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Trump Taunts Russia, Vows Missile Strike On Syria; House Speaker Paul Ryan Won't Seek Re-Election; Ryan: Mueller Team Should Be Allowed To Do Their Jobs. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:17]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are standing by and tracking three major stories this morning. First, President Trump says the U.S. military will be striking Syria and announced it on Twitter with this.

"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria, get ready, Russia, because they will be coming nice, new and smart. You shouldn't be partners with a gas killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it."

Russia responding almost immediately with a warning of its own. We are going to hear from the president for the first time since making this threat. Any minute now, we'll bring that to you.

And then there is the shocking announcement from Capitol Hill. House Speaker Paul Ryan will not seek re-election, why? Why now and what does this mean for Republicans up for election in seven months?

More volatility in the Russia investigation, if you can even believe it. Sources tell CNN that President Trump is now thinking about firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and we've learned that the president and his team have been debating for months whether to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

It's clearly been a fast-moving morning of news. So, let's get over to the White House, Kaitlan Collins is there for us. Again, Kaitlan, what are you hearing, if anything, from the White House following the president's tweets, his threat this morning to Syria and Russia.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, there hasn't been any official White House statement, but these statements from the president are official statements from him and on Twitter, he's been saying not only get ready, Russia, because missiles are coming towards Syria.

But he's also been complaining about the relationship between the United States and Russia saying that it's worse than it's ever been including during the cold war and then he blamed that poor relationship on the Mueller investigation tweeting, "Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the fake and corrupt Russia investigation headed up by all Democrat loyalists or people who worked for Obama.

Mueller is most conflicted of all except Rosenstein who signed FISA and Comey letter, no collusion. So, they go crazy." So, you see the president tweeting there essentially saying that this is Mueller's fault, someone we should note, is a Republican.

But those tweets really give you a sense into what the president has been thinking and how the Russia investigation has really consumed the president as he is making the decision as critical as Syria, Kate.

It just goes back to that dinner that he had with those senior military leaders the other night when he brought this up. The first thing right out of the gate he brought out Robert Mueller going after also his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

And it really shows where the president's mindset has been, but also while he's making such a critical decision as one he is on Syria -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. The president will be speaking -- will be before cameras any minute now. There is a bill signing, an unrelated bill signing that's going to be happening. We'll see and bring it to you, and Kaitlan will be with us as well. If he says anything, we'll bring it all to you live when it happens. Thanks, Kaitlan.

So, Russia and Syria, they are both responding to the Pentagon, responding to the president, reacting to Trump's threat of military action. Russia says the U.S. -- that U.S. missiles should fly towards terrorists and not the legal government in Syria and Syria is calling the president's comments a reckless escalation.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live for us at the Pentagon and Barbara is with us now. So, Barbara, what are you hearing from your perch about this tweet?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kate. Mainly the Pentagon referring to the reporters, no surprise, back to the White House for any interpretation of what the president is saying, but there's not much room for interpretation.

You look at that tweet. He says missiles are coming and there's a very interesting word there to key in on. He talks about smart missiles, and the Russians actually responded to that, also talking about smart missiles.

Smart missiles, of course, are the armaments, the missiles and bombs that the U.S. uses these days that are precisely guided to their target by satellite guidance to GPS targets on the ground.

They know exactly where they're hitting. They're very, very precise. The president pretty giving away that game plan. It's not a surprise to the Russians. They know what the U.S. has in inventory, but it is putting out there from a president who said he would never signal his military moves in advance.

So, it's a very interesting political move. Militarily, it is telling the Russians and telling the Syrian regime what they should expect to be happening and when you look at the map, you know, there are only so many directions any attack would come from over the Mediterranean, from the west, over Turkey, from the north.

There's really only so many directions that aircraft and missiles can fly to be able to launch into Turkey. So, this, perhaps, now gives Russian air defenses the missiles and radars that they have inside Syria that can shoot things down.

[11:05:01] It gives them time to get into position and to be ready. This is one of the big concerns right now, the Russians and the Syrians have very heavy air defenses in Western Syria.

If the U.S. decides to fly into that atmosphere, it may be tough going for some missiles. Do not expect to see pilots over Syria. Nobody is about to take that kind of risk -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, but yet, again, as you pointed out, it seems that we don't telegraph our military moves has now gone out the window very quickly with one tweet. Barbara, thank you so much.

STARR: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Let's discuss this and much in this very important moment with Ambassador Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria under President Reagan and President H.W. Bush, and CNN military and diplomatic analyst, John Kirby is here, former spokesman for the pentagon and State Departments under the Obama administration.

Great to see both of you. Thank you so much for being here. Mr. Ambassador, can you give me your initial reaction in all of your time in Washington and politics and in diplomacy to the fact that the president is threatening military action via Twitter this morning?

AMBASSADOR EDWARD DJEREJIAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL AND SYRIA: Well, this is President Trump's modus operandi. It's certainly novel. He -- we had a panel here at Bakers and Rice University and a very bright Rice student characterized President Trump's modus operandi, enrage and engage.

I think that's what you're seeing, enrage and engage, because the tweets that you just mentioned earlier, one is the threatening one of missile strikes and the other one on Russia that he always holds out the hope of holding out the relationship between the United States and Russia.

And you know, not very recently, he invited Putin to come to Washington. So, what you're seeing here is the modus operandi. He's transactional and he likes to disrupt the landscape before he engages.

Now this has very important consequences and some of them can be unintended when you're talking about military action, what is going to be done? He has already struck, as we know, missiles -- with Tomahawk missiles Syrian targets in the last -- also about a year ago.

And so, what is he going to do? Is he going to repeat that? A one- shot affair that really doesn't deter Bashar al-Assad from continuing the use of chemical agents, or is he going to go into a more sustained military policy of not just one strike, albeit perhaps a much larger first strike, but sustained strikes which will then, of course, you start entering the fog of military battles.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you, John. I do want to talk about what this means going forward, but just in this moment, Russia was -- Donald Trump tweets this threat out this morning. Russia responds almost immediately on Facebook. What should people make of the tit for tat this morning? I mean, it seems a pretty scary way to be conducting business here.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, there's definitely a concern and I think a fair concern that they're escalating the tensions here in Syria to a degree that we haven't seen before and making this more about the U.S. versus Russia than about the United States and international community against Bashar al-Assad and his use of chemical weapons against his own people.

And so, yes, there are seven different wars going on in there, Sunni versus Shia, Turkey versus the Kurds, Iran versus Israel, you go on and on. We don't want it to become the U.S. versus Russia. And I think this escalating rhetoric is doing nothing to tamp that down.

He's also getting ahead of his own Pentagon by forcing their hands and to change their own planning procedures as a result of this, and if we conduct this strike with allies, he's very likely getting ahead of their planning processes as well. So, it's reprehensible and irresponsible on many levels.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, if you were in your old post at this morning or let's say you are Russian Ambassador Jon Huntsman in Moscow right now, what are you doing right now?

DJEREJIAN: Well, it's a very difficult position to be in, but fundamentally, the most important thing is to avoid a major escalation with Russia, obviously. Let's not forget the two major nuclear powers in the world remain the United States and Russia.

That's why it's essential that there be somehow a U.S.-Russian dialogue at different levels. We don't have that, and the lack of substantive communications is very dangerous.

The second thing is that Bashar al-Assad is not totally under the control and influence of Russia and even Iran although they have major influence on him because they are the major agents of his survival.

He could not have survived without the support of Russia, Iran and especially Hezbollah and the connection with Iran is obvious. So, the Assad regime, when I was ambassador to Damascus when his father was president, they built up a very substantial chemical weapons arsenal.

[11:05:07] It was there, if you will, a deterrent against Israel's nuclear forces, but they have a lot of experience on the use of WMD and chemical weapons and he has used this, some 85 times, Bashar, besides the chlorine and other chemical agents.

And he will use it again because to him -- to him the issue is a very simple and brutal one, it's his regime survival and he will not stop from any action that in his eyes would keep him in power.

BOLDUAN: Even if there is not one single civilian left to be ruling over in your country. John, you read this today that military response is coming. You read this tweet. All signs seem to be pointing to that.

But in the tweet in any of the signals that are coming from the Pentagon which is not much because they're still deliberating or the White House, do you see any signs that this, with this tweet, with this threat, get ready will also come with a long-term strategy that everyone, pretty much everyone left, right and center said they haven't seen yet?

KIRBY: No, not at all, Kate and that's a real concern here. You know, I mean, what looks like what was supposed to be a retaliatory strike, it's fine, you know, to hit back at Assad's depredations, I get that.

But what this administration has not done and never has tried is to sort of insert itself back into the diplomatic process and to try to find an end to the civil war and have more peaceful future for the Syrian people. They completely advocated any leadership --

BOLDUAN: Obama didn't do it, as you said, there are seven or eight wars going on inside the country and it's not easy, but at this moment, something's got to give.

KIRBY: No argument, and I think you're right. We didn't get there with the Obama administration, but at least we tried, and we were at the table in the U.N. process trying to find a diplomatic solution.

Look, a year ago when he fired those 59 Tomahawks I said that this now maybe gives him the leverage to have more effect on a diplomatic front, and he didn't do it. He simply did the strike and walked back from it again, so we'll see where this goes.

But no, they have not had a comprehensive policy, much less a strategy for where they're going in Syria other than kicking ISIS out and now he's talking about pulling the troops out precipitously from that.

BOLDUAN: Let's see if that's possible to pull troops out and hold bad actors accountable and responsible in country. Ambassador, John, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Amazing what we're looking at this morning in the tweets and now we stand by to see what the action is.

We're also watching breaking news this morning. House Speaker Paul Ryan is announcing he is not run for re-election. Why he says he is leaving Congress and what does this mean for Republicans that are heading into the midterms right now?

Plus, the president's anger toward his own Justice Department is boiling over. It seemed it was boiling over last week and last month. Let's call it a double boil over, I guess, but will he actually fire top officials there? Officials telling CNN the president is considering it at this moment. Stay with us.

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[11:12:11]

BOLDUAN: Also breaking this morning, a GOP exit that doesn't involve a member of the Trump administration, at least at the moment. The top Republican in the House, Speaker Paul Ryan announced just this morning that he will not seek re-election this fall.

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REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: This really was two things. I have accomplished much of what I came here to do, and my kids are aren't getting any younger, and if I stay they're only going to know me as a weekend dad and that's something I consciously can't do and that's really it right there.

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BOLDUAN: CNN's Manu Raju joining me now from Capitol Hill with many more of the details. So many questions, Manu. What do you make of what he said in that press conference and what are his colleagues saying? Are they surprised by it?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they were absolutely surprised going in and coming out of this meeting, closed- door meeting, in which Paul Ryan delivered this news. No one really had expected him to say that.

A lot of the questions had emerged about Paul Ryan's futures ahead of the elections, but a lot of people expected him to run given how aggressive he's been in fundraising for this party.

No one has been raising more money than him not just from the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, but his own super PAC spending millions trying to keep the House in Republican hands.

Now Ryan did cast this as a family decision, a personal decision, but no doubt, Kate, this showed the difficult political environment this faces the Republican Party going forward. A lot of members and others close to the speaker recognizing that if the party loses the House majority in the fall, which is a very likely scenario, will Ryan stick around and try to become minority leader?

It's uncertain whether he'd have the support to become minority leader and whether he'd have to be a rank and file member. It's hard to go from speaker to be a rank and file member of the House.

So, perhaps one reason why the speaker made this decision to step aside today, but he claimed that it was not about the political environment. It was purely a personal decision, but no question about it, people are interpreting this on the Hill it's a sign of significant challenges this party faces ahead of the midterm elections in November -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, if you needed another sign. We'll dig into this in a second, but I did want to ask you in that same press conference he was asked about the president's latest attack or considering the firing Bob Mueller and Rod Rosenstein. I found his answer illuminating.

RAJU: Yes. You know, he has been saying that he does not think that the president will fire Bob Mueller similar to what other members of Congress have been saying for some time, but Ryan seems to suggest that he's got some private assurances from the White House. Listen to this.

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RYAN: My thoughts haven't changed. I think they should be allowed to do their jobs and we have a rule of law in this country and that's the principle we all uphold. I have no reason to believe that that's going to happen. I have assurances that's not because I've been talking to people in the White House about it.

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RAJU: And he denied to clarify who exactly he's spoken to at the White House, but this also just shows you the Republicans are relying in a lot of ways just on faith that the president will not go ahead and fire Bob Mueller and Rod Rosenstein.

[11:20:10] Because they do not want to move ahead with legislation that has been introduced today in the Senate and the bill to protect the special counsel. They do not want to confront the president legislatively.

So, they hope the president will not fire Bob Mueller and will not do anything with Rod Rosenstein because at that point, it would create a big political problem on Capitol Hill. So, at the very least, they believe these private assurances are enough, but then we know, Kate, with this president, you don't know exactly what he's going to do. So, surprise --

BOLDUAN: Look no further than the Twitter feed just this morning. Faith, hope and a prayer and they are praying that they don't have to deal with it, that, I can assure you. Manu, stick with me, but let's add to the conversation, CNN political director, David Chalian. David, let's talk about the retirement announcement for Paul Ryan. Why is or isn't this a surprise to you?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it is a surprise I think to many people that he opted to announce he's not seeking re-election. It is not terribly surprising that he's not going to serve in the next Congress. I think that was a largely expected thing here in Washington, maybe surprising, of course, to our viewers at home.

But Paul Ryan had been talking for a while that, and you heard him say today in his press conference, Kate, this was a job he never really asked for and obviously, the family considerations were out there, the exhaustion of the current state of affairs with trying to navigate this period of time with President Trump on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

All of that combined to perhaps this not being a long-term prospect, but it is surprising because of what Manu was just saying. I mean, it was just a few days ago that Ryan's team was touting his $40 million transfer to the campaign arm of Republicans, the NRCC, to fund these House races.

And of course, a leadership race which they're hoping, of course, doesn't happen in full form until November and until the lame duck session. That battle internally inside the party starts to take place now and could be distracting when everything for Republicans should be focused on trying to stave off this blue wave that's forming out there.

BOLDUAN: But David, I -- I -- if you cover Paul Ryan you do understand his close family dynamic and you know that he -- a lot of folks have already said it. Basically, I believed everything that was said until he was asked directly if Trump was a factor in his decision and he said not at all, David. I just can't believe that.

CHALIAN: Yes, I mean, that's hard to believe --

BOLDUAN: Because --

CHALIAN: As Jamie --

BOLDUAN: To put it a different way, would he be retiring and not seeking re-election if there was a Republican in the White House that wasn't named Trump right now?

CHALIAN: So, I don't know the answer to that, right? I don't know how to play that game. Do I think it's a contributing factor? I'm sure it is. This is everyday life, how could it not be? All you have to do, Kate, is look at the videotape.

Paul Ryan is not a Donald Trump Republican and look at what he said throughout the 2015 and '16 campaign. And there's no doubt that the modern-day Republican Party is Donald Trump's Republican Party.

It is not the party that Paul Ryan was running to be a leader of when he was Mitt Romney's vice-presidential running mate just six years ago. We're in a whole different realm of what is firing up the Republican Party right now.

So, Paul Ryan's keenly aware of that, there's no way anybody can look at Paul Ryan and say hey, that guy is a Trump Republican, but clearly, he's spent the better part of last year's administration, standing shoulder to shoulder with Donald Trump time and again to try and you did hear this in his comments, utilize this unified government moment of a Republican president, Senate and House to try to pass some major policy initiatives that he cares deeply about.

BOLDUAN: I think a lot of folks would say it's hard to find an argument, Manu, that this is a good thing for Republicans that Paul Ryan is not going to be seeking reelection. What does this mean?

Chuck Schumer's statement kind of stuck out to me, and he wrote, "With his new-found political freedom, I hope the speaker uses his remaining time in Congress to break free of the hard-right factions in his caucus that have kept Congress from getting real things done." Do you think the free man Paul Ryan in these last months will be different than the Paul Ryan that's already been governing?

RAJU: I don't think so because of the fact that the Republican conference in the House as David was mentioning is in lockstep in a lot of ways with the president. They come from districts in which the president is very popular which is one reason why Ryan has had a challenge from challenging President Trump.

Because he knows if he were to do that and confront President Trump on any number of issues, he will get pushback significantly from his conference which is one reason why perhaps it was that you're not going to see this fight because they need the president, they need his supporters in order to have any chance of keeping the House in November.

[11:25:04] BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Manu, David, great to see you. What an amazing morning this has been. A quick programming note for everybody. Paul Ryan will be joining Jake Tapper this afternoon on "THE LEAD." That starts at 4:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Don't miss that.

Coming up for us, new reports the president now considering shaking up the leadership in the Justice Department after the FBI raid of his personal attorney. What would that mean for the investigation and what, if anything, can Congress do about it? That's next.

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BOLDUAN: Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, it seems. Several sources tell CNN that President Trump is so furious about the FBI raids on his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, that he is now considering firing the man who green lit them, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The president tweeting this earlier today, "Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by fake and corrupt Russia investigation headed up by all the Democrat loyalists, which we could fact that or people that work for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all --