Now to Peter's point, Major, one bombing does not make for a strategy. Take it all into account, what we've done in Syria, sending troops to Somalia, tough talk against North Korea. Is there one cohesive strategy, foreign policy? And is one needed?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST AND BOARD MEMBER ACADEMY SECURITIES: One is needed, certainly. I think what you see and it would be premature to conflate what you just described of these individual incidents -- a response in Syria, a response in Afghanistan and simply, you know, it's a routine deployment of a carrier battle group back to the Sea of Japan. That's totally expected and routine and it has been for years and years.

So, North Korea should not view that in any other way than they normally do. It's not a provocation. But a strategy needs to be established, but I think what you see is the administration with the team that's around the president is getting its legs under itself and we are, as a matter of routine, going after targets that present themselves where we can have a tactical effect.

In Syria, I would suggest that that was a tactical mission, but it had a very huge political impact, both in Syria and as we understand, everything in Syria's about Russia. And then how that, the event that just occurred in Afghanistan with the use of the MOAB, how that translates over to North Korea, certainly you could draw some causal links there. But the tensions on the Peninsula in Korea are routinely high. I don't think there's anything that's abnormal that would think that we are on the brink of something that we have not routinely seen on that Peninsula.

[10:10:00] HARLOW: Except for the fact, it's interesting, is that the Pentagon, you know, was so vocal about these ship movements. A lot of times, they don't talk about them ahead of time and they were very vocal about that.

Bob Baer, to you, the way that the president is talking about all of this military action, you know, around the world, is he saying things have changed? Because this is the guy who ran on "America First," right? This is the guy who, you know, in 2013 tweeted multiple times about the U.S. shouldn't get involved in Afghanistan, get out, it's a mess. And now, you have this. Here's the explanation from the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: If you look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what's happened over the last eight years, you'll see there's a tremendous difference, tremendous difference. So, we have incredible leaders in the military and we have incredible military and we are very proud of them. And this was another very, very successful mission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So, he says the world is so different. These eight weeks have changed a lot of things. Do you see it that way, Bob?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE SECURITY ANALYST AND FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Not at all, Poppy. You know, he was right to say we can't win in Afghanistan. You know, we did win tactically. The military never lost an engagement there. It did what it was supposed to. But again, as the panel has said, we do not have a strategy. And now the president is deciding that we can take Mosul much more quickly by bombing it, which has ended up in civilian casualties. He's talking about unleashing the Saudis in Yemen, which will worsen that war and the humanitarian crisis.

And you know, but to go back to Afghanistan, you know we're not going to nation-build there. No one's done it in the last 2,000 years. So I'm not sure why we can. It's a quagmire. You know, will this bombing of Syria, the Air Force base there, send a message to North Korea? Who knows with that leadership, because frankly, in our minds, it's irrational? So, you know, he's getting his sea legs and I think he's going to arrive at some serious disappointments in the next couple months.

BRIGGS: So, perhaps no strategy, no foreign policy, but certainly there's a common thread and it's unpredictability, Peter. Can that be an asset for the president, or is it a liability?

BERGEN: I think in foreign policy, unpredictability is not an asset. I mean, the whole point about foreign policy is you kind of have an expectation of what people are going to do and the rules of the road. But I would question the idea that, you know, we're very early into the presidency. He's hired the National Security Council, Dina Powell, to be the person thinking about strategy and another important academic, Nadia Schadlow, is go to write the strategy -- and H.R. McMaster, obviously the national security advisor, is overseeing that. He's a brilliant guy.

So, you know, I mean, it's a little bit of, I think, of an unfair criticism to say they don't have a strategy. I mean, they're really just starting in some ways. But I don't think the president is accurate either to say there's a great difference in the last eight weeks compared to, other than the Syria strike, you know. I mean the operation in Mosul's been in the planning and in the works for a couple of years before Donald Trump took office. So you know, he -- Mosul will fall at some point. The Trump administration will surely say that's great. But a lot of that work was done under the Obama administration.

HARLOW: Major -

BRIGGS: 85 days in -- perhaps pretty early for a doctrine for an overall foreign policy. Major, Bob Baer and Peter Bergen, thank you all.

BAER: You bet.

BRIGGS: Still to come, the monster bomb might have made the most noise, but a bill President Trump signed yesterday in private could have had more lasting impact for women across this country.

HARLOW: Also, once a fierce opponent of the president, now prominent face of the president's foreign policy. Our Jamie Gangel, with her exclusive one-on-one sit-down with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, it is a fascinating interview. You'll hear it right here.

And the CEO of the biggest privately funded non-profit in the world goes one-on-one with the president and he's talking about it. Hear that interview, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:18:20] HARLOW: That monster bomb dropped in Afghanistan is capping a very busy week for President Trump as far as military action is concerned, while there have been much quieter actions at home that could have broad impact across the country domestically.

BRIGGS: Let's discuss with CNN political commentators, Shermichael Singleton, Maria Cardona and David Swerdlick. Shermichael is a Republican strategist, Maria, Democratic strategist and David is an assistant editor at "The Washington Post."

And David, let's start you with something we read in "The Washington Post" about the reversals of the Trump administration, suggesting that perhaps we should be -- we should look at these positively, because he is evolving in the right direction. What do you think of that characterization?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND ASSISTANT EDITOR "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, that's a wise and considered decision by our editorial board. I happen to take a slightly different view, Dave. I think that, yes, it makes sense that anybody changes their mind when presented with new facts.

That being said, President Trump has not just flip-flopped on issues in one or two cases or on the specific case of foreign policy. He is a serial flip-flopper who has not had consistent positions on really any major issues throughout the course of his adult life, his presidential campaign and now into the first 100 days of his presidency. I don't think it should be a good sign that someone campaigns speaking one way about a whole host of issues and then governs a different way about a whole other set -- in a whole other sense on those same issues. That's essentially misleading the American people who installed him in office for a particular agenda. So I think there's minimal credibility on that. HARLOW: But Maria Cardona, I mean, don't -- as someone who we know was not a supporter of this president during the campaign, there is a difference between campaigning and governing.

[10:20:04] There is a difference when you're sitting in the chair and you are presented with the intelligence, right? There is a difference when it is the weight of the world on your shoulders. Are you happy to see some of these shifts in policy?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think what you have to take into consideration and I completely agree with David, is who Donald Trump is and what he has said is behind all of these flip-flops. You're right, Poppy, it is one thing to go into that chair and to understand the weight of the world is on your shoulders and then to change your positions thoughtfully and methodically, given the new information that you now have in front of you.

The problem is, none of the information on which Donald Trump has flip-flopped is new information. He is making these decisions based on images, based on headlines and I think the one good thing is based on the now more thoughtful people that he is listening to in his administration. You know, it is one thing to be flexible, but it's a completely different thing to have no steel core past which you will bend. Donald Trump is like a political Gumby doll that bends to whatever is happening today or tomorrow and we will never know where he stands. That is not a smart way to run a country.

BRIGGS: Well, Shermichael, some on the right are in fear that there is no true conservative within this White House that now speaks for them, now that Steve Bannon's appears to be lessening, as does his influence. Some on the left are comforted that Gary Cohn has a greater sphere of influence. Is that the shift you see taking part?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITCAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I mean, I think the faction within the Republican Party that Mr. Bannon represents does not by and large represent the entire Republican Party on a whole. I think if you look at what many have called the alt-right, there isn't any intellectual defense of many of the nationalistic principles and ideas that Mr. Bannon has maintained.

So, it is my hope that Priebus will help President Trump become more of a more mainstream Republican as it pertains to policy, as it pertains to foreign policy. But I think as it pertains to Mr. Bannon, he is not representative of most Republicans. But I do think he is representative of many of the voters who voted for President Trump, which is why I think the president has to strike a balance of not stepping completely away from many of the people who supported him while also walking a line of pulling more Republicans to support him in the long run.

HARLOW: Or he has to run very differently, you know, for 2020. But the issue is he's also doing things that play right to his base, like -- that aren't getting a lot of attention, frankly, in the wake of the bomb that was dropped yesterday. And David, to you, I mean, you know, he signed legislation yesterday. He signed legislation yesterday that lets states deny money to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. This is something that he reverses, a last sort of minute change from the Obama administration. This is a big, big reversal.

Now, I should note, federal money could already not go to providing abortions because of the Hyde Amendment, but this allows states to not fund any entity that does provide abortions. This is a big deal, David.

SWERDLICK: It is a big deal and again, I think this plays to this idea that President Trump, as Maria said, doesn't really stick to one core set of beliefs. Back in his late 50s, in I think 1999. He was on "Meet the Press" and said that he was very pro-choice. When he campaigned for president, he was pro-life. As recently as August of 2015, within the span of a week, he said that he would shut the government down to defund Planned Parenthood and then within that week, he said, actually, he was open to the idea that Planned Parenthood did some things, even though he was against abortion, that they provided some services that he thought were good for women's health.

And now, though, he is signing this legislation which at the state level, potentially would defund Planned Parenthood for all of the work they do, you know, not just abortion services. Again, regardless of whether you come down pro-life or pro-choice, the position is inconsistent, in my view.

BRIGGS: So, maybe not an ideological core, but Maria, certainly a priority legislative here domestically. He is still focused on health care and you see that on the front of "The Wall Street Journal" today. Is that politically risky?

CARDONA: Yes. It is incredibly politically risky, especially this atrocious bill that he signed yesterday. Look, majorities of Americans are supportive of Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood provides health care and health screening services and preventive care to millions of Americans, not just women, but millions of Americans and their families.

[10:25:00] What is so ironic here is that a lot of the Americans that are going to be dangerously affected by this move are -- reside in rural, red, Trump districts that voted for him.

So, I do think it is going to be very politically risky, not just for Trump, but for every Republican who supports this. It's going to be interesting to see the governors that actually move forward with this and using it as an excuse to take money away from Planned Parenthood, because they do realize that a lot of their constituents live in these rural districts where Planned Parenthood is the only clinic that Americans can go to in order to afford real health care.

HARLOW: There are a lot of conservatives that would take a lot of issue with that argument. And they would say there are a number of other providers for women's health care that they would point to. We're out of time - CARDONA: And that is not true. They're just wrong about that.

HARLOW: Guys, thank you for joining me. Shermichael Singleton, Maria Cardona, David Swerdlick, thanks for being here.

Still to come for us, a 10-ton message to ISIS, you can go underground, but you cannot hide, the U.S. unleashing this huge, so- called mother of all bombs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)