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Full transcript: 'Face the Nation' on April 15, 2018

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MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS: Today on FACE THE NATION: The U.S. and its allies launch a targeted missile strike on Syria as retaliation for last week's chemical attacks that killed dozens of civilians.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are not the actions of a man. They are a crimes of a monster instead.


BRENNAN: President Trump said the strike was perfectly executed and that the mission was accomplished.

But some in Congress say the strikes didn't go far enough. Either way, the question remains, what exactly is the strategy in Syria and the conflict that's now in its seventh year?

Ambassador Nikki Haley has been leading the diplomatic effort at the United Nations.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.

When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.


BRENNAN: We will talk with Ambassador Haley, then with Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. He called the strikes illegal and reckless, since the president did not seek the approval of Congress before the attack.

Plus, the president's legal problems intensify after the FBI raids his personal attorney's office and home. Michael Cohen is now the subject of a criminal investigation into his business, which may impact his sole client, President Trump.

And another headache for the president, as former FBI Director James Comey's tell-all book is released. We will have analysis on all the news and what's next in Syria coming up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm Margaret Brennan.

Friday night's strike in Syria was launched by British, French and U.S. aircraft, ships and a submarine. Over 100 missiles were fired at three sites in Syria that the U.S. identified as chemical weapons facilities.

Syrian attempts to shoot them down failed and Russian forces held their fire, avoiding the escalation that U.S. officials had feared.

Defense Secretary Mattis called it a heavy strike, but a one-time shot that set the Syrians' chemical weapons program back for years.

CBS News foreign correspondent Seth Doane and his team are in Damascus under the supervision of the Syrian government.

Seth, what's the latest?

SETH DOANE, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Margaret.

The advances here that the Syrian forces have made going into Douma is the big news this morning, remaining control of that area that had been held by the rebels. And that is quite significant because it likely gives chemical weapons inspectors access to that site.

BRENNAN: Now, you did get access to one of the sites that was hit in that allied show of force on Friday. What did you find?

DOANE: We got into one of the areas that had been a research facility here in Damascus, a sort of university. We were there as it was still smoldering and firefighters were still putting out the fire.

These buildings had been completely destroyed. Now, this is a site that the U.S. government, the Pentagon says is key to the development of biological and chemical weapons here in Syria.

We met a scientist who was there on the site who told us he had worked there for 38 years. And he said they were not developing chemical weapons there. It is just another example here in Syria where you are hearing very different facts or allegations from both sides of this conflict.

BRENNAN: The Trump administration says it's not going to intervene in the civil war. Will Friday's strike any impact on the course of the conflict?

DOANE: There is a real defiance that we have seen on the ground here in Syria. But what we have seen from the Syrian government is a determination to move forward and make it appear as though it is business as usual.

You saw those pictures that were released right away by the Syrian presidency and the propaganda wing here showing Bashar al-Assad walking into buildings appeared unfazed following these airstrikes.

BRENNAN: Seth Doane, than you for your reporting there from the bustling capital of Damascus.

Very different images from what we saw in that area hit by alleged that chemical attack just nearby.

We're joined now by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. She's in New York this morning.

Good morning to you, Madam Ambassador.

The White House said they have been reports that since April of last year, there have been at least 30 continued chemical weapons attacks in Syria, some involving sarin.

Why did this particular attack last week warrant military action, but the others didn't?

HALEY: Good morning, Margaret.

Well, I think that obviously this was cumulative. He -- Assad had been using chemical weapons multiple times. But more so, this was about the Security Council resolutions. We had up until this point had six different resolutions that would have dealt with investigative mechanisms for chemical weapons, and Russia had vetoed all of them.

And so we felt like we had gone through every diplomatic measure of talking that we could, and it was time for action. And I think one thing that we hope Assad got the message on is the international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life, and the fact that he was making this more normal and that Russia was covering it up, all of that has to stop.

BRENNAN: Are there any consequences for Assad's patrons, Russia and Iran, who continue to protect him?

HALEY: Absolutely.

So, you will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn't already. And they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons used.

And so I think everyone is going to feel it at this point. I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it.

BRENNAN: Well, the U.S. strikes, while they hit their targets, they still left Assad regime in place, along with all those instruments of Russian and Iranian backing.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who you know well, has said he fears this is a weak military response. So what is the U.S. plan for follow-up?

HALEY: Well, make no question about it. This was a very strong response.

I mean, first of all, we went after their storage facilities where they kept components. We went after their massive research facility, which was the heart of their chemical weapons program. And we went after their production facility.

So, this was very strong attack on the chemical weapons program. We were not looking for war. That's the last thing the president wanted was war. We were not looking to kill people. That was not something that in our American values we would want to do.

We wanted to send a strong message that they needed to stop the chemical weapons program. We wanted -- with the political and diplomatic actions that we're taking now, we wanted their friends Iran and Russia to know that we meant business and that they were going to feel the pain from this as well.

But our goal is not to start war. And our goal is not to kill people. Our goal is to send a very strong message to Assad and his friends that we are not going to watch them continue to use chemical weapons on their people.

BRENNAN: But there is concern that there's a risk, without diplomatic follow-up, this just looks like muscle-flexing. In your assessment, has Assad won this war?

HALEY: This was not muscle-flexing. We sent their chemical weapons program back years.

So from that standpoint, when we look at threats to national -- our American national interests, we definitely did exactly what we wanted to do.


BRENNAN: But Assad's military has reclaimed the area where these chemical weapons were used. He's declaring victory there.

HALEY: Look, Assad has made inroads in terms of taking back property and land and all this. But that's what the Geneva process is for.

We're very involved in the political process of trying to get to a constitution, of trying to allow the people to elect who is going to lead them. Our job was never to take Assad out. Our job was never to start a war. And so what we have done is, we have continued to stay involved diplomatically. We will see that through in terms of the political solution.

From a military standpoint, we felt like along with our allies we needed to make a strong message towards them that Russia can cover up in the United Nations, but Russia cannot cover up when it comes to military strikes on Syria.

And I think that message was heard loud and clear around the world. And so, we feel very good about the message that was sent. It is now up to Bashar al-Assad to see if he's smart enough to receive that message.

BRENNAN: When you say the Geneva process, that's the Obama era U.N.-led process that's been stalled for years that would have Assad eventually negotiate.

Are you open to direct talks with the Assad regime between the U.S. and the Assad regime?

HALEY: Well, let's be clear. That is a process that's being handled in the United Nations that has been ongoing and constant.

So these talks, they come together. What has happened up until now is, Syria has refused to come to the table to negotiate. But Russia and all of the other actors involved are coming to the table. And now it's Russia's turn to deliver Syria to the table for that political process.

So it's moving. It's not moving near as fast as any of us want it to move. But this is a political process that needs to happen. This is not something that we need to militarily go and do regime change. This is something that we have to make sure a political process goes through.

The United Nations is the right place to facilitate that, because they do bring on all of the actors to the table. And we all hope for a political solution for the sake of the Syrian people.

BRENNAN: So, no direct talks between the U.S. and Syria at this point?

HALEY: No. And we would never want to have direct talks with Syria at this point. They're not worthy of talks with the United States. They have done nothing but brutalize their people and destroy their land, all in the name of power.

And so our goal is that, yes, we will be at the talks ,as we have been, related to the Geneva process. The United States is always there and we will continue to be there.

But, no, we are not going to have any one-on-one talks with Assad.

BRENNAN: President Trump intends to bring U.S. troops home from Syria.

If he does that in the next six months, as he said he has wanted to do, doesn't that cede the battleground to Iran?

HALEY: Well, we haven't said that we're going to bring them home in six months.

What we are saying is, at some point, we want to see our military come home. That is obviously the end goal. But there are three things that we have to do to get there. First of all, the president's made it very clear we cannot have chemical weapons usage anywhere. And we will continue to combat that in any way we need to protect American interests.

Secondly, we want to make sure that they understand that ISIS has to be defeated completely and wholly, in a way that we know that we have stabilized the region. We have made fantastic progress on that front.

But we're not going to stop until we know that that area is free of ISIS. And then, thirdly, we want to make sure that the influence of Iran doesn't take over the area. They continue to cause problems throughout the region, and we want to make sure that there is a hold.

The president has asked allies to step up and do more when it comes to Syria. And so all of these things are being done in the name of bringing our military home.

BRENNAN: Ambassador, the president called the FBI raid on his personal attorney's home an attack on our country in a true sense.

He's fired off number of tweets this morning about the fired FBI director, calling him a slime ball, suggesting he should be jailed. What is the president's state of mind?


HALEY: Well, I have spent multiple times with the president at the White House and on the phone this past week.

And his state of mind was very much focused on Syria, chemical weapons, getting the options that were there, making sure we were not doing anything to cause casualties of human life, whether it was our allies or of the Syrian people.

His focus was very much on making sure we knew all of the information so that we didn't make a misstep and waiting it out to make sure that, if we were going to do this, we were willing go to do it right.


BRENNAN: But is it right to consider this an attack on our country?

HALEY: Well, first of all, I have been drowning in all things Syria, North Korea and Iran. So I can't -- I'm sorry, I don't have enough information on anything related to Comey or all of those things.

I just -- I haven't watched TV to watch that. I have been very focused on foreign policy. I think the president's been focused on foreign policy, from the meetings I have been in. So I can only talk about those issues.

BRENNAN: All right, Ambassador, thank you very much.

HALEY: All right, thanks so much, Margaret.

BRENNAN: We want to go now to Richmond, Virginia, and Senator Tim Kaine.

Good morning to you, Senator.

You called these strikes illegal and reckless. The Trump administration says Article II of the Constitution gave the president clearly the powers to take this action.

Why do you think they're wrong?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Margaret, I was interested to hear Ambassador Haley talk about our hope that we would to get to a Syrian constitution.

I hope President Trump will follow the American Constitution. It's very, very clear Congress has power to declare war, and only Congress. So if you are initiating war against a sovereign nation like Syria that hadn't declared war on United States, it's only Congress that can do it.

President Trump is not a king. He's a president. He's supposed to come to Congress to seek permission to initiate a war. As Ambassador Haley said, they had been following these chemical weapons attacks for months. They clearly had time to come to Congress to seek our permission.

And this is really important, Margaret. It's not just about the Constitution. It's about the value underlying the Constitution. The framers basically said, if we're going to order our troops to risk their lives, put them in a situation where they can kill others, be killed or wounded themselves, then there has to be a debate and vote by Congress to say, this is in the national interest.

The president flouting this and saying, I can do it without Congress, what's to stop him from starting a bombing campaign against Iran or North Korea or some other nation and saying, well, I think it's in the national interest?

It's illegal because he didn't come and ask permission. Moreover, it's reckless because, as you pointed out, there isn't a strategy. We need to defeat ISIS, but we hear different things from the administration. Are we staying there now to topple Assad, to counter Iran, to check Russia, to help the Kurds, to buttress Israel, to rebuild our relationships with Turkey?

They haven't laid out a strategy. And military action shouldn't be taken as a one-off. It should be taken as part of a strategy.

BRENNAN: So, do you not think U.S. should have taken action in the wake of a chemical attack?

KAINE: Margaret, when President Obama came to Congress on exactly the same instance in 2014, saying, Syria has used chemical weapons against civilians, Congress should give authority for us to take military action, I voted for that as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

But the president was doing it the right way. He came forward with a plan and a strategy. And we voted yes.

BRENNAN: Well, he wasn't going to get the full support of Congress on that one.

KAINE: Well, look, we got a resolution out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was on the floor of the Senate. And then Syria said, we will give up our weapons stockpile.

But, as you know, in 2014, at that point...

BRENNAN: They did not, clearly.

KAINE: ... citizen -- citizen -- citizen Donald Trump said the president can't constitutionally do this without coming to Congress.

Mike Pompeo, as a House member, currently being considered as secretary of state, said, the president needs Congress.

I'm very troubled that this is a president who seemed to understand what the Constitution required when President Obama was in office, but now he thinks he's a king and he can do whatever he wants without Congress.

BRENNAN: You mentioned Mike Pompeo. The CIA director was before your committee this week testifying as he sort of auditions for this role of secretary of state.

You voted for him as CIA director. Will you vote for him to be the next secretary of state?

KAINE: Margaret, I have decided to vote against him to be secretary of state. I did vote for him as CIA director. He has an intel background that I thought suited him for the position.

But, look, we have a president who is anti-diplomacy. And I worry that Mike Pompeo has shown the same tendency to oppose diplomacy. He was not just against the Iran deal when he was a House member, but he spoke about the relative ease of wiping out Iran's nuclear capacity with a bombing run. He has supported regime change.

BRENNAN: Well, Senator, that's significant that you're saying that you're not going to vote for him, because this would mean he's the first nominee to be secretary of state to not get a favorable recommendation by that committee.

But this still doesn't stop him from becoming America's top diplomat. He can still get confirmed.

KAINE: Well, you're right. We're going to have a floor vote. And I'm telling what you my vote is. I don't want a secretary of state who is going to exacerbate the -- President Trump's tendencies to oppose diplomacy.

You have seen Donald Trump try to underfund State Department and USAID, not appoint key ambassadors, tweet out insults about foreign leaders, back the United States out of international agreements and organizations.

We do not need a secretary of state who is going to exaggerate those tendencies. We need a secretary of state who is going to stand up for strong diplomacy. And I don't believe that is Director Pompeo's inclination.

BRENNAN: Sir, I also want to ask you, because you were, of course, the running mate in the 2016 election on the Hillary Clinton ticket. You have harshly criticized former FBI Director James Comey for his decision to make it public that he was reopening that investigation into the Clinton e-mails.

He spoke to ABC News about his justification for doing so. And I want to play that for you now.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was operating the world where Hillary Clinton was be going to beat Donald Trump. And so I'm sure that it was a factor.

Like I said, I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that she is going to be elected president. And if I hide this from the American people, she will be illegitimate the moment she's elected, that moment this comes out.


BRENNAN: What do you make of that explanation?

KAINE: Margaret, the FBI has two real clear rules. Don't talk about a pending investigation and don't inject controversy right before an election.

They followed those rules with respect to the ongoing investigation into Donald Trump at the time. They didn't follow the rules with respect to Hillary Clinton. There was a clear double standard.

But, look, I have so much on my plate to worry about today and tomorrow, that I'm not spending time thinking about two years ago. I'm trying to get a president to follow the Constitution. I'm trying to make sure that if we are putting our military troops in harm's risk -- I got a kid in the military. And Virginia is very, very connected to the military mission.

There's got to be a strategy. Those are the things that I'm focused on.

BRENNAN: Well, your voice and face are in some RNC ads with your criticism of the director, so I thought it was important to have you comment directly on that. You still stand by your criticism of him?

KAINE: Jim Comey, in my way of thinking, is a good man who made a very consequential blunder.

Good people make mistakes all the time. It just so happened that the double standard blunder that he made had a huge consequence.

BRENNAN: Senator, thank you very much.

And we will be back in one minute to talk about the legal problems ahead for the president's personal attorney.


BRENNAN: It was a very busy week for investigations into President Trump and his associates, from the FBI's raid on Michael Cohen, to the blockbuster new book out by former FBI Director James Comey.

Joining us is CBS News correspondent Paula Reid to help us break it all down, because it has been overwhelming.

Michael Cohen is set to appear in Manhattan court tomorrow. The president was very upset made clear that he thought this was an assault on our country, the fact that his offices were raided.

Is this truly damaging to attorney-client privilege?


Attorney-client privilege is alive and well. And the fact is that attorney-client privilege only protects conversations you have seeking legal advice. It doesn't protect other conversations that you have with your attorney. And it certainly doesn't protect any kind of communication about a possible crime.

What is tricky about Mr. Cohen is, he's a lawyer sort of small L. He mostly works as a fixer for the president. And that is why the Justice Department was arguing in court that they're not really focused on his work as an attorney.

And it also seems that a lot of hysteria about attorney-client privilege almost seems like it could be pretext to set up the firing of the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing this investigation as the number two at the Justice Department. He oversees all the U.S. attorney's offices.

BRENNAN: And you're connecting those dots for us there.

The president was tweeting this week about the special counsel, Robert Mueller. He said he doesn't have the intention to fire him. But the White House says he does have the power to do so.

And that added to the scrutiny not just about Mueller, but Rosenstein himself. Where should we be focused?


REID: This was quite a revelation, that the White House believes the president can fire the special counsel, because, up until that point, most of us believed that only the deputy attorney general could fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

He could of course refuse. And Rosenstein has said multiple times he will not fire the special counsel without cause. So, if he won't do it, the president could fire the deputy attorney general. And then you get into this very unusual line of succession right now at the Justice Department.

You have just a few Justice Department officials, and then you have U.S. attorneys, because Rosenstein's immediate success, Rachel Brand, she vacated her position. She left the Justice Department. And there's a lot of Senate-confirmed positions that haven't been Senate-confirmed.

So, it's a very unusual line of succession if Rosenstein won't follow those orders. Now, on the question of can the president fire special counsel Robert Mueller, this revelation has set off a whole discussion here in Washington. I talked to a lot of legal experts.

And the prevailing theory is that the president could try to dissolve the regulation under which Mueller was appointed. Exactly. It's an internal regulation. You wouldn't need notice and comment.

But that would absolutely probably see some legal challenges. And Mueller himself could even have standing to sue.

BRENNAN: So, is there a need for that legislation that Congress is dancing around to protect him?

REID: There is certainly a cry from both sides of the aisle to try to bolster protections for Mueller and perhaps insulate him from being fired, either through dissolving the regulations or being fired without cause.

BRENNAN: Now, James Comey, who was fired as FBI director by President Trump, has put out this book. And it's got a lot of personal, very colorful descriptions of the president. Compares him to a mafia don, criticizes his skin color and his tanning, perhaps, booth goggle marks around his eyes.

It's personal. Are you surprised that this is the kind of atmospherics and language that the former FBI director is using here? Does this matter? It's clearly getting reaction from the president.

REID: Absolutely, it does matter. Words matter, right?

I mean, this is very personal. And it seems at times very petty. And the problem with that is that it bolsters the president's claim that there's a disdain for the president among top federal law enforcement law officials in this country, and it's that disdain or that contempt that drives these investigations into Cohen or the Russia probe, and not the facts.

The other important thing is, is that these petty jabs, they distract from other really important tidbits in that books, for example, the lack of focus on the Trump administration's part on preventing foreign interference in our elections.

It's very surprising that he chose to use those pages for this purpose.

BRENNAN: All right, Paula Reid, thank you for breaking it down for us.

We will be back in a moment.


BRENNAN: Next Sunday on FACE THE NATION, we will speak with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He's leading a push for America to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement, despite President Trump pulling out of that pact.


BRENNAN: We will be right back with lot more FACE THE NATION, including our political panel and a discussion about just what the U.S. strategy is in Syria.

So, stay with us.



BEN STILLER, ACTOR, "SNL": That's right, it's Michael Cohen, attorney at law. And also sometimes not at law.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, ACTRESS, "SNL": Mr. Cohen, this situation is out of hand.

STILLER: I know. Can you believe what they're doing to poor Mr. Trump. It's a disgrace. This whole raid was a complete violation of attorney-criminal privilege.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, ACTOR, "SNL": Well, if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.

STILLER: Is that a joke? Look, we've got a real problem here, Jeff. You know how much evidence I have in my office? I'm Donald Trump's lawyer. I got a whole hard drive that's just labeled "yikes."



That was Ben stiller playing the role of President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, from last night's "Saturday Night Live."

We turn now to our panel for some analysis of it all.

Ed O'Keefe is a familiar face. As you know, he's been at this table before, but today we're welcoming him in new role, CBS News political correspondent. So you're going to be seeing a lot more of him here.

Margaret Talev is the senior White House correspondent for "Bloomberg News" and a CNN political analyst. Ben Domenech is the publisher of "The Federalist." And Molly Ball is a national political correspondent for "Time" magazine, which had a cover this week that really said it all. If the "SNL" skit didn't, perhaps this does.

And, Molly, let's start off with that where we've also learned Michael Cohen is due in a Manhattan court tomorrow. Apparently now Stormy Daniels will also be appearing, according to her attorney.

Does -- what -- what do you make of all of this? I mean the -- it clearly irritated the president because he sat in the cabinet room at the beginning of a meeting on Syria and called this, you know, an assault on our country.

MOLLY BALL, "TIME": It has clearly gotten to him in a way that few other things about this investigation have. And, this morning, tweeting about Comey, which also seems to be very much under his skin.

But the -- the -- the Michael Cohen raid on Monday was a big surprise. It was a surprise to Cohen. It was a surprise to the White House. This is someone who, obviously, has a very long history with Trump and so it's been very alarming to the president to see this happen. So, you know, all of these things, and as referenced by our cover, are swirling around the president in this sort of constant cloud that envelopes him. And it's hard to know even what to emphasize because there are so many things sort of hanging over his head. We really don't know how any of them are going to end.

BRENNAN: Ben, you know, this is a criminal investigation into Michael Cohen that was made clear in court filings. And a lot of it has to do with his business. Why is the president taking it personally? How should we understand that?

BEN DOMENECH, "THE FEDERALIST": Because it is personal to the president. It's -- that's the most personal thing that you can possibly deal with.

I mean the thing to understand about this context in terms of the southern district of New York doing this raid and engaging in this behavior is that it does definitely strike to the core of what the president thinks about himself and his own personal activities prior to becoming president. And, you know, the fact of the matter is that this -- while it started a year ago under the auspices of an investigation into Russian collusion, at the end of the day this looks more like a convincing case for collusion with "The National Enquirer," which is something that will always, I think, get to the personal core of a person.

I think in -- in terms of the president's attitude towards this, this actually could be a more significant development in terms of the investigation than we might have initially given it -- it credit for. This actually could cut to significant decisions on the part of -- of Michael Cohen, whether at the -- at then citizen Donald Trump's behest or it not decisions that could lead to questions about his, you know, potential bank fraud or -- or campaign finance issues that could come up. How much that directly affects the president, we don't know that yet and we'll have to learn that in the coming weeks.

BRENNAN: Well, another thing that has personally affected, or at least provoked the president, is this book by James Comey. And the RNC has also taken up this -- this cause of attacking him with these series of ads that play clips from Democrats and Republicans alike criticizing the former FBI director and really not mincing words here.

Ed, were you surprised at this kind of ad or is this just the -- the competition's devolved into name calling at this point.

ED. O'KEEFE, CBS NEWS POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I don't think it should surprise anyone that they're working as hard as they can to discredit Comey. This is going to be a huge week for him, certainly for his bottom line. The book's number one. It's probably going to remain there for a little while. He launches his incredible national book tour and media tour tonight and, you know --

BRENNAN: We've got six tweets from the president about him today.

O'KEEFE: Right. Which, again, just probably helps things for Comey.

What's telling, though, you look at a new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll out this morning. They asked about impressions of Comey. A plurality of people in that survey, 38 percent, have no opinion of him. So there actually is space for the RNC and the president to try to discredit him.

While, at the same time, there are plenty of Democrats out there, as you saw from Tim Kaine, who don't necessarily think totally favorably of him because of the role he played in the 2016 election. And let there be no doubt that there was a role played by him.

So, you know, from a crass political perspective, it probably makes sense to do what you can to discredit him. But, again, I've got to believe all of this will help book sales.

DOMENECH: But -- but, frankly, James Comey is only discrediting himself by some of the decisions he's made with this book. The fact is that there is not a significant news bombshell in this book. Everything that he could have told us news wise has already been leaked, it's already been published. And the biggest headline coming out of it actually have more to do with the petty ways that he refers to the president or that the president referred to him. It's much more sort of high school mean girls-esque burn book than it is anything else.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG": And yet I think when you take a look and -- step back and look at the week in totality, until now we've been talking about whether or not the president would take some action to shake the special counsel's investigation. Is Mueller in trouble, be able to keep his job? Is Rob Rosenstein going to get fired?

And with the release of Comey's book and publicity tour, and the case against Michael Cohen that exists outside of Mr. Mueller's channel, you -- what you see, I think, and what may have the president so upset is that even if he could force Mueller out, even if he were to pursue removing Rosenstein, there are these two completely separate channels, one through the justice system and the other through the court of public opinion, where no matter what these questions and the pursuit of this investigation are going to continue. And I think that's part of what has him so rattled.

And the other part of it is, for most American presidents, they're either very old when they leave office or their political career was there their career. And so when they're doing being president, they go back to that legacy.

For President Trump he was a businessman and an image maker for so many years before that whether his presidency ends in 2020 or four years after that, he has that that he has sought to preserve. It's a lot of money and a lot of connections and networks and that is what Jim Comey is shaking right now.

BRENNAN: Margaret, I want to also ask you, though, about the decision to strike in Syria. You heard the U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, say she didn't have time to worry about James Comey and what the president's thinking is on that because she's been so focused on this.

Do we have a sense of what it was like inside this situation room, because it was really the first time that Defense Secretary Mattis was there without his wing man, Rex Tillerson.

TALEV: Yes. And that's a really good point. But what Mattis had this time was the U.K. and France to help temper the president's thinking on this. And I think that is what you saw in terms of the way this strike was measured. In the Middle East, a lot of people were saying, we thought it would be much worse. But, actually, what the president has done here, and part of the reason he may not have gone after equipment, Russian equipment, that sort of thing, is to do a very measured sort of strike that the U.K., France, the international community, most of the U.N. could go along with. And so both in Theresa May and in Mr. Macron, Jim Mattis has found partners with whom to work to help the president make a case for moderation.

BRENNAN: OK. We have so much more to talk about, but we're going to quickly take a break and come back. Take a breath.

We'll be right back.


BRENNAN: And we're back now with our political panel for some analysis on a week we're still reeling from in many ways.

Ben, we haven't even talked about the fact that Speaker Ryan decided on a timeline that surprised many to step away from public life and -- and go home to Wisconsin. The timing surprised many people. What does this do to the horse race?

DOMENECH: Well, in terms of -- in terms of the horse race, I don't think it changed at all that much. It's certainly a sign, though, that Speaker Ryan was not that optimistic that the -- November would be very good for House Republicans. The race to replace him looks to be pretty decidedly in favor of Kevin McCarthy. But that's something that could definitely be for the minority leader position, as opposed to speaker of the House after November.

Ryan leaving is really a tale of a politician who had a moment in time when everyone in Washington thought that he was going to be the next clean cut, wonky leader of the Republican coalition for decades to come.

BRENNAN: You call him a young gun.

DOMENECH: Yes. Well, that's -- that was his branding at the time, along with the -- with the departed Eric Cantor and McCarthy himself.

It was one of those things, though, where I think that Ryan was very much -- as much as he was a significant player in terms of charting the policy future for the GOP in -- from the sort of post-Obama moment on, he was also someone who was out of step, I think, increasingly with the culture warrior mindset of a lot of the Republican base. And his focus on telling stories through histograms and through Excel sheets was not something that actually connected with the Republican base in (INAUDIBLE).

BRENNAN: But is that marketing or is that actually the death of fiscal conservative? I mean you had Bob Corker, the senator out there saying that, you know, this Congress and this administration are going to go down as one of the most fiscally irresponsible in history.

DOMENECH: Fiscal --

O'KEEFE: Right.

DOMENECH: Yes, fiscal conservatism, I think, is -- is dead until the point when a Democrats return to the White House. Ed may -- may disagree (ph).

O'KEEFE: Maybe.

I mean, look, he -- he -- he accomplished all he could. And I think he knew that at this point it's only going to get worse for him. Usually in the modern era speakers don't get to leave on their own terms. By doing it now, that far out, he essentially gets to set the table for his departure. And by anointing his preferred successor, sort of leaves it to Republicans to say, you will sort this out later.

But I think he's correct in saying what whoever is in charge of the Republican conference will have no bearing on results in November. And the message he kept sending I think to his colleagues was, get out there and win your race. Do everything you need to do to get reelected. And if you can't do it, well, you know, that's on you.

The head winds are certainly not in the -- you know, they're going against Republicans and it's going to be a bad year for them it looks like if you believe the forecasting. And he knows that. But we should also give him some credit. He's been in Congress for 20 years. He's only 48. So think about that, a 28 year old. All of his kids have been born since he got into Congress. Family considerations were a legitimate part of this. I think, you know, that -- that is -- that is true.

But, again, he gets to do what so few speakers have done in the last 30, 40 years, and that is get out when he can.

BALL: Well, and think -- you did hear some angst -- I heard some angst from some Republicans on The Hill that he was leaving right now and not after the election.


BALL: And he was asked about that and he said it would have felt dishonest for him to know he was going to step down. But there was this feeling that he was sort of the general abandoning his troops in the middle of a fight. And so I think that's part of the reason he rushed to anoint McCarthy was to prevent there being a very messy leadership fight in the middle of a very difficult election cycle for Republicans.

And, you know --

BRENNAN: Is it that clean or will the Freedom Caucus have their say in this? Is it -- is Kevin McCarthy, does he have this on lock?

BALL: I don't know. But I think probably so. I think, you know, with Ryan, if Trump goes along with this, and Trump likes McCarthy very much, and we believe that McCarthy is probably Trump's referred speaker. You know, McCarthy had problems last time. There were doubts about his ability to lead. But I think things that have changed a lot since then.

And what was a very difficult job for Paul Ryan might actually be an easier job for McCarthy because we won't have this hamlet act with regard to Trump, right? Ryan was so clearly always fighting his own demons and he was getting asked in every press conference to -- you know, this hand wringing about Trump, it was very clear that he didn't like the guy, but that he had to be allies with the guy. McCarthy's been buddies with Trump from the beginning. And to the extent that, you know, Republican in Congress basically want to do whatever Trump wants them to do, I think that will be much easier for McCarthy to -- to bring them together around that.

DOMENECH: The benefits of being a Californian instead of a Midwesterner.

TALEV: And yet I think, Ed's right, the message -- part of the message that Paul Ryan is sending is, save yourself. Don't wait for the president to save you.

BRENNAN: Are there more Republican departures? I mean -- on the (INAUDIBLE)?

O'KEEFE: We -- we -- I mean there are, what, I think there's 19 states that haven't had their filing deadlines yet. In the wake of the speaker's decision, a guy named Dennis Ross from Florida announced he, too, is retiring. You ask Democrats, they've got a list of about another two dozen that could conceivably do it. We'll see if they do.

You know, Democrats need to come up with 23 seats to retake it. It look like, at this point perhaps they could do that. The question will be whether they get many more after that.

And -- and -- and backfilling retirements, resignations, promotions from Republicans is a big part of their problem. Ryan being "exhibit a" at this point. There's, you know, some forecasting now that thinks that his seat is in play.

BRENNAN: Margaret, one of the things that's been uncomfortable for some Senate Republicans, particularly from states that produce agricultural products, the president's announcements on tariff. And this week you had him after this meeting with some senators from those states say, well, let's take another look at the Asia Pacific trade deal that he had already said he was going to exit. They took that as a sign of hope. The president then tweeted the next day a little bit of a walk back.

Is this -- is this just to settle the room? Is this a policy shift? I mean what does the president walk into this meeting with the Japanese prime minister with this week and tell him his position is on TPP?

TALEV: Yes, this is a truly fascinating new turn. The president has hinted for some months that there some was potential in theory to talk about reentering the TPP, but it seemed that he had taken it to a new level this week. He emerged from that meeting with the western leaders. Ben Sasse made it a point to lay down a marker and say, he told Lighthizer and Larry Kudlow, he tapped them to figure out if and how we should reenter the TPP. And I think Sasse put down that marker on purpose to put it out there.

But here's what's happened. The -- getting out of the TPP and the Trans-Pacific Partnership was one of the first things President Trump did in office. The tariff thing has not played well on the stock market and it has not played well with some of Trump voters, some of the Trump base. And this seems to be a testing, a floating of the idea of reentering. Everyone in the TPP says they would welcome the U.S. back, but many in this --

BRENNAN: They don't want to renegotiate it.

TALEV: Many in the TPP says, the terms are set. You guys missed your window. We are not cracking this thing open. But we think it's good for you and good for the rest of the world and good for, to some extent, countering China to have the U.S. back in. And now the president has a real decision to make.

DOMENECH: The president ran in 2016 on a platform that sounded frequently protectionist and isolationist. The fact is that as president his policies have not been as protectionist or isolationist as you might have predicted based on what he was saying at the time. I think this is another example of how he kind of wants to play both sides of these things. He -- he likes the idea of protectionism and tariffs in certain respects, but he really doesn't like the idea of Wall Street's reaction to that.

BRENNAN: All right, thank you very much, to all of you.

We'll be back in a moment to talk about what's next for the U.S. in Syria.


BRENNAN: We want to take a closer look at the situation in Syria with retired Navy Admiral James Winnefeld, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and now a CBS News military and homeland security analyst. Also with us is Ambassador James Jeffrey, the former U.S. envoy to Turkey and Iraq under President George W. Bush and under the Obama administration as well.

Thank you both for coming on the show.

Admiral, this attack in Syria hit three locations. The Pentagon says its set the chemical weapons program back at least a few years. How do you assess its efficacy?

RET. ADM. JAMES WINNEFELD, FORMER JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF VICE CHAIR: Well, first of all, we have to understand that more than anything else this attack was about the international community standing up one more time to prevent the normalization of the use of chemical weapons. Remember, it's not too long ago that the community did this as well when Russia made an assassination attempt in Britain and the -- and many countries ejected Russian diplomats. Well, this is yet another example of that community standing up and pushing back saying we're not going to allow this to happen.

BRENNAN: Do you see that -- would this have happened were it not for what you just described happening in the U.K. with that poisoning of that former Russian agent?

WINNEFELD: Yes, I think it would have happened. And it's a question of how much accumulated misbehavior on the part of Assad regime using chemical weapons is enough to stack up where the international community says, you know, it's time to do something about this. Whether or not it results in Assad not using chemical weapons again is certainly going to be open for debate. We'll see whether that happens. But the important thing is that the community has stood up and said, we are not going to tolerate the normalization of the use of chemical weapons.

BRENNAN: Ambassador, what is the Assad regime take away from this? This is the second time they've been hit by a U.S. strike.

AMB. JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. ENVOY TO IRAQ AND TURKEY: I think, Margaret, that the assessment on their part is, the Trump administration is concerned about dealing with the symptoms of the underlying problem, the Syrian civil war. And as Nikki Haley mentioned, Iran's expansion into the vacuum, such as ISIS, such as the chemical weapons, but is not going to do very much against the underlying problem that is destabilizing the whole region.

BRENNAN: That sounds a lot like some of the criticism of the Obama administration's strategy in Syria, or (INAUDIBLE)?

JEFFREY: It's very similar. Again, it's dealing with the symptoms. The Trump administration a bit more with military force, which is not a bad thing and could have results at least on the chemical weapons front, but it's not, again, tackling what the problem is. And turning to the Arab states and expecting them to stand up, not just to Iran but to Russia, is no way to get out of this mess.

BRENNAN: Admiral, is there a takeaway that we can learn in terms of how this strike was decided? You know, Aaron David Miller, you know, a long time diplomat, said that the key takeaway is not what happen in Syria but what didn't. That Mattis was able to deescalate.

WINNEFELD: Right. I think --

BRENNAN: Is that your read?

WINNEFELD: It is. And I think that, you know, when you consider that a strike like this really is on the ragged edge of international law. When that happens, it's very important to have a very tight target set and to have a coalition behind you. And that's exactly what happened. And that's one of the reasons why it took a while to get this thing together. It didn't happen a day after the chemical attacks occurred. You not only have to bring the coalition together, you have to very carefully examine the policy implications of what you're about to do. And it was a very, very complex strike that was very well executed. It takes time to get that together.

BRENNAN: And Russia held its fire. What do you make of that?

WINNEFELD: I think Russia understands that they're on the wrong side of history here. They're on a roll.

BRENNAN: Do they? They've been on the right side in terms of who's winning the war for the past seven years.

WINNEFELD: Well, they're on a roll here. They've illegally annexed the Crimea. They've interfered in our elections. They have tried to assassinate somebody in Great Britain. And now they're backing a monster who is using chemical weapons against his own people.

So I think it was -- it was -- the writing was on the wall in the Kremlin. Certainly they're going to push back publicly. No question about it. But I think they realized that even if they could have interfered with the strike, which is debatable, I don't think that they were going to do too much.

BRENNAN: Ambassador, President Trump again, in his announcement of these strikes, reiterated his intent to not stay in Syria. A gesture to bringing those U.S. troops home. But you've said that's actually not a bad decision. What do you think that would mean if you bring those boots who are there, the 2,000 or so, and pull them out?

JEFFREY: Pulling the ground troops out, Margaret, because I think they're doing, at this point, a peripheral mission of dealing with the remnants of ISIS is not a bad idea because Americans are very nervous about this. But Maintaining overall military pressure, no fly zones, action against chemical weapons, essentially what Israel is doing and what Turkey is doing in other parts of Syria would be the building blocks of a real strategy if we could unite everybody behind one.

BRENNAN: You don't see that as vacating the battlefield to Iran?

JEFFREY: No, because I think that we would have to continue to provide, as we did with the Iraqi Kurds after 1991, air cover and some kind of liaison capability so that that terrain becomes denied to Assad and the Iranians.

BRENNAN: And that would require the Trump administration agreeing to protect some of these areas in the south, and they haven't necessarily said they would do that if Assad's forces go into these so-called cease fire zones.

WINNEFELD: True. And I think it's really important to remember that the actual reason why our forces are there in the first place, under international law, and that is to defeat ISIL, not to overthrow the Assad regime or -- or some other ambition. There are probably peripheral sides to that -- that idea, but legally the reason why we're there is collective self-defense with our partners in the region against ISIL.

BRENNAN: Ambassador, in the next few weeks we're going to see a lot of potential flash points. You've got the Iraqi elections. You've also got President Trump needing to make a decision on the Iran nuclear deal. What do you think is going to happen here? I mean can you put those pieces together for us?

JEFFREY: They all circle around a central point, which is, a shift in the geostrategic structure of a critically important region in the Middle East by Iran, enabled by Russia, and helped by its proxies, such as Assad. There's an Iraq aspect to that, a Yemen, and also a nuclear agreement aspect to it. The president wants to pull out of the nuclear agreement. For my money, that's not a good idea. He should focus more on putting together that kind of alliance that can deal across the board with what Iran is doing and then put some military and economic muscle behind what Nikki Haley told you earlier is the Geneva political process. Diplomacy is fine, but as a former diplomat, it doesn't work without pressure.

BRENNAN: All right, ambassador, admiral, thank you very much for joining us.

And we'll be right back.


BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thanks for watching.

Next week, in addition to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, John Dickerson, a pretty familiar face here at FACE THE NATION, will be joining us to talk about the cover story he's written for next month's "Atlantic" magazine on the presidency.

For FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.

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