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EARLY START

Trump: Gas Attack Changed His View of Syria; Trump's Summit with Chinese President Xi; Trump Removes Steve Bannon from NSC; Forty Plus Companies Pull 'O'Reilly Factor' Ads; Kansas High School Principal Resigns. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:11] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump combative and candid following the chemical attack in Syria. Why he says he's changing his view on Syria. One of the many issues connecting for this first big foreign policy passed to this administration. That was the backdrop of the most important global relationship that between President Xi and President Trump, another chapter in that today when they meet.

Thanks for getting in the early start with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to see everybody this morning, I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, April 6th, it is 4:00 a.m. in the east.

President Trump is facing his first major foreign policy test and responding with outrage to a chemical weapon in attack in Syria that killed scores of civilians. The president is now signaling in major change in his Syria policy in the wake of that attack. As recently as last week, the administration said that ousting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was no longer a U.S. priority. That was a week ago.

BRIGGS: What an evolution here. But at a Rose Garden news conference, President Trump blamed the attack on Assad, condemning it as, quote, heinous. He also hinted that the U.S. might take action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much. I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. 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. It crossed a lot of lines for me.

When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies. That crosses many, many, lines beyond the red line. Many, many lines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The president was also asked about an earlier White House statement that blamed the attack in part on President Obama. President Trump said the responsibility is now his and he'll, quote, carry it very proudly of President Obama's failure to resolve this Syria problem. Mr. Trump said it was a great opportunity missed.

The Syrian attack is not the president's only foreign policy priority today. He's also set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar- a-Lago state. With North Korea's missile launched, and the president's long history of tough talk about China as the backdrop for Xi' visit.

For more on what we can expect of this U.S.-China summit, let's bring in CNN's Matt Rivers in Beijing. Good morning to you Matt. All eyes around the globe on this meeting. What is on the top of the agenda?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you said it right off the bat. This is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. The first time these two presidents will be meeting. There's no shortage of things to talk about but I think we can expect North Korea to take top billing on the agenda here, given their most recent ballistic missile test, given that we have heard both sides that they agree that North Korea's ongoing nuclear weapons development program is a problem. Both sides disagree however on how best to stop it.

That the Chinese say the United States needs directly negotiate with the regime. The U.S. says China needs to use economic leverage over Pyongyang to get them to stop doing what they're doing. Beyond North Korea, you can expect both sides to also talk about trade. President Trump frequently targeting China on the campaign trail and after taking office for what he calls unfair trade practices. So it'll be very interesting.

Does the president bring up things like possible tariffs on Chinese imports? Does he bring up currency manipulations? Some of his threats that he's had in the past. It will be interesting to see how much President Xi pushes back on his end.

And one more note guys, what make for a very interesting photo app. A Chinese official here in Beijing tells me that both sides are negotiating what could be a joint press availability. Nothing is set his tone as of yet but the Chinese president never hardly ever takes questions from the press if an American reporter gets to question him. That would be very, very interesting.

BRIGGS: That's a very, very scripted regime. Matt River, it should be fascinating. Thank you.

ROMANS: There is so much going on and such a big test of this young presidency. I want to bring in CNN chief international correspondent, our friend Christiane Amanpour. She is live from London.

You listened Christiane yesterday to the president and to Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the U.N. talked about the atrocities in Syria. The president saying he's changed his mind on Bashar al-Assad on the situation in Syria. What can he do if indeed he has changed his mind and now he's changing his policy on Syria? Christiane, what can he do about it?

[04:05:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the thing Christine. I really listened very, very carefully and I nearly leapt out of my seat when I heard President Trump describing in such vivid and horrendous detail the crimes that were committed against those children, women, and others, the civilians in Syria just this week. And really, it was a 180 that the president did on Assad and on Syria. And he said it himself that he's changed his attitude because of that attack.

And he kept doubling down on his comments about how it passed not just red lines but beyond red lines. And he said, you know, the civilized world cannot tolerate this in front. That combined with what Nikki Haley's said in the U.N. Security Council about having to go it alone if necessary. Combined with what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that actually blaming, saying we have no doubt that it was the Assad regime. Combined with what the Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox News that all options are on the table.

This is the kind of rhetoric that lays the way or has historically paved the way for some kind of military action. That is the kind of rhetoric that historically has done that. Whether or not this happens remains to be seen but clearly this is a major, major turning point because it is clear that Assad which thought he had won the war with the fall of Aleppo is not stopping his depravity against his own people backed by Russia and Iran. And so, there are military options that the president could take should he saw desire to do so.

Many have suggested that the U.S., France, Britain, allies were already in the sky and in the air bombing ISIS targets could very easily, without harming Russia, bomb the military airfield and disable President Assad's aircraft which are the only aircraft flying with these kinds of barrel bombs and massive destructive capacity.

BRIGGS: So, if in fact military action is taken, this is not -- though it's a heinous and despicable act by the Assad regime, it's not a noted departure for him. So did this --

AMANPOUR: Well --

BRIGGS: -- suggest a global change in the president's world view? This has not impact our security nor our financial interest. Is "America first" now on the back seat?

AMANPOUR: Well, no, of course not. I mean, "America first" is the president's policy but here's the thing. You have seen and the president have seen that the Syria war and the overspill effects whether its refugees and the allied countries around, whether its refugees who are trying to come to Europe, the way it's affected the politics of the whole western world over the last, plus the rise of ISIS is a direct result of this war being allowed to fester with no containment and no control.

So I think the president is now seeing that these facts are real, that we've seen these facts unfold relentlessly in this direction, now going into its seventh year. This war is now longer than World War II. It has created the most civilian casualties in modern times, the most refugees in modern times, and it has caused the rise of ISIS. And that is Assad that has done that and now backed by Russia and Iran. So there has to be, if the president so decide, a strategy that has some punitive effect.

Stop Assad thinking that he can get away with this kind of mass slaughter with impunity and of course there is some onus on this administration because over the last few days as you pointed out, they have talked about not focusing on removing President Assad. And of course you've seen many people believing that that gives at least a green light to Assad's continued depravity.

ROMANS: Christiane, what do you make of the fact that Nikki Haley had very sharp words, the U.N. ambassador -- the ambassador to the U.N. had very sharp words for Russia. The president did not mention Russia in his remarks yesterday.

AMANPOUR: Well, look, this is obviously a very, very complicated story between the Trump administration and Russia but Rex Tillerson did, basically saying on the back of what Nikki Haley said that Russia needs to now, you know, face up to the facts, face reality, and hopefully dissuaded from -- dissuade itself from continuing to support Bashar al-Assad. Now, we've heard today from the Russian foreign ministry that Russia backs Assad which in their words is the legitimately elected president of Syria. And they say, what is America's plan?

So, you know, there's always been this problem between the United States and Russia over Syria and it predates Trump. But I think the president -- there must be some way to be able do this without harming Russian interests, without, you know, without risking any kind of war with Russia. Even perhaps going so far as to try to figure out safe zones in Northern Syria, in Southern Syria, you know, on the Jordan border, on the Turkish border, inside Syria to protect some of these civilians.

And I think maybe the world needs to just watch and see how Russia deals and supports these barbarians. And how the United States has been very, very careful in its military intervention for instance in Mosul and elsewhere. So it is possible to do this kind of thing without causing the kind of casualties that Syria and Russia are causing right now.

BRIGGS: Of course there is also the question of what to do about nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

AMANPOUR: Yes.

[04:10:03] BRIGGS: And with that backdrop the president meets with President Xi today. Two-day meetings begin in Mar-a-Lago today. What's a realistic goal for the United States when it comes to containing that nuclear threat from North Korea? Even leaving trade and currency manipulation off the table for a moment?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, this is why these two days are some of the most important in terms of foreign policy for this administration. In one fell swoop, President Trump is facing two of the biggest problems in the world right now. We've talked about Syria, but North Korea is even perhaps more lethally dangerous because of its nuclear capability. So, you know, the United States policy is to rely on China and try to convince President Xi that he has to be the burden -- the bolder that comes down on the leader of North Korea and convince Kim Jong-un that he cannot continue with this nuclear program. But it's not working. For whatever reason the Chinese don't have this faith and sanctions of the United States do. And also so far, the lack of diplomacy has just seen North Korea race ahead and developed its nuclear capability. And now, its ballistic missile capability and its intercontinental ballistic missile capability.

These are incredibly dangerous developments. And so I have asked the experts what they think should be the president's tag. And they say, even as on palatable as it might seem, politically for the United States, there must be some kind of negotiations, not just relying on sanctions. President Trump is the ultimate negotiator, and obviously knows that in negotiations there has to be some give and take. So, they're pointing to other negotiations in which, you know, they're carrots and not just sticks.

But I asked of former Defense Secretary William Perry who is one of the closest observers and has some of the closest relationships with North Korea and in that region. If he was advising Rex Tillerson, he would say I would urge the secretary of state and the president to convince, you know, China to open a diplomatic route towards North Korea, and to partake in that diplomatic route as the United States as well.

ROMANS: Fascinating. It's so interesting because they said earlier this week -- Rex Tillerson said we have nothing left to say on this subject. So, you know, it's such an interesting response overall. OK, Christiane Amanpour, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Fantastic expertise, we'll talk to you again on the next hour.

BRIGGS: All right, meanwhile, a big shift on the National Security Council. The president top strategist is out. So, who's in and who's put the change in motion? The latest on Steve Bannon, when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:16:47] BRIGGS: President Trump's political guru, the man some call his brains, Steve Bannon seeing his fear of influence at the White House shrink quite a bit. The president removing his chief strategist from the National Security Council. The shakeup amounting to a demotion for Bannon said to be orchestrated by a National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. We got more now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: (Inaudible) foreign policy challenges are testing this Trump presidency unlike they have in the first 11 weeks in office. There are suddenly a shakeup from the National Security Council. Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist who is a part of that principal's committee, named in the early days of this administration was suddenly on Wednesday removed form that principal's committee. Now, this is saying that General H.R. McMaster, the security -- National Security Adviser here at the White House is exerting his influence.

Steve Bannon taken off that principal's committee and two other people put back on, returning back to the traditional structure here of the National Security Council. Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff are returning to the principal's committee at the National Security Council, Steve Bannon stepping a side here.

Now, this again is a -- seen as major shakeup because Steve Bannon, largely one of the most influential advisers inside this White House with a portfolio spinning from domestic affairs to foreign policy will still being involved of course but by not having a seat at the table which was very unusual at the time. It's certainly is giving more power to the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. So, a bit of inside baseball staff changing here but so significant that Steve Bannon we are told having a more diminished role now and the new national security advisor empowered again. Christine and Dave?

BRIGGS: Jeff Zeleny, thank you. Bannon is not completely out of the mix. A senior administration official tells CNN Bannon did attend a National Security Council meeting last night. But a new power center is emerging at the White House with Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, considered internal allies of Trump's son-in-law and adviser, and the man Jake Tapper calls the secretary of everything, Jared Kushner. The New York Times reports Bannon discussed quitting over his removal from the National Security Council. The official we spoke to though, heard nothing about that.

ROMANS: People in market calling global Gary, Gary Cohn. They think he ignites a global entities, that person who has like sort of a bigger world view.

BRIGGS: And a growing sphere of influence.

ROMANS: Interesting. Right, history is about to unfold in the Senate. This is the day Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sets the wheels in motion to confirm Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch by rewriting the rules. The first order of business voting to end the Democratic filibuster, Republicans will not have the 60 votes needed to do that. So McConnel is expected as to declare only 51 votes should be required.

He'll trigger the so called nuclear option with the roll call vote. That point of order as expected to pass under that -- pass rather under that scenario. Only a simple majority of the Senate would be needed to change the rules and for Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. All right.

BRIGGS: A dramatic evolution --

ROMANS: It sure is.

BRIGGS: -- we barely have time to get into it.

[04:20:03] ROMANS: I know. There's so much going on. And, this, more advertisers fleeing Bill O'Reilly show on Fox News. Can a long time king of cable news hold on to his job?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMAN: OK, the advertising revolt facing Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show is growing. The question now, can the network, will the network stand by the host and get through this crisis? More than 40 advertisers are now pulling their spots from "The O'Reilly Factor". Forty-eight hours ago that number was just two.

[04:24:59] Right now, it's more than 40 and that's only -- those are only the public names -- the people who publicly disclose -- the companies who publicly disclose their move. Now the network says many are moving the ads to different shows on Fox News so the revenue is still there for the company but it's attached to a different show. The show's bottom line -- the network's bottom line are insulated from this pullback even if it last for a while. Fox makes the bulk of its money from subscription fees. Those are paid by cable providers and are basically the cost to carry the channel.

Regardless, President Trump weighing in on the controversy with in an interview with "The New York Times." He says, quote, he's a good person, meaning Bill O'Reilly. Personally, I think he shouldn't have settled. The president went on to say, quote, I don't think Bill would do anything wrong. The Times says that the conversation was then interrupted by White House communications (inaudible) who asked to change the subject back to infrastructure because the president was tight on time.

BRIGGS: A group of student journalists at a Kansas high school did their homework. Now their incoming principal is out of a job. The students at Pittsburgh High School sit down to do a profile on their new principal, Amy Robertson for the school newspaper.

But, their interview it led to questions about her credentials, specifically about the universities where she got her masters and doctorates degree. Just days after the article was published, Robertson resigned. The school's journalists' adviser says she's proud of her students who worked very hard to uncover the truth. So journalist --

ROMANS: Wow.

BRIGGS: -- is not dead.

ROMANS: What an amazing lesson for the students that the truth matters, right? And what an amazing lesson for them -- yes, (inaudible) knows what happened but you have to be forthright and you have to be honest.

BRIGGS: It's great to know we don't live in a world of Twitter entirely. There still is real journalism --

ROMANS: Real journalism (inaudible).

BRIGGS: All right, President Trump facing a series of global challenges head on. He's welcoming Chinese President Xi after a big shift on Syria following a chemical weapons attack. We break it all down, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)