tv Smerconish CNN April 14, 2018 3:00pm-4:00pm PDT
is the trump administration being clear about its next red line? one time shot. that's how defense secretary james mattis describes the u.s. led action in syria. president trump is calling it a sustained response. is the commander in chief on the same page as the pentagon brass? trump allies are anxious right now as the president's lawyer is under criminal investigation and facing a new court order. the michael cohen's case putting mr. trump in more legal jeopardy than the special counsel's russia probe? could trump team bracing for the first full tv interview with fired fbi director james comey about his tell off book. standby for a brand new clip from comey. will it enrage the white house? we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room."
we're following breaking news on the air strikes in syria and what happens next. the u.s. ambassador to the u.n. is warning in stark terms that american forces are locked and loaded to strike again if syria crosses president trump's red line on using chemical weaponing. mr. trump using colorful and questionable language of his own declaring quote, mission accomplished. the president taking something of a victory lap even as he's fuming over the criminal investigation of his lawyer michael cohen and the release of james comey's new book. i'll talk to republican congress will herd. our correspondents and analysts are all standing by. let's go to our chief white house correspondent. what's the message from the trump white house tonight? >> wolf, we heard this earlier today. the white house is putting the syrian government on notice there could be more air strikes if chemical weapons are used
against innocent civilians in syria. that's despite the fact president trump tweeted this morning it was missioned accomplished in syria. a phrase that harkens back to the bush administration when george w. bush used that phrase mission accomplished before the war in iraq dragged on for years. it was a sobering message delivered to syria backed by u.s. military mite. >> we are prepared to sustain this response until the syrian regime stops the use of prohibited chemical agents. >> reporter: while the pentagon insists u.s. forces along with britain and france achieve objectives. it's one of president trump's tweets that misfired. he tweeted a perfectly executed strike last night thanks to france and the united kingdom.
could not have had a better result. mission accomplished. that phrase mission accomplished was afl a flash back to 2003. heifer otherwise shoulder was a banner reading mission accomplished. >> major combat operations in iraq have ended. in the battle of iraq, the united states and our allies have prevailed. >> reporter: even mr. trump supporters are cringing. i would have recommended ending this tweet with not those two words. asked about the president's confidence, the pentagon didn't disagree with the commander in chief. >> last night operations were very successful. we met our objectives. we hit the sites. the heart of the chem weapons program.
it was mission accomplished. >> reporter: the air strikes may not have neutralized the chemical weapons threat in syria say fg this does not succeed we will be prepared to act again which means the age old question have returned. how does the u.s. define success and how long will that take? two weeks after mr. trump raised the prospect of removing u.s. troops from syria. >> i want to get out. i want to bring our troops back home. i want to start rebuilding our nation. >> reporter: bademocrats are raising questions. >> i cannot tell you what this administration's policy is towards syria. one week ago he was talking about entirely pulling out. that ended up giving -- appeared to give a green light to assad and you saw how he took that green light in terms of gassing innocents, including women and children. >> reporter: the other question is how to handle two biggest backers, russia and iran. >> i ask what kind of a nation
wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children? >> reporter: vice president pence continued that tough talk at the summit of americas in peru. >> our message to russia is you're on the wrong side of history. >> reporter: the president will be splitting his time discussing the fats of another rogue regime. that's north korea. another foreign policy crisis with no easy answers. getting back to that conversation about the president's use of the phrase mission accomplished. it's not mission accomplished if syria uses chemical weapons. >> good point. thank you. tonight u.s. military leaders are assessing the impact of the overnight air strikes and planning for the possibility of any future attacks. let's go to our pentagon correspondent barbara starr. james mattis isn't using words
like locked and loaded and mission accomplished. >> he is not. he's a very cautious man. he knows that syria still has a considerable chemical weapons potential capability. this was a limited strike and nobody's predicting it's the end of bashar al assad. >> reporter: a message from donald trump to bashar al assad and his russian masters. firing more than 100 missiles into the heart of syria's chemical weapons program. >> i spoke to the president this morning. he said if the syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the united states is locked and loaded. >> reporter: defense secretary james mattis in the late night pentagon briefing not shutting the door to future military action but also not saying what would lead to more air strikes. >> right now this is a one time shot and i believe itd sent a very strong message to dissuade
him from doing this again. >> reporter:-shortly after these horrific videos emerged of an april 7th chemical weapons attack in a damascus suburb that the pentagon began planning for military strikes. the target list, a chemical research center in damascus and two chemical weapons in equipment storage facilities located west of homes. the pentagon said there were no reports of civilian casualties and all the military objectives for this strike were achieved. >> i believe we took the heart of it out with the attacks accomplished last night. i won't say they will be unable to conduct a chemical attack in the future. i suspect they will think long and hard about it. >> reporter: the strike began at 4:00 a.m. with a barrage of 105 missiles launched by the u.s., french and british militaries.
it was carried out by three u.s. c warships and a u.s. submarine. the french launched from a ship. in the air two b-1 bombers launched strikes along with french and british fighter jets. it's located in damascus. missiles made it past heavy air defenses without being shot down. >> it does not exist anymore. we believe they have lost a lot of equipment. they've lost a lot of material and it will have a significant effect on them. i think the words cripple and degrade are good, accurate words. >> reporter: as bashar al assad calmly walked into work today, it's unclear if he's hearing those words. the big worry has been reaction from the russians. worried about russian military escalation. so far that's not happened. officials say they see no
reaction from moscow other than a lot of angry words. >> thank you. the u.n. security council has rejected a russian resolution condemning strikes on syria. do these strikes change the situation on the ground? >> i really don't think they do, wolf. as vice president pence had said today and nikki haley, perhaps the syrian chemical weapons program has been degraded. it's not crippled because as we just heard barbara talk about there's chemical weapons arsenal or capabilities. at the same time if you think about the syrian civil war that's been going on, bashar al assad has killed nearly 500,000, half a million syrians and most have not been from chemical weapons. even if he thinks the calculus is the use of chemical weapons is too hot, he still has these brutal barrel bombs and other
means of attacking and killing his people. >> how does russia fit into this? >> not only is russia ssyria's biggest backer but iran and turkey now. you hear about all the the diplomats want to make this c concerted effort. there's no military solution to end the civil war. it's going to be russia who has to put the pressure on assad and iran to find a political solution. that's where thest maybe when president trumps talks about this sustained diplomatic and economic campaign, maybe the pressure is not so much on syria because there's already a lot of sanctions and pressure on syria. maybe it's on russia. >> just over two weeks ago, president trump said he wants u.s. troops out of syria and his word very soon. can that still be achieved? >> the two goals that president trump has said stopped the syrians from using chemical weapons and get the u.s. out.
that's a little bit inconsistent. if he wants to make sure there's no more use of chemical weapons, he wants to thwart iran. i don't know that u.s. troops would stay there indefinitely. part of the problem is the u.s. does not have a sustained strategy. you heard senator lindsey graham come out with a tough station that he's afraid there's a strategy and that's to get out. he says the u.s. needs a long term and sustained engagement in syria to make sure this never happens again. >> thanks very much for that analysis. joining us now, congressman will herd. thanks for joining us. do you agree with president trump that this is mission
accomplished? >> i think the attacks last night, hundred plus missiles were successful in hitting their targets and doing the damage. we still have a civil war going on in syria. you still have bashar al assad in power being able to kill many of his own countrymen. that's not a success. i think until bashar al assad leaves, i would say the broader goals in the region have not been accomplished. >> are these strikes overnight going to change bashar al assad's behavior? do you see any indication at all? >> some of the positives from the strikes. one, it was multilateral. the fact that we did there side by side with our british friend, with our french friends is very important. the fact the germans were supportive of this effort.
the fact the turks was supportive as well and their foreign ministry came out with a show of support on this. turkey has been a tricky partner. they have been tricky. they had recent conversations with the iranians and the russians. the fact the turks are getting on our side. the fact the syrian missile defense did not work is a pretty significant change in our cunniku understanding of the battle space. the fact that one of the strikes was inside damascus and their missile defense shot after our attacks with over. not only are the syrians scratching their head about maybe we aren't as protected as we think we are but russians are doing that as well. that alone changes the
calculation. did we get rid of all of the it? no. i think asad knows that if he uses chemical weapons he can see an escalation of what we saw last night since it was significant escalation from a year ago when assad used chemical weapons back then. these are the issues they need to be thinking about. the russians and the iranians need to be doing everything to push assad to participate in the geneva process. this is already a u.n. established process to solve this civil war and i believe assad must go. >> that's the point i was going to ask you. do you believe the u.s. strategy should be regime change, getting rid of bashar al assad? >> i think when people say regime change, there's a connotation there's going to be troops go in, knocking down
doors. you can have regime change happen diplomatically. the geneva process is already established once there's an agreement, there should be elections 18 months after that agreement. there no specific talk about what should happen with assad. my opinion he has to go. he's killed as the previous commentator said more than half a million of his own countrymen. a lot of those brutally. i think you can see a change in the political dynamic there in syria with a process that's supported by the u.n. >> i asked the question congressman because lieutenant general mckinzey is the director. he said if the u.s. goal in syria was to destroy isis. he repeatedly said the u.s. goal in syria was not regime change.
>> the fact that isis is on the run and we have taken away a lot of significant amount on their territory, we cannot let syria be place for any kind of terrorist group like isis to train, equip and plan attacks on our homeland to use it as a base of operation to inspire attacks in our homeland. that is why this is a strategic concern and something that we have to commit resources to so we can't let this be a place where people can attack us. the best way to do that is through a political process that's already been accomplished through the geneva conversations. >> has the u.s. already sent a
message to bashar al assad that he and his regime can use other forums of military aggression, including the barrel bombs. has the u.s. sent a message with impunity has long as you don't use chemical weapons? >> i don't think so. i don't think anybody republican or democrat in any branch of government thinks that is okay. >> they've been doing that for seven years. they have killed 500,000 syrians. almost all of them muslims. they have killed so many people over these past seven years and all have been killed with con where she thin -- conventional weapons. >> that's why assad should go. we should use financial sanctions in order to push the
iranians and russians to get assad to participate in a d diplomatic conclusion to the civil war. this kind of activity we're not going to accept it. >> this slaughter started in march of 2011. it's an awful situation. what are members of congress doing to end this slaughter? >> the push we have on sanctions on russia continuing to reevaluate the iran deal or the jcpoa and iran's role in the world. we should be continuing to put more pressure on them. there's been recent sanctions that came from the house that was put into place.
these are some of the active tis that should be continuing and we see many members in congress advocate for. i know many members of congress are working with our nato allies in order to talk to them about increasing their defense spending to also make sure that their focusing on the threat of russia and one of those issues being not just russia's activities in our lerelection. not only activity in maldova but actives in syria as well. >> these are tough issues. i know you're grappling like so many of your colleagues are grappling with them as well. thanks for joining us. >> always a pleasure. just ahead, exclusive reporting on the evidence seized in the raids of the president's personal lawyers. what will tapes of phone conversations between cohen and stormy daniels former lawyer reveal. will the porn star be face-to-face with cohen in a
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appear in court in new york city on monday. cnn has exclusive reporting on the recordings seized in these fbi raids. what can you tell us? >> these are recordings that we believe are on his phone. conversations he was having with people and we learned from the government's filing yesterday that they were looking for two cell phones this search warrants that they have in their possession. whatever conversation is on there, they are hoping they can have access to as part of whatever it is they are investigating so this could be directly -- there could be direct nfginformation in his ow words they can use dpens him
these search warrants at his office and they want to limit the government in the access that they get of seeing this material. they are arguing it's impressive lenled. the judge kept asking his attorneys why are you saying this information is privileged. if it's privileged, who does the privilege apply to? through the day he was not able to provide that information. she ordered him to call michael cho cohen and find out. we have this video of him hanging out with his friends.
he claims he wasn't shomoking o day where the judge was growing increasingly frustrated with his attorneys and the lack of information, she got fed up. at the end of the day she said i want your client here on monday because we need some questions answered. the government's position is they are just stalling here and not able to look at this evidence they recovered now. they recovered it monday. we are going into a week. they say it's slowing down their investigation and say think is a stall tactic in trying to prevent the government in proceeding in the investigation. >> there's chance in the federal courtroom that stormy dan yulie the porn star, will be here as well. >> a lot of theater here. he said there's chance he may bring her to court on monday. generally be there as a spectator. think about this. it will be the first time all three of them are there. michael cohen who has been
oerded oerd -- ordered by the judge. michael avenatti and stormy daniels all in the courtroom together. this judge has been very open. this judge in manhattan in allowing people to speak, reporters, lawyers for the press there and trying to keep access open for us. there's chance, who knows, she may allow stormy daniels to speak. michael avenatti who has no measure in this case, she allowed him to speak. >> there's a lot more we're working on. we'll have more on the impact of the air strikes in syria and how president trump has handled the military situation. also, will his mission accomplished declaration come back to haunts him in we're digging deeper on the evidence seized. how vulnerable is mr. trump as michael cohen faces a
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let me read the president's tweet. a perfectly executed strike last night. thank you to france and the united kingdom. could not have had a better result. mission accomplished. your reaction. >> there is an internal logic to that. last year in response to a chemical weapons attack we launched a unilateral strike on one target. this time in response, us, britain, france launched on three targets. did this strike involve the problems of syrian people or solve the problems of the syrian civil war? probably not. in terms of that phrase, mission accomplished. the president is between that and the scooter libby pardon he's bringing back the greatest hits of the bush era. it's like heck of a job trumpy. i'm not sure what he thought bringing everybody's attention back to war we're still in 15 years later.
the missiles that were launched at different officials. >> i think trump did accomplish a missile. i think assad is more embolden after the operation last night because there was a message given that the administration will probably if you listen to nikki haley and the president and not to general mattis, active chemical weapons are used. they would not act to intervene in the syrian civil war or any other instrument of terror that bashar al assad can use. he can use every other arsenal in his tool kit. >> it's to destroy isis and not regime change. you say? >> i say that bashar al assad sai says let me keep ongoing. fully knowing not just the u.s.
uk and france will not intervene to change the course of the war. >> probably saying to himself, i won't use anymore which he wich weapons but other weapons. the pressure clearly is mounting in these criminal investigation into his long term personal taern michael cohen. what are the biggest areas of vulnerability to the president right now as you see it? >> the greatest risk in my mind is that the president falls back on old habits as those that are close to him facing very serious criminal investigations. we heard just yesterday the president called up his long time attorney and confidant. you have to imagine the lawyers for both of those men must not have been thrilled as lawyers
advise clients not to talk in midst of criminal investigations. the president could have easily been calling to say i want to support you. it's a tricky road to go down. the other area here is what affect does the fbi raid on cohen have on the president's mind set going into a potential interview with robert mueller? we know the lawyers for the president have been ongoing negotiations but every one was shook up by the cohen raid and to the extent that talks break down, the risk of a subpoena goes up. >> certainly does. what stood out to you? you were at the court hearing all day on friday. you ahead the u.s. attorney's affidavit that was submitted? >> a lot happened yesterday. in terms of in the courtroom and really the two issues here, one was when the president's attorney all of a sudden, these new attorneys he hired were intervening to try to prevent
the government from reading any of this information that they obtained, that stood out to me. that's the first time we heard the president's lawyers would get involved. because trump was cohen's client, trump is the only one who can waive impressive lepriv. the other thing really that stood out to me was how unprepared michael cohen's attorneys were when they appeared before this federal judge in manhattan. the issue is she wants to know who his clients are. all day they kept going back and forth. the judge and michael cohen's attorneys. tell us who your clients are that you claim need privilege protection from. they have not been able to do so so far. the government is arguing the only client that they know that michael choen has is the president. outside of that based on whatever information they have, they've done other search warrants, covert search warrants
and they know based on everything they've seen. the only client michael cohen has had was the president. the other thing these documents, wolf. they really tell us a lot. it seems the government is targeting specific areas of this investigation. they say this has to do with personal business dealings of michael cohen and the search warrants they vealed what they were looking for the areas was his resident and hotel room. then they added for the first time we learned they wanted access to his safety deposit box and to cell phones. they arie ine looking for some . >> yesterday the deputy white house press secretary told me the president still considers cohen to be his lawyer. a lot of people sense and i'm anxious to get your thought, is this potentially a turning point what we're seeing now? >> it would be. now you have the president and michael cohen looking at each
other and wondering where does the loyalty end. michael cohen hasn't been indicted but charges with bank fraud, wire fraud and other char charges. he might be pressed by fbi and prosecutors to reveal evidence in a deal so they can further go after the president. the same time the president knows he's trying to keep an arms length distance from this. at some point his loyalty to michael cohen may be tested. >> we know hooe under criminal investigation and has been for months. he hasn't been charnled with any crimes. everybody stick around. there's a lot more we're watching including james comey speaking out about why he handled the clinton e-mail investigation the way he did. you'll hear from his latest comments and we'll get the reaction. machine better, faster" by daft punk is heard throughout.) (sound of typing) (sound of exhaling)
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>> i hope not. i don't know. i honestly don't know. the honest answer is it wouldn't change the way i think about it. my hope, i didn't write the book for this reason but it was important to tell the e-mail story because it's me trying to figure out how to lead well. the people will read that story and try to put themselves in my shoes. try to realize i'm not trying to help a candidate or hurt a candidate. i'm trying to do the right thing. you can come up with different conclusions, reasonable people would have chosen a different door for reasonable reasons but it's just not fair to say we were doing it for some ill legitimate reason. >> at some level wasn't the decision to reveal influence by your assumption that hillary clinton was going to win and you're concerned she wins this comes out several weeks later and that's taken by her opponent she's an ill legitimate president? >> it must have been.
i was operating in a world where hillary clinton was going to beat donald trump. i'm sure that it was a factor. i don't remember spelling it out but it had to have been. she's going to be elected president and if i hide this from the american people, she'll be ill legitimate the moment she's elected. the moment this comes out. >> if you knew that letter would elect donald trump, you'd still send it? >> i would. that was a question asked by one of my best people who was a very thoughtful and quiet person. who didn't speak a lot. she asked should you consider what you're about to do will make donald trump president. i paused and said thank you for asking that question. that's a great question. the answer is not for a moment because down that path lies the death of the fbi as an independent force in american life. if i ever start considering whose political fortunes will be basic e
affected by a decision. we're done. we're no longer that group in america that's apart from the partisans and can be trusted. we're another player in the tribal battle. >> there's no pres dent for putting out information like this at the end of a campaign. >> i've never heard of it before. i think i did it the way that it should have been done. i'm not certain of that. other people might have had a different view. >> what do you make of that? >> the way that director comey answered that question is it's dicy. it gives an opportunity for democrats to say he did play a bit of politics at the end of the campaigns and give republicans and president trump to say, look, he's not dealing squarely. he was not just a law man. he was putting his thumbs on the scale. why don't you think he'll do it again. he didn't break the law two weeks before the election by bringing that information forth. he went against departmental
guidelines. he was in a tough position knowing information might come out and he made a decision to get it out there rather than suppress it and have it come out after the fact. you take the good and you take the bad with. if you're a republican, you say why didn't he charge secretary clinton in the summer of 2016. if you're a democrat, you say why did he come out and brief congress two weeks before the election. it goes both ways. >> he was talking about the hillary clinton e-mail investigation publicly, including 11 days before the election. they started an investigation of russian meddling in the u.s. presidential election and allegations of trump campaign collusion with the russians. he never spoke about that investigation in july, august, september, october, leading up to the election. >> indeed. that's why i have a basic question here. what was the law enforcement reason that director comey decided to publicize the sfrgs when he did. the fbi is a primary law enforcement agency in the united
states and director comey made this decision based upon a perception of how secretary clinton would look if elected president. i have yet to hear any explanation what the law enforcement basis was for making this decision. it wasn't illegal but it was an inappropriate use of the office. >> two things. i know exactly what you're saying. when he told congress that he would update them if any new information came to light. the other thing is that the law enforcement reason ning his mind whether it's legit or not, not sure, was he was protecting the fbi's reputation. >> i will say there was a concern among the fbi that i remember because covering this, that this was going to get out. this was going to leak out. there were some very unhappy fbi agents also and how comey went ahead and handled this. there was some concern that it was loigoing to leak out. the other thing is that as you said, guaranteed to congress. that he would come back if anything new happened. however, there's been this
criticism that had he just waited a few days, a week or so when they had reviewed, this was about the weiner laptop. maybe waited to see what was on the happen top. >> and you've been doing serious reporting on rod rosenstein, who has come under enormous criticism. what are you learning? >> well, wolf, we got something of a puzzle piece that we have been try iing to nail down for while. you know, the question had always been if robert mueller is looking into the firing of james comey as part of a potential obstruction of justice issue, then how can rosenstein, who wrote the memo, outlining all the reasons james comey would be fired, how could he still oversee the probe? rosenstein all alopg had said if i need to recuse, i will, but never went farther than that. but i learned the week he has been in consultation with the senior career ethics adviser at
the justice department on this issue and i'm told he has followed that person's advice. so it's not as if he's just saying trust me, i'm looking into it. he has followed through on this. now obviously, that hasn't stopped the attacks from president trump's allies and supporters who want to understood mine roundermine rosenste rosenstein's credibility. you have salary yates tweeting out if he's fired, it's an unconscionable attack on the rule of law. >> everybody stick around. more news we're following including in syria. a day after the u.s. and its allies launched missiles at syrian chemical sites. we'll take you live to northern syria for the latest op the ground. i'm not a bigwig.
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breaking news. the u.s. ambassador to the united nations warning syria that the united states is quote locked and loaded. for more strikes if the bashar al assad regime uses poison gas again. let's go to nick peyton walsh in northern syria. what's the latest you're picking up there? >> well, at this point, i think the element of syria getting up and dusting itself off and realizing it wasn't quite as bad as they had thought. we've seen images of the
research facility. the rubble there. that shows they want people to realize they were hit, but they claim a facility was spared. now, we've seen seens of syrians out in the street trying tho show that life is normal. al assad walking, sauntering into work through a nice, shiny marble reception room. we should point out just in the last sort of hours or so, some syrian observers, monitors, have suggested there's been a substantial unexplained explosion near aleppo at a base facility often used by iranian militia. unclear what that is. but more broadly, i think the syrian regime will be looking back at this thinking it could have been so much worse potential ly. had the hawkish side of donald trump and prapts john bolton got their way over the pentagon here. and clearly, there's a message that chemical weapons should not
be used, yet the penalty for that not that severe, wolf. >> is there any indication when the u.s. ambassador says u.s. military is locked and loaded that more strikes could be on the way? >> no. at this point. i think it's been interesting to observe exactly how the parameters in donald trump's speech and secretary mattis. this is about one singular 70-minute long window in which minimal, frankly damage was done. the pentagon saying we've set them back years. since they supposedly gave up the chemical weapons in 2013, there probably wasn't a lot to destroy, but back in april last year, 20% of their air force ooempb we were taken out by at tomahawk missiles, but last night,
destruction does appear to have been about a series of buildings near damascus. they were mostly unoccupied at that stage, so you have to wonder if the night shift, have they been taken out because it's on twitter from donald trump or not watching news any way. interesting questions, wolf. >> be careful over there. we'll stay in touch with you. thanks so much. that's it for me. thanks voery much for watching. a special "anderson cooper 360" starts right now. good ooempk. president trump calls it mission accomplish ed in syria. tonight. new detail on the mission and what it accomplished. new questions about the strategy and whether 105 cruise missiles, the people of syria are any safer tonight. also, we'll talk more about the historical residents of those two words. mission accomplished. a perfectly executed strike. thank you to france and the united kingdom
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