tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN April 5, 2017 3:00pm-4:01pm PDT
happening now, president trump suggests he may take un unilateral action. assad's ally vladimir putin taking sides. mr. trump offers stunning judgments from the oval office claiming former obama adviser susan rice may have committed a crime while defending fox news anchor bill o'reilly as a good person in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. bannon fodder. the president's chief strategist is removed from a controversial role on the national security
council. we'll take you inside. and the queen and the lady. a rare public outing for melania and the queen of jordan. we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." breaking news tonight, president trump says he has a responsibility to respond to the horrific chemical attack that killed dozens of innocent civilians. the president would not say what action he might take or spell out whether he now believes assad must go. a past u.s. position he was in the process of abandoning.
in stark contrast to nikki haley offering an impassioned public condemnation of russia for protecting the regime. this is at a time when the trump camp/russia ties are also under investigation. in in . also, the president telling "the new york times" that susan rice may have committed a crime. mr. trump declining to offer any specifics or any evidence a day after rice denied gop allegations that she used intelligence for political purposes. also tonight, the president's chief strategist steve bannon has been ousted from a permanent seat on the national security council. they say his oversight is no longer needed now that h.r. mcmaster has taken over for michael flynn.
i'll talk about that and much more with senator corey gardener and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. let's go to cnn's ryan nobos. update our viewers on the very latest. >> president trump said the attack in syria changed his view on the war there and while he didn't explain what he would do, he said it crossed a line for him and he holds the responsibility for the u.s. response. we want to warn you, this story contains graphic images that some viewers may find difficult to watch. >> it crossed a lot of lines for me. >> reporter: standing next to the king of jordan, president trump made it clear he was angry about what appears to be a gruesome chemical gas attack in syria. >> when you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal
that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. many, many lines. >> reporter: and despite blaming his predecessor for the current situation, he now says this problem is his. >> i now have responsibility and i will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly. i will tell you that. >> reporter: his promise, however, did not include a plan to take swift and direct action to solve the crisis. >> i'm not saying i'm doing anything one way or the other, but i'm certainly not going to be telling you. >> reporter: the trump administration's hands-off policy in syria echos the president's pledge to not get the u.s. embroiled in unending conflicts. >> i'm not and i don't want to be the president of the world. i'm the president of the united states. and from now on, it's going to be america first. >> reporter: but as syria festers, the white house is taking a much different approach
to north korea. the president himself promising to handle the weapons program with or without the support of china. >> that's another responsibility we have and that's called the country of north korea. we have a big problem. we have somebody that is not doing the right thing. and that's going to be my responsibility. >> reporter: this, as his secretary of state rex tillerson addressed the latest north korean attempt to test a missile launch with a 23-word statement that ended with, "we have no further comment." this has led to questions from republicans worried about the president's foreign policy vision. >> i don't see any doctrine right now. i do have great confidence in the national security team around the president and i hope they will develop a strategy, stand up and give the president the advice and counsel i believe he needs and could get from that
team. >> reporter: still, trump remained confident that he could meet the growing foreign policy challenges he now faces. >> the world is a mess. i inherited a mess, whether it's the middle east, whether it's north korea, whether it's so many other things, whether it's in our country, horrible trade deals. i inherited a mess. we're going to fix it. >> reporter: and many of these foreign policy challenges will serve as the backdrop to the president's very important summit with the president of china which begins tomorrow at the president's estate in mar-a-lago, florida. >> ryan noeb belbles, thank you. and now let's turn to the brutal chemical weapons attack. let's bring in michelle kosinski. the president says what happened in syria changed his views. >> pictures and details out of syria are resonating powerful fully all over the world and including with the president. what we heard from him today was not something scripted.
so now the world watches and waits for the response and the u.s. has gone from first off blaming the obama administration to now a much harder line. today loudly calling out syrian president assad and loudly calling out russia and iran and calling for some kind of action. the world right now seeing these pictures of what many are calling another war crime in syria by the assad regime against its own people. killing dozens, families and children left gasping for breath and dying. the president clearly moved. >> that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. a big impact. that was a horrible, horrible thing and i've been watching it and seeing it and it doesn't get any worse than that. my attitude toward syria and
assad has changed very much. >> reporter: but in a stark departure from obama, president trump doesn't call for assad to go. the administration says
it's for the syrian people to decide. as for action, in 2013, trump was tweeting that president obama's red line against chemical weapons was very dumb. do not attack syria. there's no upside and tremendous downside. save your powder for another and more important day. now president trump must plan his own response. today he blamed assad. when asked about it, he again blamed obama's policies but did not mention russia, backer of the assad regime and was supposed to guarantee that chemical weapons were gone from syria. secretary of state tillerson, though, in a rare moment taking a question from the press, did address russia's role. >> we think the russians need to think carefully about their continued support of the assad regime. >> reporter: but today, an emotional showdown between
russia and the united states. the russian representative saying that it's lies. nikki haley brought photos of the murdered children to unleash on russia. >> they made an unconscienceable choice. they chose to close their eyes to the barbarity. they defied the conscience of the world. there's an obvious truth here that must be spoken. the truth is, that assad, russia and iran have no interest in peace. how many more children have to die before russia cares? >> the u.n. security council tried to take action against syria for its repeated attacks with sanctions. russia and china blocked them.
haley now says after this latest atrocity, the time has come. >> there are times when we are compelled to take collective action. i will now add this. when the united nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action. >> reporter: and we're hearing from top military analysts that say if there were to be an american military response, what that might look like. one option could be to send a message or a warning, taking out some serious command and control, key air fields. the second stronger option would be to try to target the regime's ability to deliver. that would be hitting things like storage sites, artillery and aircraft. wolf? >> michelle kosinski, thank you very much. let's get some perspective on
syria. our chief international correspondent christiane amanpour. you know this region as well as anyone. take us through the president's comments today. from your perspective, are they a serious departure as far as the future of assad is concerned? >> well, there's certainly a serious departure. the president practically did a 180 on syria and assad and said that he had been horrified by what had happened and painted a portrait of what had happened in very dramatic and vivid language, referring to the babies, to the civilians that had been slaughtered by that attack. you can see that the president, along with his u.n. ambassador, secretary of state, are piling on the pressure and actually blaming assad. secretary of state saying there's no doubt, they believe, that assad conducted that chemical weapons attack. and so i think that that was a
big departure and that's how it's being viewed in the rest of the world. internationally it's being viewed as a big departure. when the president himself said in response to a question that this crosses many lines, he said, way beyond even a red line, well, then everybody internationally puts out their ears. we haven't actually heard that for a very, very long time. people at the security council even saying that what nikki haley was saying today is reminiscent of talk in the united states in the lead-up to the iraq war. >> she was very, very powerful. what could the president's comments mean, christiane, when it comes to real action in syria? >> well, and here's the thing. after laying down his own blood line, so to speak, describing it as having crossed many red lines, it was an inhuman act, then people will expect some
kind of reaction, some kind of punitive strife. if the united states doesn't do anything about it, this administration and the president took full responsibility in his own words for syria, then this administration also looks like it has laid down a line and has failed to cross it. so what could actually look like? well, it can go from increases sanctions and squeezing the oil exports or indeed take some punitive military action. now, that is slightly more complicated because of the russian involvement and russia is there. but there are ways to be able to conduct limited military action that's punitive and responsive to this. why don't you take out the fields. don't let these planes fly.
this is the only thing that they fly with the barrel bombs. the syrian planes now carry this poison gas. so the israelis, prince, over the years have taken their own punitive action with air strikes and other such targeted strikes against syria when they think hezbollah has gotten too involved. so there are things that can be done short of a full-scale attack, any kind of invasion or that kind of thing. wolf? >> nikki haley, christiane, you heard her powerful remarks at the u.n. security council. she not only went after bashar al assad but the allies of the assad regime. we heard the president's strong words but no words from the president. what do you make of that? >> well, it's a very complicated
relationship. the relationship is quite complex at the moment and under investigation. certainly the u.n. ambassador was very, very angry and did take on the russian ambassador and the question now remains, what are they going to do, really? because they have vetoes and even started a basic condemnation of this violation of international humanitarian law. we know the use of weapons is against international law. so i think this is a very important moment, to see whether the u.s. will do something that doesn't involve russia. take a punitive measure against assad. here's the problem. a couple of days or a day before this attack, nikki haley and the rest of the administration were coalescing about actually, yes, assad is a problem but we are not here right now to focus on taking him out. so the messages have been
slightly mixed but that, of course, was before this massive attack with with chemical weapons. people are wondering whether there will be some kind of strong measure from the united states to make it clear to assad that he can no longer continue these kinds of attacks. >> christiane amanpour in london for us, thank you very much. let's get some more on all of this with corey gardener who is joining us, a republican who serves on the senate foreign relations committee. thanks for joining me. >> thanks for having me. >> i want to pick up with where we left yesterday with christiane. they said bashar al assad regime is a political reality. today we heard trump say that his attitude has changed very much following the sarin gas attack. what sort of policy shift do you think we could see as a result of this? >> i think you heard today from nikki haley and secretary tillerson and others a reset by
an act of barbarism. i think the world has to condemn their actions and the trump administration has a responsibility to act. >> nikki haley hinted that the u.s. could take unilateral action, assuming the u.n. does not act collectively because of that russia and chinese veto. but president trump so far has refused to provide any details. is that lack of clarity sustainable as commander in chief? >> i think you heard nikki haley call out russia. there is blood on russia's hands. you will see congress on the coming days call on the united nations to act and condemn in the strongest terms possible, the murderous activities of the
assad regime. we'll be calling on the assad regime to be held accountable for their crimes against humanity. this is a despicable act and this administration, administrations around the world cannot sit idly by and do nothing. >> listen to these strong words from nikki haley earlier today. >> reporter: russia cannot escape responsibility for this. in facts, if russia had been fulfilling their responsibility, there would not be any chemical weapons left for assad to use. senator, how do you explain tough condemnation of russia and its support for assad as well as the president's silence when it comes to russia, he doesn't even mention russia's involvement in
syria. >> what i think is clear is that nikki haley, the administration is calling on the administration to act in the strongest way possible and build a coalition that can protect innocent people of syria who are being murdered in the most hideous of ways. >> but with all due respect to nikki haley, it would have a far greater impact potentially, don't you agree? >> congress is going to speak and i believe the president will continue to address this issue. assad must go. that realization has donned on anybody, it's clear through this murderous act that he has to go and the world has an obligation to protect the syrian people from the acts of this man. >> we'll see if he says
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we're following breaking news and president trump is now telling "the new york times" that former obama national security adviser susan rice may have committed a crime. senator, is it appropriate for the president of the united states to level an accusation like this against the former national security adviser without providing any evidence at all for the statement? >> i think this is another one of those issues that is going to be considered by congress and the investigations that are taking place. i think it's important that congress be allowed to execute
senate intelligence committee be allowed to carry out that investigation and we'll get to the bottom of this. and so i think that's -- what we have to do in congress is to fully execute the investigation so that we can show the results. >> senator, the president, for all practical purposes, as this investigation is under way -- and i agree with you, there's a detailed investigation in the house and senate. the fbi is investigating as well. but for all practical purposes, the president has just con convicted her of committing a crime. >> well, i think, again, there's a couple of texts and tweets i wouldn't have sent if i were the president. that's why i believe we should leave it to congress, this investigation. let's see the results. >> why does he do that? a month ago, he convicted president obama of ordering illegal wiretaps of trump tower, committing a felony. now he's making these accusations against susan rice without providing any evidence at all. why do you think he does that? >> i think a lot of people are wondering the same question. here's what i would say. i don't speak for the white house and i don't know that
answer. here's what i think we need to do. and that is, get to the bottom of what happened with susan rice and the question of an unmasking and if it was done in an unlawful manner, i have full faith in the committee. >> which is a fair question to ask. once again, the president has made up his mind. he thinks she has committed a crime, even as this investigation is only beginning. let's talk about steve bannon's -- the president's chief strategist's removal from the national security council. what does that suggest to you as far as the future direction of the trump administration on national security? >> i think as mcmaster gets involved in the national security council and starts putting together his team, it shows that they are moving forward with the construction with a committee and council that they are hoping to achieve.
>> let's talk about north korea. a missile launch occurred ahead of the president's meeting with the chinese leader in palm beach. secretary tillerson's statement on this included three sentences. let me read it to you. "north korea launched a ballistic missile. the united states has spoken enough about north korea. we have no further comment." what's the strategy, do you believe, behind that statement? >> well, i think you've heard the president talk about how he doesn't want to telegraph his actions in a region when it comes to foreign policy, that he's hesitant to let our enemies know what he's up to. it's clear north korea has come to a point in time where we have to act in a way that actually works to denuclearize the peninsula. i was glad to see secretary tillerson say that.
but i hope at mar-a-lago, at the summit, they will actually move north korea to the top of the agenda. obviously it's going to be joined by the issues that took place in syria, happening in syria yesterday. i hope we can get a commitment from china that they will lay out a plan that will bring an end to the mess in pyeongchang. china controls 90% of the economy in north korea. it's time that they take responsibility as a global power and act to stop north korea instead of sitting idly by and watching the united states and korea try to deal with this from afar. >> if president trump to convince president xi of that, that would be a major step forward. senator gardener, thank you for joining me. what kind of action is the president willing to take against syria's leader bashar al assad. and we'll take a closer look at the new criticism of the first lady.
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may have committed a crime without providing any evidence to back that up. pretty shocking development. >> a very explosive claim that the president is making now. a bit of context, if you will, here. the president and others here at the white house have accused susan rice in the obama administration of potentially unmasking or essentially identifying the names of some trump associates in intelligence reports. so he had an interview with magg maggie haberman and wanted to make this essentially accusation public. this is what he said. let's take a look at "the new york times" report, wolf. he said, it's such an important story for our country and the world. it is one of the big stories of our time. he declined to say if he had personally reviewed new intelligence to bolster his claim "the times" writes, but pledged to explain himself, quote, at the right time. when asked if miss rice had committed a crime, the president
said, do i think? yes, i think. but again, wolf, important to point out, the reporters pressed the president on what evidence he would have of doing this because both republican and democratic national security officials have said this is a course of ordinary business for a national security adviser to find out some names of people in reports. dr. rice has said she did not leak any names at all. this is not the end of this. but a spokeswoman for dr. rice said this, of this report, wolf. she said, i'm not going to dignify the president's ludicrous charge with a compliment. this could end up on the capitol hill. there has been some interest expressed in learning more from susan rice. >> another surprising development today. what are you finding out about steve bannon's removal from his seat at the national security
council? >> reporter: wolf, it's certainly a demotion. it's a diminishment of his role. had he a wide portfolio, could do anything he wanted from domestic to foreign policy and he was named at the principals committee at the opening days of the administration and that put him alongside, you know, the secretary of state, secretary of defense, other high-ranking people. this shows that the emerging power of the new national security adviser, general h.r. mcmaster, is essentially getting the national skauecurity advise he wants. he's expressed disagreements in general but in this case general mcmaster -- he's not on the principals committee and that's a big, big difference here. but they are adding the chairman
of the joints chief of staff as well as the director of national of intelligence back to this committee, essentially leaving it as it had always been, this traditional structure. there's no question steve bannon still powerful in the white house but not as big of a portfolio at all. >> very interesting development. jeff zeleny, thank you very much. we're joined by our political and national security experts. phil mudd, let me start with you. the president in this new york times interview, without providing any evidence, said he thinks president obama's former national security adviser susan rice committed a crime. what is the precedence of even a president even saying that. >> we have the president's own advisers, including former national security adviser asking for immunity from the government because they don't want to admit in public what presumably was collusion with the russians. this is his people under investigation for violating the law. meanwhile, in the past few
weeks, he's accused president obama of violating the law and forcing the fbi director to humiliate the president in public by saying that's nonsense and he doubles down on that. you have to ask why the president is spending energy and capital to accuse people of violating the law when that's not even the purchase viview of branch that he manages. >> what do you think when you heard the president's remarks in this n this new yo"new york times" int? >> the president tweeted one month ago that his predecessor had tapped them and then elizabeth farkas last week and now it's susan rice and yet still there's no proof whatsoever regardless of the information that we have found. first of all, whether or not susan rice had committed a
crime. there's no proof of that. but also, there's still no validation to the president's initial claim. this is a president who says he knows things. this takes it to a whole new level. >> it does suggest, dana bash, that the charge against the president, he simply is trying to change the subject. >> no question about it. phil mudd just said if this wasn't so serious it would be like comedy central. it kind of is except for the fact that it's somewhere between comedy central -- it's the old jon stewart show where you're watching about politics thinking, is this real, is not not real? because what the president did was so overtly political, trying to say that susan rice committed a crime. i mean, it's not as explosive as his tweet, you know, a month ago at this point, saturday morning, 6:30 in the morning saying that the president himself wiretapped but it's pretty close.
now, at the end of the day, you know, we know now that on capitol hill especially, they are going to now look into how of these identities came up in the public arena and whether there was any culpability inside the white house at all. but we don't know that and, again, going back to several things that the president said in that interview in "the new york times," now we're almost 100 days in. we know that he's not going to change but we also know, based on the restructuring he did today, based on the comments that he's made about syria, he's learning. this is one important thing he has not learned. you've got to be careful even if you think it's good politics. the campaign is over. you're president of the united states. >> phil mudd, national security council, chief strategist of the white house, steve bannon is now off. the cia director, guess what, is now in. chairman of the squloijoint chiw
in. your reaction? >> this is more significant. let me explain how huge this is. when you work in washington, d.c., steve bannon is what we call big hat, no cattle. he's got big ideas but has neither money nor people. when you've got money or people, the cia director, secretary of defense, secretary of state, you've got to do things. you've got to negotiate with the russians, deploy forces, run cl clandescent operations. if you want to do stuff, it's the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, cia director, the guys with money and people, the big idea guys, we saw what happened to them today. this guy got his ass handed to him. >> bianna, what do you think? >> i agree with what phil mudd just said. this would have been the biggest story in the headlines but there are other things happening domestically and abroad a real
international crisis unfolding in syria. >> i was just going to say, i was told tonight by a source familiar with working for the nsc, that this is something that general mcmaster, the national security adviser, has been working on for a long time and this something being, getting steve bannon off of the principals committee but also as jeff zeleny reported earlier, returning the national security council to a traditional structure. one that just in terms of the inner workings of the white house and then the broader national security community in the government worked during the eight years of the obama administration, just in terms of information flow. and access to the president and that's what he did today with steve bannon but a couple other changes as well. >> everybody stick around. we have a lot more coming up. was it appropriate for the president to weigh in on bill o'reilly's sexual harassment scandal and claim the fox news anchor didn't do anything wrong. and ivanka trump and melania trump under more intense
scrutiny as she makes a rare public appearance. are they helping the president? l of the nfl, and i got together to remind you that no one's the same without the game... like @sirloinking who writes, "just came home with $85 worth of groceries with names like, goats beard, pawpaw and that vile weed kale. what happened?" well, a lack of football is what happened. breathe. soon, you'll be enjoying a big 'ol brat at a tailgate and kale smoothies will be but a memory. next time you order kale, try using a silent "k". tastes so much better.
we're back with our analysts. i was pretty surprised, dana, to hear what the president said in this new york times interview. i don't think bill did anything wrong. i think he shouldn't have settled personally. i think he shouldn't have settled. he's now weighing in on this issue. >> he sure is. i don't think he has had any consultation with bill o'reilly's lawyers or anything else about this case and even if he did, he's the president of the united states. he's not just a loyal friend, as he has been, clearly, to bill o'reilly. i mean, i think that the two of them historically went to yankees games and slipped slurpy, a big gulp or something along those lines. but it's not those years anymore. it's just not. the fact that he went there and did what he shouldn't have done is an example of the fact that as much as he tries to, you know, get his sea legs and be the president and learn on the
job understandably, he's still donald trump and he still can't help himself on issues that -- one thing when he was a private citizen tweeting in trump tower, it's a whole different thing when he's president of the united states. >> it certainly is. bianna, the president is trying to navigate and you had a chance to do a report for yahoo news and you went out and spoke with russian-americans about how he's doing so far. let me play this little clip. >> my parents live in russia and we think he's going to do better, yes. >> my family and my husband and i, we work for trump. we like him. >> he's a businessman. he's a little bit not -- >> out of his element? >> yes. maybe not educated enough for politics but, you know, let's give him a chance. >> what do you think about u.s./russia relations and the fact that they are strained now? >> i think it should be better.
it will get better because the united states and russia, we are neighbors. >> alaska? >> alaska, yes. >> fascinating, bianna. were you surprised about the reaction that you were getting? >> not really because i heard anecdotally that many russians were in fact supporting russian-americans and donald trump throughout the campaign. i spent many weekends with my family and decided to go to a store that i spent a lot of time at and talk to people of different generations. some people who came here more recently and some people have been here for many decades. they spoke highly of president trump and asked them about russia's role in the u.s. elections in trying to hack into the u.s. elections they didn't buy it. that's a great sense for president trump.
one woman said with a straight face, he stole all of the money that he needed and now he can focus on what needs to be done in russia. >> what did they say to you about putin? and i ran you ran into a distan cousin of mine at that store. he was not interviewed on camera. >> pmelania trump's every word,
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went more deeply into her relationship with the president. today was also about melania trump getting more comfortable with her place in the spotlight. first lady melania trump greeting the wife of king abdullah at the white house. >> i just wanted to thank our friends, our great friends. >> reporter: the two women had a private lunch in the white house. they attended the -- for queen rania, a popular and outspoken female in jordan with millions of followers onld social media and a spot on the international best dressed list, the visit was a high profile role she's comfortable with. melania trump is, after all, the fourth first lady the queen has suspend spent time with since
her husband came into power 20 years ago. the official first lady portrait was released this week. she was photographed in the west hall of the white house private residence. meanwhile, it was also a big week for ivanka trump. the first daughter discussing her new role and defending herself against critics, even a saturday night live parody. >> who could stop all this but won't. also available in a clone for jared. >> if being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then i'm complicit. i don't know that the critics
who may say that of me, if they found themselves in this very unique and unprecedented situation that i am now in would do any differently than i'm doing. >> while ivanka also said she frequently voices concerns about policy to her father, she neglected to get specific on which issues the two part ways. >> i wasn't elected by the american people to be president. i think my father is going to do a tremendous job and i want to help him do that. >> and while ivanka intensifies her role and her importance in the west wing, melania will have another chance to play host to china's wife of xi jinping. >> the trumps feel comfortable down there. >> very much so. >> i'm sure she feels more comfortable there this afternoon she does at the white house. >> looks that way.
>> kate bennett, thanks very much for joining us. that's it for me. thanks very much for watching. have a wonderful weekend. i'm wolf blitzer in "the situation room." erin burnett, "out front" starts right now. >> out front next -- breaking news, crossing trump's line. the president says bashar al sad went beyond the line. we'll hear from the victims tonight. top strategist steve bannon demoted. the information coming from the president himself. plus why is president trump defending bill o'reilly against charges of skpum harassment tonight? he is. we begin with breaking news, trump drawing his own red lines, the president saying the horrific chemical attack crossed many, many lines, going in his