In our news wrap Thursday, President Trump and the Russians swapped warnings about striking Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack. White House officials said Trump plans to speak with French and British leaders about next steps. Also, the president played down talk that he might fire special counsel Robert Mueller, tweeting that he's cooperating with the Russia probe.
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The Pompeo confirmation hearing to be secretary of state is taking place as the administration confronts urgent questions about Syria.
President Trump and Russian officials swapped warnings today about whether to strike the Middle Eastern nation over a suspected chemical weapons attack. The president first said that a U.S. response could come — quote — "very soon or not so soon at all."
Then, at a White House meeting, he was pressed on whether the U.S. is indeed getting ready to attack.
President Donald Trump:
We're looking very, very seriously, very closely at that whole situation. And we will see what happens, folks. We will see what happens.
It's too bad that the world puts us in a position like that. But, as I said this morning, we have done a great job with ISIS. We have just absolutely decimated ISIS. But now we have to make some further decisions, so they will be made fairly soon.
Later, the president met with his National Security Council to discuss next steps. Afterwards, officials said he plans to speak tonight with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Today, May announced that her Cabinet has approved a plan to work with the U.S. and France to coordinate an international response to Syria's actions.
Meanwhile, Russia asked for the U.N. Security Council to meet tomorrow. Its ambassador to the U.N. said Moscow wants to avoid a war.
We hope that there will be no point of no return, that the U.S. and their allies will refrain. The danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria, because our military are there on the invitation of the Syrian government.
The back-and-forth came as international inspectors headed for Syria. They will begin a fact-finding mission on Saturday.
Amid the tensions over Syria, there's another shakeup in President Trump's national security team. It's widely reported that Ricky Waddell will step down as national security adviser — deputy national security adviser. He's the latest of several top staffers to leave since John Bolton took over as the new national security adviser.
The president today played down talk that he might fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia investigation. Instead, the president tweeted that he's cooperating with the probe. He said, "I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in."
Later, White House lawyer Ty Cobb denied an NBC News report that negotiations with Mueller have broken down.
In London, international investigators have confirmed that former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons didn't say who was responsible. Britain charged again that it was Russia, but Moscow insisted the findings mean nothing.
Maria Zakharova (through translator):
Russia will not trust any conclusions in the Skripal case until Russian experts have been granted access to the relevant materials linked to the OPCW expertise and all the information London has on this incident.
Britain has asked the U.N. Security Council to meet next week to discuss the report.
The National Enquirer's parent company is denying that it suppressed a story that President Trump had a child out of wedlock in the 1980s. American Media Incorporated said today the claim wasn't credible. "The New Yorker" and the Associated Press reported that AMI paid a former Trump Tower doorman $30,000 in late 2015, but never ran the story. The doorman maintained today that his story was true.
The U.S. Senate today confirmed Andrew Wheeler to be the number two at the Environmental Protection Agency. He is a former coal lobbyist who has opposed regulations affecting that industry. Wheeler will now be line to run the EPA if the agency's embattled Director Scott Pruitt were to be forced out.
Oklahoma teachers say they're going back to class, after an almost two-week walkout that shut schools across the state. The teachers union celebrated what it called a historic funding increase. The Republican-controlled legislature had approved tax hikes that provided $450 million in new funds. That's $150 million short of the teachers' demands.
And on Wall Street, stocks rose as fears of a trade war with China eased again. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 293 points to close at 24483. The Nasdaq rose 71 points, and the S&P 500 added 21.