Return to Transcripts main page
At Least 48 Killed In Suspected Syria Chemical Attack; White House Official On Syria Response: Nothing Is Off The Table; Syrian Government: Reports Of Chemical Attack Fabrications; Trump Advisers Give Conflicting Stories On China Tariffs; Facebook's Zuckerberg To Testify Before Congress Tuesday; Surging Number Of High Schoolers Using E-Cigarettes. Aired 5-6 pm ET
Aired April 8, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
[17:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: The images we are about to show you are incredibly disturbing and graphic, but they are essential to understanding the horror that is bombarding Eastern Syria, under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, who says he's trying to rid his country of terrorists, and he blames for the now seven year long civil war.
The U.N. Security Council is calling an emergency meeting after a number of activist group say helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the town of Duma, which unleashed toxic gas that leaves 48 people have been killed.
An estimated 500 have symptoms of exposure, doctors desperately try to wash the skin and hair of young children, their cries only quieted by gasps for air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: While CNN cannot yet independently verify these disturbing videos, we have the only western T.V. reporter in Damascus, and we will take you there live.
But first, let's go to the White House, CNN's Abby Phillip is there for us. Abby, this may be the first time President Trump has ever called out Vladimir Putin by name, and yet he's also blaming his own predecessor, Barack Obama.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The President, this morning in a series of tweets, seeming to indicate anger toward a lot of parties over this incident, this horrific alleged attack in Syria, he called out Putin, as you mentioned by name for the first time, really pinning the blame on Russia and Putin for enabling Bashar al-Assad, who he called, an animal and sick.
But it's what he also said about the consequences for this, that is what everyone is talking about here in Washington. Here's what he wrote, a big price -- there's a big price to pay. He is calling on Assad to open the area immediately for medical help and verification.
But then he goes on to say that president -- President Obama had crossed his stated red line in the sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended years ago, animal Assad would have been history.
What this sets up, Ana, is that President Trump has now drawn another line. He is saying that there is going to be a price to pay, the question is a what? And this comes after the President Trump a year ago had authorized air strikes in Syria against Assad for this -- for a very similar attack. Now he faces the same choice.
Back in 2013, President Trump before he was a politician, before he was president had actually criticized Obama for making threats to Assad, drawing a line to Assad that he did end up -- ended up not enforcing.
Here's what he wrote back in 2013 on Twitter. He said again to a very foolish leader, do not attack Syria, if you do, many very bad things will happen. From that fight, the United States gets nothing.
It's an open question how far President Trump is willing to go here. He tried once air strikes that were limit in the nature, and Assad has come back a year later, and done essentially the same thing.
Republican leaders are warning him not to back down because if he does, that may only further embolden Assad, and also to add to all of this, Ana, just a week ago, President Trump said he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, that message some say may have emboldened Assad this time around, giving him a sense that the United States wasn't fully committed to this fight.
We're waiting to see what exactly Trump is going to do here, but there are no really great choices for him given what he has said himself in the last several days, and also given that Assad doesn't seem to be responding to the deterrence over the last year from the United States, Ana.
CABRERA: Abby Phillip at the White House, so much more to discuss. Thank you, Abby. The timing also of note here, this new attack in Syria comes almost exactly one year after President Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syria airbase following the last chemical attack.
And at the time, President Trump said he responded with military action because the chemical attack, quote, crossed a lot of lines for him. So how might the U.S. respond this time? Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert says nothing is off the table.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it possible there will be another missile attack?
TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: I wouldn't take anything off the table, these are horrible photos, we're looking into the attack at this point, the State Department put out a statement last night, and the President's senior national security cabinet had been talking with him -- I mean, with each other all throughout the evening, and this morning, and myself included.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:05:00] CABRERA: I want to bring in our panel. Joining us now, CNN Political Analyst and Washington Post Columnist Josh Rogin, and CNN Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott.
Elise, one big difference between last year and now, H.R. McMaster isn't beside Trump, John Bolton the new National Security Advisor. What impact could that have on a respond?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred -- sorry, Ana. I think it couldn't affect in terms of the strategy going forward, you know, you -- a lot of people are saying that, you know, this attack could have a direct correlation to President Trump's comments earlier this week that the U.S. was going to get out of Syria.
John Bolton is someone that has written about how the U.S. has to have a strong international presence in Syria, and elsewhere in the region to make sure that Russia, and Iran do not get a foothold.
I think you might see John Bolton look for some kind of strong response. I think the discussions right now though, you know, the immediate discussions prints a small group of top national security advisors meeting tomorrow to discuss option for the President will be limited maybe to this particular attack.
CABRERA: I went back and look, it was March 29th, so a week ago Thursday, that President Trump, he wanted U.S. -- said he wanted U.S. troops out of Syria soon, Josh. Now Republicans have said that is possible that may have triggered this latest attack in one way.
In fact, Senator John McCain saying President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian, and Iranian backers have heard him, and embolden by American in action.
Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women, and children. So, Josh, why would Assad launch an attack like this that could in turn give the U.S. a reason to get more involved if Trump was signaling he was ready to leave?
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, we here in the United States tend to view these actions by the Assad regime in the context of what he's doing to us, or in reaction to what we're doing. That's not actually true.
The Assad regime, this is not the first chemical attack since last year. They've been doing chemical attacks this whole time. The Assad regime has a very clearly state and well executed strategy, which is to commit atrocities, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, against any country areas that oppose his rule. That's going to happen whether or not President Trump says X, Y, or Z,
that's what they are doing. They're taking back their territory in the most brutal and criminal way possible, including torture and detention of thousands of civilians in custody, starvation sieges, attacks on hospitals, all with Russia and Iran's help.
So when President Trump comes out and says, America's job is not to do anything in Syria, let's let other people handle it. Yes, that's counterproductive. Yes, that gives Assad a signal that he can continue with his atrocities.
But that's not why he is doing it. He is doing it because he wants to win the war, and will continue to do it unless he's stopped or coerced to come to the negotiating table. And all the president...
CABRERA: But that's a war against who though? Because it's 500,000 plus Syrians who have been killed, it's his own people.
ROGIN: Well, that's kind of my point, is that his mass murder of his own people is not really about us, it's about him committing the worse mass atrocities of the modern era. Now there are a number of things we can do.
People talk about the troop levels going up or down. That's one small part of the range of powers that the American government in partnership with the coalition, we have reported to lead, could employ to stop this slaughter.
But nobody has done really anything that part. There is a Security Council, it's going to go no where, right? Because Russia has a veto.
If there is not a high prospect that Trump is going to strike Syria again, that's not actually a process inside the United States government that takes a lot of preparation or has to be an intelligence finding, there has to be a level of confirmation that the attack happened, which as Trump noted today is really impossible because no one has access to the area.
So what we're likely to see is a lot of hand wringing over how do we get into the situation when the truth is that both the Obama administration and Trump administration have pursuit a very similar tragedy, which is to talk loudly and carry a small stick, OK? And we complain...
CABRERA: However, President Trump did ultimately launch Tomahawk missiles against the Syrian air base last time around when this happened last year. But let me -- let me grab the conversation -- go ahead.
ROGIN: Yes. Since you brought that up, he launched missiles against one airstrip that was up and running the next day, he gave Russia a warning, and that exact air base was used to commit atrocities continually going up from there. So, yes, President Trump can do piecemeal things where he say, oh,
pushed back against Obama, I enforced the red line. But in fact, what he's done is continuing the Obama administration policy of failing to protect Syrian civilians. That's been going to since 2011. And I don't see any hope that that's going to really change.
CABRERA: And bottom line, Assad, if it is determined to be the responsibility of the Syrian government, this latest chemical attack was not deterred by that last strike by the U.S.
[17:10:05] But at least President Trump is also blaming Putin for this attack, and that is significant. What options does the U.S. have when it comes to putting pressure on Russia?
LABOTT: Well, I mean there are not a lot of options. I mean, seriously -- you know, obviously this is -- you know, President Trump has kind of made a distinction between being, you know, semi-tough in his policies on Russia for its international adventures, whether it's in Ukraine, or Crimea, or its actions in Syria, and he has made a distinction between that, and you know, election meddling.
When he took the strike last year, he did say this was not only about, you know, the Syrian people and a response to the government, but it was also a message to Russia in terms of its support for Assad.
So it could go after Russia's support for Assad. You know, you can put more sanctions on Russia, you can shame them at the United Nations, but is there any kind of action that is large enough that would make a difference against Russia that President Trump would be willing to support, I'm not necessarily sure, but certainly that's something they'll be talking about tomorrow.
CABRERA: So, Josh, we have seen strong language today from both the U.S. and Russia, Trump saying big price to pay, Russia threatening most serious consequences. You seem to think that this is all a lot of talk, and no real action is going to come from it?
ROGIN: Well, President Trump said last week, let others handle it, we're getting out of Syria, a month ago standing alongside the Australian Prime Minister, President Trump said it was happening with the atrocities that is discussing.
But U.S. has no intention to do anything about it, all right? I take President Trump at his word, all right? That he believes that these are horrible atrocities, and he believes it's not America's job to solve it.
So that can only lead you to one conclusion, which is that today's bluster represents his real frustration, that his basic stance that American blood and treasure, and American strategy is not the appropriate solution to this problem is how he really feels.
Now we have seen over and over again a bunch of different advisors going back from, you know, Rex Tillerson, to H.R. McMaster, to John Bolton, to Mike Pompeo, whoever it is, trying to explain to the President that if you want to have pro-American outcomes, you have to be in the game.
You have to commit not troops, OK? (Inaudible) It's a red herring, right? There's lots of things that America can do. We have lots of tools of American power.
Our greatest tool is to marshal people around the world and countries around the world who agree with us to bring their power to bear, and to protect civilians, and help the people on the ground who are suffering these atrocities.
The President of the United States Donald Trump hasn't committed to do any of these things, and until he does, I'm going to stick with believing what said, which is that he doesn't think America should do anything.
LABOTT: I will just say very quickly, I agree on case with my friend, Josh. But at the same time, I do think that when it comes to international atrocities of this nature, and you look towards last year, with the attack in Syria, and I think, you know, in terms of Yemen, just small things that President Trump does, he is affected by these pictures on television.
He is affected by, you know, children being gassed, he saw some of the, you know, humanitarian conditions in Yemen, and moved the Saudis a little bit. I'm not saying that, you know, is a wholesale, you know, reason for him to change his policies.
But I do think in a case like this, when he sees these little children on television, I think it does cause him to act, you know, very surgical and very small.
But, you know, -- and ultimately as Josh said, I don't think it will have a long-term impact on the policy or Assad's calculations, but I disagree in the sense that I do think you're going to see something, you know, surgical, and pointed from this administration in response.
CABRERA: Thank you both.
ROGIN: I don't disagree with Elise either, but I think if we're waiting on President Trump to see pictures of atrocities to promote -- to prompt him to actually have a Syria strategy, that's a pretty sad commentary on United States foreign policy.
LABOTT: That's another conversation, Josh.
CABRERA: It is another conversation, but I do recall after the last air strike was issued, following the chemical attack last April, there was reporting that that is what led to...
CABRERA: ... the President taking that decisive action.
ROGIN: That kind of atrocity happen everyday...
(CROSSTALK) CABRERA: ... seeing those tensions and feeling the emotion from the reaction. Thank you both. I appreciated it, Elise Labott and Josh Rogin. Coming up, the Syrians and the Russians deny anything to do with this apparent chemical attacks.
But most world leaders aren't buying that. CNN have the only western reporter in Damascus who will take you there live next. You are in the CNN Newsroom.
[17:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: The Syrian government says they didn't do it. The Russian government says they didn't do it. Talking about what's believed to be a gruesome chemical attack in Syria yesterday that an aid group says may have killed at least 48 people, civilians, men, women, and many children.
It happened in a town held by the rebels fighting the Syrian government. Syrian officials have their own explanation that the rebels did it.
[17:20:03] That they poisoned and killed those people, those children in such a horrific way to convince other countries to give their militaries involved in this civil war. Our Frederik Pleitgen is the only western reporter in Damascus today. Fred, is anyone in the rest of the world buying that explanation?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think that many people are buying, Ana, that the rebels themselves were behind this. But it is certainly still unclear what exactly happened.
It is interesting because we were speaking about this last night, and how exactly this whole incident unfolded. And the opposition groups were saying that the Syrian government helicopter came and dropped some sort of barrel bomb.
Well, today, they put out new pictures showing that it seemed to be some sort of canister that was dropped, and afterwards, people started complaining all those respiratory problems, of course afterwards, hundreds of people started complaining about those, and then many, many people died.
In those images that we're seeing, there are some of those people, dozens were apparently killed. We're still not sure right now how many people actually succumbed to this. Right now, the number seems to be stabilizing at somewhere in the 40s, with the situation the weight is on the ground, it still is very much unclear.
But you're right, the Syrian government and the Russians say that it was not them. I was speaking to some pro-Syrian government forces, and they were saying look, they had an operation going on at that time.
But said they were making so much head way in that operation, they didn't need sort of any chemicals to aid their advances. They also said those chemicals were used in places that were pretty far away from the front line, so it didn't really -- wouldn't have helped them advance either.
So they are offering their explanations. Other sides are offering different explanations. It really is totally not clear what happened there. Of course not many people buying the explanation that it was the rebels themselves.
What's clear is though, and it is not -- once again, that so many times in the Syrian civil war, it is the civilians who are suffering the most, Ana.
CABRERA: And, Fred, regardless of who launched this attack, what is happening in Duma today, what is being done to help these people, to get the injured out to safety?
PLEITGEN: Well, it's one of the interesting things that happened since this attack took place is that the Syrian government has essentially won that district back.
What's going on right now as we speak, Ana, is that the rebels who were in there are being bussed out along with families to other parts of Syria.
The Russians who negotiated this deal said that's about 8,000 rebel fighters that are coming out, 40,000 apparently of their family members and also some people who the rebels themselves held as prisoners as well, they say the civilians are going to be able to stay behind, and that medical help will come in.
But all of that, Ana, is controlled by the Russians. They are by far the most powerful outside player inside Syria. They're the ones that broker this deal. They are the ones that are going to call the shots on the ground.
So we have to wait and see whether or not they will lunch the investigative teams that need medical attention, that is something that the next couple of days are certainly going to show as this large operation to bust these rebels out continues.
And one thing that I want to point out, what you're seeing right now, those rebels exiting that area, that is one of the biggest victories by the Assad government in this entire war that's been going on for such a long time.
This is comparable to the Assad government winning back Aleppo in 2016. And it's hard to overstate that the importance that the Russians played that the Syrian army do that, which obviously shows how strong they are on the ground here, at the same time also of course, the way that the U.S. has been marginalized over the past couple of years, and especially the past couple of months. Ana.
CABRERA: Frederik Pleitgen in Damascus, Syria. Thank you. Such an important work you are doing there, Fred. I want to bring in Nicholas Kristof now.
He's a columnist for the New York Times, who's written extensively about the plight of the Syrian people during this awful civil war. Nicholas, first, what's your reaction to what we are seeing and hearing out of Syria?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, it's unconscionable of Syria to use these weapons, and you know, in some sense maybe one could argue that the technology by which Assad kills people, doesn't matter so much whether it's bullets, or bayonets, or poisoned gas.
But it does breach an international norm when he goes ahead, and does this, and he does that because he can get away with it. And the first reports of use of poisoned gas were back in 2012, and since then the international community has not responded effectively.
And so, you know, at one level, it's Syria, and Iran, and Russia that bear the most central responsibility. In a larger sense, I think it's all of us in the international community who essentially averted their eyes, and let this happen time and again.
CABRERA: You have written a lot about the Syrian people and their daily plight. The U.N. stopped counting deaths from the Syrian Civil War after it topped 500,000 in 2014, who is looking out for the people, the innocent in Syria?
[17:25:07] KRISTOF: Well, unfortunately -- I mean, I think really nobody is. I mean, U.N. agencies and NGOs are trying to help. Some of the neighbors have, you know, taken in vast numbers of refugees and they deserve credit for that.
But in terms of really making Assad pay a price, nobody has been willing to do that. And I guess I'm concerned at this juncture that, you know, I think we may well end up striking Syria with some kind of military strike.
And at one level, it would be nice to see Assad pay a price, I fear that it would be just something not harnessed to a larger strategic goal. And, you know, we saw a year ago that a one off strike doesn't have some kind of larger strategy to it, doesn't really accomplish anything.
And I think we have the inverse of the problem we had under President Obama. President Obama really tried the diplomatic toolbox quite aggressively, but didn't -- wasn't willing to use the military toolbox for leverage.
And in contrast, President Trump is willing to use the military toolbox, but unwilling to use that diplomatic toolbox to provide a larger -- context a larger vision on how we might change things.
CABRERA: You said it was the right move last year when President Trump launched those Tomahawk missiles, yet here we are today. Why do you think Assad is still emboldened?
KRISTOF: Well, I mean, I think it works for him. He has been trying desperately to get control of eastern Ghouta, and he has limited troops at this point. And poisoned gas can be an effective way of spreading terror, or getting -- forcing people to submit. And I think he saw that the price was one he was willing to pay, and I
think that is really unfortunate lesson for the world has sent not, only to Syria, but to -- you know, but to any other regime that might be thinking about this.
And, you know, in a larger sense we also have to be thinking about what comes next. And how it looks as if Assad is fundamentally winning the war in Syria, and we have to think about what a post war Syria is going to be like.
We should be having negotiations to try to help resolve that, the U.S. is indispensable in that process, and you know, possibly, military strikes could be a part of that leverage.
But I really don't see the Trump administration using in that context. I think it would just be something that would happen, and be overt, and incur risks of complications, risks of hitting Russians, Iranians, retaliation, without bringing obvious benefits.
CABRERA: It is so complicated. Nicholas Kristof, thank you for your take. We appreciate your expertise and knowledge of what's happening there in the region.
KRISTOF: Thank you.
CABRERA: Coming up, mixed messages, two top White House advisors taking two very different tones on China and trade. We'll discuss live in the CNN Newsroom.
[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: Welcome back. Financial markets looking for a sign of what's coming next on tariffs, finding a little reprieve and voices coming from the Trump administration today conflicting their narrative from two of the President's advisors on whether to taken threats of new tariffs to China seriously, or literally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADER ADVISER: Every American understands that every day of the week, China comes into our homes, our businesses, our government agencies, and the damage is on the order of about $1 billion a day.
And when you add to that damage, $1 billion a day in the trade deficit in goods, we face, this country is losing its strength and wealth, and even as China has grown its economy.
LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: This process may turn out to be very benign, OK? You have to take certain risks as you go in, we're making them, we're making our case.
Nothing's happened so far, we're looking at future actions, you've got comment periods for another couple of months on our proposals. We'll see what -- maybe China will want to come around and talk in earnest, so far it hasn't, I hope it does. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Joining us now is Stephen Moore. He is a CNN Senior Economic Analyst, and he advised the Trump campaign on economic matters. So, Stephen, a couple of different postures there from this administration, who are we supposed to believe, Larry Kudlow or Peter Navarro?
STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST: Well, both of them. Look, they are not that far apart. I talk to Larry almost every day. You know, he's been thrown in the middle of this.
I think the one thing that there's complete agreement on in the Trump White House among the entire economic team is that the current situation with China is completely untenable.
I mean Peter Navarro was exactly right there, that they are cheating, they're stealing, it's costing the American economy, we can't go forward with the current system.
We need to punish China for their bad behavior, and they're going to have to make concessions. But the question is, Ana, what is the best way to achieve that? Is it tariffs?
Is it some other kind of, you know, penalties that we could put on China? That is I think what the White House is trying to figure out. But Trump cannot stand down here.
He has to -- he has to force China to change its behavior. I think, by the way, most Americans would agree with Donald Trump on this, that China's both militaristically with respect to our national security, and with respect to the fact that they steal $350 billion of our technology every year without paying for it, that can't continue.
[17:35:03] CABRERA: I hear what you're saying on China, Stephen, but you have argued alongside the President, and his new Economic Adviser, Larry Kudlow that tariffs are really tax hikes. Do you think these tariffs undo some of the good will the tax cuts brought the President to his voters?
MOORE: You know, there's no question, there is a cost to tariffs. Ana, you are exactly right. And the question is, is that cost worth it? Now there's no question that if you get into a tit-for-tat situation with China, the one ace in the hole that we as America have is just, you know, indisputable is that china needs access to our markets more than we need access to theirs.
So this is not a situation where China can win. I don't want to see an escalation of this. Larry Kudlow doesn't want to see an escalation, and either is Donald Trump.
But China is going to -- they are going to have to start to make some real concessions with respect to the technology that they're stealing without paying.
You know, not just technology, our drugs, our vaccines, our computer software, that's all being stolen at a record pace, and also the fact that China does not allow, Ana, access to American companies the kind of access that we give Chinese companies to our markets. It's just not a level playing field.
CABRERA: But what cost is it really worth? Because these tariffs on soybeans and pork, we know they're already hitting Trump country in the Midwest.
CABRERA: Look at some of the up-lines from this week. I mean, I'm going to read a couple to you. Minnesota has millions at stake as China targets soybean exports, Missouri, Kansas, farmers at the markets (ph) of China, and Trump as trade fight escalates. You can see some of the others there. How do you argue to voters seeing their profits shrink or their livelihoods at risk that these tariffs could pay off?
MOORE: I think the point that I would make is that if we don't -- if we don't sort of stop China right now, I mean like tomorrow, with their, you know, increasingly aggressive behavior, and then behavior that is just not in America's security, or economic interests, it's going to get worse not better.
I just don't think Donald Trump can back down right now, you're right, Ana, this will cause -- we have to probably reimburse the farmers. Now there was a story today about how the soybean farmers and the wheat farmers have access to other markets.
We don't have to sell this stuff necessarily to China. There are many other countries who want our agricultural products. But look, this isn't going to be easy, and it isn't going to be painless. I think what Donald Trump would say is we have to win now, and we can't back down. And frankly I think most Americans, even the farmers, I think would agree with Trump's position on this.
CABRERA: We'll see. Stephen Moore, as always, thanks.
MOORE: Thank you, Ana.
CABRERA: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is cramming for his two-day showdown with Congress. Angry lawmakers want answer after Facebook massive data harvesting scandal. Coming up, what we know about Zuckerberg's plans to fix Facebook. You're live in the CNN Newsroom. Don't go anywhere.
[17:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's moment of reckoning is now just a couple of days away. Zuckerberg is due to testify before Congress on Tuesday, also on Wednesday. And boy, does he have some explaining to do.
Zuckerberg's first public apology for Facebook's data harvesting scandal involving a firm with ties to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign came last month during his interview with CNN Tech Correspondent Laurie Segall. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO AND FOUNDER, FACEBOOK: This was a major breach of trust and I'm really sorry that this happened. We have a basic responsibility to protect people's data, and if we can't do that, then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people. So our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn't happen again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Now keep in mind, the 33-year-old rarely puts himself out there for interviews, Facebook meantime admitted this week up to 87 million Facebook users' private data may have been compromised.
That is up from 50 million, now 87 million is the new number. Laurie Segall is joining us now. So, Laurie, how is Zuckerberg prepping for this big meeting with Congress where he's going to get a lot of tough questions?
LAURIE SEGALL, CNN TECH CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, you know, lots of test questioning. And then you -- since we had that interview, since we spoke, and everyone's wondering where is Zuckerberg in all of this, we see him out there actually quite a bit, he did a whole conference with over 100 reporters, and he did it for over an hour where he took question for -- all different hard questions from reporters.
We have seen Sheryl Sandberg go out there, and talk, so you see this policy tour, and a transparency tour of Facebook is trying to be more transparent. You also get the sense that that is prep for Mark Zuckerberg.
This is the CEO of one of the most powerful companies in the world, and he's not been outward facing. And you sensed that -- I mean I sense that walking into Facebook headquarters in a time of crisis, there's a somber feeling there.
And you could tell -- I mean, he almost seemed young to a degree, as in young -- he was visibly nervous. Because as good as he is behind- the-scenes, and you know, as much as, you know, a lot of folks say a lot of great things about him behind-the-scenes, he has a good reputation within the company, he hasn't been outward, he's always been protected by his own filter bubble of sorts with the company, and now is a huge moment for him.
CABRERA: You said he almost seems young. He is 33, which I think is pretty young.
SEGALL: You can sense that too.
CABRERA: And yet he has all of this power wrapped up in something that he created that's taken on a life of its own in many ways. And so now the question is, how is he going to fix it?
SEGALL: Yes, I think we have seen over the last couple of weeks, they put out a bunch of different things, one thing -- just on Friday they talked about more transparency when it comes to ads, so when you issue see ads, and political ads, they'll be labeled.
You also have all of these transparency mechanisms so people know more about where their data is going. They limited the access to their party developed over the last couple of weeks.
[17:45:00] You know, those are all good steps, and that's also what he's going to be able to go to Congress, and he's going to be able to talk about when he testify.
But I think the issue is we're seeing that now, and we're seeing that because there was a huge public backlash against the company in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which you could say, this isn't just about Cambridge Analytica, what happened with these user data, this is about the last year.
So what Facebook -- well, we saw the weaponization of the platform from the Russian influence, you have people wondering what are they looking at on the platform, are they being manipulated, are they being targeted, what is the impact of mental health.
And this has been a year where we didn't really get answers from a front facing CEO. You know, we got blog posts and Facebook live, and you almost have -- Facebook seems almost like a democratic institution at this point.
But yet they're ruling it in a way where it's not a two-way conversation about the impact of the text. So, you know, it's going to be fascinating to watch this watershed moment, you know, in Washington with lawmakers who aren't going to go easy on him.
This is -- this is a political stage, it will be polarizing, there will be some drama. I can imagine it will be fascinating to see how he is able to look to do under that pressure, someone within the company said to me, this is a maturity moment for Mark. You know, this is a moment for both Mark and a company grow up.
CABRERA: And we are hearing already from some of these lawmakers who are planning to question Mark Zuckerberg. Just this morning we heard from Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, the Senate Judiciary Committee. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUSIANA: I don't want to hurt Facebook, I don't want to regulate them half to death. But we have a problem. Our promised digital utopia has mine fields in it. Mr. Zuckerberg has not exhausted himself being forthcoming. We had one hearing.
Mr. Zuckerberg and his lawyer, very bright, very articulate, could talk a dog off a meat wagon, but he didn't say any thing. My biggest worry with all of this is, it's a privacy issue and what I called the propagandist issue are both too big for Facebook to fix.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: So I guess, Laurie, what does Zuckerberg have to say to sell his proposals fixes to members of Congress who are really skeptical?
SEGALL: I think he has to show that they have control over the platform. I mean, I said this to him. I sad, is Facebook too powerful? I mean, this is interesting to ask and all those questions, and he said, no. You know, we connect the world, we do all these great things.
And I say, but look at the last year. You know I think what was surprising to me was when he said, you know, we do need the right kind of regulation. And I think the big question now, it's been a wild west in tech, and having spent so many years in Silicon Valley, I think there was a certain hubris there.
There is this blind optimism that we were -- you know, back when I went to Facebook, they used to have a sign that said move fast and break things, that we could move fast and break things, and we know what's best.
Well, we have seen over the last year, that there are some major implications, and I think, you know, the right kind of regulation, and I think what Facebook's doing right now is trying to get ahead of what the right kind of regulation will be, saying, you know, we need more transparency around.
At political advertising, everyone should have this type of transparency, I think they're trying to get ahead of that now because I think they're pretty behind.
They have shown that, you know, they don't necessarily take on these problems in a proactive way. They have been too reactive. And I think that's going to change. We'll see a lot -- we'll see what comes out of this next week, but a huge moment for the company and the future of the company.
CABRERA: And it sounds like it's prevention versus reaction...
CABRERA: ... which is going to be the key in terms of going forward. Thank you so much.
SEGALL: Thank you.
CABRERA: Laurie Segall as always. A new study, meantime, shows an invention to help cigarette smokers kick the habit may now be getting high school kids addicted to nicotine. Details on that ahead, live in the CNN Newsroom.
[17:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: Cigarette smoking is on the decline, but turns out high schoolers are lighting up, anyway. Experts say they're picking a different poison, e-cigarettes or vaping. CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports. Sanjay. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Ana, look,
again, there are high school fads that come and go, but this one seems to be sticking, and there's a lot of concern around it.
The biggest one, I think, again, is this perceived harmlessness. This idea that kids think this just isn't that bad. They need to be reminded that there are all these heavy metals, there are concerns, this isn't just water vapor.
GUPTA: In Milford, Connecticut, high school principal Francis Thompson is desperately trying to snuff out a problem that teachers are having all across the country.
FRANCIS THOMPSON, PRINCIPAL, JONATHAN LAW HIGH SCHOOL: They would come in here, and you would have four or five kids at a time congregating, and they would start to vape.
GUPTA: It's a trend that many parents are not even aware of, but e- cigarette use or vaping has grown an astonishing 900 percent among high school students in recent years according to the Surgeon General.
And a 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey, found nearly 1.7 million high school students and 500,000 middle-schoolers have used e- cigarettes in just the 30-day period before the survey was taken.
In Wrentham, Massachusetts, assistant Vice Principal Spencer Christie says he, too, is overwhelmed by this new and pervasive epidemic.
SPENCER CHRISTIE, ASSISTANT VICE PRINCIPAL, KING PHILIP REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL: These are JUUL pods. Now it's moved to students vaping in hallways, vaping in classrooms.
JENNIFER WALDEN, TEACHER, KING PHILIP REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL: In the back two desks in the corner, they had their hands kind of up like this, and there was a blue light coming from between their hands.
THOMPSON: The most popular item, which is the JUUL, and as you can see, it looks like a flashlight, but it's not. And then, the kids can just tuck it away when they're done. So...
GUPTA: It's not just the design of these products. Critics say all these flavors also entice kids to start vaping.
[17:55:01] One study out of Harvard found some of these artificial flavors contain diacetyl. That's a chemical linked to severe respiratory disease.
THOMPSON: The kids that I talk to believe that there is nothing in there that's dangerous. They don't think there's anything more than water.
GUPTA: It's not water. It's called e-liquid, and when heated by the coil it changes to an aerosol. Columbia University researchers, using this machine, found the vapor has toxic metals like chromium, nickel, zinc, and lead. And as we know, there is no safe level of lead.
With very little regulation, people are not fully aware of what they're consuming. I sat down with the FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, and asked him about this e-cig phenomenon.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: Youth use is deeply concerning to me. We're going to be taking some enforcement actions very soon to target companies that we think are marketing products in ways that they are deliberately appealing to kids.
I'm going to be having conversations with some of these companies trying to inspire them, if I can, to take more corrective actions on their own.
GUPTA: Don't forget, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances out there.
THOMPSON: I think it's the next epidemic among teenagers.
GUPTA: Also, Ana, about a quarter of new eight graders who are smoking are starting it by using by using e-cigarettes. So that's obviously going in the wrong direction. And another reason why there's so much attention on this. Ana.
CABRERA: All right, unfortunate to hear. Thank you, Sanjay Gupta. And just ahead here in the Newsroom, more on our top story. The suspected chemical attacks on civilians in Syria. Don't go away.