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Bolton Leads Meeting on Suspect Syria Chemical Weapons Attack; Mark Zuckerberg Meets with Lawmakers Ahead of Congressional Testimony; Rick Scott Running Against Bill Nelson for Florida Senate Seat; Central American Caravan Arrives in Mexico City. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 9, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:31:53] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It's John Bolton's first day on the job as President Trump's new national security adviser and already he's dealing with a crisis that has erupted over the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. This morning, he led a meeting of key national security officials as President Trump weighs his responsive decision as it's expected in the next day or two.

Let's bring in Tom Donilon. He's the former national security advisor to President Obama.

Tom, thanks very much for joining us.

As you know, the defense secretary, General Mattis, says all options are on the table. The president says a decision will be taken soon. What are the best options right now of dealing with this?

TOM DONILON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: First of all, the last strike was in April and it was a very limited strike, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against one airfield. Didn't have much of an affect. I think largely because the United States really didn't follow up in any serious way with respect to trying to find a solution in Syria. It's a complicated situation. It's been going on for seven years. It's as bloody as you can imagine. It's been quite tragic. You had a lot of dynamics. You had the Israelis who are alleged to have taken action against an Iranian air base in Syria because they want to keep Iran from having permanent assets on their border. The Russian behavior has been terrible, especially since they came in on Assad's side in August of 2015.

BLITZER: So what should the U.S. do?

DONILON: They should do the following things. One is, quickly, on an urgent basis, establish the evidence. It needs to be clear evidence that, in fact, the Syrians were behind this attack.

BLITZER: We've seen the video of the children.

DONILON: I think that's what's going to happen. I think the evidence is pretty persuasive at this point but establish that solidly. We had 500 people who sought medical assistance as a result of this attack. It's consistent with past Syrian actions to clear out areas around Damascus, only 10 miles from Damascus. Second, use protective action so the United States doesn't have to act unilaterally. Third, I would prepare for significant military steps, beyond what we did a year ago. The Israelis acted when the Iranians had a drone come over Israeli territory. They reacted quickly and quite decisively, taking out half the Syrian air defense system. I think the United States should look to doing significant damage to the air defense system and the air assets, which is the way they deliver --


BLITZER: The fear, though, is that the Russians could retaliate if the U.S. were to do that.

DONILON: But at some point, you have to take a stand. Russian behavior has been terrible. You have here war crimes. If you look at the evidence now put together by a number of organizations and the United Nations, the case for war crimes, Wolf, is overwhelming. We haven't been able to act on it because the Russia blocks all actions in the Security Council. I would look at military action. I would take military action, much more significant. I would look at additional sanctions on Russia. The president has, as you know, authority he was given last August. It passed the Senate 98-2. He has additional sanctions authority. I would take that. Then I would bring war crimes front and center. You can't get a formal tribunal put together at the U.N. because Russia will block it at the Security Council. You can't get a special tribunal together because they'll block it. But you can get a hybrid court. I would do it publicly and aggressively to make the evidence clear with respect to Assad's conduct and Russia's conduct.

[13:35:06] BLITZER: It's interesting. As you know, President Trump blames President Obama for this current predicament. He tweeted this on Sunday: "If President Obama hadn't crossed the stated red line in the sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago. Animal Assad would have been history."

You were President Obama's national security advisor. What's your reaction to that?

DONILON: My reaction is this. In fact, in September 2013, the United States, working with others, did act to eliminate most of the chemical weapons in Syria. Do a thought experiment. What would have happened if the war went on in Syria and ISIS took over large parts of Syria if we hadn't eliminated a lot of the chemical weapons? All of them haven't been eliminated, and the U.S. needs to act. And the U.S. is within its --


BLITZER: If the United States makes a threat like that, you use chemical weapons, you're going to pay a heavy price. They use chemical weapons, and then President Obama blinked. Went to Congress, you got passed legislation, and we know it never happened.

DONILON: No, that's not true that nothing happened. What the United States -- (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There was an investigation and the Russians said they would get rid of it. They didn't.

DONILON: But the Syrians got rid of most of it. And was --


BLITZER: But not all of it.

DONILON: They didn't get rid of it all. They got rid of most of it, which was important steps taken in 2013 and 2014. The fact is, all of it is not gotten rid of all of it. The Syria intended to use it. I think the U.S. has an interest that remains in preventing and deterring this use of chemical weapons in their world.

BLITZER: Quickly, I want your reaction to the new national security advisor. You were once the national security advisor. John Bolton, he had this to say back in 2013 when this incident was unfolding. Listen.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR & FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Well, I would refer the matter to Congress. And if I were a member of Congress, I would vote against an authorization to use force here. I don't think it's in America's interest. I don't think we should in effect take sides in the Syrian conflict.


BLITZER: Do you think his views have evolved since then?

DONILON: We'll find out. It's important to note, though, Mr. Bolton is going into a different kind of job than he's ever had. This is a job where, yes, you're an adviser to the president, but you also are an honest broker in developing the right options for the president, having all the inputs, putting together a team so the president can look at a full range of developments, get accurate and timely facts, and make decisions. One of the principal responsibilities for the national security advisor is making that process work. That's a challenge Mr. Bolton will have today, is pulling together a team. There's been a lot of difficulty in the Trump administration. You've had very high levels of turnover. Bolton is the third national security advisor in 15 months. One of his challenges is trying to bring some stability to this process. What you're not, as national security advisor -- and I think he would recognize this -- you are not a public advocate. You are not a television talking head. And you're not presenting your own opinions every day. Rather, you are trying to build a team which develops clear and coherent and terrifically effectively implemented policies we have in the United States. It's a very difficult job. The motto, as we look at that model for the way to go for the national security adviser.

BLITZER: Good advice from Tom Donilon to John Bolton. We'll see if he heeds your advice.

Thank you very much for joining us.

DONILON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Right now, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is on Capitol Hill telling lawmakers his company made a big mistake. What else is he saying and how is he preparing for two days of intense hearings?

We'll be right back.


[13:43:02] BLITZER: Right now, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill ahead of what could be two days of rather intense testimony before Congress on the company's massive data scandal. Facebook is facing fierce backlash after news broke that Cambridge Analytica that worked with the 2016 Trump campaign obtained information of billions of users.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson just spoke with Zuckerberg. He joins us now live on Capitol Hill.

Senator, what can you tell us about your meeting? How did it go?

SEN. BILL NELSON, (D), FLORIDA: It was a lengthy meeting. And I asked all the staff to step out so it would be just one on one. I think he's trying, but I think if we don't get our arms around this, Wolf, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore. And what --


BLITZER: So get our arms around this. What do you propose, then, that Facebook, other social media giants need to do?

NELSON: Well, right now, obviously, there is a lot of private data that is being utilized that people are willing to give up. So if I happen to communicate with a friend on Facebook, I want some chocolate, and suddenly an advertisement for chocolate pops up. Now, are we willing to give that up? Probably, that privacy. That's their business model in Facebook. But then the question is, when people, bad actors like the Russians, start using the platform to undermine our democratic institutions, then we've got a big problem. And I think we're going to have to have, other than just saying, as Zuckerberg did, that we were lied to by Cambridge Analytica, we've got to have some safeguards in the law to protect against that.

[13:45:04] BLITZER: Zuckerberg is going to testify before your committee, the Senate, Congress committee. You're the ranking member. What is the biggest question you want him to answer?

NELSON: Well, what are the safeguards that you now have in place, which we discussed today, that this will never happen again? And the truth is, Wolf, I think they put in some safeguards, but I don't think the protections are there in the future. That's where the threat to our privacy is there.

Oh, by the way, I've asked our co-leader, our chairman, Jon Thune, and he has agreed, let's bring in Cambridge Analytica in front of the Congress committee and let's find out about them, because Zuckerberg says that they lied to him when they did that little personality test and didn't say there were going to get all the friends of those 270,000 people who took the test, and that ended up being 87 million people.

BLITZER: It's a serious problem.

Let me get to a political question while I have you. Florida Governor Rick Scott announced today he's running against you for the U.S. Senate. He's challenging your seat. What do you see as the biggest difference for Florida voters between you and Rick Scott?

NELSON: I think Rick Scott will say and do anything to try to get elected. But I've always thought that if you just try to do the right thing, the politics is going to take care of itself.

BLITZER: Is there one issue, though, that you clearly see a major difference?

NELSON: Wolf, there are so many differences between the two of us. You can go to the beach in Florida and look out and there are no oil rigs out there. You can go to Cape Canaveral and you see a space industry that is revived and is thriving. And we're just about to launch Americans on American rockets again. You can go and see an elderly population that their Medicare and their Social Security is protected. And then you can see health care that is denied to 800,000 Floridians, but for Rick Scott refusing to expand Medicaid with the money sitting there on the shelf. And I've just mentioned three subjects.

BLITZER: So you have a lot of difference.

When you say he'll say or do anything to get elected, be specific, tell me what you mean?

NELSON: Recently, he gets Secretary Zinke, of the Interior Department, to come down and say, at Rick Scott's requests, we're not going to drill off the coast of Florida, when, in fact, that's still in their rule. That's just one example of changing over seven and a half years of him doing something else, being very friendly to the oil industry to drill off of Florida.

BLITZER: It's going to be quite a race. I'm looking forward to those debates the two of you are going to have for the people of Florida to make up their mind.

We've invited, by the way, Governor Scott to join us. Hopefully, he'll be able to join us as early as tomorrow.

NELSON: I hope -- hey, Wolf, I hope that you will moderate one of those debates. BLITZER: I would love to moderate one of those debates. I'm looking

forward to it. I'm sure the people of Florida would look forward to it as well and get the differences, and I assume some agreements, out of there to the voters coming up in November.

Senator Nelson, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, CNN is live with the caravan of migrants making their way to the border right now where President Trump's guard troops are preparing to meet them. We're going to go inside one of those buses. You see the little kids. They're trying to make their way to the United States. Leyla Santiago is on that bus. Her report coming up live.


[13:53:40] BLITZER: Right now hundreds of members of the U.S. National Guard are headed to the U.S./Mexico border after President Trump made the order last week. The president gave the directive after learning that a group of migrants from Central America, mostly from Honduras, were headed through Mexico to the U.S. border. That caravan of migrants just arrived in Mexico City.

CNN's Leyla Santiago has been traveling with them onboard that bus. Walk us through what's happening now.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you see all of these buses behind me. They have just arrived. The migrants are getting off the bus. We have about 500 migrants that have just arrived. You see many with the Honduran flag, some with signs. And this is something we actually saw quite a bit. We saw people cheering them on, on the way here. And then once they actually arrived, they were also met with a lot of people cheering for them. Again, they have just come from Puebla, a few hours south of Mexico City.

And, Wolf, I want to bring in Gabriella. The last time I talked to you live, we interviewed her. She is a mother of two. She's also pregnant. And she's from Honduras.

I'm just going to take a moment to sort of just check in with her and see how she's feeling.



[13:55:09] SANTIAGO: She says she's a little tired because it's been a long journey, and with kids it makes it a little more difficult. But she says they have been welcomed here. And so I'm going to ask her what's next.



SANTIAGO: She is saying now they will meet with immigration officials and people -- they will meet with people to find out what's the best way to get to the U.S./Mexico border. And some of them will stay here.



SANTIAGO: So that's Gabriella, one of many.

To tell you more of her story, Wolf, she had a domestic violence situation. She left her husband and then the gangs started going after her husband, she says. That's when they told her she had 12 hours before something bad would happen. That's why she wants to get to the United States of America to seek asylum -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Heartbreaking stories, indeed.

Leyla, we'll stay in close touch with you. Stay in close touch with all the folks onboard those buses as well.

Thanks so much for that report.

The White House press briefing, by the way, only moments away. Our CNN live coverage will continue.