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U.S., France And U.K. Strike Syria's Chemical Weapons Program; Russia Warns America Of "Consequences"; Exclusive: FBI Seized Recordings Between Trump's Lawyer And Stormy Daniels' Former Lawyer. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired April 14, 2018 - 06:00   ET





DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. To Iran and to Russia, the nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Cohen had tapes, we don't know yet what is on them. But this is only getting worse for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Michael Cohen flips, he knows all the secrets. He knows all the dirt. This may open up a wide universe of illegal conduct.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. The United States is promising to keep up pressure on Syria after launching a military attack on the country overnight.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, American, French, and British warplanes, war ships targeted sites connected to Syria's chemical weapons program specifically. This was just days, of course, after dozens were killed in a suspected chemical attack.

Now Syria claims it intercepted some of those missiles, but new pictures show there is debris in at least one city. Just moments ago, the British prime minister called the strikes successful.

BLACKWELL: Now Russia has called a meeting of the United Nations Security Council over what it calls an act of aggression. President Trump says he is prepared to continue these strikes if necessary.


BLACKWELL (voice-over): Video from Syria shows the missiles in the sky after President Trump announced coordinated strikes.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.

BLACKWELL: U.S. allies, Britain and France, were also part of the strikes on what are said to be chemical weapons facilities.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: The combined American, British, and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power, military, economic, and diplomatic.

BLACKWELL: U.S. officials said they hit three targets including a biological warfare research center near Damascus and two sites near homes. One a sarin gas production facility. The other a storage site and command post.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We did everything we could in our intelligence assessment, in our planning to minimize to the maximum degree possible any chance of civilian casualties.

BLACKWELL: Cruise missiles were among the weapons used, and British tornado jets, U.S. B-1 bombers, and warships also part of the strike.

GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We did have some initial surface-to-air missile activity from the Syrian regime. That's the only retaliatory action that we're aware of at this time.

BLACKWELL: The strikes come less than a week after a suspected chemical weapons attack on Syria's rebel-held town of Douma. Graphic footage shot by rescuers and activists show victims including children dead and injured. CNN has not been able to verify the authenticity of the images independently.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children trashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man, they are crimes of a monster instead.

BLACKWELL: Russia, which supports the government of Bashar al-Assad and has troops in Syria, said of the strikes, "we warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London, and Paris." And President Trump had this direct message to Russia's President Putin --

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace.


BLACKWELL: We're covering this story and the reaction the way that only CNN can with our correspondents and analysts across the globe. We are going to start with Nick Paton Walsh is live in Northern Syria.

Nick, the Syrians are claiming that most of the missiles were intercepted as they came in to Syria. With the light of the new day, can you give us an idea of how accurate that might be and the effectiveness of these strikes? NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's unclear at this stage. Obviously, the areas they landed in are controlled heavily by the regime, and much of the footage shown shows missile debris. I haven't seen personally a lot of the damage that has occurred.

The Syrian Army command has been straight forward in saying that they consistent with General Dunford in Washington believe three places were actually hit.

[06:05:04] Now during the strikes themselves, there are a lot of on state loyal media and social media suggesting a much wider selection of targets than the three which the Americans spoke about.

The three which appear to be spoken of, two of the Syrian command are a research center and two facilities, as you mentioned. A third doubling as a command and control post. The two facilities seemingly involved in the production, development, and storage of sarin gas and other chemical weapons and also a focus on chemical weapons there at the (inaudible) facility.

There appear to have been according to the Syrian government three people injured because of some of those missiles being taken out on their way. We've heard accounts from Russian and Syrian officials suggesting that as many as 70 of the 110 or so may have been knocked out of the sky.

Let's be realistic here. That's never going to have occurred if it's true through Syrian air defenses that would suggest potentially that Russia's more sophisticated air defenses may have been involved in all of this.

We simply won't ever get to the bottom of the truth about this. I think we're waiting for the Pentagon to give their side of how many missiles they think successfully went through. But much of today has been about showing how it's really just another morning for the Syrian regime here.

President Bashar al-Assad really very clear in how he wants to signal his response by posting a video of himself ambling gently through a shiny marble hallway on his way into the office, as though, frankly, he lost barely a moment of sleep through last night.

We know, of course, that would have been the case. Much of the drum roll up to this, I think, should make many in the regime and the Russian backers concerned of more extensive damage. But it does appear the target list was quite limited.

It does appear the objective was quite limited. It's fair to say very little has changed overnight in terms of dynamic on the ground in the Syrian civil war. We haven't seen a sudden shift in the balance of power at all.

But we have, I'm sure, seen a clear message sent from the U.S., U.K., and France about the use of chemical weapons that were being absorbed in Damascus and Moscow. I think it's also fair to say, too, we have not seen a massive amount of damage.

What we can say to this point done Syrian regime infrastructure, you have to ask yourself now is Bashar al-Assad on that gentle walk into work, is he pondering was it use the chemical weapons, or does he feel emboldened by how slight the response has been? Back to you.

PAUL: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, so appreciate it. Thank you very much. Want to go to the Pentagon right now. CNN's Ryan Browne is there. So, Ryan, there have been differing verbiage, points of verbiage, from the president as compared to from, say, Defense Secretary James Mattis regarding if there are any more strikes coming. Is there a clearer picture of that this morning?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Secretary Mattis saying, you know, asked specifically whether or not additional strikes, additional military operations could be expected. Secretary Mattis said that depends on Mr. Assad. Pointing out that if President Assad chose to use chemical weapons again, potentially something that could be looked at, additional retaliatory strikes.

But again, as far as this operation is concerned, Secretary Mattis called it a one shot. That the operation is concluded. However, should the regime of President Bashar al-Assad use chemical weapons again, military retaliation is back on the table.

You saw that this strike was significantly larger than the one that took place a year ago in April 2017. Secretary Mattis saying twice the number of munitions used, multiple targets, three countries using warships, multiple forms of aircraft involved in this strike. Potential for additional action should the Assad regime continue its use of chemical weapons.

BLACKWELL: All right. Ryan Browne there for us at the Pentagon. Thank you very much.

Russia has condemned the U.S.-led military strikes. Nic Robertson is CNN's international diplomatic editor and joins us from Moscow. Nic, the U.S. and its allies say they took careful steps to first prevent Russian casualties and then, of course, avoid any escalation. Walk us through the parameters of the narrow line they had to walk. They wanted to send a message but not to ramp this up.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. We heard from General Mattis, Secretary Mattis saying that the Russians may not have noticed a change in their de-confliction daily phone calls. We know that the French president called President Putin earlier in the day before the strikes happening overnight.

And we've heard from the French saying that very clearly that the intention here was to signal that they didn't want an escalation. We know that President Macron told President Putin that he wanted to continue their conversation.

So, there was this real effort to avoid an escalation here. But what we have seen so far today is that Russia has not changed its strategic aims inside Syria. There's no indication that Putin has done what President Trump has suggested, that he turn away from the dark path.

[06:10:10] That he is on in supporting President Assad or done what Mattis suggested that Russia move the U.N. towards the peace talks in Geneva. Quite the opposite really. We've heard essentially a doubling down from Russia's military saying that they will -- they're considering upgrading Syria's air defense capabilities.

They claim to have had success last night shooting down the number, significant number of the incoming missiles. But the underlying message here is that the -- the support of Assad is continuing. That the military backing he gets from Russia is not about to change.

There's no political change from here. Russia, Putin calling for that emergency meeting at the U.N. Security Council. I think the only perhaps daylight that we can see between what we're hearing this morning and what we might have heard several days ago from Russia is less bellicosity, less snarkiness.

We've also interestingly heard from a senior Russian opposition figure who doesn't get a lot of airtime in this country. He said that the Russian people don't support Assad and accuse President Putin of stealing pensioners' money to prop up Assad.

It's not a voice -- his voice is not going to get heard a lot here inside Russia. But it is a voice of the opinion of some here that Putin is spending too much of Russia's money propping up Assad.

PAUL: Interesting. All right. Nic Robertson, appreciate it so much. Thank you.

Want to continue this conversation with CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as well. Juliette, thank you very much for being with us. So first and foremost, with this military action by best we can account thus far, more strategic or symbolic?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Somewhere in between, if I can answer that way. The reason why is it clearly was symbolic. That doesn't mean it's bad. It was symbolic to simply say to Assad, look, you're going to use a certain kind of weaponry or if you use this certain kind of weapon, then we will respond.

And that's essentially what the Pentagon and the White House left open, that if Assad continues to use nerve gas or other weapons of mass destruction so to speak, we might come back in.

But do I think that this limited air strike, no fatalities is really going to change the architecture of what's going on in Syria now? With Assad in power being propped up by Russia and are interests limited to an anti-ISIS or counter-is strategy, no.

I think that the fundamentals of what's happening in Syria remain the same. Getting back to your reporters, that seems clear simply by at least Assad's stroll through Syria to say that not much has changed. Whether internally he thinks, OK, I won't use a weaponry, that remains to be seen. There's not huge shifts in the status quo in Syria. BLACKWELL: Juliette, as Nic mentioned, one of the concerns was not to provoke Russia to escalate the concerns on the ground in Syria. The Russian ambassador to the U.S. tweeted this out after the strikes said, "We are being threatened. We warn that such actions will not be left without consequences." Is that just bluster from the Russians or what potentially could those consequences be now?

KAYYEM: Well, I think that's why we don't know yet what are the consequences of this limited air strike. I think the Russians will talk a big game but say to Assad, don't do this again so we're not put in this position. In other words, I think these two proxy super powers, Russia and the United States know the consequences of getting too involved.

And to Nic's point, it's not like the Russians are thrilled about what's going on in Syria. There's a huge concern that Syria is Putin's Vietnam or Afghanistan. That it is draining the resources of Russia.

And so, he has -- he doesn't have a tremendous interest in getting too involved as well in a fight with us in Syria. So, I'm -- I'm pretty confident that this was exactly what General Mattis said, unlimited strike to make a statement.

I don't think there's going to be much shifting and that the United States' strategic interest remains and should remain a counterterrorism interest to ensure that our allies, Israel, and, of course, the homeland are all protected.

PAUL: All righty. Juliette Kayyem, always glad to have your perspective. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Well, unlike the 2017 strikes, this year the U.S. went along with allies. The French, British, and we're hearing from British Prime Minister Theresa May. She said this, "There must also be a wider diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis in Syria." We are live in London with more on that later this morning.

[06:15:09] PAUL: Also, Michael Cohen in the cross hairs. The latest evidence in the criminal investigation of the president's personal attorney.


BLACKWELL: A source tells CNN the FBI now has recordings of President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen. Apparently, he taped his conversations with the lawyer for two women who say they had affairs with the president.

PAUL: The recordings could become a key piece of evidence obviously in the criminal investigation of Cohen, the man who once said he would take a bullet for President Trump. Cohen has admitted no wrongdoing, but according to a warrant he is being investigated for bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance issues. Cohen has been ordered to attend court on Monday, by the way. All righty. So, joining us now, Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House reporter. Kaitlan, what are you hearing this morning about all of this?

[06:20:02] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, so, when these FBI agents raided Michael Cohen's office, hotel room, and house on Monday, something that really angered President Trump, we are told that they did seize recordings between Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson.

Keith Davidson is an attorney who represented both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women who said they had affairs with President Trump. He is no longer their lawyer, we should note. It is important to note that they recorded conversations between Cohen and Keith Davidson, something Cohen is known as a standard practice essentially for him.

So, it would be interesting, these prosecutors are clearly looking to see what it was Michael Cohen knew about these payments, what exactly his role was in all of this. They have obviously been looking at not only his role in the payment to Stormy Daniels, but also what role he played in trying to suppress the information about Karen McDougal, that former "Playboy" playmate who says she did have an affair with President Trump.

Now, this is all interesting because it could prove very valuable to these investigators as they are looking at the role that he played. This is all going on as the White House is still maintaining that Michael Cohen does still represent President Trump.

They just spoke yesterday. The president actually called Michael Cohen as my colleague Gloria Borger reported and then the deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, said on CNN last night that he does, in fact, still represent the president.

Michael Cohen is someone who is very close to President Trump, a close confidante of his for the last decade or so. He represented the Trump Organization for some time and also has been spotted at the White House.

So, someone who is very close to the president and recordings if they have any of between him and President Trump that would also prove very interesting. Certainly, something that will be troublesome for Michael Cohen if the investigators here get anything out of these recordings between him and Keith Davidson, that attorney.

PAUL: All righty. Thank you very much for the wrap-up there, Kaitlan Collins. I know it gets diluted and crazy with all of the names intact. We appreciate you walking us through it. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Joining us now, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and anchor for Spectrum News. Errol, good morning to you. Let's talk about these recordings between Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson.

As Kaitlan said there, this is the man who I guess some would say coincidentally both represented Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. The expectation is that these will be valuable to the investigation. How do you see -- where do you see the value?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Some of the value lies in whether or not the recordings were even legal, depending on the state we're talking about, you're not supposed to record these kinds of recordings. That's sort of a slide issue in some ways.

But for the prosecutors, though, I think it can help establish whether or not the facts or the timeline that they've sort of created by other means can be corroborated with hard evidence. So, when Michael Cohen is talking with this particular attorney or anybody else about what he's doing and why he's doing it and on whose behalf he's doing it, he's providing sort of a timeline, giving you breadcrumbs.

He's letting you know potentially what the president knew or didn't know, what he may be acting on behalf of the president with or without the president's knowledge, what he was trying to do and when he was trying to do it and why. It's a treasure trove of information. But again, it could be in the nature of confirming what the Mueller team already knows.

BLACKWELL: The "New York Times" is reporting that the president's advisers are viewing the investigation into Cohen as more threatening, more imminent to the president than even Mueller's Russia probe. Considering all that we've learned in the emergency hearing yesterday for protection order to stop the FBI from getting into those files that they seized on Monday, you think they're right?

LOUIS: Absolutely. They do not know, Michael Cohen and his lawyers, do not know exactly what was seized. It was done on a no-knock warrant. They went into his safe-deposit box of his bank. They took his phone, his computers. It is -- an amazing amount of information that they have.

And it's hard to say -- I would be surprised if Michael Cohen himself and his attorneys could say with any certainty what it is that's on all of the multiple devices, the sources of information.

Remember, they went to his home as well as two different offices, and again, the safe-deposit box, it's impossible to sort of really create a kind of defense when the other side is holding all the cards.

In this case, the U.S. attorney is holding all of the cards. They know what they were looking for. They know what they have and Michael Cohen is -- one reason you saw him on the sidewalk is if they take your computers and phones and they've tossed your office, what are you left to do?

BLACKWELL: There is nothing left to work with. Let's talk about the story of the morning, Syria. Congressman Thomas Massey who's opposed U.S. military presence in Syria for some time has tweeted this since the strikes last night.

"I haven't read France's or Britain's Constitution, but I've read ours, and nowhere in it is presidential authority to strike Syria." [06:25:09] Several Democrats have called the attacks -- I should change that, the strikes illegal absent the authorization of use military force specifically for Syria. Now you've got a Republican who is coming out and keeping up the campaign of calling them unauthorized, at least maybe illegal. Do you expect that there will be some traction here for Congress to finally authorize?

LOUIS: Yes. Not only members of Congress, but there are a lot of forces on the right including the extreme right for whom Trump's anti- interventionist rhetoric during the 2016 campaign was a big campaign promise that they were relying on.

They are going to sort of invoke not just the Constitution but his own statements on the campaign trail, his own tweets in the years leading up to the campaign that he was not going to be the kind of president who would bring Americans into what is often described as a quagmire in the Middle East.

He's doing just the opposite of what was promised, and there are both legal and political reasons that people are going to take issue with it, including members of the president's own base, absolutely.

BLACKWELL: All right. Errol Louis, thanks so much.

LOUIS: Thank you.

PAUL: British Prime Minister Theresa May is talking about this overnight strike on Syria, emphasizing it's not aimed at regime change, so to speak, but at deterring the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Live reports for you coming up from London and from Paris. Stay close.


[06:31:22] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: More on the breaking news now. The U.S., UK, and France pounded Syria with missiles in response to the alleged chemical attacks near Damascus last week.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Missiles shot across the sky, targeting three sites all associated with the research and storage of chemical weapons there in Syria. British Prime Minister Theresa May says Russian claims that Britain staged the chemical attack are, quote, "grotesque and absurd." And a NATO meeting is scheduled for this afternoon now.

BLACKWELL: The U.S. and its allies would not say how many missiles they used. The Syrian armed forces claimed 110 missiles were fired and that its defense systems intercepted most of them. President Trump had this message for Syria's allies.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To Iran and to Russia, I ask, what kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children? The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: Well, Russia called the attack an act of aggression against a sovereign state and warned, quote, "that such actions will not be left without consequences."

CNN's following the new reaction from U.S. allies and the strategy behind this strike. CNN senior international correspondent Nina Elbagir is live from London, and CNN senior international correspondent Atika Shubert is in Paris with us.

Ladies, thank you so much.

Nima, I want to start with you. Talk to us about what Prime Minister Theresa May said this morning in this press conference. She really wanted to get the point across, as we understand it, to Russia to understand that this is not about regime change or interference in a civil war.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what she did is she really put this attack in Douma along the same continuum as the attack that happened in Salisbury in the UK where Sergey Skripal, the Russian double agent, and his daughter were targeted. And to make this about impunity across the board. That this was a message not just for the Syrian regime but also a message for Russia.

And the picture this is coalescing for us is, Christi, is that Britain very much is not the junior partner in this. That this is very much about Britain's national interest. And what we're hearing from British officials behind the scenes is that they were driving a lot of this. That they felt that this was time for them to respond decisively and definitively to Russia -- Christi.

PAUL: All right. Nima Elbagir, we appreciate it. Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's go now to Atika.

Atika, what are we hearing from France?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, France has confirmed, both the Defense minister and the Foreign minister, that those French jets have completed their mission and returned safely. According to the Foreign minister, France believes that a significant part of the chemical weapons of Syria have essentially been destroyed, its capabilities, because of these strikes.

Now these French strikes were actually announced by the French president via Twitter. He put out a statement saying, quote, "The red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed. So I ordered the French armed forces to intervene tonight as part of an international operation and coalition with the U.S., the UK, and directed against the clandestine chemical arsenal of the Syrian regime.

Very much echoing what we've heard from British prime minister earlier today saying this was not about regime change. This is about deterring the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Victor. BLACKWELL: Atika, I know you're typically in Berlin. We know that

Angela Merkel called the attacks last week unacceptable. Why was Germany absent from this strike?

SHUBERT: Well, Germany is different from France and the UK. They typically tend not to become as involved with these sort of military operations.

[06:35:05] If they do become involved, it's much more in a supportive role, for example, helping with refueling and so forth. But in this case what Germany said was that they would not be taking part in any military action. But we have heard from Chancellor Angela Merkel, she says that the attacks were appropriate and that they were limited, and that Germany certainly supports the actions of France, the UK, and United States on this.

PAUL: All right. Nima, we wanted to thank her. And Atika Shubert, thank you both so much for bringing us the very latest from London and from Paris there.

BLITZER: All right. Now the B-1 bombers and the storm shadow missiles, we know why the U.S. allies struck Syria. And we're learning more about how. A military expert joins us next.


[06:40:06] PAUL: So the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the U.S.-led airstrike on Syria was likely a one-time shot but it was, quote, "a heavy one."

Here's what we know for you this morning. First of all, the U.S. and its allies have not said how many missiles they used. Syrian armed forces, however, claimed 110 missiles were fired and that most of them, they say, were intercepted. The U.S. used B-1B bombers, guided missile and cruisers, and naval destroyers. The Tomahawk cruise missile is typically a go-to for strikes like these. It's capable of carrying a 1,000-pound warhead. Now France used its Storm Shadow missiles which can fly for more than 250 miles.

This is the damage from some of those -- believed some of the latest video here we're getting in of Syria this morning. And we know the UK used its tornadoes in the attack, as well. We're also learning the U.S. specifically identified targets that were involved in the making of chemical weapons, but that would also avoid Russian forces.

National security and military analyst Rebecca Grant with us now. She's the president of IRIS Independent Research.

Thank you so much, Rebecca, for being with us. First and foremost, as we get these reports again, and this is not confirmed from the U.S. or by CNN at this point, but that Russia and Syria saying that most of the missiles were intercepted. If that is true, what does that tell you about the effectiveness of this campaign?

REBECCA GRANT, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY ANALYST: TAZ is reporting that they took shots at many of these missiles so when they say intercept I don't think that necessarily means they shot them down. But let me tell you, it's a very bad morning for Putin and a bad morning in Russia. As you know, coalition has been flying out in the eastern part of Syria on a daily basis. But there was a big question as to whether attacks could be launched on targets in and around Damascus. And Britain, and France, and the U.S. have managed to do that. They targeted right near Damascus and near a very major military base. So that Syrian air difference system did not do its job.

PAUL: I want to listen here to Syrian journalist Danny Makki. He's one of the first people in Syria that we're hearing from regarding what the consequence has been on the ground because of this strike. Let's listen here.


DANNY MAKKI, SYRIAN JOURNALIST: Now the presidency page in Syria uploaded a video of the president going in to work as usual this morning. And that's probably another ploy just to show to the world that, you know, things are continuing as normal. But I can definitely tell you that in the hours between 4:30 and 5:30 this morning, things were not normal at all. This was not initially a symbolic strike in an airfield in the middle of nowhere. This was a strike within and around Damascus for the first time since the start of the Syria crisis.


PAUL: So, Rebecca, this was, as been characterized by the U.S., even by Turkey, by Australia, by even leaders in Israel, that it was proportionate, that it was targeted. They were trying to avoid any of the areas where Russia may be there in Syria based on what we know thus far. Do you think it was a success?

GRANT: Definitely a success. First of all, the Russians have plenty of warning all week to get out of the way. And then as your reporter says, this was a strike really close in Damascus. I'm very impressed that they went after the chemical weapons storage and research. That shows that there was some superb intelligence work that went into identifying those targets. And then as our allies around the world and partners are saying, it was very proportionate.

You know, Mattis put it really well. He said clearly Assad did not get the message last year. Well, this year's message is even stronger. And I think that message is being heard in Moscow. I think it's being heard by Kim Jong-un in North Korea. And that is that when this alliance gets together, we will not stand for the use of these weapons of mass destruction and we have the means to go in even with a very modernized air defense and carry out this very powerful and precise attack.

PAUL: Well, we are hearing different -- we're getting different information, however. You know, throughout the -- overnight. We hear from Defense Secretary James Mattis. He said right now this is a one- time shot. Let me add, President Trump saying we are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.

If there is another chemical attack in Syria, is the U.S. now strapped so to speak to react? And would they react alone?

GRANT: I think we're able to react. And I actually think both those things are true. You know, Dunford was very careful to say that the current targets that had been fully executed. But our forces are still in the region.

[06:45:01] You know, our forces doing the anti-ISIS mop-up carried out 41 airstrikes this past week alone. So there's no question that we have the ability to go in again militarily if the president deems that necessary. And I think our allies are closer with us than ever.

The anti-ISIS coalition has over 70 members, countries, NATO, so we will always have allies there. And I think this really is a new chapter that strengthens the allied use of precise power against entities that are trying to use weapons of mass destruction or even thinking about it. I think it really is a new chapter, and I think a very positive one.

PAUL: All right. Rebecca Grant, appreciate your insight here. Thank you for being here.

GRANT: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: A source tells CNN that President Trump called to check in on Michael Cohen, but was it just a phone call? Why a friendly chat could mean more legal trouble for president trump's personal lawyer.


[06:50:04] BLACKWELL: It was just a phone call to check in, but it could mean a lot of legal trouble for President Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen's home and offices, as you'll remember, were raided by the FBI this week after a referral by Robert Mueller. But could Cohen's corruption investigation be more harmful to the president than anything having to do with Mueller's investigation?

Joining me now is Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer and currently teaches corporate law at the University of Minnesota.

Mr. Painter, good morning to you. So a source tells --


BLACKWELL: A source tells CNN that President Trump called Michael Cohen just to check in. We now know that he's been under investigation for months. Both men involved in investigations. Clearly an ill-advised call. What are the potential problems here about this phone call?

PAINTER: Well, unless the president was calling Michael Cohen for purposes of seeking legal advice, the call is not privileged, meaning the FBI, the prosecutors could ask Michael Cohen about that call, could get evidence from Michael Cohen about what happened on that call and could ask President Trump.

I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would call up a lawyer to seek legal advice from a lawyer days after the FBI raided the lawyer's office. So it's amazing that President Trump didn't have the good judgment to just let it alone, have nothing to do with Michael Cohen until this thing is sorted out.

BLACKWELL: But does it matter if it was not about legal advice? So this was just an old friend calling to say things will get better?

PAINTER: Well, he can do that, but the FBI may find out what was said in that call. Michael Cohen could, you know, cut a plea deal with the prosecutors and tell them what happened in that phone call. The point is it's not a privileged call when the president is just calling up to say, well, I'm sorry the FBI raided your office and I'll provide bail money or a pardon. I mean, I don't know what he said.


PAINTER: I have no idea what he said. But he shouldn't have made the call. It's just stupid.

BLACKWELL: Let's turn now to the Mueller investigation. CNN's Laura Jarrett is reporting that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has consulted with an ethics counselor, I should say, an ethics adviser within the Department of Justice about the Russia investigation and potential recusal. Of course we know that part of the investigation is about obstruction of justice. Rosenstein wrote the letter making the case to fire former FBI director James Comey.

First, would you have expected, because Rosenstein could be a witness in this investigation, that he would have recused himself before now or will recuse himself soon? And what do you make of this consultation with the ethics adviser?

PAINTER: Well, a consultation is always a good idea. But this recusal argument is being pushed by far-right extremists. It doesn't make any sense. He is not going to be an attorney in any trial. And that's the rule, the witness rule, as an attorney cannot be a lawyer at the trial as well as a witness. But a lawyer certainly can give advice to an entity. Corporate counsels all the time are in a situation where that may be called as a witness but they could supervise an outside investigation.

Here we have an independent special prosecutor, that's Robert Mueller. And Rod Rosenstein's role is not to get into the details of what Robert Mueller is doing. He approves indictments and a number of things. But I don't see any conflict at all. This is being contrived in order to try to attack Rosenstein to get him out and put someone in who clearly does have a conflict because what these people want to do is to put someone in there who's going to shut down Robert Mueller, fire Robert Mueller, or constrain his investigation to the most narrow matters and protect President Trump.

So I don't think -- I think the whole ethics issue is being contrived. And he should, of course, talk to the ethics lawyers. But there is no conflict. That's just rubbish.

BLACKWELL: You've heard the argument that he can't both be potentially a witness and to oversee the investigation. But we're short on time. I've got to move to one more thing.

The president pardoned Scooter Libby yesterday, former chief of staff for former vice president Dick Cheney, convicted of perjury in 2007. Now the White House said of this simply that -- and I'm reading from a quote of Kellyanne Conway, "Many people think that Scooter Libby was a victim of special counsel gone amok. The White House says this has nothing to do with the current special counsel."

What do you think? Was this a message --


PAINTER: Scooter Libby was tried -- well, they're trying to send the message that perjury is OK.

[06:55:05] Scooter Libby was tried and convicted for perjury. That's not a special counsel going amok. You do not have the right to commit perjury whether you are the chief of staff or the vice president of the United States. Scooter Libby was, or whether you work for the Trump White House or whether you're president of the United States. And the message here that's being sent by President Trump is that perjury is just fine so long as you do that. You lie under oath in order to protect your political superiors.

Everybody had forgotten about the whole Scooter Libby episode. But President Trump wants to dig it up just to make sure that everybody in the Mueller investigation understands, go ahead and perjure yourself, and the pardon will be on the way.

BLACKWELL: All right. Richard Painter, thanks so much for being with us. We've got to take a break. Thanks so much.

PAUL: International reaction is coming in this morning after the U.S. launches a military strike on Syria overnight. Now President Trump says he's prepared to attack again if needed. We are live from Syria and the Pentagon. Stay close.