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ISIS Claims Church Bombings on Palm Sunday; Tillerson Heads to Russia for Meetings this week; Haley: Priorities are Removing Assad, Defeating ISIS; Tillerson: No Change in U.S. Policy Toward Syria; Trump, U.S. Strongly Condemns Palm Sunday Church Attacks; Aired 2-3p ET

Aired April 09, 2017 - 14:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me on this Palm Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Happening right now, ISIS claiming responsibility for two explosions in Egypt on one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar.

WHITFIELD: The first ripping through a church in Tanta north of Cairo killing more than two dozen people as worshippers marked Palm Sunday. And just hours later a second blast in Alexandria. Local media says the head of Egypt's Coptic Church was inside when that attack happened.

Meanwhile, the U.S. mounting a show of force sending warships toward the Korean peninsula in response to North Korea's latest missile test just days ago. All of it as unfolding as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Moscow this week to meet with his Russian counterpart.

A major topic of that discussion, the chemical weapons attack in Syria and what happens next as the Trump administration's policy on dealing with Syria's president seems to depend on who you ask.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten days ago you said that getting Assad out of Syria was -- would no longer be a priority for the United States. Obviously, since then was the chemical weapons attack. But I'm trying to figure out, is regime change in Syria now the official policy of the United States?

NIKKI HALEY, US AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: So there's multiple priorities. It's getting Assad out is not the only priority. So what we're trying to do is obviously defeat ISIS. There's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it sounds like from what you're saying right now, there is no real change the United States military stance toward Syria from what it was last week.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: That's correct, George. This strike -- and I think the president was very clear in his message to the American people, that this strike was related solely to the recent most horrific use of chemical weapons against women, children, and as the president said, even small babies.


WHITFIELD: We begin with those deadly bombings in Egypt and new video of the moment the second attack happened and we want to warn you, some might find that disturbing. This is the bombing in Alexandria, Egypt and you can see people standing outside of the church before the bomb blows up and the bomber as well.

CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is following developments and joins us live now from Istanbul.

So, Nick, walk us through what happened.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Devastating moment. The video you're seeing here being Alexandria, a very strongly Christian town over the Mediterranean coast. Now, this is where 16 people lost their lives and 41 were injured.

You can see in that video people milling around on the outskirts and then it appears the bomber who tries to get in detonates his device. A different angle does appear to show the individual trying to get in through the security at the front of the church failing and then detonating his device very close.

But I remember high security at venues like this because the 10 percent of the Egyptian population that are Christian have been under persistent attack for quite some time.

Now, ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack and others in the past as well. And of course this was the lesser of the two blasts we're talking about. The other one at a St. George Church in Tanta to the north of the capital of Egypt, Cairo. That is where 27 people lost their lives. The device apparently inside the church and 78 people being injured.

The point of course today is Palm Sunday when these churches were packed celebrating the day in which Jerusalem -- sorry Jesus walked -- rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. A moment in the Christian calendar and obviously a time which ISIS have made absolutely no bones about indiscriminately killing as many Christians as they possibly can, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so, Nick, are we seeing attacks like this in Egypt because ISIS is losing ground in places like Iraq where we've been seeing security forces carrying out operations in Mosul to drive the out?

WALSH: I don't think one necessarily depends upon the other. ISIS have had a presence in Sinai, in the eastern Egyptian desert for some time. They've targeted Christians in Egypt for quite some time as well.

But I think the broad problem perhaps is being for those fighting ISIS, the brand or the wolf ideology of ISIS begins to lose territory in Iraq and Syria, they may shift focus, if you consider them to have a broad central nervous system coordinating their acts of terror, they may shift focus to areas where they can operate more easily or maybe those who can continue the ideological fight might choose to do so in area where there's less preparation or full on military resistance like they're experiencing in Iraq or Syria.

So, yes, they're losing ground in Libya, Iraq and Syria, but certainly in Afghanistan, it seems after this attack possibly in Egypt they're facing a very persistent Egyptian military and security service response. Perhaps here they will make extra efforts. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

All right. President Trump is condemning those attacks in Egypt. CNN's Athena Jones joins us now from Palm Beach, Florida, where the president is this weekend.

So, Athena, what is the president saying about this and this coming on the heels of U.S. strikes in Syria?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. That's absolutely right. The president tweeted about the attacks just a couple of hours ago. He said, "So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. U.S. strongly condemns. I have great confidence that president el-Sisi will handle the situation properly.

And so much has happened in that region in the last few days. But it's hard to believe that it was less than a week ago that President Trump gave a warm welcome to Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He became the first Egyptian leader to visit the White House in seven years.

The Obama administration had been critical of el-Sisi's human rights record. His record of oppression. We're talking about a former general and a strong man. But President Trump has focused more on the need to have a strong partnership to fight terrorism and these latest attacks highlight that focus.

During their meeting in the Oval Office last week, the president's message was we are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt and he said he look forward to a very long and strong relationship. Fred.

WHITFIELD: So meantime, you know, incredible lengths between the president meeting with the leader of Egypt and now this taking place and then of course the president giving the OK for the U.S. missiles to be launched in Syria. There's been a lot of praise for President Trump. At the same time, there's been some criticism because just 24 hours after the missile strikes you saw activity taking place on the very air field on the runways that were not damaged during the missile strike.

So the president has also talked about the strategy as to why those airfields or why the runway was not taken out. What did he say?

JONES: That's right, Fred. This shows you how closely the president pays attention to the response and to the reviews he's gotten for making that decision on Thursday to strike. This was also on Twitter. The president explaining himself in a way saying the reason you don't generally hit runways is that they are easy and inexpensive to quickly fix. Fill in and top he says talking about laying concrete to fix runways.

The larger point here is that Thursday's strikes were not meant to completely destroy the Syrian government's ability to carry out attacks. They were instead meant to send a message that the use of chemical weapons won't be tolerated. Of course, there are larger questions here about what happens in Syria, whether the U.S. has a coherent policy to deal with Syria not only when it comes to defeating ISIS but also how to deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. So a lot of questions remain. Fred.

WHITFIELD: But what happens next, still yet to be explained. All right. Athena Jones, thank you so much, in Florida.

All right. I want to bring in CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Brown for the latest on the U.S. naval strike group heading toward the Korean peninsula.

So, Ryan, this is a very big week, pivotal for foreign policy of President Trump. These ships were scheduled to head to Australia before they were redirected. What can you tell us about this strike group?

RYAN BROWN, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Hi, Fred. This strike group is kind of centered around the USS Carl Vinson. It's an aircraft carrier. But importunity too, it also comes with two U.S. destroyers that have ballistic missile defense systems on board.

So definitely a critical capability for the Korea theater given all the missile tests, ballistic missile tests that Pyongyang has conducted in recent weeks.

Now, U.S. officials are calling this a response to North Korea's provocative behavior to include those missile test and some other separate rocket engine test. And Donald Trump's national security adviser, lieutenant general McMaster, spoke to that very issue today.


H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP: Well, it's prudent to do it, isn't it? I mean, North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior. This is a rogue regime that is now a nuclear capable regime. President Xi and President Trump agreed that is unacceptable. That what must happen is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And so the president has asked us to be prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat to the American people and to our allies and partners in the region.


BROWN: Now, the military has been producing options for some time to deal with the North Korea problem. Of course, it's been an ongoing problem extending back decades even with their nuclear program.

That being said one of the top generals recently, the strategic command recently told congress that China was going to be critical to any solution to the North Korea problem and this is something that of course President Trump just met with President Xi of China.

Trump had said earlier that he was prepared. The U.S. was prepared to undertake this issue alone, but we're increasingly seeing signs at least from the military perspective that China will be critical to solving this challenge.

WHITFIELD: Ryan Brown in Washington, thanks so much.

All right. CNN's Will Ripley is inside North Korea right now. What has the reaction been so far from the regime there?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, I was with North Korean government officials when word came in that the Carl Vinson carrier strike group has been rerouted and is now heading back to the waters off the Korean peninsula.

This is not unprecedented. The same carrier strike group was in the area just a matter of weeks ago for joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. And there's a new round of military exercises due to kick off this week. And so they didn't seem particularly fazed by it. But they did say that this redeployment is just yet another example of increasingly provocative behavior in their view by the United States and specifically the Trump administration that they believe is pushing the Korean peninsula closer to an actual armed conflict. But they say they're ready for it.

I asked them about the missile strike on Syria in particular. They said they strongly condemn it. They're watching what happen very closely closely. One official saying, "The previous U.S. administrations have been attacking those countries who haven't gotten nuclear weapons and the Trump administration is no difference from the previous U.S. governments in pinpointing those nonnuclear states."

Clearly, they're watching what's happening in Syria but they're also talking about other regimes that have been toppled by the U.S. and its allies, Iraq, Libya. And they say they are not willing to let that happen here in North Korea. People have been told they may have to go without electricity. They may have to tighten their belts and not have the best quality food. They may be isolated from the rest of the world. But the reason for that is because they have to have nuclear weapons to protect this country and its leader Kim Jong-Un from the imminent threat of envision by the United States.

And some analysts believe that this regime is ready to push the button on its sixth nuclear test at any time which would certainly be a major show of force not only here in North Korea but around the world. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Will Ripley, thanks so much, in North Korea. Appreciate that. All right. Straight ahead, tension in the Trump administration as a third person is removed from the National Security Council. We'll have a live report.

Plus Fox News parent company will open an investigation into harassment claims against prime-time TV host Bill O'Reilly. We'll discuss straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: More shakeup in President Trump's National Security Council and the move is evidence of the influence of new national security adviser H.R. McMaster and how much power he wields at the White House. Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, as CNN first reported, is expected to leave the National Security Council. McFarland She was named to her post by previous national security adviser Michael Flynn who was fired in February over undisclosed communications with Russia. I want to bring in our CNN correspondent, Ryan Nobles in Washington.

So, Ryan, what's the significance here?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, it really is even more proof that the new national security adviser H.R. McMaster is exerting his authority in the Trump White House. K.T. McFarland is someone that was considered to be close to the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as you pointed out, and of course Flynn was forced to resign after it was revealed that he did not disclose meetings with some high level Russian officials.

Now, it's been rumored for months that McFarland was not long for her position. In fact, CNN reported earlier this month that she'd been offered to job of ambassador to Singapore which is a job that she's now officially accepted. But it's not just McFarland's move that displays McMaster's growing influence. The fact that Steve Bannon was pulled off the principles committee of the National Security Council is also a demonstration of his authority.

Now, McMaster himself seems to be settling into his role. He told Fox News this morning that in the ramp up in the decision to attack Syria, his team was running smoothly. Take a listen.


MCMASTER: It is such a privilege to be part of this national security team and help enable this team for the president as national security adviser. It's really extraordinary. I think the degree of concord activity that was going on this week and nobody really even broke a sweat over it.

I mean, we have extraordinarily competent people in these positions who are providing the president with options and then have this amazing military that we have that can execute those decisions of the president flawlessly.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBLES: And McMaster's growing influence also begs the question about the overall instability of the president's inner circle. We know that Bannon and another top adviser Jared Kushner held a meeting this weekend to settle their differences, the president telling them, quote, "work this out." Fred.

WHITFIELD: Right. And still unclear how that meeting went or if they really have worked it out. So tell us a little bit more about H.R. McMaster. He does have a very colorful background.

NOBLES: He certainly does, Fred. Universally respected in the national security community. In fact, John McCain is someone that is a big fan of McMasters. He was the former director of the army capabilities integration center. He's been to Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the things that sets him apart from some of his fellow generals is that he wrote a book that was very critical of the Vietnam conflict and the U.S. role in the Vietnam conflict. It's a book that is widely lauded for its look at that particular period of time. He also has a PhD. in American history, so he's someone that doesn't just come from a military perspective although is he a West Point graduate. Fred.

WHITFIELD: Ryan Nobles, thanks so much, in Washington.

All right. Straight head. Who speaks for the Trump administration on Syria and its biggest ally, Russia? Well, America's views on regime change may depend on which top diplomat you ask.


WHITFIELD: In the aftermath of last week's U.S. missile strike on a Syrian airbase, America's top two diplomats are using very different language on the Syrian regime and what's next? ON CNN State of the Union Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was asked about regime change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten days ago you said that getting Assad out of Syria would no longer be a priority for the United States. Obviously, since then was the chemical weapons attack. But I'm trying to figure out, is regime change in Syria now the official policy of the United States?

HALEY: So there's multiple priorities. It's getting Assad out is not the only priority. And so what we're trying to do is obviously defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out. And then finally, move towards a political solution because at the end of the day this is a complicated situation. There are no easy answers. And a political solution is going to have to happen, but we know that it is not going to be -- there's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.

It's just if you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, of course it's hard to, but is the position of the Trump administration that he cannot be ruler of Syria anymore, regime change is the policy?

HALEY: Well, regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad's not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria. So what I think you're seeing is this isn't about policy or not. This is about thoughts. And so when you look at the thoughts, there is no political solution. That any of us can see with Assad at the lead. And so I -- and I don't think that that's something for the United States to decide. That's something the entire international community has decided. That is going to be hard for us to see Assad in that leadership role.

And so you're going to see the president is going to very much watch this. We are all going to keep calling out the international community and asking them to push for a political solution. We're going to continue to call out bad actors when they do something like this and you're going to see this administration act when they think it's appropriate.


WHITFIELD: Tomorrow, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with his group of seven counter parts in Italy and then he's off to Moscow where Syria tops a very long agenda. On ABC this week Tillerson seemed to argue against using U.S. power to topple the Syrian president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you accept that right now the Syrian people have no way to remove Assad? That's going to take greater pressure from the United States, from international coalition, perhaps military pressure.

TILLERSON: Well, ultimately it could, George, but we've seen what that looks like when you undertake a violent regime change and Libya and the situation in Libya continues to be very chaotic and I would argue that the life of the Libyan people is not all that well off today.

So I think we have to learn the lessons of the past and learn the lessons of what went wrong in Libya when you choose that pathway of regime change.

So we know this is going to be hard work, but we think it's also a process that will lead to a durable and lasting stability inside of Syria. Anytime you go in and have a violent change at the top, it is very difficult to create the conditions for stability longer term.


WHITFIELD: All right. I want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward, near the Syrian-Turkish border and CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson at the site of the G7 meeting in Lucca, Italy.

Clarissa, you first. Secretary Tillerson says the missile strikes delivered a message to Syria's Assad, but in a show of defiance the planes are still taking off from that airfield and conventional bombs are still being dropped.

So, what's the message Syria is sending to the world?

CLARRISA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the message that the Syrian regime is sending to the world is that it's business as usual. We will continue to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas. We will continue to kill people with whatever ammunitions we see fit to use. We will continue to use the Sha'irat airbase and essentially it's business as normal. And we continue to have the strong iron clad backing of both Russia and Iran who are by the way the predominant fighting forces now on the battlefield.

If you want to talk about the message that's coming from the Syrian opposition, it's thank you very much for those strikes, but they're not enough. We need more help. Bashar al-Assad must go. Why does it matter if he is killing us with Sarin gas or some kind of conventional agent or whether he is killing us with conventional ammunition?

The end result is the same. Women and children and civilians are dying. It's inexcusable and it's unsustainable. At this stage though, it's difficult to see how either of those messages are actually going to be greeted and manifested and taken onboard by the proxies in this war which are essentially Russia and Iran on the one side and the U.S. and to a certain extent Turkey and the gulf states on the other.

So a lot of different messages coming from different quarters but unclear yet how they will kind of come together into some concrete path ahead. Fred.

WHITFIELD: So, Nick, where you are in Italy, how this will international community at the G7 respond to the U.S. position and these differences of opinions or approaches, whether it be from Secretary Tillerson or Ambassador Haley?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The G7 Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, obviously the United States as well, there's certainly going to be a real desire here and we heard it from the French just ten days ago when Secretary Tillerson went to NATO headquarters to talk to foreign ministers there.

The French at that time saying we want to learn and understand more about the U.S. position on Assad just learning that he seemed to be less of an issue. ISIS was a central issue. Now of course, fast forward to where we are today, the situation has completely changed.

So Secretary Tillerson expected to have a bilateral meeting with the French here and the French no doubt as well as the other nations here will want to learn from Secretary Tillerson about what the precise view, what the precise policy is of the United States towards Assad, towards Iran, towards Syria, towards the use of chemical weapons. Will there be the potential for further strikes? How much will the United States push for the political progress that -- the peace process that Ambassador Haley talked about? To her point specifically to get support from the international community, this was one of the commonalities of the United States allies.

They applauded the attack. They said it was proportion at and necessary, but they said now the United States must commit itself to the political process as well. That speaks to Secretary Tillerson's point as well when he talked about Assad must go.

Because under the U.N. Security Council resolution, 22254 which is the current basis for negotiations, these terrible and failing negotiations that are ongoing in Geneva still, that leads to a transition for Assad to go. So to a degree, everyone's on the same page here.

However, the strength and unity of the message is going to depend on what the foreign ministers hear about the U.S. positions going forward. It's still a very gray area. They don't know what the White House's next move will be.

WHITFIELD: And Clarissa, Russia and Iran have put out a joint statement today saying this, quote, "We will respond strongly to any aggression on Syria, Russia and Iran will not allow America to dominate the world," end quote. A very ominous warning. How does Secretary Tillerson tackle that when he is in Moscow this week?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, this is going to take some diplomatic dexterity. I think a lot of people are asking the question of whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has the experience and the statesman skills to pull it off. It's not going to be easy.

The Russians and the Iranians are furious about what has happened and it's been a long time that previous administrations have tried to get them on the same page as the Americans.

To come to the negotiating table, to make some concessions, to let go of their attachment to President Bashar Al-Assad, so far without success. The main for Tillerson will be not escalating the situation any further than it already has gotten -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Clarissa Ward, Nic Robertson, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

All right, coming up next, dozens of advertisers fleeing the "O'Reilly Factor" after sexual harassment claims surfaced against one of Fox News' leading anchors and now a new investigation into Bill O'Reilly by Fox News parent's company.



WHITFIELD: Twenty-first Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News will open an investigation into sexual harassment claims against host, Bill O'Reilly. That's according to an attorney representing one of his accusers. The story first broke earlier this month when "The New York Times" reported that five women over a period of more than a decade were paid a total of $13 million by either O'Reilly, Fox News, or parent company 21st Century Fox.

In exchange those women agreed not to pursue litigation or go public with their accusations. O'Reilly has denied the claims. CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" Brian Stelter joining me now with more on this. So this investigation comes after an accuser filed a complaint on the corporate hotline last week and now this is snowballing.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: This is curious because one of the defenses we've heard from O'Reilly and Fox is that no one ever publicly went to HR or anonymously called this hotline the 21st Century Fox has to report something like harassment.

So Wendy Walsh, the woman who is accusing O'Reilly, but not seeking a settlement went ahead, made that call two days ago, called into the hotline. She had to spell O'Reilly's name, the person taking the call didn't seem to know who O'Reilly was.

Her attorney, Lisa Bloom, told me today on "RELIABLE SOURCES" that they have had a reaction from Fox. Here's what Lisa Bloom told me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The primary reason for your report?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sexual harassment as a job applicant at Fox News Channel by --


STELTER: OK, that's actually the video of the call being made. So that was on Wednesday calling the hotline. They say it took a while. They were on hold a few minutes. Now the news according to Lisa Bloom is that Fox says yes, we received your call, we are going to look into this.

That's what the company's doing. Sort of following proper protocol saying we received this report from you, we're going to investigate. We'll see how much comes of that if anything. But it is noteworthy because the defense from Fox and O'Reilly was nobody had ever called the hotline.

WHITFIELD: Right. And so now you've got that probe within the company and at the same time another very powerful message is being sent by advertisers who are pulling out in a very big number. Are they making a statement?

STELTER: Yes. You hear about that boycott. To put this in perspective, I haven't seen an ad boycott this big in television in four or five years.

[14:40:03]This is pretty rare to see at this point 60 advertisers withdraw ads saying we don't want to be part of the "O'Reilly Factor." The number is probably higher, but some companies don't want to say so. Some just quietly remove their ads.

But several dozen have come up publicly and said, we don't want to be associate with the show, this controversy, we are taking stand. So what we are seeing, Fred, is corporate America or at least some big companies try to take a position here and try to distance themselves from O'Reilly.

Two questions arise. Number one, how long will that last? Is it short term or long term? And number two, will Fox really suffer. If they are removing ads on their time slots, Fox says we're not having a -- we are not feeling a financial impact from this.

But we have seen ad boycotts in the past have a real effect. Glen Beck for example is no longer on Fox News partly because of an ad boycott. Rush Limbaugh was the subject of a boycott several years ago and he's still on the radio every day. So there's different outcomes here, but it is very unusual to see dozens of advertisers speaking up like this.

WHITFIELD: Yes, but there's a direct correlation between livelihood and revenue for a show to keep it going.

STELTER: That's right. This is a lot of big companies.

WHITFIELD: Big numbers. All right. Brian Stelter, thanks so much. We can catch you every Sunday, 11 a.m. Eastern Time on "RELIABLE SOURCES." Don't want to miss it.

All right, work it out. That's the president's message that he had for top two advisers right there, but can they get on the same page? More when we come back.



WHITFIELD: Work it out. Cut it out. Those words from President Trump to his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. This was Trump's attempt to broker peace in a deepening rift within the west wing.

Tensions are already high as Bannon was removed from the National Security Council this week, but national security adviser, H.R. McMaster says Bannon's removal from his department was not a significant move.


H.R. MCMASTER, ADVISER, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, this is not a significant as it appears I think. But I think what the president was doing was making clear that he is going to -- in terms of permanent membership in the National Security Council have those permanent members who are there for every meeting, every official meeting of the National Security Council to be those who will give him their advice on the long term interests of the American people.


WHITFIELD: I want to bring in my panel to discuss all of this, Julian Zelizer, a historian and professor at Princeton University, David Rohde, a CNN global affairs analyst, and David Nakamura is a White House reporter for the "Washington Post." Good to see all of you.

So Julian, I want to begin with you because I'm wondering if this in- fighting, this struggle for power, is based largely on ideology or is this blood versus non-blood?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: I think it's both ideology and power. So traditionally in White Houses especially early on you often have this kind of in-fighting over who has the ear of the president. Under Reagan in his second term, Nancy Reagan and the chief of staff, would always be fighting over who the president should listen to.

But there's also a lot of ideology. Bannon is the outsider. Bannon is the anti-establishment person who is more of an American first, more of a blue collar guy and Kushner wants to push a more traditional Republican line including on foreign policy.

WHITFIELD: David Nakamura, you know, Steve Bannon removed from the National Security Council then essentially reprimanded by President Trump. What are you seeing in terms of the far right of Trump's White House? Is this an issue of feeling conflicted or is this the natural evolution that a White House under goes particularly when trying to gel?

DAVID NAKAMURA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, well, I think when you come off a campaign, the president has trusted these political advisers to guide him through a very difficult campaign. You saw him rely on Steve Bannon's advice down the stretch. That's important.

But yes, of course, as they go along, more traditional voices will come to the floor. I think what you're seeing here in wake of the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn having left, that upheaval and some of the early missteps from the travel ban to the health care roll out of their -- defeat of the health care bill.

You're seeing some blame maybe go to Steve Bannon and sort of his tactics that he's using. You're seeing also the new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster trying to establish a more normalized system.

The point of a National Security Council is to take all the voices from the different agencies, bring them together and have a policy advice to the president. A more traditional lines of communication established by H.R. McMaster.

WHITFIELD: And David Rohde, the show of two Davids, the in-fighting within the GOP happening while a U.S. warship heads toward the Korean Peninsula. Tensions are still very high with Russia over the strike and on that Syrian airbase, we're seeing activity continues. So how much of a distraction is all this infighting particularly as it pertains to the president trying to shape his foreign policy?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it's going to be less of a distraction in terms of foreign policy. It seems that McMaster has sort of won the battle. The crucial thing is that the president wants domestic victory, so there was talk of tax reform after the failure to replace Obamacare.

There's an infrastructure package that the president wants to enact. So there's several victories he wants. He wants to maintain the momentum after this week which was I think one of the strongest of his presidency. I think -- the infighting can be more of a problem domestically.


ZELIZER: I don't think it's the infighting. I think it's the president. When you have a strong president, this kind of infighting can be dampened. The president steps in and decides on the agenda.

[14:50:05]Here we have a question of what is the president's vision, does he have that kind of discipline? If a president doesn't have that, this kind of infighting can consume what's going on in the oval office.

WHITFIELD: Is the latter what's happening that the president perhaps doesn't have a vision because we've seen in the GOP health care plan he delegates and by way of delegating, it means that you've got those around him, those who are advisers who are essentially trying to either figure out what he's thinking or sell him a plan?

ZELIZER: Or to figure out what he should be thinking. I think that's a big part of this. Again, infighting is not new, but I think in this case that's a lot of what you are seeing. That can have bad consequences in terms of policy because you do need someone to run the show and you need someone to set out a vision over these kinds of disputes.

WHITFIELD: And David Nakamura, how troublesome -- go ahead.

NAKAMURA: I was going to say that Steve Bannon is a political adviser and what you're seeing -- what struck me down here in Palm Beach is that in a moment of crisis when the president was making this decision to take an airstrike against -- a missile strike against Syria, you saw some different voices rising to the front and maybe come to the fore a little bit.

You saw Rex Tillerson step out. He's been very press shy but he came out and briefed the press several times. So the political advisers are one thing, but it's possible now you're seeing this president, whether it's Jim Mattis at the Department of Defense or the Pentagon or somebody like Rex Tillerson. You may see him relying more on those people he put in place to try to give him some of this policy advice.

WHITFIELD: Also we've seen a majority of the GOP on one accord when it comes to the president's decision to strike Syria most recently Senator John McCain had this to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think what the president did was an excellent first step and it was a reversal of the last eight years. I think the fact that we acted was very important and I support the president's action.


WHITFIELD: OK. So there is some support there, but at the same time, Senator McCain said he thought there should have been some kinds of destruction of the tarmac, the runway, Julian, but in large part, is this a turning point perhaps for the GOP signaling that there is a greater unified front? There's a lot of agreement as it pertains to the president's first very significant move on the world stage?

ZELIZER: There's agreement on the first part of it. I think what comes after is always the hard part in foreign policy. My guess is already some of that unity is starting to weaken a little bit as we see Syria continue with the attacks. There are more questions about what comes next and the questions of Russia will emerge front and center. So I am not very confident that that unity will hold very long.

WHITFIELD: There are many Democrats who say they are not in favor of the president's actions as it pertains to Syria. Take a listen at what Congressman Adam Schiff had to say this morning.


REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think there's a strong moral case to have -- to make for what the president did. Stronger now in fact than when President Obama faced that same situation. Because when President Obama did, I think the use of military force always has to be the last response, not the first.

I don't think Georgia should have been done without congressional approval. I don't think frankly Obama should have troops back in Iraq or in Syria without congressional approval. We have weakened our own role in the checks and balances. I think Congress needs to step forward immediately.


WHITFIELD: All right. David Rohde?

ROHDE: I was listening to conservative talk radio this morning, the nationalist of the Bannon wing if you will. They were making the exact same argument. They think that they criticized the strikes. They said there should have been congressional authorization.

Some of them were saying that the gas attack was actually, and this was a very conservative radio host, that John McCain secretly carried out the gas attack is like an excuse by these war mongers and the Republican Party. So that's the divide as well within the Republican Party. Trump's challenge is to unify that party, but there's a real divide I think both domestically and in terms of foreign policy.

WHITFIELD: David Nakamura, how are they thinking about moving forward keeping in mind checks and balances when and if congressional approval and authorization is necessary?

NAKAMURA: Well, I think you're seeing this is a president who campaigned on the idea that he made -- he's strong and he makes tough decisions. Criticized President Obama for sort of taking too long to make decisions, you know, being feckless and weak. Of course the Obama people disagreed with that.

Of course, President Obama asked for congressional authorization back in 2013 when he had declared that red line and Assad crossed it. He didn't even get to vote on the authorization. Congress didn't want to take the tough vote and he never acted.

You're seeing President Trump is well aware that if you ask Congress and he may not get the answer he's looking for. He may not even get an answer because we know how Congress is. They're not able to sort of get their act together to sometimes take a vote.

[14:55:11]So you know, look, Trump took the first step. I think a lot of people wonder how does this fit into a broader policy in Syria and the Middle East. There's conflicting messages. You guys have been talking about this on the shows today and from his aides over the past few days. That is the next big step as to what does this all mean.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and quickly, Julian, some of the very people who did not support President Obama when seeking authorization are now celebrating what President Trump has done. Are they doing that at some risk?

ZELIZER: Some risk, but hypocrisy on national security is as old as American pie, you know, no one likes presidential power when it's in the hands of the other party. So I think voters kind of expect this and tolerate it. Not that it's right, but I think you can get away with it. What you can't get away with in the end is a bad plan that cost lives and money and that's where Congress will come back and get you.

WHITFIELD: Now many are waiting some directive and detail on that plan. All right, thanks so much Julian Zelizer, David Rohde, and David Nakamura. Appreciate it. We'll be right back.