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tv   Wolf  CNN  April 11, 2017 10:00am-11:01am PDT

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hello, i'm wolf blitzer. it's 1:00 p.m. here in washington. 8:00 p.m. in moscow. wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us. breaking news we're following. as we keep an eye on the white house, sean spicer is preparing on brief the press. we'll take you there live once that gets started. spicer will face plenty of questions about syria, but what will certainly dominate the briefing is reaction to what we heard this morning from the russian president vladimir putin. here is president putin's take on the u.s. air strikes in syria. >> this reminds me very much of
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the situation in 2003 and the war in iraq. first of all, there was a campaign launched in iraq and it finished with the destruction of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat, and the emergence of isis on the international arena. no more. no less than that. >> our senior international sbre correspondent matthew chance is joining us from moscow. sara murray on the lawn of the white house while we wait for sean spicer's press briefing. putin also said he expected more chemical attacks in syria. tell our viewers precisely what he's saying. >> this is president putin pushing what's been the russian version of events since this terrible attack took place last tuesday basically saying this was a provocation, this was something that was a normal syrian air strike, a regular conventional syrian air strike on a weapons factory that was
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run by the rebels to manufacture land mines that they were stuffing with chemicals to use against the syrian military. he's saying that the syrian military, the syrian government unfairly was blamed for causing that horrific loss of life. take a listen to what he had to say about the future of possible chemical attacks. >> translator: we have information from various sources that this kind of provocation and not guilty oth and nothing other than provocation is being prepared for in -- and then accuse the syrian government of it. but we believe that any manifestation of that kind should be carefully investigated and we intend to apply to relevant u.n. bodies and towards the entinternational community investigate these matters very carefully. >> so putin is saying that he's got intelligence that there may be more sort of these chemical
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attacks that will perhaps encourage the united states to carry out further attacks, further missile strikes against syrian targets, wolf. >> what is he specifically saying, matthew, about a possible investigation the chemical attack in syria last week that killed so many civilians, including a lot of children? >> well, the defense ministry here in russia issued a statement saying that they're ready to provide security for chemical weapons inspectors to go into syria and investigate at least the air base that was struck by the missile strike from where the strikes were launched by the syrian airplanes. to have a thorough investigation there to try and determine whether there were any chemical weapons at that air base. the syrian government, according to the russian defense ministry, hass has said they'd be willing to consider that problem as well.
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the problem is the attack took place in the southern area and that's rib el territory and it will be difficult if not impossible for inspectors to get there. an investigation may leave the various parties and the international community none the wiser as to what actually happened. >> sara, we're now hearing from a white house official who's responding to some of russia's claims. what are you hearing? >> we were briefed by senior administration officials who hitting back against this russian narrative. they're saying they do believe this was a sarin gas attack and it was carried out by the syrian regime. they do not have evidence this was something done by the rebels or by a terrorist group. they also called out russia saying they have waged a campaign of disinformation to try to cover up the culpability of the syrian regime. it's worth noting we have been told by senior administration officials from yesterday to today there is still no consensus in the u.s. intelligence community that russia had any kind of heads up,
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any kind of foreign knowledge about these grizzly chemical weapon attacks. we did hear officials lean further into this asking the question of how russian forces, if they were co mingled with these syrian forces to did the chemical attack, how could they not have knowledge. still insisting there is no consensus from the intelligence community on this, but i think we're beginning to see some of the administration officials put a little more pressure on russia. obviously this comes at a time when secretary of state tillerson is in moscow. he has spoken very critically about russia and any potential role they may have had in this. so far we have not heard that from president trump himself. >> thanks so much, sara murray. matthew chance with the latest from moscow. i want to bring in cnn clarissa ward. she's long the syria/turkey border. president trump asked general mattis, the secretary of defense for an up date on the missile
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strikes. mattis said 20% of the operational syrian air force was either destroyed or damaged. are we getting a clear sense of how much damage was done to this syrian air base? >> well, wolf, it's really difficult to get a sense of just how much damage was done, because obviously each side has its own narrative. the syrian regime almost immediately started flying planes out of the air base obviously in an attempt to try to show that they were -- that their planes could still fly from there air base. at the same time that does not gel with what we heard yesterday from general mattis, secretary of defense mattis. he said that 20% of the syrian air forces fixed wing aircraft had been either severely damaged or destroyed. that is a huge amount if indeed it is 20%. that would mean they have roughly 100 fixed wing aircraft. we've looked into some defense
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analysts who said before the civil war they had 300 fixed wing aircraft. it does seem now after six long years of war they would have about 100. it does sound like a feasible number but it's difficult to confirm that. we also heard from sean spicer saying this was a pr stunt. the refuelling capability is gone. the radar capability is gone. that's what you're hearing from the u.s. government. on the other hand, we are see are air strikes continuing across syria day in and day out. this is nothing new. none of them have been particularly noticeable. they have been your sort of typical daily syrian air strikes. so difficult to know exactly how much damage has been done just yet, wolf. >> issue yare you getting any r to sean spicer comments about
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the use of barrel bombs potentially representing yet another red line for the united states? >> well, i think everybody who follows syria very closely, who was watching yesterday's press briefing, had a moment of jaw dropping on the ground when they first heard sean spicer say that potentially barrel bombs would constitute another red line. there was a kind of moment where people were furiously talking about particularly on the ground inside syria, people who support the opposition, if this would constitute a red line for the u.s., that would be a huge escalation because of course barrel bombs are a very crude weapon that are being used on an almost daily basis. we've since heard the white house apparently try to walk back that a little bit and now there's an understanding that perhaps it would only refer to barrel bombs that had been packed with chlorine gas. this is also been used quite regularly, but frankly we have not heard any real clarity from the white house.
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perhaps we'll hear some in this press conference we're waiting on now. >> we're standing by the sean spicer daily briefing. clarissa, thanks very much. she's along the turkey/syria border. meanwhile north korea is issuing another warning to the united states. north korean state media saying a nuclear strike is possible. if provoked by what it calls u.s. aggression. president trump had some tough talk of his own today on twitter tweeting this. north korea is looking for trouble. if china decides to help, that would be great. if not, we will solve the problem without them. u.s.a. the u.s. meanwhile is sending a navy strike group to the waters off the korean peninsula led by the uss carl vinson. i want to join will ripley. with a hbig national holiday where you near north korea. are we expecting tensions to
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escalate even further? >> it certainly seems that way, wolf, as this country does prepare for the day of the sun. it's most important holiday of the year and a holiday when north korea has in the past attempted very dramatic displays of power. it was five years ago in 2012 when they tried to launch a satellite into orbit just two days before this major holiday that ended up being a fail launch but succeeded later in that year n december of that year. what this shows is this is a time when kim jong-un who appeared just a short time ago in some brand new video presiding over an important political gathering also happening today, it is a time when he is -- has been known to project strength and power not only to his own people here in north korea, but to show defy ans to tyans -- defy aniance ont of the world. they believe kim could put the button on the country's sixth
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nuclear test which would be a defiant message to president trump in light not only the tweets but deployment to the strike group that could arrive in the waters in just a matter of days. >> will ripley with the very latest. very tense time indeed. will, thanks very much for that reporting. let's get back to russia now and those harsh words from the russian president vladimir putin aimed at the united states. also today russia's foreign ministry releasing a statement saying u.s./russia relations are at their most difficult point since the cold war. joining us now, steven -- foreign relations, former ambassador at large for russia and a former soviet states. ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. >> pleasure. >> you agree that u.s./russian relations are at their worst level since the cold war? >> there's a lot of friction. nothing much that the two sides agree on. and many points of contention.
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as the russian prime minister said last week, they're not too far from military confrontation in syria. there were russian people at the russian military personnel at the base that the united states struck. that's, you know, very tense, dicey situation for two sides to be in. >> you believe the russians were complicit in that chemical weapons attack against those civilians in syria? >> i don't think we have any real way of confirming that. my guess is we won't. some of the information that's been used is very circumstantial. there was a russian drone over the syrian hospital, so they must have known. this is the sort of thing that will be argued back and forth without much real resolution. >> as you know, the secretary of state rex tillerson is in moscow. he's going to meet with sergey lavrov, the russian foreign minister. no word yet that president putin is going to invite him to a meeting, but do you expect that meeting to take place? >> russian officials are telling russian journalists today that
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there will be a meeting and that makes sense. putin is somebody who worries about looking weak. he wants to show his disapproval of what the united states has done, but he also wants to hear from tillerson what the united states is doing. he -- you know, i think probably secretary tillerson heard those comments today about the rebels being responsible for the gas attack as an example of putin leading with his chin. he's going to go into that meeting in a piric -- >> you can either go with the regime of assad and the iranians or forget about them, you come work with us, you'll be better off if you do. that's the choice he's going to offer to the russians. how do you suspect the russians will respond? >> well, rex tillerson is not the first secretary of state to
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go to moscow with that message saying you know, it could be so much better if you worked with us instead of those nasty people the iranians and president assad. actually, the russians have done fine working with the iranians and president assad. >> their economy is not that good. >> the economy is not great. it's picking up a little bit, but what putin has done in syria, his intervention in syria is one of his most significant foreign policy successes and he's not going to be talked out of it by the mere claim that, you know, it would be nicer if you worked with us. the real question for an american secretary of state who goes to moscow and says you should work with us, you should promote a political solution, tillerson himself said the assad regime is coming to an end. the real question that the russians will have for him is what are you going to do about it, what are you going to do if we say no. >> where do you see this u.s./russian relationship in the short term heading? >> in the short term, the
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russians have to decide whether they want to pivot in their syria policy, but the chances are they won't. they are going to try to drag this out. the point of putin's remarks today was to say the rebels were responsible here, let's have an investigation. this was their line last week in the u.n. security council. that's their story and they're sticking to it. for putin to believe that he needs to pivot, he's got to believe that the united states is going to take a significantly different approach than it has in the past few years and one military strike probably isn't going to do it. >> we'll see if there's some more military strikes coming up, because that's the threat on the table right now. ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. so what do all these new developments mean for the u.s./russian relationship as well as russia's growing role in the middle east? congressman, a chairman of the house foreign affairs committee is standing by to join us live. mr. chairman, stand by. we also are only moments away from the white house press
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briefing. mu multiple officials forced to collarify comments made by sean spicer yesterday regarding the president's position on taking action in syria. will he set the record straight today? we'll have live coverage of that and a lot more. that's all coming up. se gels have laser drilled holes. they release medicine fast, for fast pain relief. tylenol® parts a and b and want more coverage, guess what? you could apply for a medicare supplement insurance plan whenever you want. no enrollment window. no waiting to apply. that means now may be a great time to shop for an aarp medicare supplement insurance plan, insured by unitedhealthcare insurance company. medicare doesn't cover everything. and like all standardized medicare supplement insurance plans, these help cover some of what medicare doesn't pay. so don't wait. call now to request your free decision guide. it could help you find the
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we'll bring you the news conference briefing live as soon as it starts. in the meantime u.s. secretary of state rex tillerson, he's in moscow right now for talks about the u.s./russian lip arelations and the future of syria. joining us from santa ana california is ed royce, chairman of the house foreign affairs committee. thanks so much for joining us. >> thank you, wolf. >> let me get your immediate reaction to the comments from president put tin sighing what e u.s. is doing is misleading the world, that the syria ran regime ba bashar al assad did not launch an attack. >> i think that's russian spin because putin is and should be embarrassed by exactly what was done here, by assad and i say that with assurance because a day after assad's forces launched that attack, i was
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given the information which is clear cut. we monitored the flight of that air wing because that plane took off and flew over the target and dropped a chemical weapon on that target. assad was caught here red handed on something that putin had given us assurances that assad as part of this deal would give up his chemical weapons. that's what this is about and that's why two days later our air force or at least our strikes of our tomahawk missiles took out 23 of those planes, assad's planes. >> the russians maintain the u.s. was wrong in 2003 leading up to the war in iraq about iraq's weapons of mass destruction, stockpiles. they want an international investigation. your reaction to that? >> we had an international investigation. the russians were part of that, wolf, if you'll recall.
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and we had an attestation to these amounts of weapons that had been created by assad. he turned over some of them but not all of them. apparently he did not turn them all over. now he's been using them. in the last i'd say week or couple weeks, he's had three attacks and in this last one he was just plain caught red handed. and so this is the current situation. that's a great embarrassment to russia. >> was russia complicit in this syrian gas attack, the sarin gas attack against the civilians in one way or another? what's the latest information you're getting? >> well, from my standpoint, i'll give you my view of this, the man who ordered the attack was assad. and the one we're holding
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responsible for it is assad because he continues to do it. and i think for that reason the international community is sort of come to the conclusion, and this is why our secretary of state is there meeting with putin today in moscow, to try to reason with the russians and explain look, this -- the judgment of an individual who has killed 480,000 of his own people and driven 14 million people out of their homes, many of these dps are stretched across syria but many across the middle east and now in europe, someone with that inability to govern his country, someone with that streak of cruelty in him is not going to bring order out of the chaos that he's helped create. so i think at this point, that discussion, that political discussion has to happen in terms of the down sides to everyone in this continues. >> you've seen the reports that the russians were involved in some sort of effort to cover up
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the syrian use of the chemical weapons by launching another separate strike against the hospital to remove evidence. have you been briefed on that? >> no, i've not been briefed on that particular attack. but it makes sense to me that the russians are embarrassed by this. as everybody has been embarrassed by assad. his own -- some of his cabinet officials who have defected have said look, find another leader, but let's get rid of this guy because of what he's done to his own country and his own people and when his own tribe is saying that, it is really time for the russians to open a political discussion here of a negotiation on how to get this guy out of the process. have him go to russia. have him go wherever. but let's see a negotiated agreement here that will get rid of isis, which is in russia's interest and ours, because assad
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won't fight isis. and at the same time, allow some kind of way forward here for sunni to at least begin to put back the building blocks in that region. radicalization is not in europe or our interest either. >> we're just getting word from our senior white house correspondent from jeff zeleny. he had a briefing at the white house. senior administration official telling him and i'm quoting this official now, i think it's clear the russians are trying to cover up what happened there. we do think that it is a question worth asking the russians the plan prepared and carried out this chemical weapons attack and did not have knowledge. i take it there's also been a formal report from the administration to congress with more detail. so mr. chairman, where does the
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u.s. go from here as far as drawing additional red lines if there's another chemical weapons attack or if there are more barrel bomb attacks that, you know, these brutal attacks that kill a lot of civilians. should the u.s. be prepared to step up its military involvement in syria? >> i think what the administration is looking at is a response to the gas attacks and there's bipartisan support for a measured appropriate response to a given attack using gas. either through a barely bom or some other type of ordinance, anything that drops clhlorine. poison gas is not to be used and that's been an international agreement since the end of the first world war. the only exception -- the real exception to it that was hitler's use of gas, but that was in secret really. the world didn't find out about it until after the war was over
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against his own people. and there's -- against the jewish population and others. and there has been this agreement since that gas will not be allowed to be used. that's in the vital interest of the united states. now, if this goes out more than 60 days, of course, there needs to be an authorization of use of military force in order to take out any other gas attack and secondarily, wolf, there needs to be a strategy put forward, a political strategy, of how to negotiate with russia and others. >> we've got to take a quick break, but very quickly, what you're saying is if there are more strikes coming up within the next 60 days or after 60 days, formal legislation, aumf authorization for the use of military force, legislation in the ho us and senate will be required? is that what you're saying? that the president does not have the authority to continue military strikes without that
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kinds of legislation? >> my read is if it goes beyond 60 days, you need an aumf. >> that's a precise state from the chairman of the house foreign affairs committee. as usual, thanks for joining us. >> thank you, wolf. >> coming up, white house officials tell cnn they are confident the syrian government was behind the deadly attack and they're now accusing russia of trying to shift blame. the white house press secretary sean spicer expected to speak in the next few minutes. we'll have live coverage of his daily briefing. that's coming up. is time you make for yourself. aveeno® daily moisturizing lotion with active naturals® oat. locks in moisture to improve skin wellness in just one day. aveeno® naturally beautiful results®
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there's breaking news the white house new accusing russia of trying to confuse the world in the wake of a deadly chemical weapons attack in syria. let's go straight to our senior white house correspondent jeff zeleny. he was there. white house officials making those comments in a background briefing. update our viewers. >> indeed, and i suspect that we'll hear more from sean spicer when he begins his daily briefing in just a short moment here. i was just at a different briefing with senior administration officials really going farther than they have before in saying that russia was complicit in their view in working with the syrian regime
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to cover up a chemical attack here. now, this u.s. official speaking on background did stop short of saying that russia had to, quote, foreknowledge or knew in advance of the chemical attack a week ago to set off the series of events that led to the military strikes last thursday. they do believe russia has been engaging in a cover up of chemical weapons overall here over the last couple of years. let me read directly from the senior administration officials who said i think it's clear that the russians are trying to cover up what happened there. we do think it's a question worth asking the russians. how is it possible that their forces were located with syrian forces that planned, prepared and carried out this chemical weapons attack at the same time and did not have foreknowledge. they're not saying they have proof of this, but they are asking the question here. so this is an attempt at pushing
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back on what vladimir putin said earlier today. simply trying to wash his hands of any involvement in this chemical attack here. but we are going to hear more from the pentagon as the day goes on here what those bomb damage assessments were. but again, the u.s. government stating more clearly than it has before that the russian government was engaged in a cover up in their words with the syrian regime leading to these chemical attacks. >> serious charge against the russians. the russians are leveling serious charges against the u.s. jeff, we'll get back you to. we're waiting for the white house press briefing. sean spicer will go to the lectern there. we'll have live coverage as soon as it begins. in the meantime, let's bring in our panel. joining us retired u.s. army, mark kimmen. mark brownstein and jackie. strong words coming back and forth, but i want to quickly get
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your reaction to news we just heard from ed royce saying if military action were to continue for more than 60 days by the u.s., the president would have to seek formal authorization, legislation, from congress, an aumf bill authorizing the use of military force in order to make it legal and constitutional. that's a strong statement. >> absolutely. particularly coming from chairman rice. you're absolutely right. this would open up a new debate in congress. and having more of his republican colleagues around him will definitely help him but that doesn't necessarily clear the way. they're signaling they're going to take back some of the authority. they took a lot of criticism for con ve conceding that authority to the branch. >> he's a chairman of the house committee and he's a republican. >> the last time we had this debate not only in the u.s. but also the u.k. it was politically
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difficult. president obama had to back down in part from his red line because he could not marshall the support in congress. and they lost the -- it was the first time they had lost a vote on war and peace since the american revolution. if you look at the polling today it is very precarious. yes, there is support, but just at 50%. much less support than we've seen for other military interventions and a majority saying they did not support further action. if in fact this does continue and they need to go to congress, there's no guarantee that even a republican congress will be there. i think based on the precedent and the patterns of public opinion we've seen. >> they would have to show a lot of hard evidence of syrian -- syrian decision to use these kinds of weapons in order to convince democrats and republicans in the house and senate to go along and pass this kind of legislation.
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>> i think that's right. we've got to remember that 60 days is a long time from now. >> it's not that long. it's two months. >> if assad ramps down his activities with regards to barrel bombs and chemicals, that would make it more difficult too-to-get to get it passed. if he in -- i think there will be much more support for the administration trying to get that through congress. >> i know they can supply classified information to members of congress but to the american public how far can they go in providing the evidence they say they have that it was syria that did it, the u.s. knows for sure, and that the russians maybe were trying to help cover it up? >> let's be clear. this has been going on for quite some time, ever since president obama backed away from the red line. we know syria has chemical weapons. we know the russians were supposed to verify the removal of those chemical weapons. we've seen them repeatedly use them as recently as a couple of
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days ago. let's be fracnk. this is all in the public domain right now. so i don't think that there's going to be much more coming out of intelligence that would be needed to convince the american people and the u.s. congress if this continues. >> the key question, if this continues. you know what's happening now as we speak, the u.s. secretary of state rex tillerson is in moscow. he's meeting with the foreign minister sergey lavrov. he may have a meeting with president putin. both sides, the u.s. and russia have hardened their positions and some are suggesting the u.s./russian relationship may be at its worst level since the cold war. >> particularly coming from tillerson who was close to putin and took a lot of flack for that. what happened in syria and the administration strike has given him more leverage going into this meeting, but i just wanted to add one more thing about how different this is from the candidate trump who didn't --
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who didn't want to get into another conflict in the middle east. who campaigned that iraq was a terrible decision and who criticized the spending that went into this. and now we're how many days in and we're talking about perhaps another aumf. >> not only that but the comparison to candidate trump, when he talked about the value of trying to have -- the principle asset he saw coming out of that was cooperation against isis and syria. you go back and look at the language in the first presidential debate. he said wouldn't it be great if we could work together with russia against isis and here we have the situation in syria, you know, really exploding the difficulty, making very clear the difficulty of any kind of cooperation because while there is a shared interest in dislodging isis in syria, it's clear that russia's principle interest again reaffirmed today is stabilizing assad in syria and you can see how big a space there is between what they want and what we want despite some overlap in terms of isis. >> we're just getting word that
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the secretary of defense general mattis and the commander of the u.s. military central command, they're going to be holding an on camera press briefing at the pentagon in -- at 3:30 p.m. eastern going through specific details, what happened, what the u.s. is doing. this is a significant development that the secretary of defense and the head of the u.s. military central command, which is in charge of the whole middle east region have decided this is a moment to speak not only to the american public but to the world. >> well, i think that's right. and you can see how much chatter there has been since the chemical attack. the motivations, should we have done this, did they really have that capability, where were the russians involved? when you have probably two of the most credible voices, secretary mattis and the chairman of the joint chiefs of -- commander of central command, i think those questions about why we did it, what we achieved, i think that's what they're out there trying to explain. >> we do have one voice that's
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still pretty absent in all of this and that's the president. >> he spoke the night of the tomahawk cruise miss ilgiles. now we're going to hear the voice of the white house press secretary. >> it's almost nice enough to have class outside today. rose garden press briefings. i want to start off this afternoon by a quick comment on the tragic and heart breaking events that unfolded at san bernadino school yesterday. wur praye our prayers go out to the victims. moving on to today, the president this morning led a discussion with some of the world's top job creators on how private sector thinking can help the government modernize and provide a better more efficient services to the american people. together the companies that were represented in the room this
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morning employed nearly four million people worldwide and at least 1.78 million americans here in our nation. starting in small interactive groups the cabinet members shared their strategic visions for their departments and l listened as business leaders offered their perspective to how they might achieve those goals. they shared their discussions and outcomes with the president. it was hosted by the office of american innovation and another opportunity for the administration to engage with the private sec-texecutor and harness -- the crumbling infrastructure, a broken system at the veterans administration. also this morning the president completed several procedural steps to ratify the protocol for a session to the north atlantic treaty organization. following the senate's overwhelming and bipartisan vote of this rat fi indication. the united states looks forward
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to welcoming m-- later today th president will have a series of meetings with his national and economic security team. later the attorney general is also at the southwest border to announce specific new actions. the trump administration is taking to secure our borders and keep the country safe. the administration's committed to ending the practice of smuggling gangs and cartels across the border that flood our country with drugs and violence. these actions which include the strengthening of the laws applying those who are caught attempting to illegal return to the united states and those who profit off smuggling people across the border we'll once again make it clear to the br f members of law enforcement that the trump administration has their back. secretary tillerson finished the meeting today ask is now in moscow for meetings with his russian counter part. it's part of our effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior
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russian officials and to ensure that the united states views on the situation in syria counter terrorism efforts, north korea and other matters are clearly conveyed. we're open to strategic cooperation with russia when we can achieve a shared goal such as defeating isis, but we'll stand up for our interest and values when we do not see eye to eye. russia must honor the commitments it made in the nuclear forces treaty and other topics of international concern. secretary tillerson is going to make that clear during his visit. i also want to make it known that secretary mattis and the commander of central command will be giving a full briefing on the strike in syria that occurred today in the department of defense at 3:30. then at 4:00 i'll be back up here for an off camera briefing with director mulvaney was office of management and budget and linda springer for -- regarding the president's executive order on reorganizing
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the executive branch. that gives us three briefings plus this today. not to get you real excited, but we'll have another one tomorrow morning in advance of the nato meeting with the secretary general. this afternoon's briefing we'll be discussing the plan on reforming the federal government and reducing the size of the federal civilian work force that omb was directed to produce by executive order, so we'll be spending a lot of quality time together over the next 48, 24 hours. with that i'd be glad to take a few questions. >> russia, does the administration believe that russia had any advanced knowledge of the chemical attack in syria and does the administration believe that russia may have been complicit in these attacks? >> i believe there was a background briefing earlier today where that was discussed. at this time there's no consensus in the intelligence community that's the case. >> is there any thought within the intelligence community or -- >> again, at this point the only
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thing i'm going to say is there's no consensus within the intelligence community that there was involvement. >> today in the background briefing, officials accused russia of assad's use of chemical weapons. in the past putin calling them very smart. does he still think putin is very smart? does that change the relationship? >> a couple things. number one i think the president made it clear from the beginning that he entered office thinking that if he can get a deal with russia and our national interest which i discussed during the opening remarks, part of secretary tillerson's conversation with foreign minister lavrov, then we're going to do it. if we can't find an area of interest, then we won't. there's no question that russia is isolated. they have aligned themselves with north korea, syriai, iran.
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that's not exactly a group of countries you're looking to hang out with. with the exception of russia, they're all failed states. russia is on an island when it comes to its support of syria or its lack of frankly acknowledgement of what happened. the facts are on our side. it's re it's -- russia needs to hold themselves up to. so i think the president has been very clear with his stance on russia and in this particular case we're going to be very forceful and as well secretary tillerson during his visit to make sure that we make -- make sure that we let russia know that they need to live up to the obligations that it has made. >> the administration has said sanctions against syria are forthcoming. what will those look like and when can we expect those? >> great question. i think you know well enough at this point that we're not going to announce any of that kind of
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action until it's ready to go. i think the president has made it clear that additional action with respect to syria in terms of its failure to stop engaging in actions that harm its people will result in action. and so i'm not going to get ahead of what he's planning to announce or when, but as he has made clear on a variety of circumstances, he's not one to telegraph his actions until he's ready to make those announcements. >> has the administration identified an opposition party that could come to power in syria if there is a regime change? >> i think first and foremost, and i stated this yesterday and will state again, that our number one goal did s to defeat isis. i think secondly, the political conditions that are exist in syria right now are such that what we need russia and others to do is to help create a political environment in which the syrian people can choose a leader that is more suited to them. i think getting into who that should be, i think what we're trying to do right now is shape
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the environment to allow the syrian people to determine >> i'm going to change the topic. mark meadows said earlier this morning that he thinks, quote, we're very close as it relates to health care and that two options were given to the house speaker. does the white house believe that you're very close on health care and have you signed off on those two options? >> well, two things. one, we're getting closer and closer every day. this has been a process that, as you know, the chief staff, vice president and others have been extremely engaged in behind the scenes. we clearly are getting closer. more votes are moving in our direction. and these ideas are helpful. i would say we feel very good about the direction that this is going. i know with respect to a couple
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of the proposals that congressman meadows is suggesting and part of those has to be, again, figuring out whether or not those attract additional votes and gain additional support and don't detract. i know it sounds very simple. but that's what this process has been about. he's reviewing a couple of the provisions to the ongoing amendment. it's not a question of us signing off. i think we're good with the direction that this is going as long as it continues to grow the vote. a lot of these provisions that are being discussed gives the state the ability to enact certain provisions, which is giving more competition and more choice to the people in the state. >> secondly, the video being played across television, united airlines, do you think the government should investigate the industry as a whole as it relates to passenger treatment?
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>> i would just say i think clearly -- law enforcement is reviewing that situation. there is plenty of law enforcement to review a situation like that and i know united airlines has said they are reviewing their own policies. let's not get ahead of where that review goes. it was an unfortunate incident. clearly when you watch the video, it is troubling to see how that was handled, but i'm not going to -- they have clearly stated their desire to review the situation. law enforcement is reviewing it and for us to start to get in front of what should be a very simple -- a local matter, not necessarily not needing a federal response. hallie? >> has the president seen that video? >> i'm sure he has. i don't think anyone looks at that video isn't disturbed. but again, one thing to
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understand is when there's an event like this, for a president to weigh in pro or con, i don't want to get involved in it but clearly a human being being dragged down an aisle and watching blood roll down their face, i don't think you can't sit back and say this could have been handled better. but again, i don't think that it is my place to get in the middle of judging how a company dealt with this. there is clearly going to be enough review both on the corporate side and law enforcement side on how this was handled. but i think from a human-to-human standpoint, to watch a human being get dragged down the aisle and not think that it could have been handled better, i think we can all agree on that. >> two questions. first, foreign policy. one on syria.
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this administration is beginning to fight for its travel ban that would limit refugees coming in from syria. the president spoke very starkly about how affected he was about the images that he's seen in his youngest victims. >> yes. >> there have been refugees that have -- it's been heart-wrenching. is the president thinking about revising that aspect of his travel ban? >> in terms of letting them in? the refugees are not looking to flee. >> those that are. >> right. and i think the number one goal of this president is to make sure that we protect our people, our country and to keep those people from having to flee. they have family there. and so that's our number one goal, creating a safer environment, de-escalated the environment. the u.s. has been extremely supportive when it comes to the financial piece of this.
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that's why, you know, with the consent and guidance of his national security team, it was very extreme -- it was moving. i don't think you can watch those things -- not that you should -- when you see in particular young babies and children being gassed, it should move any human being that has a heart. but that partially dealt with why he acted to decisively. to see an individual, assad, in that regime to act in a way that reacted to literally see someone use gas and as pointed out, you think about that, it's in the same category as nuclear weapons for a reason. it is that lethal, that deadly, that horrific that when you
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recognize that use of chemical weapons is put in the same category, because of what it does to an individual, and the nature of an attack like that, even first responders, if you saw some of the tape we're getting that is grossly affected by this, it moved him tremendously. that's why he acted the way he did. >> have you seen the latest provocations from pyongyang, that if china doesn't help, the u.s. will solve the problem. >> right. >> what does he mean by that, the u.s. will solve the problem? >> he's made it very clear that he is not going to tolerate these actions by north korea. he's not one to go out and telegraph his response. i think he keeps all options on the table, his cards close to the vest. as he showed last week with respect to syria when the president was willing to act, it's going to be decisive and proportional to make it clear
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that's the position -- as you know, when the president is ready to act, he make it is very clear and i think there's no question when the president is ready to make a statement, he will do that but i think he's made it clear with respect to north korea that their behavior and action with respect to the missile launches is not tolerable. for that matter, any other country in any other set of human beings. we need stability in that region and i think he's put them clearly on notice. john? >> thanks a lot. the alliance between russia and syria is a strong one. it goes back decades. president putin has provided help to the assad government. what makes you think at this point he's going to pull back his support for assad and the syrian government right now? >> i think a couple things. you look -- we used chemical weapons in world war ii.
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you had a -- someone who is despicable as hitler who didn't even -- using chemical weapons. you have to, if you're russia, ask yourself, is this a country and regime you want to align yourself with? you have previously signed on to international agreements saying that chemical weapons should be out of bounds for any country. this is -- russia put their name on the line. so it's not a question of how long that alliance has lasted but at what point do they recognize that they are now getting on the wrong side of history in a really bad way really quickly. again, look at the countries that are standing with him, iran, syria, north korea. this is not a team you want to be on. and i think that russia has to recognize while they may have had an alliance, the lines that have been crossed are ones that no country should ever want to
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see another country cross. >> first of all, we're coming up on tax day. when does the white house plan on releasing president trump's 2016 tax returns and are there any concerns about reflecting on the tax debate. second, how many people are you expecting to the easter egg roll? >> those are two tough ones. so on the first one, we've asked and answered that several times and the president has been under audit. we filed our financial disclosure forms in a way for everyone to understand. our tax return clearly lists how much money you make, how much tax you paid. when you list a financial disclosure, it lists where you're getting your money from. it's a much more comprehensive understanding. this question has been asked and answered over and over again.
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the american people are, frankly the middle class in particular, are much more concerned about tax reform and allowing our economy to grow and the bottom line to grow. with respect to the easter egg roll, that's a huge topic. i think we're going to have an excellent time. there will be a large military contingent as well. there's five waves over two-hour periods in which children and their families can come to the white house. we've done extensive community outreach to bring the school children from the area in and it's going to be a great day. i don't have the