RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It was supposed to be a meeting about the U.S. response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. But when President Trump let reporters in the room at the start of the meeting yesterday, he had something else on his mind. He led off the discussion by declaring, quote, "so I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys." The president then spoke for several minutes about an FBI raid. Agents with a search warrant obtained documents from personal lawyer to the president Michael Cohen.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Here we are talking about Syria. We're talking about a lot of serious things with the greatest fighting force ever. And I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now.
MARTIN: Eventually, the president did get around to that chemical weapons attack in Syria.
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TRUMP: We can't let that happen. In our world, we can't let that happen, especially when we're able to - because of the power of the United States, because of the power of our country, we're able to stop it.
MARTIN: Aid organizations say at least 43 people, including women and children, have died from chemical agent symptoms. For more, we are joined by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. He serves on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Senator, thanks so much for being back on the show.
CORY GARDNER: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Let's start first, if we could, with this FBI raid on President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen. The president is describing this as part of what he has long seen as a witch hunt. What do you make of this? Is the Department of Justice overstepping its authority here in any way?
GARDNER: Well, I would describe this as a very serious matter, that it is not lightly taken to go into the office of someone's personal attorney. This is one of the most sacred areas of law, the attorney-client privilege. And so the orders that had to be signed to allow this to happen had to be reviewed carefully by the judicial system. This is not something that should be taken lightly. And I hope it's taken very seriously. And I know they have complied with the investigation so far. They must continue to do that.
MARTIN: As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I mean, you have been involved in the investigations into Russian interference in U.S. elections. This suggestion for this raid originated in the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel on the Russia investigation. What do you think the FBI is hoping to learn from this?
GARDNER: You know, I don't know. We have not - I'm not on a relevant oversight committee for the FBI or the investigation. What I've learned has come through public reports in the news and on the television reports. But again, I think this is something that is going to take a lot of time to assure that attorney-client privilege is protected. And we should learn more through the public. I think the public should learn more through the pronouncements of the FBI and others. I think the public has a keen interest in knowing what is happening and why it's happening. So I hope that disclosure and transparency is forthcoming.
MARTIN: All right. I'd like to move on to the administration's calculus on Syria, which was the original intent of this meeting yesterday. Do you think the administration needs to respond to the Syrian government's alleged chemical attack with a military strike?
GARDNER: I do think the administration needs to respond. The appropriate response should be determined not just by the United States but by a coalition of our allies and others - other nations who are interested in peace in Syria, a resolution in the Middle East. It is clear from this attack that there is no future for Bashar al-Assad as a leader in Syria. It is clear from this heinous attack that the chemical weapons were indeed not removed from Syria as was promised. It's clear that Russia has failed to live up to its guarantor of removal of chemical weapons. It is clear that Iran has established a significant permanent presence in Syria. And what's more frightening is Israel now deciding that they have to take things into their own hands to address the situation because they feel that there isn't a consensus plan to address Syria.
MARTIN: And Israel launched a missile attack in response to this chemical weapons attack by Bashar al-Assad. Let me ask you, though, you just said it is clear that Bashar al-Assad cannot remain in power. That is decidedly different than what the U.S. policy has been. I mean, for years, the U.S. has stated that the primary objective in Syria is to eliminate ISIS strongholds. Are you clear on what the U.S. administration, the Trump administration's strategy is in Syria right now?
GARDNER: Well, I think in the coming days, the administration, as the president said yesterday, must come forward with a concrete plan of action that doesn't just include the United States but includes our allies - it was discussed yesterday at the United Nations - and that includes our allies in the Middle East and our nations in the Middle East who have an interest in peace in Syria to come up with a clear and concrete plan. Look, we've seen...
MARTIN: Does it disturb you that there hasn't been one?
GARDNER: This is a disturbing development, indeed. But it's also a disturbing trend that has developed under the previous administration that continues into today. So what has to happen, of course, is not just the United States action but resolution from nations around the globe that not only condemn Assad with their words but with their actions. We cannot sit by and watch this depraved individual carry out murderous chemical attacks on his own people. And we know what Iran's interest is. Iran's interest is in the Iranian crescent, which will extend their power beyond Syria into Lebanon even more as they back terror activities against Israel and destabilize the Middle East.
MARTIN: So when you hear President Trump just days ago saying he wants the U.S. to pull out of Syria, you think that's a mistake.
GARDNER: I think it is a mistake. And I hope that course, that action, that language will be corrected and rectified in the coming days.
MARTIN: Cory Gardner, Republican senator from Colorado, thanks for your time, sir.
GARDNER: Thank you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.