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Aired April 12, 2018 - 15:00   ET




HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome, everyone. I'm Hala Gorani. Tonight, we begin in Syria, a country that's, of course, seen

seven years of war, hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of people forced from their homes.

But the next phase of this conflict could come down to just one question, are America and its allies about to strike? Donald Trump says, the

decision is, quote, "coming soon or maybe not so soon at all." At least according to this tweet which says, "Never said when an attack on Syria

would take place."

The U.S. defense secretary believes there was indeed a recent chemical attack outside of Damascus, but James Mattis says more evidence is still

needed. While the French president, Emmanuel Macron, says he already has proof the Assad regime gassed its own people with chlorine they are saying.

More from Paris and also London in just a moment, will those two countries join any U.S. effort to strike.

First, let's get to our teams on the front line of the story. Nick Paton Walsh is inside Syria, Northern Syria. Sam Kiley is in Moscow. Jeremy

Diamond has the latest from Washington.

Jeremy, I'll start with you because Washington is worried any decision to strike will originate from. Is the U.S. president about to make a decision

to strike Syria militarily? What do we know so far?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, as far as we know right now everything is still very much uncertain and it is a pretty strange

position to be in given that yesterday morning the president suggested that missiles were indeed going to be fired by U.S. forces at Syria, and that

Russia, which backed the Syrian regime should brace itself for that possibility.

Today, it appears to be something that is possible to something that is still in discussion, but the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders

comments yesterday and the presidents tweets this morning seems to cast doubt on the immediacy of all of this.

What we do know is that the president's national security team is meeting this afternoon to discuss these possible options with Syria. We know that

the president has also been coordinating as you mentioned with French President Emmanuel Macron and the British Prime Minister Theresa May.

So, it does appear that a potentially coordinated response, potentially a military one at that, is in the making, but it does not seem clear when

that will happen or what exactly that will look like.

We know that the president last year launched those 59 Tomahawk missiles in response to a chemical weapons attack then. So, is the president

considering something broader in scope? It appears that is possible, but at this point, we really still do not know. Those discussions seem to be

ongoing with no final decision having been made.

GORANI: Right. And the U.S. president, Sam Kiley, has taunted Russia on Twitter militarily. What is Moscow saying to all of this, to the possible

imminent U.S.-led strike against Syrian targets?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, the latest line, really, coming out of New York from the Russians because of the time

of day, of course, here it's very late in Moscow, but the Russian ambassador in New York at the U.N. headquarters saying that any attack on

Syria could be a breach of international law and a breach of the U.N. charter, pointing out that Russia is in Syria.

But the invitation of the Syrian government and any attack on the Syrian government would be a breach of international law. On top of that, the

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman continuing, Hala, to insist that the last time was staged by the White Helmets and others that it was all a massive fraud.

And there is now the organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons team that is en route to Damascus, I think that will be focusing the minds

in Washington, but of course, once these international observers get on the ground, it becomes that much harder to conduct military operations.

So, I think really the Russian approach at the moment is to try to delay any kind of action being ordered out of the Pentagon, or indeed out of the

Elysee Palace -- Hala.

GORANI: And Nick Paton Walsh in Northern Syria, what would the target be inside of Syria? Last year, of course, after that chemical attack, 59

Tomahawk missiles were fired at the Sherat (ph) Airbase, which was quite a symbolic gesture really because the damage was fixed very quickly and

aircrafts were taking off from that very airbase within days. Are we -- is the expectation something similar this time around?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Really unclear. I mean, obviously I think voiced by U.S. officials that any response would

have to be felt that perhaps the last time they did this, it clearly wasn't deterrent enough.

[15:05:07] So, surely, they are looking at what can be done to be sure that it is felt this time, but also in the words of Secretary of Defense Jim

Mattis, to be sure they don't escalate matters.

Now he claimed the last attack took out 17 percent of Syria's air force. That probably shows how bad and few planes they had left at that particular

point, but as Sam pointed out we are into a very tight window here.

You know, the are suggesting the OPCW on the ground potentially tomorrow certainly work by Saturday and that's their own organization confirming the

timetable. So, looking at the national security meeting happened in Washington right now, looking at the statement we've just had from the

British government's cabinet.

Suggesting there is need for some kind of response to this, the messaging the drumbeats certainly taken off at this particular point. We know that

it's going to get difficult once they head into back stages of tomorrow.

We know that preference to strike at night to reduce the likelihood of stray civilians getting caught up in strikes. So, really, there is an

issue here for Donald Trump getting caught in the same trap as his predecessor, Barack Obama, who said he had a redline found it was crossed

by the regime.

Said he would probably act then thought about going to Congress, then found inspectors on the ground and got caught in a weeks' long process, but

basically meant his allies got cold feet and backed out, and then the Russians stepped in and suggested (inaudible) to give up its chemical

weapons. So, he's definitely not going to want to get caught in that same protracted timetable -- Hala.

GORANI: And Jeremy Diamond, Donald Trump has criticized his predecessor Barack Obama in the past for telegraphing military plans, U.S. military

plans, but we are very unclear about what Donald Trump has in mind.

Two weeks ago, he said he will pull out all U.S. troops from Syria that maybe then not right away, then maybe later. Then there will definitely be

a strike, then I never said when, I mean, we are all quite confused. Is there a plan that's not being announced or is there no plan? Is this just

being made up as the president goes along?

DIAMOND: Well, what we have been told is that as of now no final decision has actually made, which means that the president's tweet yesterday

morning, signaling that the strikes were coming came before he had actually made a military decision on this front, which is really quite


Yes, there is a comparison here to be made to Barack Obama as a redline in Syria, but this is something altogether different, I think, in the sense

that the president not only suggested that military action might be coming.

But he said what the military action would be missiles targeting Syria and he -- and he suggested that Russia should brace itself. So, he was saying

both the means through which he would respond, where he would respond.

And yet despite all of that, we are not yet seeing that response. So, it is quite stunning to see the president of the United States making that

kind of a definitive statement and yet we are not actually seeing that response yet, and no final decision appears to have been made.

GORANI: And it's all -- it's all being done on social media, which is really remarkable. And Sam Kiley, there are reports that naval ships,

Russian naval ships are moving out of Tartus, which is on the Mediterranean Coast in anticipation of military action. I mean, what would the

anticipate -- that means the Russians clearly believe this is happening.

KILEY: I think not too much stock should be put on the movement of naval vessels. Naval vessels job is to be at sea, not parked in a port area.

They come and go. It's very rare that Tartus (inaudible) really stacked up. They are not doing that job.

That is the only (inaudible) that the Russians have. They will be wanting to protect and patrol the waters around it. That is warm waters in the

Mediterranean, of course, not the Black Sea.

And I think that really the effort being made in terms of securing military material has ready come, as Nick has been reporting and Fred before him,

from the Syrians trying to get closer to Russian installations.

(Inaudible) locate some of their aircraft, personnel, key command and control installations, possibly even antiaircraft and antimissile radar

installations with Russians because, of course, the Russians effectively can be used as human shields in this because the escalation, which is what

the Russians are talking about at the United Nations is not so much the attack potentially on the Syrian regime.

But if there is an accidental attack on Russia and retaliation, then the thing goes multinational and into very, very dangerous territory indeed.

GORANI: Right. And Nick, finally to you, Sam mentioned the OPCW fact- finding mission. You also alluded to it. How do you do any fact-finding in Eastern Ghouta. I mean, it seems like -- the terrain the environment

would be quite challenging to say the least.

WALSH: Yes, I mean, (inaudible) metaphor here. You are talking about going to a crime scene where people you consider to be potentially the

murderer have been hanging around and perhaps cleaning up for about a week or so, and that crime scene still the scene of a gun fight or recently has

been one.

[15:10:14] So, yes, (inaudible) an easy job at all, but the theory I supposed is you get your inspectors in. They look at the soil. They look

at the area that can't necessarily hosed down to the point where nothing can be found.

But the broader point, of course, is this takes time, and it's time, clearly end up by calling a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday that

Russia was trying to buy. The longer they make this last and longer they can see the varication and wavering in the domestic constituencies of the

allies who are currently on board and responding to something about this.

I'm sure that's forefront of the mind of the White House too. The other thing they are going to have to be thinking about too, though, is the

proximity between Russian forces and U.S. forces where I'm standing in Northern Syria.

They already came to direct shooting blows in February when Syrian regime backed by Russian mercenaries try to take land of Syrian Kurds were backed

by the Americans, at that point, the Americans found themselves under fire directly and they responded with Russia's fire power.

Even through Russia and the U.S. are talking over a coordination line to be sure it was not happening. There wasn't enough transparency to stop that

event occurring. These things can spiral massively out of hand.

I was there with the U.S. forces and they frankly didn't I don't think at that time that shooting was happening, they were killing Russian

mercenaries whilst trying to defend their own position -- Hala.

GORANI: Right. And there were significant number of deaths there. Thanks very much. Nick Paton is in Northern Syria, Sam Kiley in Moscow, and

Jeremy Diamond there in Washington, D.C. And we'll keep our eye on that story and get back to all of you as soon as news emerges if indeed a strike

is announced in the next 24 hours.

Of course, that was the expectation yesterday, but then Donald Trump tweeted something different, no timeline. I did not say when, so that, of

course, is thrown into question when anything could happen. The window is short though with the OPCW on the ground in the next 24 hours. We are

going to keep our eye on this.

And there is a potential participation of America's biggest European allies. They are weighing their options too this evening. The British

prime minister called an emergency cabinet meeting today summoning some of her top lawmakers to Downing St.

France, the French president said that any strikes from his country would specifically target chemical facilities in Syria.

Melissa Bell is in Paris. Phil Black is at 10 Downing Street. And I'll start with you, Melissa. So, Emmanuel Macron is saying he has proof. This

was definitely a chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta. Does that mean France is definitely on board here?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. His words today he was speaking on French television, Hala, in an interview that had

been planned. What's less expected was the firmness of his tone, the absolute decisiveness when he announced that he had proof. He went much

further than he had when he last addressed the issue just a couple of days ago in public at the Elysee Palace.

Now the Elysee are not saying what that proof is. In fact, they are not even telling us whether that proof is going to be made public. But the

French president really left no doubt about the matter.

France, he said, has proof not only that chemical (inaudible) were used, but that they were used by the Assad regime. And on that question then of

the timing, which was the other question he was asked, he was perhaps less in a hurry than he had been earlier week suggesting that France would

intervene when the time was right.

Both that it was at once useful and efficient. Nothing further in terms of timing was made clear by Emmanuel Macron today, but no doubt about the fact

that France has proof.

GORANI: And interesting because the OPCW, Melissa, as we were discussing with our reporters at the top of the hour, has not really conducted any --

you know, gone through the samples there on the ground and come up with any conclusion.

But Phil Black at Downing Street, what came out of this cabinet meeting, is Theresa May also going to join the U.S. if it decides to conduct strikes

against Syrian targets?

PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's sounding that way, Hala, but what came out of this meeting was a very nonspecific

statement. One that says cabinet agreed that the use of chemical weapons should not go unanswered.

So, what does that mean? Well, in recent days, we've heard Theresa May talking about punishing the regime and also deterring the further use of

chemical weapons. Her meeting today is recalling cabinet for this emergency meeting is being seen as a really as a war cabinet meeting here,

where she is believed to have outlined options for being part of this international military strike against Syrian government forces.

But we haven't heard this level of detail. If she is proceeding down this path in this way, it's notable because she is veering away from what has

been political convention in this country and that is seeking parliament's approval first before launching a military strike.

There's another reason why she might want to be seen to be engaged in this, involved and backing allies, and of course, that is because those allies

have recently been backing her and Britain against Russia over the use of a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury -- Hala.

[15:15:13] GORANI: Right, certainly. It's a risky move, I mean, politically, especially with Theresa May's government that is not in the

strongest position right now in the middle of Brexit negotiations and having gone through a pretty traumatic a general election.

But Melissa Bell, what is France's end game here. I mean, we know that Emmanuel Macron, his predecessor, Francois Hollande, certainly were no fans

of the Assad regime. But the war and the civilian deaths and the horror and the misery has been going on now for seven years. What does France

hope to achieve by getting on board with a military strike like this?

BELL: Well, I think that France, and there's a big difference here between both Washington and London's answer over the course of the last few years

has actually who has been steadfast in that idea of the red line.

And in the idea that the reaching of the red line on the question of chemical weapons should lead to strikes. So, remember that back in 2013,

Francois Hollande had been the last one standing in the gang of those who would agree that it was necessary to strike.

Barack Obama has turned away David Cameron who had been let down by his parliament. Francois Hollande tells he couldn't do it alone, but he was

the one who was most determined to do it. Emmanuel Macron has been absolutely clearly about this.

Just days after coming in Elysee Palace, he asked for those plans that have been drawn up back in 2013 to be just sit down and be prepare just in case,

and he has left no doubt in all these pronouncements, Hala, that the use of chemical weapons was a red line that if crossed would lead to strikes. And

he's remaining steadfast in that rhetoric over the course of the last few days as well.

GORANI: All right. Melissa Bell in Paris and Phil Black at 10 Downing Street. Thanks very much to both of you.

A lot more to come this evening, we may be getting some answers in the case of that poisoned former Russian spy. We'll tell you what chemical experts

have to say about what sickened Skripal and his daughter.

Plus, he's been accused of sexual misconduct. Now actor, Kevin Spacey, could face criminal charges. We'll have a live report.


GORANI: A key piece of the puzzle may be falling into place in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter. A chemical watchdog is

confirming what the U.K. has been saying that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with a rare military grade nerve agent.

CNN's Nima Elbagir looks at why this is important -- Nima.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hala, the brinksmanship between the U.K. and Russia continues to escalate over the

case of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. The international chemical weapons watchdog now says that they have confirmed

Britain's findings that it was nerve agent, Novichok, that was used in the attack on the pair. Britain says that this confirms that it was Russia

that was behind the attack.


[15:20:04] JEREMY FLAMING, DIRECTOR, U.K. SURVEILLANCE AGENCY GCHQ: The attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury was the first time a nerve

agent has been deployed in Europe since the Second World War. That's sobering. It demonstrates how reckless Russia is prepared to be, how

little the Kremlin cares for the international rules-based order, how comfortable they are at putting ordinary lives at risk.


ELBAGIR: The focal point is now access to the father-daughter pair, with Russia saying that they will not accept the OPCW's findings until they are

given access to Yulia and her father, something Yulia says she doesn't want. She says she is happy under the (inaudible) of Britain's protection

and for now, this is where she'd like to stay.

The time has come for action, Britain says. They are taking their case to the Executive Council of the OPCW on Wednesday. They hope to convince

other state members that categorically it was not only Russia behind the attack but also that there should be consequences -- Hala.

GORANI: Nima, thanks very much.

Now to a new trouble for Kevin Spacey, we are learning today that prosecutors in L.A are reviewing claims that he was involved in a sexual

assault, a case that dates back more 25 years. Numerous people have accused Spacey of sexual conduct during the past several months in the

post-Harvey-Weinstein era that's come out.

CNN entertainment reporter, Chloe Melas is following this. She's in New York. If it's more than 25 years old, what kind of legal trouble could --

is there not a statute of limitations here? What is the case?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: I mean, great question. So, you know, the way it's been in the state of California where this alleged

assault supposedly took place in 1992 is supposed to be about 10 years. Now California came out with a law where they said that they were going to

rid of the statute of limitations when it comes to cases with sexual assault.

But it's still unclear does that mean anything after the point of that law or anything prior to that? You know, there are some questions about that.

What I can tell you is that it's been six months since the first story came forward with the allegation of inappropriate conduct by Kevin Spacey

alleged by an actor, Anthony Rapp. So, that came out in October.

Our explosive CNN report came out in November that accused him of harassment and alleged sexual assault on the set of Netflix's "House of

Cards." So, what's interesting is that in December when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department began investigating this incident that

allegedly happened in 1992, it makes one wonder if, you know, people felt empowered to come forward to law enforcement after these stories broke.

Now what I can tell you, though, which is interesting, is that the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, they actually organized that special

crime unit to look into sex crimes in specifically the entertainment industry. So, now, it's up to them to see what they can do with this case.

So, we're waiting to see.

GORANI: But what are -- do we know more about the charges, about what this case is all about?

MELAS: We know that it deals with a male. We don't know what this male's age was at the time of this alleged incident. We know from the Los Angeles

County Sheriff's Department, Hala, that it took place allegedly in West Hollywood, California, quite a bit time has passed. We don't know the name

of this alleged victim.

What I can tell you is that I have reached out multiple times to Kevin Spacey's team, and I have heard nothing. I mean, I have reached out on

this news story and I've also reached out when we did our report and other allegations over the past six months, silence.

GORANI: But I wonder why this case and not others that have been made public with more details with accusers who were publicly pointing the

finger at Kevin Spacey?

MELAS: There's a lot of questions, but you know, it makes wonder if this investigation has been going on for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's

Department, Hala, for the past five months. Now they feel like they have enough evidence to go forward to this special sex crimes unit.

Perhaps they were able to corroborate it with enough people. Perhaps they're not worried about the statute of limitations because they feel that

they have sufficient evidence and a testimony. More information will likely come out in the coming weeks.

But as of right now, we just have to see what are going to be the next step and is Spacey going to respond finally.

GORANI: All right. Chloe Melas, thanks very much.

Just into us in the past few minutes, Puerto Rico has been hit with a massive power outage. Pretty much the last thing Puerto Rico needs. It's

affecting 870,000 people. Obviously, the island has been struggling with huge infrastructure problems since Hurricane Maria made landfall late last


And you are looking at picture of some of the horrendous damage caused at that time. Authorities say the outage today happened when a tree fell on a

power line. There have been blackouts in the capital of San Juan as well as other areas. San Juan's mayor says it could take as long as 16 hours to

restore electricity.

[15:25:14] Still to come tonight, a killer blow, a small strike, or perhaps nothing at all. We will look at the military option that the U.S. and its

allies are weighing in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria.

And the investigation Donald wishes would go away is getting ever closer to the president himself. For the first known time, Mr. Trump's name was

included in a search warrant. We'll tell you why just ahead.


GORANI: In the past 24 hours, the U.S., France and Britain have all indicated they are preparing to possibly strike Syria in response to the

regime's alleged use of chemical weapons. So, what are the options. Michael Holmes looks at the potential battlefield.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's unclear just when and how the strikes against Syria will unfold. But the U.S. and its allies, they have

a range of hardware at sea and at air bases throughout the region. Have a look at the map, the U.S. has two destroyers in the area and submarines

probably as well, almost certainly.

French warships are in the Eastern Mediterranean. A British official told CNN the U.K. is preparing for possible action against Syria. British media

reports say submarines have been deployed to the region already. The U.K. has military jets at its base in Cyprus. French jets are based in Jordan

and in the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. has a vast air base over here in Qatar.

Now as for possible targets, we can really only guess at what the allies might be aiming for. We have a map here that will give you an idea. It

shows Syrian air bases marked by these black planes but also the Russian and Iranian positions in Syria.

Iranian in yellow, Russian in green. Now all of the allies are going to be anxious to avoid Russian casualties and the fallout that that would bring

as the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Thursday, there are plenty of Syrian bases, military and also air fields right across the


Western analysts think that perhaps the (inaudible) base -- you can see that down here -- may have been the one from where the most recent gas

attack was launched. But the Syrian military, they have almost certainly taken measures to protect their planes, perhaps by moving some down to the

Damascus International Airport or to the Russian base at (inaudible).

Now it's more difficult, of course, to know about chemical weapons facilities. But analyst say the Center for Scientific Study and Research

near Damascus is the main research establishment. Now one big unknown is will Russian activate their powerful S-400 anti-aircraft missile system

which is deployed to protect its Syrian bases? You can see here the range, some 400 kilometers.

Now of course, we are working with open source information. The government's involved and they'll have classified intelligence, of course

on where Syria has moved its planes and hidden its chemical weapons program. Back to you.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Michael, thanks very much. I want to get the perspective of Cedric Leighton in Washington. He's a retired

U.S. Air Force colonel and a CNN military analyst.

So what Michael was saying was obviously, the Syrian government will have taken steps. The targets are more or less obvious. This has been

telegraphed now for days. The president of the United States is doing exactly what he criticized his predecessor for. He's announcing what his

intentions are.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, that's right, Hala. At least yesterday, we were very concerned that these intentions that the president

seemed to be tweeting about could potentially compromise a U.S. and coalition mission. I'll call it the collation, just for lack of a better

term, because there's nothing official yet, of course. But if the U.S., France, and Britain would be -- they would be the most likely candidates to

conduct a mission of this type are actively involved, then you would see a whole list of targets that would include some of the things that Michael

Holmes discussed, especially command and control facilities, any type of weapons facility that could correctly be identified.

GORANI: And what is the likelihood here? And it must be higher than the last time around, of the United States or its partners, potential partners,

U.K. and France, accidentally or unintentionally hitting Russian interests? Then we're in a very dangerous situation here.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. And one of the key issues is one of the confliction. That's the term of art that is used when you don't want to

hit something in the targeting process so the targets would have to be de- conflicted as we say. And what that means is the Russians, in effect, would get some advanced notice not to put their people in certain areas.

Those certain areas may or may not be targeted, but there is a high likelihood that we'd be looking at them and we'd want to make sure that the

Russians are warned off, that they are not actually in the range of the weapons systems that we would be firing in that particular direction. So

it becomes a very complicated ballet to do all of this.

GORANI: But what's the point, really? I mean, last year, there were a few tomahawk missiles launched at an air base. It was operational, pretty

much, within hours. The United States, via the president said, they wanted to remove or withdraw or pull out all currently U.S. troops from the

country. Now, the president is saying he wants to launch missiles. What's the point? What can be achieved?

LEIGHTON: Well, if you don't have a strategy, you have no point. And that's really the problem that we're running into here. The point seems to

be a tactical one at best. It seems to be one in which, Hala, they go in and they take care of a particular problem said and then they leave again.

And you can't really run a war or any type of diplomatic effort if you don't stay the course. So this doesn't have to be a full-blown war. But

what it does have to have is a strategy. And the U.S. owes the world at least a part of the world that is on its side a strategy for seeing the

Syrian civil war to an end. If we don't do that, then all of this becomes meaningless.

GORANI: I mean, you know, and you follow the Syrian conflict very closely and so do I. But a few missiles are not going to -- whether you have a

strategy or not, are not going to bring the Syrian civil war closer to an end, especially with a huge Russian and Iranian and Hezbollah presence in

the country, unless you commit a lot more which we know America is not willing to do at this stage, which is probably by the way, a wise idea

considering how much of an explosive situation it could then lead to even worse than now.

So, I just wonder. Is this going to be just a symbolic strike to say, we had a red line and we're making sure that every time you get close to it,

we're going to do something, anything?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think this is just the starch of the type of operations that would have to take place against the Syrian regime targets, the Assad

regime targets. So what really should be happening is, yes, there should be military planning. There should be a strike in response to the chemical

attack on Duma. But the other part of it is it has to be a complete diplomatic initiative, one that actually ends up deciding how Syria looks

and that would involve Russia, it would involve Iran, the United Kingdom, France, the Turks, all of these countries that have a play in this become

very important for this and it has to be really a concerted effort. This is really a part of a campaign -- maybe not a full-blown war-type campaign.

But it has to be a whole of government approach and it has to be not just the U.S. that does this but also the U.K., France, the gulf countries and

others who have a vested interest in the area.

[15:35:49] GORANI: Sure. And also, the Syrians hopefully one day. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thanks, as always for your analysis, we really

appreciate it.

Mr. Trump has another big decision to make, much closer to home. And some worry America could be on the verge of a crisis. A bipartisan group of

lawmakers is drawing up legislation that would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by the president. Mr. Trump downplayed

that possibility today tweeting that he is cooperating with investigators. But it's no secret he is furious with an FBI raid targeting his personal

attorney, Michael Cohen. We now know the search warrant mentioned the president by name. Reportedly in connection with that infamous Access

Hollywood tape that captured Mr. Trump making lewd remarks about women. A democratic lawmaker explained the significance.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think it change the investigation in this way. He would be of interest in that kind of search warrant, if there

was an effort to buy off these stories, the pay hush money, to make the story about the Access Hollywood tape go away or the story about Stormy

Daniels go away.


GORANI: Well, Time Magazine, summed up Mr. Trump's troubles with this cover showing stormy times at the White House, Stormy is, of course, the

first name of the stage name of the porn star, Stormy Daniels. But that's not all. Mr. Trump has new allegations to contend with as well after a

story emerged involving a dormant gossip about a love child and hush money. Luckily, we have Stephen Collinson to help us explain this latest one.

Talk to us about this. We have the report that the parent company of the National enquirer paid for the story of doorman in New York. Tell us more.

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a story that was broken this morning by the Associated Press of a New Yorker, essentially what it says

is that the National Enquirer paid for doorman in New York, one of Trump's properties to keep quiet about a rumor that the president had fathered an

illegitimate child. This is a technique known as catch and kill used by the tabloids to close down a story. And the reason is interesting is

because the publisher of the National Enquirer is a supporter of the president. Now, CNN hasn't confirmed either the story by the AP of a New

Yorker or the substance of this rumor. Both the Trump organization and the National Enquirer's parent company have denied these allegations. But why

this is important is because it raises the question of if there is now a patent of people who have unflattering information about Trump's private

life being paid off by associates to the president. Now this is one thing when Donald Trump was a businessman in New York. It's another thing when

he became a political candidate, because that could lead to violations of federal election law, because these things are often seen as campaign

contributions and kinds. So that's why this story is more than a personal problem for the president potentially if there was wrongdoing proven. It

could be a violation of federal election law.

GORANI: And, Stephen, sorry to jump in. But we have a statement from the doorman. The doorman's name is Dino Sajudin. I'm guessing it's pronounced

that way. "Today, I awoke to learn that a confidential agreement that I had with AMI, the National Enquirer, with regard to a story about President

Trump would leak to the press. I can confirm that while working at Trump World Tower, I was instructed not to criticize President Trump's former

housekeeper due to a prior relationship she had with President Trump which produced a child."

So this is coming from the doorman. It's adding another layer to this -- to this story. What do you make of this then, Stephen?

COLLINSON: Seems to give some credibility to the reports this morning. Now, the questions is why he felt he was able to make that statement if he

was party to an agreement not to say something. So that raises all sorts of new questions and it just really deepens this whole mystery of the raid

on Monday by FBI agents, on the personal lawyer for the president, Michael Cohen, a huge and stunning steps that was the fact -- the lawyer of the

president of the United States was targeted. And it raises the question of whether prosecutors in New York were looking for links and information

about this and other alleged hush payments made to sort kill stories about the president before the election in 2016.

[15:40:36] GORANI: And it's interesting that this doorman is basically in the statement saying what the rumor was, which we can presume was the basis

of the agreement he made with the National Enquirer and not to disclose since it was leaked. It's something he's mentioning in that statement.

I'm sure this is not the last time we'll hear from this doorman or about this story. Thank you, Stephen Collinson in Washington.

Now, also in Washington, as so many of our stories are these days or originate from, former CIA director, Mike Pompeo face the Senate

confirmation hearing today. He's been making his case to be the next secretary of state, America's top diplomat. He stressed his service in the

military and at the CIA to, in some cases, skeptical lawmakers. But the hearing became contentious early on when questions arose about his

relationship with the president and about Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Brett Bruen is a former White House director of global engagement under President Obama. And he joins us now from Washington. Thanks for being

with us.

So before -- I want to get your reaction to something during the Senate confirmation hearings that he said, Mike Pompeo, to Senator Jeff Flake on

the Iran deal. On his feelings about the Iran deal. Let's listen.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Would seem that definitely the North Korean leader are negotiators on that side. They might be concerned that our

reliability in terms of signing an agreement, if the next president could simply ask them.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I said a while I can see it. We don't know precisely what Kim Jong-un is contemplating, how he's thinking about his

options at today. I've read lots of the analysis with respect to what his concerns and how he's thinking about the challenge he faces today with the

enormous economic pressure that has been place upon him, and the lists of things that he is thinking about don't involve other deals throughout



GORANI: All right. Some would say that's debatable. Brett Bruen, what did you make of his answer to that very important question? Because he

dislikes intensely the Iran deal.


the key concern here. Whether we're talking about Iran, North Korea, or even our allies and their support for strengths against Syria and Bashar

al-Assad. We need to restore quickly the credibility of the presidency and I think that the task should he be confirmed for a secretary Pompeo is to

go out to world capitols and to convince them to believe in America again. GORANI: Now, we have Mike Pompeo on the one hand and the new national

security advisor, John Bolton, of course, one of the probably biggest proponents of the Iraq invasion and a neocon who served under George W.

Bush. It seems as though already there's some sort of change, do you think, in the president, Donald Trump and his pronouncements about Syria

and other big foreign policy topics since they've come in?

BRUEN: Yes. And I think on the one hand, we can see the influence of John Bolton in being a bit more strategic and perhaps being able to almost serve

as a Trump whisperer in helping the president to think through some of these steps. On the other hand, I must say that I'm very concerned about

the number of departures, particularly those who are deputy national security advisers having served on the national security council, that is a

critical piece that is needed especially as we look at some of the consequential actions that lay before us.

GORANI: And then there are -- there is a criticism directed at the Obama administration. And by the way, not just from Trump supporters, but I'm in

London and I hear it a lot abroad. I was with many Middle Easterners yesterday at an event. There were Libyans, there were Lebanese, there were

Syrians, they all said President Obama missed one giant opportunity, and that was to enforce the red line that he himself drew about chemical


I man, is that not legitimate criticism? Do you think at this stage? And is then Donald Trump not right in some way to say, if you use chemical

weapons, I will intervene?

BRUEN: I think there is a fair criticism to be leveled against President Obama for not taking action swiftly enough. I was out in Iraq in 2009

serving on a forward operating base as a diplomat. And I saw that we were pulling out too quickly. I think we didn't act quickly enough in Syria.

But there was also at the time, little after here in America for engaging in a prolonged marshal plan-esque project in Iraq.

[15:45:27] GORANI: But that wasn't his only option. His only option wasn't a prolong marshal plan-esque intervention. But you know, there are

chemical weapons facilities and aircraft are being used to disseminate them. There's your plan. You know what I mean? There's not just one or

the other. Nothing or a 10-year plan.

BRUEN: And I think it's a valid point. The challenge here, as Donald Trump learned last year is watching some missiles is not a strategy. It's

not going to solve our problem. And this is where I think we really face a hard question of whether or not the United States and our allies are ready

for what it takes to solve Syria.

GORANI: Brett Bruen, thank so much. Really appreciate having you on the program and your perspective this evening on CNN.

Still to come, he's increasingly isolated in the White House after the departure of some of his most trusted advisers. So, how is President Trump

coping as he confronts a world of challenges and decisions? We'll ask one of his former aide, next.


GORANI: Well, Donald Trump has a big decision to make. He's considering possible military action in Syria. But that is obviously far from the only

thing on his mind. From the Russia investigation to his legal troubles with Stormy Daniels and other women. The president has a lot on his plate.

And now there's a doorman from a trump Tower who is issuing statements. He is now without some of his most trusted advisers to help him navigate these

problems, including former communications director, Hope Hicks.

Our next guest can give us some insight into the president's mindset. CNN political commentator, Jason Miller. The former Trump for President senior

communications advisor. Thanks for being with us.


GORANI: I want to talk about foreign policy here, because a lot of people around the world are utterly confused. And they have a right to be,

because there's so many mixed messages coming from the president. On the one hand he said during a news conference with Baltic leaders, we're

definitely withdrawing American troops. Then he tweets, we're going to send missiles to Syria. And I said, I didn't say -- we don't know what's

going on. What is he doing?

MILLER: Well, I think it's important to keep in mind that everything here is a negotiation and everything is part of a bigger puzzle. And when you

were showing the map earlier, all the different countries in the neighborhood is the color code just there two weeks ago, in the Israel

part, not on the Syria part. I just want to be clear on that.

But the one country that didn't have labeled on there is Iran. And everything is big broader picture. There's a tie-in with Iran. So let's

talk specifically about --

GORANI: In the negotiations, who is the negotiating with over -- about watching our militaries?

MILLER: Hold on. But it's important so when -- we obviously had this horrible chemical attack and there was an outcry from the media not just in

the U.S. but around the world. But how could this civilized people, how can we allow this to happen. So when the president goes a tweet set, he

simply freezes the playing field at the moment and then everyone stop and looking in, uh-oh, what is the U.S. going to go and do? I think the

president immediately goes into the looking at his different options and saying OK. How do we go and advance American interest here? If we get

involved, what is the exit strategy? Or if we get involved, then go further. We do have a couple thousand troops there. But then most

importantly, like it was I started off, what is the bigger picture ramification? Here's the reality of the situation is this we look for a

Middle East peace and we think about a potential Iran-Israel conflict with could be not that far down the road and there's some bad things happen. We

have to have be able to talk with Russians --

GORANI: But that's not what he's doing. What you just described sounds like a levelheaded decision making process. What should we do? But

usually that's done with military advisers behind closed doors, not willy- nilly on Twitter where basically he's taunting Russia. Is that not irresponsible?

[15:50:06] MILLER: But that's my communication style and obviously when I work for the president. Might be a little bit of an odd couple. He has

his communication style and it worked well.

Here's what we know what hasn't worked well with the Russians up to this point and I think the president has gotten some criticisms for it is he

hasn't given the outward toughness that we're going to go and stand up for the Russians. He's seeing some progress that he's made with Kim, with

North Korea, on military side and denuclearization. We've seen some progress both on the trade side and Asia with President Xi and others

taking a different level of toughness and even on NAFTA talks. I think what we're seeing from the president for the first time is him going a

little outwardly tougher on Russia and saying, OK. Number one, he's like I said, he's freezing the playing field. There are a lot of negotiations, I

think were going on right now to figure out what they're going to do.

GORANI: Negotiations with the Russians? With who?

MILLER: Well, I think with to make sure -- I mean, we have to have the Russians' help. Because again, we can't just put a Band-Aid on this. Yes,

we could go and fire off a few more tomahawks and take out specific chemical facilities.

GORANI: But you're saying it should be more than a few tomahawk missiles?

MILLER: Well, here's what I'm saying. The goal here should be able to stop Assad from going and doing this in the future. Now, obviously, yes,

we can go and take out a percentage of the supply that he has. But the real goal here, to be stopped -- stopping him from doing it again. To do

that, we're going have to have the Russians' help. There's just no way that we can do it all by ourselves.

GORANI: And he's going about it a very strange way if he wants the Russians' help.

MILLER: But he's got their attentions. That he has their attention and he's -- I bet he's bringing them to the table and he's taken a different

tact on it. But you know what? He has his own communication strategy and it's worked for him.

So you think that essentially tweeting this out -- and by the way, one of the things he criticized his predecessor for whom he has zero respect. I

mean, in the past, he said some terrible things about him. But he -- and we have a mash-up of some of the things he said about Barack Obama's

strategy on Syria. Where is it now? Can we put that up? It's coming now.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why do they have to talk about it? Don't talk about it. Element of surprise. Why can't they win

first and talk later?

I don't want to telegraph what I'm doing or what I'm thinking. I'm not like other administrations where they say, we're going to do this in four

weeks and that it doesn't work that way.

We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide

our strategy from now on. America's enemies must never know our plans.


GORANI: So he's done this exact opposite of this for the last weeks. Literally the exact opposite.

MILLER: I would argue that you aren't at odds, because you can go and say that we're looking at potentially taking action here. But he didn't put a

specific timetable. He didn't say what the exact troop movements were going to be and without going back on what he had said previously or his

criticism of Obama. But again, it's what he had to do was to come out and simply freeze the playing field. And I think he did that.

GORANI: When you say freeze the playing the field, I guess I don't understand what that means.

MILLER: Because when goes and puts a tweet out like that and he sends a message at the U.S. is watching. We're ready to take action, that makes --

even leaders like Assad want to stay in power. And they're worried about could the U.S. come in with a big stick and whop them up side to head and

cause a real problem. So with Assad, they're going to pull back and say, hold on a minute. We better think before we fire off more chemical

weapons. Is this going to provoke the U.S. to get in here? They don't want that.

GORANI: So you know Donald Trump -- is he getting advice before he fires off those tweets or does he just kind of -- is it off the cuff? Does he

think before he tweets?

MILLER: Well, of course, and I think when you talk about the -- when you're talking a moment ago about kind of who's in the White House and in

the administration and who's not. One of the things -- yes, the departure of Hope Hicks was big. I mean, she's huge. I mean, you can't understate

that. But when you talk about his military leaders, when you talk about General Mattis at defense. He now has John Bolton in at the White House.

His national security adviser. That is big.

GORANI: He's a huge hawk. With a big supporter of the Iraq invasion that was frankly a disaster and hates the Iran deal. Where is that taking the


MILLER: I think President Trump hates the Iran deal.

GORANI: I think John Bolton probably give him a run for his money.

MILLER: They did to as much could. They sent the pallet to cash and then they send it off to terrorist groups and it was bad news. And hopefully

the thing gets torn up. But I think with Bolton coming in and with Pompeo is state, I think you're going to have two leaders within this

administration in addition to General Mattis and General Kelly that fundamentally understand what the president is trying to accomplish. And I

think he has a good team around him. So I wouldn't sell the rest of the White House completely short.

GORANI: Jason Miller, thanks very much for being with us in London, here in the studio. We really appreciate your time this evening on again. And

we'll be right back. Stay with CNN.


[15:55:21] GORANI: All right. Welcome back. Before I leave you, a quick recap of our top story. And the expectation that perhaps the United States

and the U.K. as well, which has been in a very intense cabinet meeting this evening and France whose president, Emmanuel Macron says has proof that

there was a chemical attack ion Syria, that those three countries might cooperate in launching military strikes against some Syrian targets. All

of this against a backdrop, of course, of huge tension with Russia. Russia which does not want any of this strike to take place just as OPCW, chemical

weapons experts are due to inspect the site of that suspected chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus. So we'll keep following that story

over these very crucial next 24 hours. And check out our Facebook page, for the very latest.

I'm Hala Gorani. Thanks for watching tonight. Stay with CNN. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next.