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White House Press Briefing; Russia Accused of Cover-up; Spicer talks about Hitler; Tillerson Meets with Lavrov. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired April 11, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we're going to have an egg-celent time. Oh, come on. You can't ask the question and not get the answer.
But I - I - we're - we have - we have worked really well. I think we're going to have a very, very, enjoyable day on Monday. Tickets have been sent out to all the schools in the area. There will be a large military contingent that will be participating as well.
And I think there's five waves over a two-hour period in which children and their families will be able to come to the White House. We've done extensive community outreach to really bring a lot of the school children from the area in and it's going to be a great day.
SPICER: I don't have the number. I do -- I think the East Wing could probably get you an answer, and I'll make sure I put out that number. I think they're working on the final numbers. They're starting ticket distribution, so I should be able to get you a number on that.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sean.
You said last month that the White House was reviewing the policy on visitor logs.
QUESTION: Will the White House voluntarily release those visitor logs?
SPICER: I think we should have an answer on our policy very shortly on that.
QUESTION: OK. And then a question on Syria. Secretary Tillerson said this morning that it was the United States's hope that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of Syria's future, but it's up to the people of Syria to make that determination. At the same time, the question is now whether the White -- whether it's the White House's position that Assad is a bad actor, and it would be ideal if he would go, or whether the White House thinks that the atrocities that he's committed are absolutely unacceptable and he must go, period.
SPICER: I don't -- as I mentioned yesterday, I don't see a peaceful, stable Syria in the future that has Assad in charge.
QUESTION: So he absolutely has to go?
SPICER: There's no question that you can't have a peaceful Syria with Assad in charge. I don't see how that ever works. So, no, I don't see a future Syria that has Assad al-Ashar (sic) as the leader of that government.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.
I want to ask you about some comments that Eric Trump (inaudible) Ivanka Trump: "Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I'm sure she said 'Listen, this is horrible stuff.' My father will act in times like that."
Did Ivanka Trump play a role in President Trump deciding to strike Syria? And if so, what was that role?
SPICER: Well, the president -- I think we released last Friday a very comprehensive tick-tock of, you know, when the president was informed by his national security team and how his thinking evolved; 10:30 last Tuesday, his national security team was giving him the daily -- the presidential daily briefing. They went over what had gone on in Syria in detail. He began to ask a series of questions. They came back to him later that day. There was a deputy principals meeting later on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, there was a principals meeting. They continued to bring back with him a series of questions and responses to (inaudible). And his evolving -- his -- his decision-making process continued aboard Air Force One on the way down to Florida; four o'clock when he arrived in Mar-a-Lago, he had a national security team meeting both in Mar-a- Lago and a secure VTC back to different elements that were gathered in secure locations.
That's when he gave the order. That being said, there's no question that Ivanka and others weighed in to him as, you know, was asked earlier -- Hallie asked it -- that when he himself saw images, he was very, very moved. And I think Ivanka and others, frankly -- I don't think that there's many humans that came into contact with the president during that window of time that said "did you see those images on television."
So I don't, you know, I think there was a widespread acknowledgement that the images and the actions that have been taken were horrific and required action.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, she was among those who supported taking action? SPICER: I don't -- I have not asked her what her -- but I think -- and again, I saw the reports that Eric gave. But again, I don't think Ivanka stands any different than anyone else when it comes to the response that we got.
QUESTION: Do you know if they discussed the attack... (CROSSTALK)
SPICER: I don't.
QUESTION: ... gave her personal reaction (inaudible)?
SPICER: I don't know. But again, I don't think it's that dissimilar to what any human being probably would have (inaudible).
QUESTION: And just a couple of others. He also said if there was anything that the strike on Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia ties. Which raises the question that there was some type of political component to this. Can you respond to that?
SPICER: In the sense that -- I -- well, I guess my point, or I think his point would be after 80-plus days of constantly being asked what the involvement is, I think clearly with us acting -- not having a conversation with Moscow in the political sense. Prior to that, I think it's pretty -- for all of the discussion about how many ties and back channels and this and that, it was a pretty clear show of resolve and force that the United States was acting and not with anyone else's (inaudible).
QUESTION: He wasn't suggesting that was a factor. He was...
SPICER: No, I think he -- no, no. But I think that, you know, respectfully, I mean, every -- almost every single day, we've been asked about these so-called ties and back channels and whatever.
SPICER: And I think there was an acknowledgement at some point that if that was true, you would've seen some kind of action that clearly didn't happen.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on the North Korea question...
QUESTION: ... we -- we -- how I read the president's tweet, North Korea seemed to threaten the possibility of taking some type of nuclear action if the U.S. launches another -- what they see as another provocation. What -- what is the specific reaction to that? Is the president...
SPICER: I -- I don't -- I don't think -- I mean, I -- I don't -- I think that there is -- that there's no evidence that North Korea has that capability at this time. So I don't know that that could happen.
QUESTION: What's your reaction to them making that threat? SPICER: Well, I -- I don't think that -- threatening something that you don't have the capability of isn't really a threat.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.
I wanted to, sort of, follow up on that.
The president in this tweet noted that China could certainly help on the North Korean issue. And when you unpack it through that lens and the fact that the USS Carl Vincent is, sort of, steaming out toward the Sea of Japan, that may be an additional pressure to maybe get China to come to the table.
Is that an accurate read of what the president would like to see them do to really apply the pressure on Pyongyang?
SPICER: Well, I -- I think the -- the president and President Xi discussed this last week in -- in Florida.
China has had a very economic and political influence on North Korea over the years. And I think that when it comes to a shared national interest of ensuring that Korea doesn't obtain the nuclear capabilities to threaten any people, that is something that we should all agree upon and something that he talked about with President Xi as an area of shared national interest.
And I think that North Korea clearly understands where the United States stands on this. And I think he would welcome President Xi weighing in on this a little bit more.
So, I think that's -- you know, obviously wants to make it very clear to -- to them and the rest of the country and the rest of the world what our -- what our position is.
QUESTION: Putting that strike carrier group in the Sea of Japan in that region, is that also a messaging circumstance? Or is that simply protective for our allies in Japan and Korea?
SPICER: You know, when you -- a -- a carrier group is several things.
The forward deployment is -- is deterrence, presence. It's prudent. But it does a lot of things.
It ensures our -- our -- we have the strategic capabilities. And it gives the president options in the region.
But I think when you see a -- a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a -- a -- a huge deterrent. So, I think it serves multiple capabilities.
QUESTION: Last one...
SPICER: Yeah? QUESTION: ... if I might, on infrastructure and taxes.
The CEOs obviously very interested in trying to get something done as quickly as possible: A, shovel-ready opportunities for people to get to work; and obviously, a lowering of the taxes to enhance business expansion and perhaps even lower for middle-class Americans.
But I'm wondering if there isn't a health care component that needs to happen before you can move forward on that.
SPICER: So, there's a -- a few things.
Obviously, getting health care, the repeal and replace done, would open the amount of money that we can use through the reconciliation process...
SPICER: ... to have available -- tax reform. That's why we made it very clear from the beginning that we thought health care should go first. It gives us a greater amount of -- of resources to dedicate to tax reform.
That being said, there's -- under every circumstance, you're talking months of getting tax reform done. That's one area that they -- that they discussed today.
But one of the more important areas, and where I think you're seeing the president enact continuously and decisively, is on the regulatory front. And that's one of the -- the largest burdens that manufacturers, unions, entrepreneurs talk to the president about over and over again is these stifling regulations of a variety of sorts that prevent them -- the coal industry, the manufacturing sector, the auto sector over and over again are talking about the regulatory and the president's ability to take immediate action.
I've mentioned it here before, but I mean, so far, under the Congressional Review Act, this president signed 12 pieces of legislation. That compares to one that was signed in every administration prior to this year total.
And I think that that shows the president's commitment to creating not just a better tax climate, which is going to take a few months, but an immediate regulatory impact that can help businesses break down the barriers, compete more, bring more jobs back to the United States.
I just want to give you an opportunity to clarify something you said (inaudible)...
SPICER: Thank you.
QUESTION: ... right now. Quote, "Hitler didn't even sink to the level of using chemical weapons." What did you mean by that?
SPICER: I -- I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no -- he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. I mean, there was clearly -- I -- I -- I understand what -- thank you.
SPICER: I -- thank you. I appreciate that.
There was not -- in the -- he brought him into the Holocaust (inaudible), and I understand that.
But I was saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent -- into the middle of town. It was brought -- so, the use of it -- and I appreciate the clarification. That was not the intent.
Did the president speak with Secretary Tillerson before he went on this trip to Russia? And is this stern message that the secretary delivered today a direct message from the president to Vladimir Putin?
SPICER: Yeah, I mean, they spoke. He was in Florida with him before he left, and they -- they met, Tillerson and the president, after his meeting with President Xi concluded. And they've talked I think since then as well.
QUESTION: So this message that these (inaudible) stark, harsh words from Secretary Tillerson this morning about Russia, is that -- can that be...
SPICER: I don't know -- I mean, look, I'm not going to -- I don't know the nature of their final conversations. I know there's been some evolution of the intelligence that we have and the actions that have been taken since -- since Friday. So, I don't know where the conversations have laid off. But I think Secretary Tillerson clearly speaks on behalf of the United States and the president's position. John?
QUESTION: Thank you, Sean.
Two foreign policy-related questions. You were speaking about Secretary Tillerson's trip, and I'd like to do a followup to the question I asked two weeks ago. Is he scheduled to meet with Mr. Navalny or Mr. Khodorkovsky (ph) or any of the civil society representatives outside of government? SPICER: I'll refer you back to the State Department, the same way I did two weeks ago. I think they are in charge of his schedule. So I -- I think it's best to look at the State Department.
QUESTION: And has the president or anyone in the administration been in touch with President Erdogan on all of the actions in Syria? SPICER: I do believe that someone -- either the vice president or the secretary of defense spoke with him last week, but I'd have to check. I know there was a series of foreign leader and head-of- government calls to both defense ministers and heads of state. But I'd have to check. I thought he was on that list, but I -- off the top of my head, I cannot recall.
QUESTION: Sean, you said at the top that you hoped that Secretary Tillerson will be able to clearly convey to the Russians the sentiments of the U.S. government. Is that enhanced by a meeting directly with the secretary and President Putin? And if there is no meeting like that, will the president of the United States consider his secretary of state snubbed by the Russian president?
SPICER: Well, obviously, he's going to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov. That's his counterpart. I think that's the job of a foreign minister and a secretary of state to meet with each other. They're the counterparts. And I think that if he didn't meet with -- with President Putin, that he can convey his sentiments and thoughts of the United States to the foreign minister.
QUESTION: Would the history of Putin meeting with Kerry and previous secretaries of state influence the president's judgment on this?
SPICER: We'll have to see. I'm not going to -- I mean, we're not there yet. So I -- I think to pre-judge the outcome of the visit...
QUESTION: ... in other words, for Tillerson to see Putin on this visit, even though there are...
SPICER: No, but I would say that...
QUESTION: ... you want to convey to...
SPICER: No, but I would say that there's a bit of irony that for all these talks that have been perpetuated about back channels and direct links, that now it's "well, they won't meet with you, and does that undermine the relationship" that I've heard time and time again.
SPICER: No, I understand that. But I think it's interesting that we went from all of these direct links to Russia to now are we disappointed that we can't even get a meeting with him. There is a bit of irony in the question.
QUESTION: I don't -- I don't even understand your point.
QUESTION: I'm asking you at a time after the United States has called out Russia for a disinformation campaign in Syria, for collusion with a government it regards as carrying out a war crime, meeting with the Russian president -- is it or is it not a priority of this president to have the secretary of state convey that directly to...
SPICER: He is conveying that message. That's what he's doing.
SPICER: But if the head of the Russian government won't meet with him, then he's going to convey it to his counterpart.
QUESTION: And I'm asking you if that...
SPICER: And I just said we're not there yet, but I think right now...
SPICER: I think the answer is that he's meeting with his counterpart and that's the appropriate person for him to convey that with. And we'll have to wait and see how the meeting goes.
QUESTION: The Russian president today said that all this talk from the White House about weapons of mass destruction reminds him of what he heard from the White House in 2003. This White House is expressing confidence that sarin gas was used. What do you say to skeptics in Moscow? And maybe in other countries, perhaps here at home, who doubt that level of confidence?
SPICER: I think you -- you know, you had a -- there was a 45- minute briefing with members of the national security team prior to this, in which they walked through all of that level of confidence that they have. I think that anybody who doubts that in terms of the pictures that were shown and the media that was there wouldn't just be doubting the intelligence, but would be doubting the entire international reporting crew that was there to document all of this.
SPICER: There have been doctors, intelligence communities, media -- I mean, I -- I don't think it takes mere eyeballs to recognize what's happening and happened throughout there.
So, it's not a question of doubting us. It's doubting everybody but Iran, Syria, North Korea, Russia.
QUESTION: And one other historical villain who used chemical weapons against his own people was Saddam Hussein. It was the policy of the United States government there should be regime change in Iraq as a result of that and other things. Why shouldn't it be the same policy towards Assad?
SPICER: I think that you're -- there's -- there's -- you're trying to act as if -- or you're -- the premise of the question suggests that we don't want a new leader. I think I've stated now two days in a row that we don't see any -- a peaceful or stable Syria in the future that has Assad as -- as the head of it.
The number one priority right now for us as a government is to make sure that we stop the threat of -- threat of ISIS and -- and bring stability to that region. But make no question about it, there is no peaceful and stable Syria in the future that Assad is the head of. That's -- that's it, point blank.
QUESTION: So I just want to clarify, is -- is the U.S. position, as far as cooperation with Russia, that Russia must -- it -- it -- that Russia must admit or agree that Syria was behind the chemical attacks, and then also to -- that Russia must disown Assad? Like, can cooperation happen if Russia maintains its position that Syria was not behind that chemical attack?
SPICER: Well, it's not just -- it's not just behind it. I think that Russia has -- has joined an international agreement regarding the -- the not just the use of, possession of.
It was Susan Rice who went out and said that Syria no longer had access to chemical weapons. We know that's not true.
I think that the United States, Russia and others, signed an international agreement that Syria was part of that said that they would not, not only use, but possess chemical weapons. The first thing that we need to do is make sure that we enforce the existing agreement that Russia is a partner to. That's first and foremost.
And I think we need to make sure that we do that because it is in the national interest of the United States to make sure that the proliferation of chemical weapons spreads no further.
And that -- that is something that we've got to be very careful with. It's not just the deterrence of future use within the field (ph), but also, the proliferation of them throughout the world.
QUESTION: But at this point, Russia's not even agreeing with the U.S. contention that -- that the Syrian government carried out the attack, so...
SPICER: I understand that. And -- and I think that Secretary Tillerson has just landed a few hours ago and I think we'll have an opportunity to talk to them.
But again, you got to -- this is not -- I don't -- you know, as I -- as I just mentioned to Steve a second ago, I mean, you realize that Russia isn't an island on this. They are not -- this is not some big split as to how this actually happened.
The only countries that aren't supporting the U.S.' position are Syria, North Korea, Iran and Russia. This is not exactly, you know, a happy-time cocktail party of people that you want to be associated with. They are failed states, with the exception of Russia.
So these individual states -- this is -- when -- when -- when Russia is saying that they don't agree with us, they are not siding with other nations of stature, they're agreeing with failed states, and a small number of those as it stands.
I think they are staring in the defiance -- or they -- they are -- they are defiant in -- in the world view that doctors, intelligence agencies, reporters, civilians, international experts have all looked at and come to the same conclusion except for them. I don't think there's any other outcome than that.
With that guys, I'll see you back in a little bit. I know we're going to have one more out of our three. Thank you.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You've just been listening to Sean Spicer, the daily briefing.
I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.
Also, just a quick heads up, we're also going to be briefed - the media will be briefed in just about an hour from now from the secretary of defense, James Mattis, on presumably all things Syria. So stay tuned for that. We'll take that live.
All of this is happening as the White House is accusing Russia of a cover-up with regard to the strikes last week, the sarin gas attacks, the chemical weapons attacks. At least 70 civilians, including children, were killed when U.S. officials say the regime released the gas and now a White House officials says Syria and Russia are trying to, quote, "confuse the world community" about what exactly happened. The accusation intensifies. The pressure already weighing on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as he becomes the first Trump administration official to actually meet with Russian government leaders. Tillerson is in Moscow right now.
So I've got an amazing panel standing by. And, David Chalian, let me just go to you first. On this reporting from Jeff Zeleny from the senior administration official saying, quote, "I think it's clear that the Russians are trying to cover up what happened there. What more do we know?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, we know that Sean Spicer and sort of this on-the-record briefing just said there's no consensus. He wanted to leave it there. But on background, these senior administration officials, as Jeff Zeleny was reporting, have - are leaning more into this than they have to date, this notion that Russia had knowledge. And they asked, how could you have your folks on the ground, side by side with the Syrians, and have your equipment side by side with their equipment and not have some knowledge about what's going on? They were raising this question. [14:20:23] And to do this, to have senior administration officials do
this at the White House with reporters, as Rex Tillerson is on the ground in Moscow, certainly ratchets up the pressure on the secretary of state.
BALDWIN: On background, again, more reporting from Zeleny. They stopped short of saying there was proof of Russian collusion, but the officials leaned more in that direction than previously.
Colonel Cedric Leighton, how do you interpret that?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I would say, Brooke, that what you're dealing with here is a private message and a public message. And the fact that the public message is one of, we're not quite sure yet, we haven't quite assessed this, the intelligence community has not achieved consensus, that is giving the Russians a bit of an out when they talk to Secretary Tillerson. The private message, the one that's done on background, is one that says, you know, basically, we do know what you did and we believe that you are complicit in this. So there's that hard line in the background there. It's kind of a carrot and stick approach that they're using at this point.
One sound bite that we'll play in just a moment, and Sean Spicer was asked to clarify exactly what he meant. Sara Murray, let me just bring you in for this since you were in the briefing where Sean Spicer essentially was comparing Assad to Adolph Hitler, but saying even during World War II even Hitler didn't use, you know, chemical weapons on enemy combatants.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. Certainly did not take long for this to catch fire on social media, to see Sean Spicer out here saying that even Hitler didn't use chemical weapons against his people. Obviously not the best comparison.
Listen to exactly how Spicer explained it during the briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: The alliance between Russia and Syria is a strong one. It goes back decades. President Putin has supplied personnel, he's supplied military equipment to the Assad government. What makes you think that at this point he's going to pull back on his support for President Assad and for the Syrian government right now?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think a couple things. You look - we didn't use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a - you know, someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn't even sink to the - to - to using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you're Russia, ask yourself, is this a country that you - and a regime that you want to align yourself with? You have previously signed on to international agreements rightfully acknowledging that the use of chemical weapons should be out of bounds by every country. To not stand up to not only Assad but your own work should be troubling. This is - Russia put their name on the line. So it's not a question of how long that alliance has lasted. But at what point do they recognize that they are now getting on the wrong side of history in a really bad way.
QUESTION: Quote, Hitler didn't even sink to the level of using chemical weapons. What did you mean by that?
SPICER: I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no - he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. I mean there was clearly - I understand your point, thank you. I - thank you. I appreciate that. There was not, in the - in the - he brought them into the Holocaust center. I understand that. What I'm saying, in the way that the - Assad used them, when he went into town, dropped them down to - into the middle of towns. It was brought - so the use of it. I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now, Spicer there clearly trying to differentiate between the chemical weapons attack in Syria and the fact that there were so many innocents who died in gas chambers during the Holocaust.
MURRAY: But, obviously, not a great comparison - not a great differentiation there, Brooke. And I can tell you, in the room there were some audible sort of sounds of shock from some who were listening to Spicer trying to clarify that remark there. Again, something that has already gotten a lot of attention on social media, even as Sean Spicer tried to clean up his initial comment on it.
BALDWIN: Sitting here and heard it and turned to Colonel Leighton and thought, well what about - I mean just even some people (INAUDIBLE) last night and talking about the Holocaust and so many people losing their lives in those gas chambers.
Clarissa Ward, I want to stay on this - this sound bite of Sean Spicer's and the wouldn't seek to the low of Assad. You say - you say this is strategy, the Hitler comparison?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm concerned that it's less strategy and more saying something which you may come to regret. The gas aside, let's just look at - you're setting up a precedent where you are comparing Bashar al Assad to Hitler. You are putting him on par with Hitler who is, I think, widely considered to be one of the most evil men ever to have lived on the face of the earth.
[14:25:08] If you are creating that parallel, then you will find yourself in a situation where you will feel a lot of pressure to try to get rid of this leader before he engages in more evil acts. It's these small rhetorical flourishes that can be a slippery slope. This is exactly how President Barack Obama also managed to box himself into a corner with the so-called red line incident. So I think that making these types of comparisons, while it's easy to say in the heat of the moment, they can have consequences. And words do matter. And they do mean something. That would be my first point. My second point was, he goes on to talk about, you know, Russia, the
reason we're sort of confident that Secretary Tillerson has a good shot at persuading the Russians that they need to disengage or stop supporting the regime of Bashar al Assad is because they don't want to be on the wrong side of history. Whether he intended it or not, that sounds like a very naive argument because the Russians have been in many situations, in many times over history, where they have fully well understood that they may be in the eyes of some on the wrong side of history. This is not what motivates them. This is not what leads them to change policy. And the Obama administration knows that better than anyone else. Naming and shaming and using this kind of guilt trip, if you will, it doesn't work with the Russians. That's not the way they operate. They deal much more in the realm of (INAUDIBLE), Brooke.
BALDWIN: Listening to you and just although, though, back on the Adolph Hitler line, David Chalian, how did that - how did that sit with you?
CHALIAN: Well, I mean, Brooke, he clearly misspoke. Sean clearly is not fluent in World War II history. That is apparent today. And he should have just said, I misspoke, because when he's trying to clarify it he doesn't have the facility at his fingertips to explain the clarification, he misspoke, he totally got the history wrong. He forgot about gas chambers. And then to say, well, no, no, Hitler sent them to the Holocaust center, whatever that is. Again, he just didn't - he - this is not a fluency for him and so he should have just said, I misspoke. That was a bad comparison. Let's move on. But he didn't do that. He tried to take his foot out of his mouth and probably complicated things further for him.
BALDWIN: Is this not - Maeve, you know, we were talking this time yesterday that the barrel bomb line and - and everyone's sort of ears perked and thought, is that the new red line for the administration the use of barrel bombs on a fairly regular basis? Is this just Sean Spicer again a misspeak?
MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think it's an entire administration really trying to find its footing on foreign policy. These are not matters that Donald Trump dealt with on a daily basis by any means. I mean you think about the kind of arguments that he made on the campaign trail about Syria last year, you know, saying that we shouldn't be involved, we shouldn't be the world's policeman and then clearly he had this very emotional response to the photographs that we saw last week.
But, you know, I think that everyone from Trump to Spicer is trying to figure out how to talk about a really complex situation and I think there is, you know, a level of naivety there. That's to be expected if you haven't dealt with these issues. But they clearly are trying to get up to speed very quickly. That is why Trump has brought in so many of the military generals into his inner circle, trying to, you know, get the right advice on this. But certainly a level of naivety there that is probably very unsettling to the American people because we don't know where this is going.
Valerie Szybala, to you, executive director of the Syria Institute.
You know, speaking of lack of clarity, it seems the White House is getting closer and closer to flat out saying Assad should be out. Sean Spicer said that they "need to create a political environment to choose a leader that's suited to them." But if they're being gassed by their leader, how are they supposed to do that?
VALERIE SZYBALA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE SYRIA INSTITUTE: That's a great question and I think any political environment is going to involve international monitors and it's going to need to be peaceful for that to happen because under the Assad regime, elections are not fair. They are not free. They are very intimidating, intimidated. There's fraudulent elections. I think there's a lot - a long way to go before that can happen fighting both ISIS and the Assad regime and other perpetrators of atrocities in Syria.
BALDWIN: What about - here you have, you know, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who goes back, who has a relationship with Vladimir Putin, who's apparently so far not supposed to be meeting with the leader of Russia. You look back to any secretary of state, left or right, inaugural visit, you know, they've always met with the head of the Soviet Union or Russia. So this is significant that thus far he's not, Clarissa. What does he say? And what does this meeting look like with Lavrov?
[14:29:13] WARD: Well, it - it