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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With California Congressman Ed Royce; Did Trump Administration Mislead Nation About U.S. Navy Movements?; Bill O'Reilly Out at FOX News; Syria Moving Warplanes to Shield from U.S. Attack; O'Reilly Out at FOX News Amid Sex Harassment Scandal. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired April 19, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Syria moves most of its warplanes to a single location in the shadow of a Russian air base, the Bashar al- Assad regime apparently looking for cover from the Kremlin in case U.S. missiles strike again.

Risk of war. As North Koreans cheer the idea of a direct attack on the United States, the Trump administration warns it's ready to respond with overwhelming force if necessary. Did misleading statements about the deployment of U.S. warships escalate the danger?

And factored out. FOX News is taking Bill O'Reilly off the air for good, as the network's biggest star reels from a sexual harassment scandal. What will this mean for cable TV, the conservative movement and President Trump?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, tough new talk from the secretary of state about the nuclear threat from Iran, as a review gets under way of the agreement designed to defuse that threat.

Rex Tillerson warning in strong words that Iran's provocative actions on multiple fronts pose a grave risk to the United States. Tillerson facing reporters just hours after he confirmed that Tehran is complying with a nuclear deal, at least for now.

In Syria tonight, warplanes on the move in the aftermath of the missile strike ordered by President Trump. U.S. defense officials say Syria has relocated most of its combat aircraft to a base very close to one of Russia's primary military installations inside the country.

The Bashar al-Assad regime apparently looking to Moscow to help protect its remaining warplanes in case the U.S. strikes again.

We are also following menacing moves by Russia amid escalating tensions between the Kremlin and the White House. Two of Vladimir Putin's nuclear-capable bombers buzzing the Alaska coast for second time in 24 hours, coming much closer than the day before.

And another breaking story we are following, an ally of President Trump and a powerful voice in the conservative movement yanked off the air. FOX News announcing that it is cutting ties with anchor Bill O'Reilly as he faces sexual harassment allegations and an advertising boycott.

Just weeks ago, the president publicly defended O'Reilly, claiming he had done nothing wrong.

This hour, I will talk to the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Ed Royce.

Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, at the State Department.

Michelle, we heard from the secretary of state just a little while ago. He is likening Iran to North Korea. Update our viewers.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are analysts who would take issue with that, because North Korea already has nuclear weapons capabilities and Iran currently does not.

But this happens just as the administration certifies to Congress that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. But at the same time, the administration is announcing a review of the deal, the possibility of reimposing sanctions that would end the nuclear deal, and they are calling it a failure, in part because it doesn't take into account all of Iran's other bad activities, raising questions, of course, what is this?

Is it rhetoric or is it part of some broader strategy?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI (voice-over): For the first time in this new administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson officially certified to Congress Iran is keeping up its end of the nuclear deal, something the administration must do every 90 days.

But this administration also made it extremely clear today that is not enough.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It really does not achieve the objective. It is another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions. We buy them off for a short period of time and then someone has to deal with it later. An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it.

KOSINSKI: Tillerson says the U.S. is also reviewing whether it might reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the Iran deal. If that happens, then no more deal. TILLERSON: Strategic patience is a failed approach. A comprehensive

Iran policy requires that we address all of the threats posed by Iran. It is clear there are many.

KOSINSKI: And this today from Defense Secretary Mattis in Saudi Arabia.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Everywhere you look, if there's trouble in the region, you find Iran.

KOSINSKI: President Trump never actually said he would rip up the deal on day one, but he said plenty against it.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The dumbest deal perhaps I have ever seen in the history of deal-making, the Iran deal.

[18:05:00]

My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.

This will be a totally different deal.

KOSINSKI: Now his administration is beginning a 90-day interagency review of the deal.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If he thought everything was fine he would have, you know, allowed this to move forward. I think he is doing the prudent thing by asking for a review of the current deal.

KOSINSKI: They worry about the fact that nuclear inspectors don't have anytime/anywhere access to suspected nuclear sites. They question whether then anyone can ever know whether Iran is really complying. And Iran continues to sponsor terror, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: They are on the march. The list of Iranian transgressions has increased dramatically since the date that the JCPOA was signed.

KOSINSKI: But those activities were intentionally kept separate from the nuclear deal, which the U.S. can't unilaterally renegotiate anyway. And breaking the deal by imposing nuclear-related sanctions, which Tillerson appears to be saying the U.S. would consider, could bring its own repercussions.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: By not implementing it, you give the mullahs, you give the hard-liners in Iran the ammunition they need to pull Iran out of the deal. And that would be disastrous, not only for the deal, but potentially for the region.

What they may be doing here by ordering the review is signaling to their base. They can say to their voters, honestly, hey, look, we really didn't like it. We looked at it, but we think it's the least bad alternative and we are going to keep it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: The questions we have today that were not answered, if you're calling the Iran nuclear deal already a failure, why are you doing a review? It sounds like the administration's mind is already made up.

If they are focusing on all of Iran's destabilizing and terror-related activity, which were intentionally kept separate from the Iran nuclear deal, treated separately so that Iran would enter the deal in the first place, why are you talking about sanctions that are related to the nuclear deal and not other those sanctions that are in place that directly focus on those kinds of activities, Wolf?

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski over at the State Department, thank you.

Tonight, we're also tracking new moves by Russian and Syrian warplanes amid escalating tensions with the U.S. after President Trump ordered that missile strike in Syria.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you learning about the relocation of those remaining operational Syrian military aircraft?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

Clearly, the Syrians are looking for protection and they believe the Russian military can give it to them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): The April 6 U.S. Tomahawk missile attack at a Syrian air base now reverberating inside the Assad regime. The regime has moved the majority of its operational fighter jets to a coastal air base at Bassel al-Assad Airport, putting the Syrian jets under the protective umbrella of Russia's adjacent air base.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It points to a much closer relationship than we thought they had otherwise. And it may also be an indicator that they might want to protect some of the assets, potentially their weapons and potentially their fuel storage areas. And it could also mean that they may be facilitating the hiding of chemical weapons.

STARR: Something to worry about given the Trump administration's willingness to use military force in retaliation for the regime's attack in Northern Syria using what international agencies now believe was most likely sarin, a finding now underscored by the international inspection regime for of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons.

The U.S. retaliatory response to the sarin attack took out 20 percent of Syria's operational fighter jets; 23 fixed-wing jets were destroyed, including seven SU-22s and 16 MiG-23s.

Defense Secretary James Mattis traveling in the region making the point the U.S. and Russian military are still talking about their combat air operations.

MATTIS: We are deconflicting with Russians. We continue to deconflict with the Russians for safety of flight to avoid any kind of misunderstanding or any kind of inadvertent running into each other, frankly, in the air.

STARR: And while Syrian aircraft are looking for Russian protection, Russian aircraft are getting closer to U.S. shores. For the second time in two days, two Cold War era Russian Bear bombers were spotted flying off the coast of Alaska, at one point coming within 36 miles of the mainland, but carefully staying in international airspace.

U.S. military aircraft conducted routine intercepts and the bombers turn back towards Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:10:00]

STARR: Now, the U.S. military does not see those Russian flights off Alaska as any particular immediate military threat, but it does underscore all sides are keeping an eye on each other -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly are. All right, Barbara, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Let's talk about the president's global strategy, the urgent new threats right now.

The chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Congressman Ed Royce, is joining us.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Would you support the Trump administration's breaking the terms of the Iran deal?

ROYCE: I don't think that's really what we are going to see happen here.

What I think we will see, Wolf, at the end of the day is a circumstance in which you have the Trump administration enforcing the hell out of the agreement, but also looking at missiles and the ICBM program that Iran is undertaking right now, that the ayatollah is undertaking.

And if you recall, at the time that that was presented to Congress, the argument was that they would not be doing any of this for eight years. Because they are doing it now, because the ayatollah is now giving these orders and shouting death to America, death to Israel, there is this very real interest right now in looking at targeted sanctions specifically against their ICBM program, their ballistic missile program.

And I think that's where you are going to see the energy.

BLITZER: So, despite the tough talk from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today, the State Department, the Trump administration did certify to Congress as they have to do every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal.

Do you agree they are complying with the terms of that deal?

ROYCE: Well, they are complying with the terms of the deal that they helped write. And they wrote that deal in a way that we cannot get international inspectors into these sites to actually check.

We know they pushed the envelope in terms of caps on heavy water and in terms of enriched uranium. They keep doing things around the edges where we can get a look. It looks like they are really stretching it. But there are so many spots where we are never going to be able to get inspectors into these military sites that we will never know.

The question for us is, are we going to respond to this new program to mass-produce intercontinental ballistic missiles? And I think there you're going to see the administration say, we are not going to allow the Iranians, now that we've already had a deal where we gave up all the leverage up front in terms of the sanctions -- that was billions in relief.

We are not going to allow them to go forward and mass-produce ICBMs so that when we are at the end of the agreement in, what, 13 14 years, and all oft -- that we lift everything at that point, that they're going to have a turnkey operation for ICBMs.

And I think that's the thrust here, is to make sure that we are looking at what we can do to stop that ICBM program.

BLITZER: But considering the growing nuclear threat right now from North Korea, they already have nuclear bombs. They are trying to miniaturize them to place them on warheads.

Is it wise, do you believe, for the U.S. to break this deal with Iran and find itself in a similar situation elsewhere? Because a lot of experts say if the U.S. were to break the deal, the Iranians within a matter of a few months, maybe a year or two, could find could have a nuclear capability.

ROYCE: Well, remember, what I see going forward is legislation that I and my ranking Democratic member, Eliot Engel, and the Democratic whip and the Republican majority leader are all jointly working on.

My legislation would allow us to move forward with sanctions on their nuclear program. And, of course, the administration is also sanctioning some of their terrorist activities, some of their abuse on human rights in the prisons, the torturing going on in the prisons in Iran.

This would not conflict with the agreement itself. But it would allow us additional diplomatic and financial leverage we need against Iran to make certain they do not go forward and build out this ICBM program. So, Wolf, I'm just speculating that that is probably where we end up.

BLITZER: Let me shift gears, Mr. Chairman, to Syria.

Does Syria's decision to move its remaining planes, its aircraft closer to a Russian base signal that they expect Putin to defend them against possible U.S. action?

ROYCE: Remember, what you see the administration and frankly political leadership on both sides of the aisle pushing for right now is a diplomatic resolution to this with Moscow which seeks to find someone other than Assad, Bashar Assad, in that position as a key decision-maker.

[18:15:08]

So I think the point has already been made on sarin gas. Taking out 23 of their aircraft, I think, made that point. And I think you are going to see at this point a great deal of attention given to how we can get sort of a win-win for everybody in the region, because the reality is this is not advantageous to Moscow, Washington, or any other capital in the region to have this kind of dysfunction.

And I just think that sending the message that we were not going to tolerate that use of sarin was probably the right time to send that message.

BLITZER: On the threat right now from North Korea, Mr. Chairman, you told our Jake Tapper the other day that American covert action could have foiled North Korea's missile launch. I know this is a very sensitive topic, but can you elaborate on that?

ROYCE: No, I cannot elaborate specifically on that question.

What I could tell you, though, Wolf, is that there is a broader way to cut off the parts. As you know, the South Koreans have been fishing out of the water these North Korean rockets and missiles after the launch.

And what they have found is that the parts themselves, whether it's the motors, the wiring, ball bearings, those have been made in China. Clearly, the international sanctions which I passed through the House and we passed through the Senate and into law and the U.N. sanctions, which were based on that bill, are not being complied with by Beijing.

So, what you see right now is a lot of diplomacy and effort to convince Beijing that we have got a new round of sanctions that are going to come that are going to shut down their banks. That happened under Banco Delta Asia, if you will recall, what, a decade ago, when at that time we caught these financial institutions helping North Korea.

If we shut down those banks and give them the choice of either doing business with the United States or North Korea, but not both, none of them can bankruptcy. So, we do have a plan here where a lot of pressure is being put on Beijing. And, frankly, we're telling them it's not in your interests ether to

have South Korea and Japan respond by building out a nuclear system. We're sitting on those countries, trying to get them to comply. You need to cut off, because you're the only source of support. You need to cut off your support for North Korea. That will shut down their program. And that's what we need to do right now.

BLITZER: All right, Mr. Chairman, I want you to stand by. There's more that we need to discuss.

We are going to take a quick break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:17]

BLITZER: We are back with the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Ed Royce.

Mr. Chairman, I want you to stand by for a moment.

We're getting some new information. The White House denying that anyone misled the public about the location of a U.S. Navy aircraft strike group after President Trump claimed an armada was heading towards the Korean Peninsula, when it wasn't.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, have we received any clarity about yet the deployment?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not much, Wolf.

The White House insisting there was never anything wrong with the president's claim last week that an armada was heading toward the Sea of Japan as a show of force to North Korea.

The administration of course acknowledged yesterday one key part of that armada, USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, was actually thousands of miles away from the Sea of Japan conducting naval exercises.

A senior administration official told us it was all a miscommunication. But today at the daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted the president was technically correct because the carrier will be headed to the Sea of Japan eventually. Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: The president believed he might have spoken too quickly on this location of the vessel before it was...

SPICER: The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That's a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather.

QUESTION: Sean, I just want to follow up on that. You know, obviously, when the president of the United States says

there's military hardware going to a region in the middle of a crisis on the Korean Peninsula, the allies of the United States are encouraged. When that happens to not be the case, they can interpret that as a false encouragement.

How is this White House explaining to South Korea and Japan that in fact during the buildup and the actual DPRK missile launch, there was no USS Carl Vinson?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Well, respectfully, Jessica, I would ask you to either touch base with PACOM or the Department of Defense. The statement that was put out was that the Carl Vinson group was headed to the Korean peninsula. It is headed to the Korean Peninsula.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: What is that?

QUESTION: It's headed there now. It wasn't headed there last week.

SPICER: Sure. No, no, but that's not what we ever said. We said that it was heading there. And it was heading there. It is heading there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, this went on and on, and Spicer went onto maintain that the White House did not mislead the public about the whereabouts of the Carl Vinson, when clearly the president and other top administration officials left that the impression that the carrier was on its way to the Sea of Japan, Wolf.

Either way, this was a massive miscommunication on the part of the White House.

BLITZER: It certainly was.

Jim, you're also getting some new information about the White House effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. What are you learning?

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.

Top White House officials are clearly keeping an eye on this critical upcoming milestone for President Obama, his 100th day of office, which comes at the end of next week.

[18:25:02]

We are told by sources that the White House is exploring ways to take another stab at passing a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare before that 100-day milestone.

But one GOP source close to process says top Republicans are concerned about setting arbitrary deadlines once again. It bit this White House badly last month, when they did not have votes to pass that repeal and replace effort up on Capitol Hill.

And even more concerning, Wolf, the government runs out of money next week, just as the president hits 100 days in office. A government shutdown at that time would be a "disaster," according to one top GOP source I talked to earlier today up on Capitol Hill.

So keeping the government running, according to this source, will be the top priority when Congress returns next week. But clearly, Wolf, this White House wants to put a legislative win on the scoreboard and they're once again looking at Obamacare to do just that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta over at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get back to the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce.

Mr. Chairman, on this last point that we just heard from Jim Acosta, how realistic is this new White House health care push?

ROYCE: You know, I'm not sure at this point, Wolf.

I'm meeting with my constituents down here in Southern California and listening to their concerns about health care costs and access. And at this point, I couldn't tell you because I haven't seen a version of this legislation.

BLITZER: So, you think there will actually -- could be a vote to repeal and replace in the House of Representatives before the end of next week?

ROYCE: Well, apparently, there could be, but as I have indicated, I have not seen a draft of that legislation or of what specifically is being discussed. So, at this point, I don't know the answer to that.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's see what they working up behind the scenes.

On this other issue, this miscommunication regarding the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft strike group, that originally we were told it was moving towards the Korean Peninsula. It was actually moving in the opposite direction. Now it is eventually moving towards the Korean Peninsula.

But does this undermine the credibility of the president as commander in chief when we get these miscommunications?

ROYCE: Well, I suspect a lot of the focus here may have been on the fact that the North Koreans that had spent several weeks prepping for a nuclear weapons test.

It would have been their sixth test. And there was considerable communication sent their way on this issue. Now, I guess we will never know whether or not part of what they responded to was the message that a carrier group was headed to the region. BLITZER: So you think it was deliberate to try to send that message,

even when obviously the Pentagon knew that aircraft battle group was moving closer towards Australia for some exercises with the Australian navy, as opposed to moving towards the Korean Peninsula?

ROYCE: What I remember from history is Franklin Delano Roosevelt responding to a question about an aircraft carrier group. And they asked him, where did this come from? And his response was Shangri-La.

And the reason he said that obvious was because he did not want those in Tokyo to know where that particular aircraft group was at that moment deployed.

And so I don't know the answer to this. There were other reasons why they may not have done that test and instead just did a missile test, instead of a test that was anticipated. Part of it might have been pressure from China. Part of it might have been their concern about the elections in South Korea, where they obviously would prefer the left-leaning candidate to win in that election.

And so they may not have wanted to go forward with the tests they were preparing for. But for some reason, they stood down. Other reasons could be our secretary of defense was in the region, our secretary of state. Our vice president was on his way.

And so all of these messages were collectively being sent. I don't know which particular one, and perhaps we will never know, worked into the calculus. And who knows? They still may do this sixth nuclear test, which obviously we are putting an enormous amount of pressure on North Korea not to do.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

ROYCE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Congressman Ed Royce of California.

Just ahead, we have more on the breaking news on the Iran nuclear deal. Is the Trump administration getting ready to scrap it?

And Bill O'Reilly now is commenting about his stunning ouster by FOX News. We will talk about the potential impact on politics in the Trump era.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, warning that Iran could follow the same dangerous path as North Korea if its nuclear program is unchecked. The Trump administration is launching a new review of the Iran nuclear deal. Secretary Tillerson saying it ignored serious threats.

[17:34:51] We're joined now by our national security and political experts. And John Kirby, what do you make of this? They say the Iranians are in compliance, but potentially, new sanctions could be imposed because of all the other bad things the Iranians are doing right now.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Right. What they said was they might review the nuclear sanctions that we lifted as part of the deal and sort of revisit them. That would undo the deal.

The whole reason -- what got Iran to the table was -- was the sanctions that were in place. And so lifting [SIC] them then puts us out of compliance in the deal that we helped negotiate. So I think what they really -- today I think it really bothered them that they had to certify. You know, it's a quarterly requirement to Congress. I don't think they liked having to do it, because it's accurate that Iran is in compliance. And I think this tough message that we saw from the secretary of state today was really a reaction to not liking the fact that they have to admit that the deal was actually working.

BLITZER: But what about, you know, the concerns that certain parts of what Iran is supposed to be doing really can't be verified by international inspectors?

KIRBY: Talking about the other -- destabilizers.

BLITZER: That they're cheating.

KIRBY: Well, they're not cheating on the deal. I mean, there is the most rigid inspection and monitoring regime ever put in place on a proliferation deal like this. A peacetime proliferation deal. The IAEA inspectors have 24/7 monitoring. So there's no way Iran is going to cheat, and they haven't cheated.

But I think what they were trying to get at was all the other destabilizing activity that Iran...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well...

KIRBY: ... conducts, and that should have been covered in the deal. But Wolf, if we tried to lump in support for terrorism and all the other bad things that Iran does in the region, there's no way they would have come to the table.

BLITZER: Because the secretary of state, Gloria, said Iran is the world's No. 1 leading supporter of terrorism.

BORGER: Right. And this -- this comes from an administration that doesn't like to talk about human rights, and suddenly, they're dumping in everything else, you know, into this deal. So they are trying to change the deal, or at least trying to publicly find a way to say we should be getting out of this deal, it seems to me. I think they're kind of looking for a reason.

Now, they have an inter-agency task force that's going to look over it in the next 90 days. Sean Spicer spoke about that today. And -- but I think, you know, you got the signal from the secretary of state -- and I agree with you -- they didn't want to have to say Iran is in compliance, but they did. And they had to sort of say a big "but"; something else is coming. BLITZER: Here's what the point -- the bottom-line point that they're

making, Trump administration officials, that in the '90s when the Bill Clinton administration had a similar deal with North Korea, that it would end its nuclear program, guess what? How did that work? How did that deal work out?

What they're saying now is this Iran nuclear deal, guess what? It's going to work out the same way as the North Korean nuclear deal.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, excuse me, they're wrong. No. 1, thousands of miles away, around the Korean Peninsula, saying, "Let me figure out. How do we get the Chinese involved in a multilateral program to cap North Korean nukes?" Two thousand miles away, for political reasons, they're saying, "Wow, we don't like a multilateral deal that includes the Chinese to cap Iranian nukes." I don't get it.

The second piece of this, let's be real, because Rex Tillerson ain't doing anything here. Nice threat; he's not doing anything. Your options: reimpose sanctions. Who else signed here? The Russians, the Chinese, the Europeans. They're going to say, "Give it a try. We're going to keep trading." That's not -- you're going to try a military option? This is a very dispersed program. They'll rebuild it, and then they have the option to retaliate, based on our actions.

I don't think he has a way out. I think he wanted to say, "We don't like it and while I have to certify it, I'm going to say these are not good guys."

BLITZER: Because remember, David Swerdlick, what the president as a candidate said almost every other day: "This is the worst deal ever."

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He said it was the worst deal ever, and it might be momentarily satisfying to blow up the deal and say that he kept a promise. But in the long term, if the Trump administration does that, they're sort of back to square one. And that's not a place that they want to be, for all the reasons that Phil, Gloria and Admiral Kirby said.

KIRBY: If you think Iran is bad now, go ahead and rip the deal. Give the mullahs and the hardliners what they want. They'd love to see nothing more than the deal ripped up. So give them that little victory and just see how much more intransigent Iran can be.

BORGER: And if we unilaterally -- if we unilaterally impose, you know, sanctions again, what good would that do?

SWERDLICK: Nothing.

BORGER: It wouldn't do -- because you know, you have to get the group to agree to that.

SWERDLICK: Right.

BORGER: And there's a lot of work that has to be done. BLITZER: Well, there's one other option. As you well know, there's one other option. That's the military option, to drop a huge, huge bomb on Iran's nuclear...

KIRBY: You can't bomb away the knowledge, though, Wolf. You can't. You can't bomb away the knowledge that they've developed.

BLITZER: If they don't have the technical means there, if everything is blown up, what do they do then?

KIRBY: We looked at this in years past, and your best, you're going to buy yourself a couple of years. You can't bomb away the knowledge. You can't bomb away all the technology that they can just reacquire.

This deal works. It does prevent them from nuclear weapons capability. And the big difference between this and North Korea is North Korea has that capability now.

So I fundamentally disagree with the secretary of state when he says that, left unchecked, Iran would go the way of North Korea. They're not unchecked. This deal checks...

BORGER: Only for a certain period of time.

KIRBY: Well, there are permanent aspects.

BORGER: You know, and that's the argument, that after, what, 15 years, you know...

KIRBY: They can start enriching after 15 years.

BORGER: Exactly. So what's the answer to that?

KIRBY: But there are other, more permanent checks on their ability. And the inspection regime doesn't have a sunset. It never goes away.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more developments including in Syria right now. The regime of Assad moving its operational warplanes to a base with Russian protection. We'll have that and more right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:52] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts. We're tracking new moves by Russian and Syrian warplanes amid escalating tensions with the U.S. after President Trump ordered that Tomahawk cruise missile strike in Syria.

Phil Mudd, so the Syrian regime of Assad, their remaining operational warplanes, they basically moved to an air base controlled by the Russians. Good move?

MUDD: I think it's a great move. It says more about the Russians than it does the Syrians. Earlier this month, you have the secretary of state go to Moscow and try -- this is a joke -- a moral argument, moral suasion with the Russians. You can't affiliate with the leader Bashar al-Assad who uses his chemical weapons. What do the Russians say? Come bed down next to our aircraft, if you want to lob missiles in again, and you miss, you hit a Russian aircraft.

This is the Russians saying, you can talk, we're not going to listen, and when you talk, we are going to double down.

BLITZER: So, presumably, John Kirby, this means the Syrian regime means Russians are going to protect them now from a U.S. airstrike?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Sure. They believed that for a couple years now when Putin sent in more military forces and started propping them up when they were losing grounds to the rebels. That's exactly what this means.

BLITZER: So what does the U.S. do if, let's say, there's another Syrian strike, a chemical strike against civilians, and all of their operational planes are being protected by Russian warplanes?

KIRBY: It certainly makes the targeting more difficult depending on how -- close proximity of the Syrian planes are to the Russian planes. It's certainly going to complicate a similar move.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: When you alert them --

BLITZER: Does it complicate -- does it complicate the president's relationship with Putin? He said he could have a really good relationship with Putin. That relationship right now not so good.

BORGER: Not so good.

Look, I think that this has shown the president that Putin is not to be trusted. That we are cutting a deal with him over Syria and not as easy as he seemed it would indicate it would be during the campaign, that these are complex chest games in 3D that he is dealing with.

And I think this move just points it out to the American public and I'm sure the president and his team are very well aware of this. And I think his team was well aware of it. I'm not so sure how well aware the president was during this campaign --

BLITZER: And interesting, you know, amidst all of this, David Swerdlick, for the second day in a row, Russian bombers, they are buzzing the Alaska coastline, getting, what, 36 miles away from the Alaskan coastline, forcing the U.S. to intercept those planes and tell them, get out of here.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, I think at this point, it would be smart to be a wait and see, right? I mean, President Obama has taken a lot of flak in recent weeks for not being decisive. But this might be one of the situations where if I were President Trump and national security folks, you might just want to wait and see what happens, not take the bait. There are too many other things going on.

BLITZER: Is Vladimir Putin testing President Trump right now?

KIRBY: Oh, I think so.

BLITZER: With those buzzing of Alaska?

KIRBY: Well, there are lots of reasons they do this. I think part of it probably is a little bit of --

(CROSSTALK)

KIRBY: Coming on the heels of (INAUDIBLE).

Look, there's a great military acronym I like, NDBIT, NDBIT, no decision before it's time. And I agree with David. I mean, you've got to think these things before you actually make decision, there's a difference between being impulsive and decisive.

BORGER: And there's a difference between campaigning and governing.

BLITZER: Is Putin testing Trump?

MUDD: I think he's testing him. He's also messaging him. Do you want to threaten us, there's a response. And he's saying the response now in the White House.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't think the Russians buzzed Alaska just by accident. These are deliberate moves for whatever reason.

Guys, stay with us.

Just ahead, new reporting on the end of Bill O'Reilly's 21-year career at FOX News. What his ouster means for the conservative movement and for President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: FOX News cutting ties with its biggest star Bill O'Reilly, a second pillar of the network falling over sexual harassment allegations after Fox President Roger Ailes was forced out. The shockwaves are ripping through the conservative movement where Bill O'Reilly was an icon, a very powerful advocate for President Trump.

Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is still with us. We're also joined by our senior media and politics reporter, Dylan Byers, and our senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES".

Bill O'Reilly put out a statement, Brian, just a little while ago, completely denying the sexual harassment allegations, calling them completely unfounded claims. What do you make of that?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He is signaling to his fans and maybe future business partners that he believes he's a victim of a campaign trying to take him down.

You know, we're here on CNN, a FOX rival, but let's be honest about this. O'Reilly is a legend of cable news. This is an end of a certain cable news era. At the same time, he's also incredibly controversial, not well-liked inside the network as Dylan has been reporting. Many of his colleagues knew about his reputation.

Fox knew about these harassment allegations for a long time, went ahead and kept him on the air anyway until this week when the Murdochs decided it just was not worth it anymore. They're trying to break with the past and clear up this culture problem inside Fox.

BLITZER: Not worth it anymore, Dylan, because all of the advertisers or at least so many of the advertisers refusing to pay a lot of money for those commercials?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: Well, look, there was a lot of advertiser pressure. A lot of advertisers pulled out. The consideration here I don't think was primarily financial. The consideration here was really about that public pressure from the outside. Question of what kind of company not just FOX News was but what kind of company 21st Century Fox was.

And then, also -- you know, also a question about the sort of like internal anxieties among members of the staff. All that sort of came together, coupled with a review by the Paul Weiss law firm into the accusations.

[18:55:03] The statement coming from 21st Century Fox said that O'Reilly's ouster was a result of that review. So, clearly, something in that review, something about that investigation, either unearthed or reiterated, things that the Murdoch now decided they can't tolerate at the company.

BLITZER: So, Gloria, Roger Ailes first, now Bill O'Reilly. Could there be more revelations out there?

BORGER: Well, we don't know. I mean, and that's clearly the implication of what Dylan is saying, you know, that you have a law firm coming in and doing a serious review that is not internally done.

And let me just say one thing here, I believe that this is a company trying to get out from under this morass and they have to do it. You know, they're trying to buy Sky News. They have issues that as a company as large as they are that they cannot be dogged by this.

So, while this was about sexual harassment and trying to clean up the atmosphere internally I'm sure at FOX News, to me, just as an outsider looking in, this seems like a business decision, really, as much as -- as much as anything else. But no modern corporation right now can have this kind of a cloud hanging over its head, no matter how much money bill O'Reilly brings in in the short term.

BLITZER: And, you know, Brian, you saw the reports that Roger Ailes walked away from FOX with, what, $40 million, a payout to him. Any idea at all how much Bill O'Reilly's going to walk away with?

STELTER: We've been asking FOX and O'Reilly's camp, neither side is commenting, which suggests that there is an agreement here, some sort of exit agreement, perhaps an non-compete clause where O'Reilly gets tens of millions of dollars in exchange not to go work for competition right away. I don't see him at CNN or MSNBC, but there are some small conservative

news channels interested. The head of Newsmax told me, "I'd love to talk with O'Reilly right now." So, he may be being paid -- very likely is being paid in order to leave, if his salary is $18 million or $20 million a year, that adds up pretty quickly to $40 million or $60 million.

But again, Wolf, we don't know for sure. It's common that he would be paid in this situation but we don't know for sure.

BLITZER: But this has really, Dylan, been going on for years. You saw the long "New York Times" story just a couple of weeks ago that really got the momentum going on this. But FOX has known about this for many years.

BYERS: That's absolutely right. And, in fact, that "New York Times" report you referenced, $13 million in settlement money to five different accusers. FOX and 21st Century Fox -- they were involved in some of those payments. So, the idea that they had no idea what Bill O'Reilly was doing or at least what the accusations against him were is just not true.

And, you know, I would also add to that point, that gets to a question of, OK, what happens with FOX now? Is there more talent at the network that might be accused of sexual harassment going forward, seeing that this was clearly a part of the culture between Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly?

And then, perhaps most importantly there's a question about who knew what and who tolerated what. Some of the women who came forward and accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment last year also implicated Bill Shine who was Roger Ailes' right-hand man, has since taken over as co-president of the network. They say he was involved -- they brought their complaints to him. He was involved in dealing with some of the stress brought on by one of the accusers who had to deal with sexual harassment by Roger Ailes.

There's a question here about how deep this goes in the company. And then the question, becomes how far can the Murdochs want to go and how far can they afford to go in shaking up the company?

BORGER: Well, and, you know, O'Reilly's -- you know, to Dylan's point, O'Reilly's contract was renewed.

BLITZER: Recently.

BORGER: Right. And these payments were made to these women. So you know, it seems to me like everyone was kind of willing to sort of say, well, let bygones be bygones, the women have gotten their money and renew his contract, until this became public --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Until one woman, Gretchen Carlson, spoke out last year.

BORGER: Right. STELTER: When she sued Ailes, that's the domino effect that started all this. What courage it must have taken for her to step forward.

BORGER: Well, let me just say one thing, we do know what money Bill O'Reilly is going to get. But I guarantee you, it's going to be a lot more than the women got.

BYERS: Well, I would just add to that. There is a nine to ten-month period between when FOX News decides it's going to get rid of Roger Ailes and says it has zero tolerance for any sort of behavior that makes employees uncomfortable and then when they have to deal with the Bill O'Reilly scandal. So, the question there, again, it was a business decision and the Murdochs at the end of the day, they're businessman and they make their decisions based on what they believe is good for the business.

But there is sort of a capitulation here to public pressure because, obviously, they were aware of some of what was going on before ultimately deciding --

BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to leave -- we'll leave it on that note but certainly there'll be more fallout.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.