Show: For the Record with Greta Date: April 5, 2017 Guest: Bob Menendez, P.J. Crowley, Nicholas Kristof, Trey Gowdy, Gregory Meeks, Natalie Azar
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOR THE RECORD HOST: And tonight, President Trump, well, he did it again, he blamed the president. He blamed President Obama for that horrific gas attack in Syria. Now, this is the first major global crisis under President Trump`s watch, and the president today and after rightfully laying the blame on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, President Trump couldn`t help but take a swipe at President Obama and the Obama administration.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Obama administration had a great opportunity to solve this crisis a long time ago when he said the red line in the sand. And when he didn`t cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways, not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world because it was a blank threat.
UNINDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I just quickly ask you if the chemical attack crosses a red line for you?
TRUMP: It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal -- people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines beyond the red line, many, many lines.
UNINDENTIFIED MALE: How will you distinguish your policy and your actions on Syria from the inaction that you criticized of the previous administration?
TRUMP: I like to think of myself as a very flexible person. I don`t have to have one specific way and if the world changes, I go the same way.
UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Last year you seemed to be reluctant to get involved or to intervene in Syria directly. Is that one thing that`s changed after yesterday?
TRUMP: Well, one of the things I think you`ve noticed about me is militarily, I don`t like to say where I`m going and what I`m doing. I`m not saying I`m doing anything one way or the other, but I`m certainly not going to be telling you.
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VAN SUSTEREN: President Trump had a very different view today. For President Trump who in 2013 urged former President Obama not to take action.
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TRUMP: So, now we`re supposed to get involved with Syria. I would say stay out. It`s from a human rights standpoint, from a human standpoint. You know, we`ve been through this before. Who knows what weapons they have? Who really knows what weapons they have?
(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN: And today, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley bringing photos of innocent victims to a Security Council meeting. And Ambassador Haley warning, if the U.N. does not act, the U.S. will act on its own. And tonight, Republicans demanding President Trump take a stronger stance and get Syrian president Assad out of power.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNINDENTIFIED MALE: If you`re Bashar al-Assad and you read that it is no longer a priority of the United States to have you removed from power, I believe that is an incentive to act with impunity. This has to become a priority.
UNINDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think there is a future for Syria with Bashar al-Assad in existence. This administration is going to have to come to that reality or this problem is sadly only going to continue to get worse.
UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Bashar al-Assad like Iran, like Russia responds to pressure and confrontation.
(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN: We are covering the political diplomatic and humanitarian parts of this important story, this crisis. And we start with New Jersey senator Bob Menendez, from the senate foreign relations committee, who back in 2013, on the committee voted in favor of the U.S. taking military action in Syria. Good evening, sir.
BOB MENENDEZ, U.S. SENATOR: Good evening.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think some of your colleagues who didn`t vote with you back in 2013 have regret tonight?
MENENDEZ: Well, the committee as when I was chairman passed at the request of President Obama an authorization for the use of military force for the purposes of ending the chemical weapon usage that Assad was using at the time. And he went to the G20 summit in Russia and told Putin I have an authorization, and if you don`t give -- get Assad to give up the chemical weapons I`m going to look forward to using it. And that ultimately turned what we thought were all the chemical weapons over to a U.N. entity. The reality is that, you know, we also at that time gave President Obama certain authorities to help moderate vetted Syrian rebels fight their own cause so American troops didn`t have to be there and unfortunately that didn`t go the way we would have like to have seen. It wasn`t a robust engagement in that regard. So the chemical weapons were largely turned over a U.N. entity, and now we see a resurgence of them. That has a real consequence and Russia, who was a party at the time, it`s just amazing to me that in the president`s condemnation today, which I`m glad to see at least he condemns the attacks, but he has not one word about Russia`s complicity in this process.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. The president said today it cross a lot of lines for me, meaning him. And he was talking about the little babies, of course, some of the innocent civilians killed. What is that line? I know that President Obama had that famous red line remark that everyone keeps raising, but what is that crossed line, and so what does that mean? What would you advise him to do or not to do?
MENENDEZ: Well, I don`t know for the president what he means by it crossed a lot of lines for him and what he intends to do. It seems to me that when you can talk about crossing a line but you don`t even mention Russia as a party that is empowering Assad and giving him, for example, air support, I think that the attacks that took place ultimately took place by dropping from aircraft. That`s the Russians. And their engagement with the Iranians through Hezbollah that are both propping up Assad. So, it seems to me you have to challenge the Russian and the Iranians to say you just can`t continue to prop up Assad without a consequence. You have to make it very clear if you`re going to engage anyone, it should be moderate vetted Syrian rebels to let them fight in their own country so you can change the dynamics. Right now, between Russia and Iran`s engagement, the pendulum has swung back to Assad and, you know, he believes that he can sustain and survive this fight. That dynamic need to change and the dynamic that needs to change that Russia and Iran think they can continue to have this proxy war, engaged in Syria, without any consequence.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. This discussion began primarily back in 2012 about chemical weapons and, of course, now the last 36 hours everyone is talking about it. But there have been reports between 2012 and now that there`s been other use of chemical weapons against civilians in that area. I don`t know if it`s confirmed or not, but suddenly now you know the world is understandably and rightfully horrified about what we`re seeing. But have we not monitored this in 2013? Have there been other incidents of chemical weapons used against civilians there?
MENENDEZ: There have been other forms. The chemical weapons as we understood under the listing by the U.N. of what is a chemical weapon was largely turned over and destroyed. But now other elements of what would be -- we would consider a chemical weapon is being used by the Assad regime with Russia. And, so, at different moments in time, that has been a question, affixing blame and responsibility has been a challenge. But the rebels don`t have aircraft. They cannot drop this type of bomb on civilian populations. So, it`s pretty clear who is responsible.
VAN SUSTEREN: So, what is your estimation of the fact the president blames Assad, Syria rightfully, he blames President Obama, and I think unfairly, and he doesn`t mention Russia. So, what`s your conclusion from that?
MENENDEZ: Well, my conclusion is that he is not committed to actually ending the horrific set of humanitarian catastrophes and/or enforcing a red line if you`re not willing to take on Russia. And this administration hasn`t been willing to take on Russia in any iteration whatsoever, whether it`s the cyberattack on our elections, whether it`s what`s happened in the Baltics, whether it`s the annexation of Crimea. But above all, this is the moment in which I believe that the president must act resolutely against Russia because they are empowering Assad, otherwise Assad would be gone.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. One quick question, military action or not?
MENENDEZ: Well, I don`t think at this moment you have that capability. I don`t think you can enter into Syria and put American boots on the ground and be successful. What you can be doing is really engaging robustly in helping moderate vetted Syrian rebels fight for themselves, changing the dynamic on the ground, and then lead to a political solution, but there is going to be no political solution for so long as Russia and Iran think they can get away with what they`re doing without consequence and Assad believes he can survive it. Then the equation doesn`t ever lend itself to a political solution.
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: And today, Syria`s strongest ally Russia standing by Syrian president Assad. The Russian defense ministry claiming the poison gas belonged not to the Syrian government but to the rebels, Russia also insisting that the rebel ammunition depot leaked after being struck by Syrian bombs, and just moments ago secretary of state Rex Tillerson, speaking about Russia ongoing support for the Syrian government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, there`s no doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar Assad is responsible for this horrific attack. We think it`s time that the Russians really need to think carefully about their continued support for the Assad regime.
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VAN SUSTEREN: With me is former U.S. assistant secretary of state P.J. Crowley, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who visited rebel held area in Syria in 2014. Nick, as you look at this video that we`re seeing, your thoughts?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, in Syria, of course, you`ve had more than 300,000 people killed. I mean, this is within the order of magnitude of the number of people who were killed last year alone. And it keeps on going in part because of the passivity of the world and accepting it. Frankly, I think President Trump had a point in noting that this was -- there was a real failure on the part of President Obama and I think many people in the Obama administration would acknowledge that. I think President Obama thought that Assad was going to fall on his own, and he didn`t. But it`s also a failure on the part of the Trump administration, which just emboldened President Assad a few days ago by saying it was no longer U.S. policy to try to remove Assad. And, you know, this is a nightmare of awful solutions. It was a few years ago, it`s probably even worse today in terms of bad choices. But there are things we can do that will reduce the possibility of people being slaughtered in the way that we saw this week.
VAN SUSTEREN: P.J., I know that many people, including Nick, said that they see it is a failure of President Obama. But, you know, I can`t help but look back and see how the American people are feeling then. They were opposed to it in the polls. The Brits said no when the vote was put to the Brits. The house -- the congress indicated that it wasn`t going to go its way. And then the president went to the G20 and it looked like these chemical weapons would be put away and there would be at least no American bloodshed. So, I guess I`m a little sympathetic to the President Obama on this because I think he struggled with this one.
P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I mean, it was a vexing challenge for him. I do think he mismanaged the red line. You can`t come up to the cusp of military action then step back. I thought he needed to structure what he wanted to accomplish through military force in a different way. Use the threat of military force to actually get the result that he got, which was removal of chemical weapons or so we thought from the Syrian battle field. But, Greta, you`re right that he was constrained. He was elected to get the United States out of Middle East wars and avoid new ones. And in fact, there is not a great distance when President Obama used to say nation building begins at home. That is not a great rhetorical distance from that to make America great again. You know, President Trump was elected to fix problems in America, not fix problems in Syria. So, I think he faces the same political constraints and policy constraints that Obama did.
VAN SUSTEREN: Except that, I will say this, Nick, the job includes you may run on one particular -- President Bush ran on he`s going to be the education president and nine months later he`s the 9/11 president.
KRISTOFF: Yeah, I mean, I think it`s clear that boots on the ground are not a plausible possibility these days. But after all, President Obama did engineer a military intervention in the area which we never think of, which was hugely successful. I`m talking about Mount Sinjar which averted the genocide against the Yazidi, and.
VAN SUSTEREN: President Trump has put boots on the ground in Syria. President Trump already done that, some.
KRISTOFF: But boots on the ground, actually the area that I`m most conscious about. I mean, I think the suggestion that people had made that I find most persuasive is to send a message to President Assad that if you use your aircraft against civilians, then we will in the days afterward from Turkey use a missile strike one of your targets. It may be an aircraft. It may be another military site. But you will pay a price. Now, he doesn`t have a lot of either fixed wing aircraft or helicopters. He doesn`t want to lose those. We can do this from Turkey. We don`t have to keep aircraft aloft over Syria. And, I think it is one thing we can do to reduce Assad`s use of aircraft, dropping barrel bombs on hospitals, for example.
VAN SUSTEREN: P.J., the Kremlin is defending President Assad tonight. They`re saying it`s the rebels that had the gas, the chemicals and not Assad. Is there anything we can do to sort of influence Russia at this point? I mean, the Trump administration has not paid much -- they don`t mention Russia very often except we have these investigations floating around in the United States. But certainly, it does not appear that they`ve been tough on Russia.
CROWLEY: They haven`t been tough on Russia at all. I think that we have to recognize at one level that Syria and the survival of Assad is a vital interest to Russia and Iran. It`s a less vital interest to the United States. That is a reality. I think we also have to recognize in the short term, you know, we continue to define the Syrian civil war in terms of the defeat of the Islamic state, a worthy objective, not using military force to constrain Bashar al-Assad. That obviously, as Nick said, is a problem. I do think that what happened today in the U.N. Security Council is important. You know, there is the opportunity here first and foremost to send the OPCW back into Syria to just determine once and for all what happened and what was used and who is responsible. And then we can use that, I think, as an important geopolitical lever to put Iran, Russia, China on their back feet and see if we can`t use some pressure that way. I think Senator Menendez had a point about maybe revisit the level of support that we have to the Syrian opposition, but the reality, sad reality, is that the dynamic on the ground does not yet lend itself to the political negotiation of the Obama administration attempted and failed. You know that is still something that we have to see sometime in the future.
VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, I think it`s also a sad reality. I always throw in things like South Sudan. We don`t have those pictures coming out of South Sudan tonight, but they`ve got so much death and destruction going on there. We just don`t have the pictures to motivate us, maybe not the geopolitical need. But anyway, thank you, gentlemen. Still ahead, President Trump claiming Susan Rice could be guilty of a crime, but where is the evidence? Democrats say this accusation is just a White House distraction, but is it? And what is really happening with the Russian investigation? We`re going to get the answer from inside the house intelligence committee. And also tonight, new information about that big White House shake-up is Trump confidant Steve Bannon losing influence? And how will this shake up or affect if at all the Trump national security team? Plus tonight, the Gorsuch debate, it`s heating up on Capitol Hill as the senate prepares to go nuclear. This is all happening as new reports emerge of alleged plagiarism on the part of Judge Gorsuch. That`s ahead.
VAN SUSTEREN: Did President Trump just accuse former Obama administration national security advisor Susan Rice of a crime? Well, it happened today. President Trump telling the New York Times, he believes that the former national security advisor may have committed a crime by seeking to unmask Trump associates picked up in intelligence surveillance. It is noteworthy in making that statement President Trump did not provide any proof offer evidence to back it up. And many Democrats including the one leading the house investigation into Russia`s meddling in the election say this is a distraction.
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ADAM SCHIFF, U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I remain convinced after seeing these materials, after listening to agency heads and other witnesses, there is still no truth, no proof, no evidence whatsoever to support the president`s accusations against his predecessor. I do think that this is largely a White House effort to distract our attention and focus from that issue of collusion or coordination between the campaign, the Russian intervention in our election.
(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN: And now, Congressman Adam Schiff, who you just heard from, is accusing the White House of stonewalling. He tweeted, the scheme White House only wanted to show chairman documents that made accusations to distract. I want full intel committee to see documents. White House is resisting. With me, Congressman Trey Gowdy, Republican from the great state of South Carolina who serves on the house intelligence committee. Good evening, sir.
TREY GOWDY, U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Good evening, how are you?
VAN SUSTEREN: Good. Have you seen any evidence or do you have any proof or knowledge of any crime committed by former national security advisor Susan Rice?
GOWDY: No, ma`am. The congress doesn`t investigate crime. She`s a witness that has relevant information that would be within our committee`s jurisdiction and we`re going to want to talk to her. But we don`t investigate crime. And, Greta, I don`t like it when anybody accuses other people of committing crimes, Representative Castro did it this morning and I would have the same reaction to that. When you accuse people of committing crimes, that`s serious and it`s not congress`s job to investigate that and it`s not my job as a member of congress to level accusations like that.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, you were a very successful prosecutor prior to joining congress. Put your hat on as a prosecutor for a second, have you seen any evidence if you were a prosecutor to suggest that Susan Rice had committed a crime?
GOWDY: Well, I have not chiefly because I have not seen any of the evidence related to ambassador rice. Chairman Nunes and perhaps ranking member Schiff have seen it. I`m coming up over the Easter recess to look at everything that I have access to, but I`m not convinced that I yet have access to the underlying data that may have informed or instructed that opinion. And unless you have overwhelming proof of a crime and it`s your job to make that allegation, I just try to stay out of that realm. I mean, congress should be investigating lots of things, but we don`t investigate potential criminally, and therefore I don`t think we ought to be talking about it.
VAN SUSTEREN: How helpful is it when the president says that to the investigation?
GOWDY: About as helpful as when Representative Castro said it earlier this morning. This is a free country. You can say what you want to say. I would rather wait until the investigation begins and then is concluded and we talk to all relevant witnesses. And if there is evidence of a crime regardless of who committed it, proper referrals will be made to the department of justice. But there is not a single member of congress that can put anybody in jail for anything and probably best for us not to talk about it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Have you seen any evidence that President Obama wiretap President Trump?
GOWDY: No, ma`am, not in this specific way in which you framed the question, no.
VAN SUSTEREN: And you say you`re coming up to see the documents. Is there any reason -- I mean, it sort of seems like Chairman Nunes and Congressman Schiff have been talking about the documents for about ten days. Is there any reason why the house committee hasn`t seen these documents?
GOWDY: Well, let me say this up front, Greta. I could have used Adam Schiff`s help two years ago getting documents from a different White House. So, I applaud him for finally coming to the full realization that you need documents to be able to conduct an investigation. I fully expect this White House to provide all documents that are not otherwise legally protected. I have no reason to believe they will not. And I think those documents will be provided in time for us to conduct the most Folsom interviews necessary. I smile a little bit at the irony of Congressman Schiff complaining about a White House that won`t produce documents. I swear I could have used his help over the last six years.
VAN SUSTEREN: At this point with all that`s going on in the house intelligence committee and -- I`m sure you`ve seen the criticism of both ways, Democrats and Republicans. Do you think that there is a way to sort of get it on track that you can sort of restore the confidence that this investigation be done with integrity in the house, or is this one that we should pass it to the senate and let the FBI as well do its job?
GOWDY: Well, I think all of the above. I think the senate has a role to play and the FBI investigates counter intelligence and criminality, but most assuredly the house has a role to play and I think we can play that role. I`ll say the same thing I said last week, Greta, Adam Schiff is a former federal prosecutor. So am I. We know how to run investigations. We need access to the documents, access to the witnesses and we need to start conducting interviews in a setting most conducive with the most amount of information which means confidentially. It`s the way he and I did it in our previous lives. It worked then, it will work now. The less politicizing and the more actual hard work of asking questions of serious witnesses who have relevant information, the quicker we will be on the path to finding facts and then ultimately the truth. You know I love talking to you, but doing television interviews and accusing one another of things is not constructive towards finding the truth. We need to start interviewing witnesses and I am ready to do that and would love to have Adam`s help.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Do you believe tonight -- I realize this is an ongoing investigation. You need to see more. But tonight as we talk, do you believe that Russia interfered with the U.S. election?
GOWDY: Oh, there`s no question, absolutely. Russia is not our friend. Russia interfered with our 2016 election cycles, and would do so again, and is seeking to do so in other countries. They are not our friend and there should be no ambiguity whatsoever about that.
VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, nice to see you. Thank you for joining us, sir.
GOWDY: Yes, ma`am, thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: As I said, Democrats want to focus on the Russia election hack, and how key figures like Michael Flynn may have been involved, and they want key witnesses called now, not later.
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SCHIFF: The person that is in the best position to talk about the events that led up to his firing is Sally Yates. She is more than willing to testify. We have asked her to testify. The White House says, at least publicly, they want her to testify. There is a letter sitting on the desk of my chairman that I have signed requesting that hearing to be rescheduled and we are waiting for a response.
UNINDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what`s the hold up?
SCHIFF: Well, just one signature at this point. We want Sally Yates to come back in. We need the majority to reschedule the hearing. They said that they were only postponing, but as yet we have not received their commitment to do so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: And it goes on. Late today, Congressman Schiff also slamming the president for suggesting Susan Rice committed a crime. The congressman tweeted, first, Potus, means the president, slanders President Obama, now Susan Rice. Who is next? Lousy way to run a business, much worse way to run a country. With me, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Democrat of New York who serves in the house foreign affairs committee. Good evening, sir.
GREGORY MEEKS, U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Good evening. Good to be with you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, what do you make of the fact that Congressman Schiff seems to be out there making statements all the time, this investigation is ongoing, do you have any problem with that?
MEEKS: Well, you know, I hear what Congressman Schiff is saying is that we have a president that keeps trying to shift what we should be doing. So, the president is the one that comes up with something that`s incredible and shifting, trying to shift the dialogue and take the focus off of what the focus of the investigation is. That is being done by both intelligence committees and being done by the FBI, and I think should be also looked into by independent commission.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there some impediment or what do you see as the barrier to moving this investigation along?
MEEKS: Well, the impediment is the cooperation of the White House and the fact that you have individuals, at least in the house intelligence committee, that seem to have tainted it. Chairman Nunes by running over to the White House and talking to the White House and was the subject matter of the investigation, has tainted what the house intelligence committee is doing, and so that causes a problem there altogether.
VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman Trey Gowdy mentioned trying to get documents out of the former White House, President Obama White House. And, frankly, I covered a lot of investigations. I covered the Obama White House for eight years. And, you know, they weren`t so freewheeling with documents. They didn`t make it so easy either. So how do we sort of stop this cycle of the White House sort of making -- the White House saying the Obama administration -- this one -- this White House sort of making a little bit harder to get documents for these investigations?
MEEKS: Well, what`s happened in the prior administration, first of all, you know, that took -- he talked about six years, basically one investigation. Even though, and I agree with him that congress does not do criminal investigations. But even after the FBI and others completed their investigation in regards to Hillary Clinton, which he was talking about, they still subpoenaed documents.
VAN SUSTEREN: But there were still relevant documents coming out. I mean, one of the reasons sometimes these things drag out is because you can`t get information. I mean, look, they`re not always -- in politics, not everybody cooperates to make these things run very smoothly.
MEEKS: But what`s happening here is as opposed of focusing on, and the committee focusing on the issues that pertain to the connection of the Trump administration and some of his campaign individuals with Russia, he keeps trying to divert it and say we should do another kind of investigation. We should now investigate, you know, something -- first it was with Barack Obama wiretapping him which was a lie. Now we go on to Susan Rice. He lied previously saying that he had all kind of people standing up in the Jersey Shore. The problem is a president that doesn`t tell the truth.
VAN SUSTEREN: I think that one of the problems here, at least where I see sort of the choke point, and I don`t know where the classified aspect of it makes it the choke point. But I think when Chairman Nunes says he saw some documents and then he doesn`t tell the Democratic ranking member or the rest of the committee or what those documents are, I actually see that more of a choke point with Chairman Nunes than the White House because he said he saw something or he read something. I know that it`s classified, he can`t tell people, but he can certainly tell the committee. GREGORY MEEKS, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FOR NEW YORK`S 5TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: It appears as though it was someone in the White House that asked him to come down to review those documents and gave him access to it. So, that`s the problem. The problem is if the intelligence committee was doing its job, you wouldn`t know any of this. It would be quiet what you were getting on that. You wouldn`t know. VAN SUSTEREN: My first question to Chairman Nunes is what did you see, I`d say who showed you. So, I agree with you. That would be my second question. I want to know first what he saw, but that just may be me. MEEKS: Listen, we all did, Adam Schiff wanted to know what he saw, which taints the investigation. The intelligence committee, generally you don`t hear from them until they come to a conclusion. They do their work. That is not what has taken place here. Chairman Nunes has politicized this which makes its work tainted.
VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, I have to go. Thank you very much, sir. Sorry to interrupt you. Thank you for joining us. MEEKS: Good to be with you. VAN SUSTEREN: Today the Trump team trying to revive the failed GOP health care bill. But there is news tonight that might make it even harder. Inside the big Steve Bannon move, is it a demotion? We have new information about what the president`s inner circle is thinking.
VAN SUSTEREN: A news alert from Capitol Hill. Live pictures from the senate debate over Judge Gorsuch expected to go late into the night. NBC News says 44 democrats voting no and we have seen no shift despite those news reports of alleged plagiarism. Politico reporting Gorsuch in a book he wrote back in 2006 copied the structure and language used by several authors and failed to cite the source materials.
Politico showing side by side comparison, Judge Gorsuch`s book is on the left nearly matching the Indiana law journal article on the right. The White House is calling it a false attack, but those -- by those desperate to block his confirmation.
And straight ahead, he has been called the second most powerful man in the world. So, why was chief strategist, Steve Bannon, removed from the National Security Council? Wait until you hear what a White House official told us. New reporting on that ahead.
VAN SUSTEREN: A shake up in the National Security Council at the White House and it has caught everyone by surprise. Just a short time ago, controversial Trump chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was removed from the National Security Council. A senior White House official telling NBC News Bannon was put on the committee as a check against Michael Flynn and now that Flynn is out as national security advisor and General H.R. McMaster is in, the official is saying that Bannon is no longer needed in that role on the security council.
Today Bannon was notably absent at the Rose Garden press conference with our ally King Abdullah of Jordan. A source telling NBC News Bannon only does the foreign leader things that are vital. But that caught our attention since the Kingdom of Jordan is vital to the United States and here`s Bannon in January with U.K.`s prime minister and in February with the Japanese prime minister and three days later with the Canadian prime minister. In fact, Steve Bannon has been at all other Trump press conferences except for today`s.
With me, Rosie Gray, White House correspondent for The Atlantic. She is writing about Breitbart news. And Robert Costa, national political reporter with "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst. Bob, first to you. What happened? ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Steve Bannon has been at the president`s side for quite some time and he`s been part of this National Security Council Principals Committee. There are differing points of view within the White House about why this all came about.
Bannon`s allies say as you have reported, that he was no longer needed to be an eye on General Flynn, that McMaster, H.R. McMaster, the respected army general, is taking over control of the NSC. But others say he was overstretched that he was doing too much and it was too political to have an operative like Bannon on that Principals Committee.
VAN SUSTEREN: Rosie, I think in terms of this remark about General Flynn, because typically you put people on your National Security Council or make your national security advisor your most trusted person. So, why would you have to put someone on the committee to sort of spy on him for you?
ROSIE GRAY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT FOR THE ATLANTIC: Well, from what I`ve been hearing via my reporting, there were a lot of concerns about Mike Flynn even during the transition among senior staff, among people who became senior staff at the White House. But the president really wanted Michael Flynn to serve in that role.
And so, you know, some of the sort of, you know, information that me and a lot of other reporters have been hearing today was that, like Bob was saying, Steve Bannon was sort of put on the Principals Committee as a kind of a baby-sitter for Michael Flynn. But, you know, I agree that obviously that is sort of pretty unusual arrangement to sort of need that sort of person in a role overseeing the National Security Advisor.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, it does seem that Bannon is overstretched. I mean, he has a huge portfolio. What is he doing at the White House? What are his functions there now? COSTA: When you think about Bannon, I often think about Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior advisor, two confidants of the president who have many portfolios on both foreign and domestic policy. And you see Bannon participating in trade talks, foreign policy discussion, national security talks, and also shaping what was happening on health care and much of what the congressional relationship is for the White House.
The National Security Principals Committee is a very important group within the White House, but it`s almost a think tank for security policy. And if you look at past administrations, it`s been an incubator for ideas that takes real attention. Whether Bannon could spend that much attention on that group remains a debatable question within the west wing. VAN SUSTEREN: Rosie, I think the whole thing with Flynn seems an odd excuse, but I do think -- I don`t find it unusual that Bannon would be off the committee because he does seem overstretch. He doesn`t seem a particularly good fit for this committee as well. It`s not like he has a deep background in national security. I don`t see anything sort of sinister or weird except for the reason -- one of the explanations we have been given. GRAY: Well, right. I mean, look, like they created a controversy by placing him in that role in the Principals Committee and now they`ve created another controversy by removing him from that role. It was a highly unorthodox thing for him to have served, you know, for him as a political advisor to have had a role in the Principals Committee in the first place.
So, what we`re sort of seeing right now is a step towards a kind of normalcy within the White House, a step towards sort of how things have been done in past administrations. It also speaks to the sort of increasingly important role of H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor.
COSTA: That`s right. I mean, Rosie is spot on. It`s not just about Bannon, it`s about McMaster. McMaster is someone who comes from the traditional foreign policy committee in the Republican Party. He`s seen in a positive way by Kushner and by others in the White House.
You see Bannon, not just on the NSC, he`s having clashes with numerous people within the White House. Gary Cohn, the top economic advisor. Dina Powell, another top former Goldman Sachs executive. They have a different point of view. They don`t share Bannon`s nationalism in most respects and that has left Bannon in some ways isolated on different fronts.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, is -- was Bannon removed -- remove sounds like a harsh word. Is Bannon off the committee because of Trump or because of McMaster?
COSTA: It`s a mix of both. Formerly, the decision was the president and now it was confirmed by the White House. Before the president made the decision, McMaster who is known for his 1997 book "Dereliction of Duty" which is all about giving candid advice to presidents. He has asserted himself very quietly.
When you think of McMaster, he hasn`t given an interview since he`s taken this position. He`s had a very low public profile. Inside the White House, he`s been aggressive in asserting himself and saying, I want to control the NSC.
VAN SUSTEREN: And indeed he hasn`t given an interview. Neither has Secretary of State Tillerson. He`s off to Russia next week. Anyway, thank you both for joining us. Ahead, could the gruesome images from Syria take down a dictator? We will go inside a medical clinic in the region.
VAN SUSTEREN: The gruesome images out of Syria are putting a spotlight on the humanitarian crisis. Once again a warning that this footage is disturbing. Death toll estimates running upwards of 80 and there are new questions tonight about the survivors. How are they being treated and what do their injuries reveal about the kind of chemical weapons that were used?
A British doctor in the region shot video from inside a medical clinic. The video is graphic, but it sheds some light into spotlight on what people are facing. Take a look.
(START VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not chlorine. We do not smell chlorine on this patient. This is not chlorine gas. This is not chlorine. We`ve seen a lot of chlorine attacks. The gas attacks are continuing every day and no one is doing anything to stop these gas attacks.
We have a high level of suspicion this is an organophosphate attack because a lot of these patients have pinpoint pupil. The world doesn`t care and no one is doing anything. We urge you to put pressure on your government., put pressure on anyone to help us.
We`re going to collect all the clothes as evidence. We`re collecting them in sealed bags as evidence. Anyone that wants this evidence to investigate it, please contact me. We can get this arranged for you to collect. This is without a doubt organophosphate. We are collecting the evidence for you.
We have to turn this patient away because we got no more ventilators to deal with any more patients. Not only that. Five hospitals have been hit and taken out of action. So not only are we unable to treat this patient. There are many hospitals that are unable to treat this patient because they have been totally taken out of action and destroyed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a disaster. All of the world are watching us, killed by chemical weapons. And they are supporting Assad.
(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Natalie Azar is a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. Nice to see you, doctor. NATALIE AZAR, CLINICAL ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER: Nice to see you.
VAN SUSTEREN: We look at these heart-wrenching videos and we`re all moved by it. But just as a coincidence, you have family in that area.
AZAR: I do. My dad is from Aleppo, Syria, and I still have relatives who are there, many of whom did move a couple of years ago, but many who stayed. So Aleppo is about an hour away from where this occurred. VAN SUSTEREN: You know, just looking at this, is there -- when you look at this video, do you have any suspicion what type of gas it is? Looking at the symptoms? AZAR: Right. We`re getting this information basically from eyewitness reports and video as we saw. The WHO has also weighed in on the observations. Basically a combination of the pinpoint pupils, which you heard the doctor repeating a couple times, something called miosis, as well as the secretions, so the foaming at the mouth.
The need for airway protection that is intubation and control of the respiratory system would be something that you would see in an attack using on organophosphate, particularly some of the shots that we were seeing of the victims being hosed down. That`s part of the first step to decontaminate from the chemical so that no more exposure can occur.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a more common name to this? Is it sarin gas?
AZAR: We don`t know. The only way to absolutely know that for sure is to be able to test a sample, either secretions from bodily fluid from the victims or the clothing, which I think the more prolonged video shows the doctors putting the victims` clothing in bags for testing.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, It`s hard to describe the exposure. It`s so incomplete, the facts we have. But do you have any sort of sense of what the exposure is? Is that at all helpful in understanding this? AZAR: It is. I think one of the eyewitness accounts would say that they imagine that the exposure was through aerosol, and that is that the people didn`t necessarily have to come into contact with it on the skin, but rather if they are just inhaling the substance, that form happens to be the most potent. That`s likely what happened given the people were just standing there and basically falling in the middle of the street.
The thing that`s so devastating about this particular -- these particular substances, is it doesn`t take that much to kill. It only requires one milligram and I have this paper clip to show you. One-one thousandth of the weight of a paper clip is all that`s required to kill an average 200-pound male.
We worry the most of course about the children. It is heart-wrenching to watch the videos. Children have what`s called a higher body surface to weight, body surface area to weight ratio, so it takes much, much less to kill a child than even an adult.
VAN SUSTEREN: Even the death looks excruciating. It looks almost like they`re asphyxiated. AZAR: Yeah. And the pictures are just -- as a physician, I`ve talked to colleagues who are physicians, you know, sometimes you have to sort of separate yourself emotionally from something in order to do your job. But watching this, the people are dying alone in the street. They`re writhing.
They`re suffocating. I mean that`s the main mode of fatality is suffocation. Their diaphragm or lung muscle stops functioning. It spasms and cramps, and the secretions that I mentioned, they`re basically suffocating on their own fluid. It -- it`s hard to watch.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, doctors aren`t really prepared for this. It`s not - - like the doctors weren`t prepared for Ebola. Suddenly these hospitals are overwhelmed. They got a situation. They don`t know what it is. And it is catastrophic and the numbers are overwhelming. AZAR: You raise an excellent point. Another point that the doctor makes in the video is that they`re turning -- they have to turn victims away because they just don`t have the capacity to manage them. This is a poisoning that can be treated with the right antidote. There is this chemical called atropine as well as something else called pyridoxine which can be used but.
VAN SUSTEREN: Who`s ready for it?
AZAR: Exactly. If you can`t anticipate it, you may not have the stockpile available to be able to treat the people and the numbers that we saw today. VAN SUSTEREN: Doctor, thank you for joining us.
AZAR: Thanks, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Coming up, there is an important discussion to be had, and all Americans need to be part this discussion. I`ll tell you what it is next.
VAN SUSTEREN: I have something to say for the record. We need to have an important discussion. It`s about what we are willing to do or not do in Syria. You`ve now seen the video of the suspected chemical weapons attack against innocent Syrians, including children.
These videos are not only deeply disturbing but also heart breaking, and we as a nation, because we are the last remaining super power, and because we are good, decent people, need to decide should we act or not?
And if so, how? Back in 2013 when President Obama faced these very difficult questions, most Americans were opposed to action. An NBC "Wall Street Journal" poll showed 58 percent of Americans opposed U.S. military action in Syria. That was at a time when our nation was war weary and maybe today many of you are still war weary.
I get that. But that should not stop us from now reigniting this all- important debate. We should all be involved in this discussion, including our leaders. By the way, here`s what United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said today.
(START VIDEO CLIP) NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: If we are not prepared to act, then this council will keep meeting month after month to express outrage at the continuing use of chemical weapons, and it will not end. We will see more conflict in Syria. We will see more pictures that we can never unsee.
(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN: So tonight I leave you with this. Think about it. Think about what you believe we should do or not do. We need all Americans` voices on this. And by the way, after tonight`s show, I am headed to the eighth annual women in the world summit to interview Ambassador Haley before an audience, and you can be sure I`m going to ask Ambassador Haley more questions about this crisis. There is no perfect answer. This one, it`s not easy.
Thank you for watching. I`ll see you back here tomorrow night 6:00 p.m. eastern. If you can`t watch live, set your DVR and follow me on Twitter @Greta or check out my Facebook page for behind the scenes videos and more. "Hardball" with Chris Matthews starts right now.
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