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Trump: 'Horrific' Syria Attack an 'Affront to Humanity'; Bannon Removed from National Security Council; Trump to NYT: 'I Think' Susan Rice Committed Crime. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Lines crossed. Expressing horror at the chemical attack in Syria, President Trump says the gassing of children crossed a lot of lines. He says Syria is now his responsibility as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley displays images of young victims, saying if the United Nations won't act, quote, "We may."

[17:00:29] Calling it a crime. Offering no proof, President Trump says he thinks Obama national security adviser Susan Rice committed a crime in the unmasking of Trump aides caught up in the surveillance ever foreign officials. Democrats say the White House is trying to distract from the probe of Russia's ties to the Trump campaign.

No seat at the table. President Trump removes his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, from the inner circle of the National Security Council. Is Bannon now losing influence and power in the White House?

And no comment. After North Korea fires another missile, a White House source warns that all options are on the table, but the secretary of state says the U.S., quote, "has spoken enough about North Korea." So what's the message for Kim Jong-un?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. The Trump administration is voicing outrage over the deadly chemical attack in Syria. At the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley held up gruesome pictures of young victims, and President Trump calls the gassing an affront to humanity, adding -- and I'm quoting now -- "That attack on children had a big impact on me."

After blaming his predecessor for missed opportunities in Syria, President Trump says the crisis is now his responsibility, but he's not saying what he'll do about it, and today he made no mention of Russia's aggressive role in the conflict.

Citing no evidence, President Trump tells the "New York Times" he thinks Obama national security adviser Susan Rice committed a crime by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were caught up in surveillance of foreign officials. Democrats say Republicans are slandering Rice to distract from the investigation into Russia's election meddling and ties between Trump associates and Russia. And President Trump has removed his chief strategist, Steve Bannon,

from the National Security Council, sources saying the president made the decision himself. The move strengthens national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and Republican sources say it's the first public diminishing of Bannon's powerful role inside the White House.

I'll talk to Congressman Jim Himes of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with President Trump. Juggling world crises and voicing horror at the deadly gas attack against civilians, including children in Syria. Our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us now with the very latest.

Jeff, very strong reaction today from the president.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the strongest words we have heard on Syria or the Assad regime from this president. He did call it an affront to humanity and saying that the chemical attack affected him personally. But we don't know how it will influence his policy.

But all of this is happening as there's a major shake-up on the president's National Security Council. One of his top advisers demoted tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

ZELENY: President Trump strongly condemning the deadly chemical attacks in Syria and the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me, big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing, and I've been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn't get any worse than that.

ZELENY: But in the Rose Garden today the president stopping short of saying how he would respond to the foreign policy challenges profoundly testing his White House.

BLITZER: My attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much, and if you look back over the last few weeks there were other attacks using gas. You're now talking about a whole different level.

ZELENY: Facing threats from North Korea and a war-torn Middle East, the Trump doctrine is still very much unclear, and for that, the president did not apologize.

TRUMP: I'm not saying I'm doing anything one way or the other, but I'm certainly not going to be telling you.

ZELENY: Today the president was eager to criticize the Obama administration for failing to act in Syria, despite Assad crossing a red line, using chemical weapons.

TRUMP: It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.

ZELENY: But the president also offered a rare acknowledgement the burden is now his.

TRUMP: I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly. I will tell you that. It is now my responsibility. It was a great opportunity missed.

ZELENY: Yet Mr. Trump did not once mention Russia and its critical role in propping up the Syrian regime. He left the tough talk on Russia to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

HALEY: If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it.

ZELENY: Foreign policy is taking center stage in the biggest way yet in the young Trump presidency. After welcoming King Abdullah of Jordan today, he'll host China President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago retreat Thursday in Florida.

The president also making adjustments to his steam, removing Steve Bannon from his National Security Council. It reverses a controversial decision from Mr. Trump's first days in office.

General H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor who stepped in after the firing of Michael Flynn, is empowered by the move, sources tell CNN.

Bannon was not front and center in the Rose Garden today. His diminishing restores a more traditional structure to the National Security Council, with Dan Coates, director of national intelligence; and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs, back at the table.

All this as the president is still finding it easier to criticize his predecessor than charting his own course forward.

TRUMP: The world is a mess. I inherited a mess, whether it's the Middle East, whether it's North Korea, whether it's so many other things, whether it's in our country, horrible trade deals, I inherited a mess. We're going to fix it.


ZELENY: Now Mr. Bannon was appointed to the principals committee of the National Security Council in the early days, in fact, the first week of this administration. Now this sudden abrupt move, Wolf, is meaning that General H.R. McMaster is a power center, a new power center inside this White House. We're told that he wanted his own people on the National Security Council, so now that that has happened, there is a growing number of foreign threats facing this administration. The next one, North Korea certainly first and foremost will be the topic "A" of discussion tomorrow when President Trump meets with the Chinese president in Florida.

BLITZER: Yes. They've got a lot of major national security threats right now to deal with. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

As investigators dig deeper into Russia's election meddling here in the United States and links to the Trump campaign, the president lashes out with an extraordinary new charge.

Let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju. Manu, update our viewers. What's the latest?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, President Trump leveling an extraordinary charge, accusing one of former President Obama's top aides of committing a crime without offering any evidence.

Now this comes as House and Senate Intelligence Committee does want to interview that top aide, Susan Rice, as part of their broadening investigation into Russia.

And tonight, Wolf, new signs of turmoil in that House investigation that is having a hard time restarting.


RAJU (voice-over): President Trump now leveling a stunning new accusation, that former President Obama's national security adviser may have broken the law. This after Susan Rice has faced allegations that she tried to learn the names of Trump associates speaking with foreign officials under surveillance. which is not illegal.

When asked if he thought Rice broke the law, Trump told the "New York Times," "Do I think? Yes, I think." He added, "It's such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time."

Rice defended herself yesterday.

SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That's absolutely false.

RAJU: It's unclear which law the president thinks Rice broke, and he offered no new evidence. A Rice spokesperson says she's not going to dignify the president's ludicrous charge with a comment.

On Capitol Hill the House Intelligence Committee plans to invite Rice to testify as part of its widening probe into Russia and the Trump campaign.

(on camera): What do you think about the president just saying that, that she may have broken the law?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, hopefully, he has some evidence and facts to back that up.

RAJU (voice-over): Democrats say Rice did not wrong, and they accuse the GOP of slandering Rice to distract from revelations of Trump campaign contacts with Russians accused of meddling in the elections.

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're watching a movie in 3-D: deception, deflection and distraction, and this is just part of a grander strategy of distraction. Don't look over here where we're trying to investigate Russian interference and the potential coordination and collusion of Trump operatives.

RAJU: And today more squabbling in the House committee as Democrats accuse Republican chairman Devin Nunes of preventing a public hearing from going forward, namely to hear the testimony from Sally Yates, a former top Obama justice official, who had warned the Trump administration that former national security adviser Michael Flynn may have been vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IN), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think that there's a great deal of resistance.

RAJU: A Republican source tells CNN that Republicans are working on an agreement to schedule Yates' testimony but declined to say if it would be in a public session. Other Republicans on the committee refused to comment today.

(on camera): They're saying you're resisting signing -- having her testify publicly.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We're not going to talk about anything to do with this investigation.

RAJU: Why not?

NUNES: Because the investigation is ongoing.

RAJU (voice-over): The full House panel also has yet to see documents that Chairman Devin Nunes and ranking Democrat Adam Schiff reviewed on White House grounds, that Nunes said showed some Trump team communications were incidentally collected by U.S. intelligence, and some of their identities were revealed in intelligence reports. Schiff telling CNN that the president committed to allowing the full panel to review the information, but the White House staff is now preventing that from happening.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: The White House clearly only wanted one person to see these documents, and that person was our chairman. It reluctantly had to allow myself to view it and the chair and ranking on Senate intel. Now I want the full committees to be able to see that, and we're meeting resistance.


RAJU: Now, Wolf, tonight the White House is responding to Mr. Schiff's charge but not directly, saying that they are making some of that information available but to the Gang of Eight, which is the leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as well as the leaders of both the House and the Senate, but not responding to the question about whether or not they're going to provide that information to the full committee, which is what Mr. Schiff wants.

Now, also, we are hearing that the Senate Intelligence Committee can access those surveillance documents that Nunes and Schiff saw at Fort Meade, the home of the National Security Agency. And the question tonight, Wolf, is whether the senators will go over there yet. No schedule as of yet, but at least they're saying they're making the information available at the NSA headquarters, Wolf.

BLITZER: Which is not very far away from the capital in suburban Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. All right, Manu. Thanks very much.

Joining us now, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Good afternoon, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'd like to go through all of these headlines, but let me start with the horrific chemical attack carried out against Syrian civilians. We've all seen the pictures by now. The president said today his attitude toward the Bashar al-Assad regime has changed very much as a result of seeing these pictures.

Yet at the same time the president believes Syrian refugees should be barred from entering the United States indefinitely. Now that these atrocities are taking place and the whole world is watching, do you believe the president can or will reconsider his position on Syrian refugees?

HIMES: Well, I'm not sure about his position on Syrian refugees. I will tell you that I'm pleased to see the president come away from the position that he was adopting mere days ago, when he was making the point that Assad is a fact on the ground, sort of validating Assad's presence. And of course, just 24 hours later we get this horrific act against his own people, by the way, using weapons that we thought had been negotiated out of the country with the help of Russia.

So I'm glad to see the president evolving on this issue, and I hope he comes to see that, if he's really serious about working with all of the parties in the region, which is how this has to happen, that saying that we're not going to take Syrian refugees is a huge step in the wrong direction, both with respect to appearing constructive but also with respect to -- to making it clear to the Islamic terrorists in the region, ISIS in particular, that we are not -- we're not, you know, off on some anti-Muslim crusade here.

BLITZER: Let me also get your response to the president's latest claim, unfounded as far as we know, that president Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, in his words to the "New York Times" may have committed a crime. Have you seen any evidence at all to suggest that Susan Rice did anything illegal or improper? HIMES: Absolutely none, Wolf, and it doesn't surprise me one bit that

the president would make such an unfounded and unfactual [SIC] accusation. I mean, remember, it was only a couple of months ago that the president accused the former president of the United States of wiretapping him in Trump Tower, you know. Obviously a huge and serious accusation, which had absolutely no basis in reality. This is also true of the Rice accusation.

I've made this point any number of times. Unmasking, an unmasking by senior officials is not an unusual thing, and it is not -- that does not mean leaking. It does not mean broad dissemination.

So I'm on board with the concept of let's take a look at what Susan Rice did, and as you said, she is on a witness list for the House Intelligence Committee's investigation. I have every confidence that, when she testifies, she will explain how this was something that she would do in the normal course of business and that she didn't share it with anybody in the political realm.

BLITZER: You told our own Anderson Cooper Monday night that you believe your full committee, the full House Intelligence Committee, will be given access to the same documents which prompted Chairman Devin Nunes to brief President Trump over at the White House. What do you expect those documents to show?

HIMES: Well, maybe I can update the previous story a little bit. My sense is that this investigation is actually moving forward pretty constructively. We are rescheduling, I'm told, the Comey/Rogers meeting. As far as I know, we are working to reschedule the open meeting with deputy attorney general Sally Yates. And I think -- I've been told that every effort has been made to make those documents available to all of us. In fact, I'm scheduled to go to one of our agencies tomorrow to review those documents, and so I'm expecting to be able to do that. We'll see if it actually happens.

BLITZER: You'll go to Fort Meade, at the headquarters of the National Security Agency, to review those documents.

HIMES: Well, I'll go to wherever they may be resident. I'm not, you know, some -- obviously, the chairman and the ranking member reviewed them at the White House. I will go wherever I'm told to go to review those documents.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, on the eve of President Trump's crucial meeting with China's leader, North Korea fires off yet another missile, but is the U.S. sending mixed messages to Kim Jong-un?

And I'll speak with the former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, CNN's new national security analyst, General Michael Hayden. You see him right there. He's standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Our breaking news. Facing challenges abroad and investigations at home, President Trump fires off a stunning new charge, saying he thinks the former president's national security adviser, Susan Rice, may have broken the law.

Let's bring in the former CIA director, former NSA director, our new CNN national security analyst, retired General Michael Hayden.

Welcome to CNN. Thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: The president provided in this "New York Times" interview no evidence at all to back up his claim that Susan Rice, in his words, may have committed a crime. How extraordinary is it for a sitting president to level a charge like this?

HAYDEN: It's very unusual for a sitting American president to level such a charge.

Look, Wolf, I can't read into Susan Rice's heart, and any legitimate authority can be abused, all right? But on its face what I know about the Susan Rice unmasking story, what has gone on here was lawful, appropriate and -- here's the punch line -- pretty routine. Not exceptional.

BLITZER: And she decided that there were unnamed Americans that she wanted to get the names of, because there was something going on involving national security.

HAYDEN: Right. So to -- one thing to importantly keep in mind: that report doesn't get to her desk unless someone at Fort Meade, at NSA already thinks it has significant foreign intelligence. And now she's making a request to better understand what we've already established is important foreign intelligence.

BLITZER: So the president levels this charge -- she may have committed a crime -- in "The New York Times." Senator Rand Paul, he's also making some serious charges. I want you to listen to what he said about what Susan Rice, what he believes Susan Rice did in this interview. Watch this.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Here's the thing is you can order -- you can order the specific, you know, listening device, or you can say, "You know what? We already have it." And it's just amazing reverse targeting, and we have millions of people in a database. And I can can be Susan Rice and go down and type "Donald Trump" or "General Flynn" into a database. And boom, up comes all this information.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know if that happens?

PAUL: Is that not -- is that not the same as ordering the surveillance? They know it exists. Look, every business, every international businessman or woman who

talks overseas is in that database. Do we want political officials to be able to type in the name of Bill Gates and find out they have a deal going on in Europe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But those names are supposed to be masked. That's the point.

PAUL: I believe Susan Rice abused this system, and she did it for political purposes. She needs to be brought in and questioned under oath.



BLITZER: Is that a fair characterization?

HAYDEN: Oh, my, no. First of all, there are a lot of alternative facts in the description. And what the senator has done -- and I hope it's just out of ignorance -- is that he's conflated two very distinct things.

Let me start over here with Susan Rice with -- which we've just discussed. That's a report. It's based -- if you listen to Devin Nunes, based upon a FISA court-warranted surveillance of a foreign target. We get the information, report it to Susan Rice. She wants to understand it better: "Unmask the American identity, if you can, please."

And by the way, Wolf, NSA occasionally says no. Right?

Over here what the senator was talking about was something called the 702 Program, which is a very productive program for the National Security Agency. Has to do with e-mails, and it's targeted against foreigners who are overseas. Now he actually, in this case, raises an important issue. NSA, by law, is allowed to query that lawfully- collected intelligence space with U.S. person selectors. That's an important issue. I'm happy to debate that this coming summer when 702 has to be reauthorized, but that's not this.

BLITZER: In practice, if a national security adviser at the White House wants to demask someone's name and find out who is that person these foreign officials were discussing, there's a process you have to go through. It's not simple, is it?

[17:25:06] HAYDEN: Oh, no. What you do is you've gotten the report. You say, "I really need to know who U.S. Person No. 1 is." You fill out a request: in her case a staff member would fill out the request. It would go to NSA, and it literally, Wolf, be adjudicated by the analyst, a lawyer and then someone who's an expert in unmasking and minimization.

If the argument made by the requester -- and by the way it doesn't have to be the national security adviser. It could be a GS-9 analyst at CIA who needs it to perform his or her job. They make an adjudication. They make a decision. And then, Wolf, if it's yes, that identity is revealed only to the requester, not to everyone else on the original distribution. So this is very careful and very well- documented. It should be easy to find out how often she asked, why, who was revealed and under what circumstances.

BLITZER: And when you say easy, it shouldn't take very long at all.

HAYDEN: No. It's a well-documented trail.

BLITZER: There's a long paper trail.

HAYDEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You can go through it within a day or two if you want.

HAYDEN: Half a day, half a day.

BLITZER: You would think the president of the United States, if he told his national security advisors, "I want specifics. I want to know what she did. Tell me as soon as you can," how long would it take for them to share that information with the president?

HAYDEN: Frankly I think you put half a dozen folks whose judgment you trust on a bus. You send them up to Fort Meade. This is a limited universe. I think they can do it -- they could do it in a morning. Wolf, if you want answers, this is easily arrived at. If you want an issue, that's different.

BLITZER: The question is did the president seek that information, or is he just making that charge?


BLITZER: Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, he was on that principals committee of the National Security Council. It caused an uproar. But now he's been removed. Your reaction?

HAYDEN: Yes, I think that's a good thing. What we have done is swung back to normal. We've also added the director of Central Intelligence -- Central Intelligence Agency, the DNI, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. That is the traditional structure.

And frankly, if I were in the meeting with Mr. Bannon there, I'd kind of think that was the political commissar at the end of the table, and that might have a chilling effect on meaningful discussion.

And Wolf, there is a bit of a struggle going on. I think the president is detached from the government out there that exists only to serve him and is relying on a small group of family and friends for his core guidance. I think this step is a step in the right direction to connect the president, through H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, to these tens of thousands of folks who really do want to make him succeed.

BLITZER: But some of the people in his national security team you respect, like General McMaster, General Mattis... HAYDEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... Mike Pompeo at the CIA.

HAYDEN: Absolutely. Kelly at Department of Homeland Security, Coates as the director of national intelligence. But what I'm wondering is how do these folks out here influence the core decision-making? And my great fear is that Mr. Trump is, taking the style that worked for him in business -- family and friends, tight circle -- has maybe isolated himself from all these other functions that are actually pretty good at what they do.

BLITZER: Stand by. We have more to discuss. Much more with General Hayden. We'll take a quick break. New developments coming in as we speak.


BLITZER: We're talking with the former CIA and NSA director, CNN's new national security analyst, Michael Hayden. Get back to him in a moment, but first, as President Trump gets ready for critical talks tomorrow with China's leader, North Korea test-fires yet another missile.

[17:32:53] Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

Brian, the White House seems to be exasperated.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are exasperated, Wolf. They are angry, and they are sending strong signals tonight that they're about to get tougher with North Korea. There is a real sense that Kim Jong- un is pushing President Trump as far as he can, showing his firepower and testing how the president and his Chinese counterpart might respond.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight Kim Jong-un's missile program is moving at a furious pace. His forces have fired what's believed to be a Scud missile into the Sea of Japan. A senior U.S. defense official telling CNN the missile spun out of control and had a fiery descent into the sea, but a top U.S. general warns even when he fails in these test- firings, Kim gets more dangerous.

GEN. JOHN HYTEN, COMMANDER, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: North Korea is going fast. Test, fail, test, fail, test succeed, and they are learning. And you can see them learning, because that's the way you do the rocket business.

TODD: What worries America and its allies most tonight is how close Kim is getting to having a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental U.S.

(on camera): Realistically, how close are they to having that really dangerous capability? THOMAS KARAKO, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: So they

could be close. They've tested a lot of the constituent parts of an ICBM. They've tested a lot of the different technologies. Kim has said that they're going to try to do it this year. If -- the next four years, that could very well be the case.

TODD (voice-over): Kim's latest test-firing comes on the eve of President Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr. Trump signaling today that what to do about Kim Jong-un will be a crucial topic.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a big problem. We have somebody that is not doing the right thing, and that's going to be my responsibility, but I'll tell you that responsibility could have made -- been made a lot easier if it was handled years ago.

TODD: A senior White House official tells CNN the clock has now run out on North Korea, and all options are on the table. Another White House official tells us that doesn't mean the president's team has made up its mind to launch a preemptive military strike.

At the same time, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued an unusually stark statement, saying, quote, "The United States has spoken enough about North Korea."

[17:35:03] Analysts say a military strike would be the president's riskiest move because of the potential for North Korea to attack Seoul or the 28,000 American troops near the DMZ.

What's the most realistic option for President Trump?

STEPHEN NOERPER, SENIOR DIRECTOR, THE KOREA SOCIETY: What is most likely is a step up in sanctions, attempts to cut North Korea off even further from the international financial system. There are ways to provide a tighter stranglehold, and they'll be looking at China for that.


TODD: But analysts say the Chinese president may be reluctant to put more pressure on Kim Jong-un, feeling that he's already done enough to support the sanctions already in place and fearing the potential for chaos on his border if North Korea comes under more pressure and destabilizes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much.

We're back with CNN's new national security analyst general, General Michael Hayden, the former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency.

So they're pretty terse, the State Department statement: "The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment." Is that a wise strategy? HAYDEN: Yes, I'm actually heartened a bit by it. Look, the approach

of the Obama administration was what they called strategic patience, and frankly, at the time, I thought that actually showed some wisdom. It was kind of the metaphor, Wolf, that these guys were 3-year-olds throwing their porridge on the floor and, you know, ignore them for a while. Don't respond to all that. Parenting manuals tell you that.

Well, now after four or five years, they're not throwing porridge on the floor. They're grabbing the flat screen and throwing it on the floor. And they've gotten a lot more dangerous. And so I think strategic patience has outlived its usefulness.

Now, that doesn't mean there are easy options going forward. This is a wicked problem. And it's not because the president's predecessors were lazy, stupid or inept. This is a real tough one.

BLITZER: You said last night pretty ominous words. I'll read it to you. You were at a forum here in Washington. "Before the end of President Trump's current term, the North Koreans will probably be able to reach Seattle with an indigenously-produced nuclear weapon aboard an indigenously-produced intercontinental ballistic missile."


BLITZER: That's less than four years away.

HAYDEN: It is, and I added, now it's probably a low probability shot because of all the problems that your report pointed out putting this all together. But then you have to ask, what kind of odds are you comfortable with?

And so they are inexorably moving into this position where they will, indeed, be able to reach North America with these kinds of weapons.

BLITZER: But realistically, when the U.S. says all options are on table, the military option, given what's going on along the Demilitarized Zone, you have a million North Korean troops with thousands of artillery pieces and missiles that could be aimed at 10 million, 15 million South Koreans in Seoul 30 miles away, 30,000 U.S. troops along the DMZ.


BLITZER: Is the U.S. willing to take a chance like that to knock out, let's say, a nuclear reactor?

HAYDEN: I don't think so, and the first thing I'd ask is your report talked a bit about a strike, and my initial question was against what? I mean, what is it you do that actually disarms them? That actually creates the effect that you really want to have?

And your point is well taken. I've served in Korea twice. My last tour in Seoul. My desk in downtown Seoul, a city of 14 million people, was within artillery range of thousands of North Korean artillery pieces. Your report points out, I think, the best possible option, upping the sanctions, and here it's via the Chinese, Wolf. It's secondary sanctions.

BLITZER: Are they going to come through the Chinese?

HAYDEN: Well, what we need to be able to do is, frankly, punish Chinese firms for dealing with the North Koreans, the secondary sanction approach. Now that's dramatic, and the Chinese are going to complain; and we're probably going to have to give up other things we want to impose on the Chinese. I mean, this is a package. There's a reason the wicked problem is still around. There are no easy solutions.

BLITZER: And the president is going to be meeting with the Chinese leader tomorrow down in Palm Beach.

General, it's good to have you here on CNN.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us. You'll be a frequent guest here.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. General Michael Hayden joining us.

Coming up, as more sponsors drop FOX News host Bill O'Reilly in the wake of revelations millions of dollars that were paid to settle sexual harassment claims, President Trump now goes out of his way to praise Bill O'Reilly, saying he shouldn't have settled.


[17:43:52] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including President Trump, without offering any proof, telling the "New York Times" he thinks former national security adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime by unmasking Trump associates.

Just now, a spokeswoman for Susan Rice gave CNN this statement. I'm quoting: "I'm not going to dignify the president's ludicrous charge with a comment."

Let's bring in our political experts. Gloria, let me start with you. Where does this end? He made the accusations more than a month ago against President Obama illegally wiretapping Trump Tower, and now he's making this very, very stark accusation against his national security adviser.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Without saying and specifying exactly what that crime would be, and my suspicion is there isn't any crime, of course, because what she was doing was her job. She was looking at information that was in front of her. She was trying to understand the context of this information, and that is why you ask to see a little bit more of it.

This is what national security advisers are supposed to do. They are supposed to consume intelligence, and they are supposed to try and understand intelligence so they can understand how -- how important it is.

And so it's very difficult for me to see where this ends, because maybe there are going to be some other accusations thrown out there when you try to divert from the main story, which is the question of Russia hacking and the question of whether there was any collusion between Trump transition officials and the Russians.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Chris Cillizza, what do you think?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I don't know where it ends. I think what he continues to try to do is pick here, pick here, pick here, throw it all in the big bowl, and hope that, at the end of the day, the Russia stuff is lost a little bit and that there is a sense among people, well, the government is listening to us. They're doing all these things.

It's bad, right? And they don't pay attention to the details. But, again, to Gloria's point, take this in isolation. The President of the United States is saying the former top national security official in his predecessor's administration committed a crime of unknown origin and is not providing evidence but is saying, well, we'll talk about that later.

BORGER: And by the way --

CILLIZZA: That's a gigantic -- you know, just substitute any other president for President Donald Trump, that's huge. Imagine if Barack Obama said that about George W. Bush.

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, let's remember he also accused Barack Obama of a felony of wiretapping him during the election. I mean, this is nothing new for Donald Trump.

BORGER: Well, but are you sending a signal to your Justice Department that this --

BLITZER: He's in charge of all the law enforcement agencies of the U.S. government.

BORGER: Right. Well, it is not appropriate to say that somebody ought to be prosecuted because she's committed a crime, I mean, without saying what the crime is. I mean, he's the President of the United States.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BLITZER: Because, Rebecca, she hasn't been charged with anything, Susan Rice, at all. And for the President of the United States to make a claim like this, his credibility is on the line.

BERG: Right. But, I mean, let's dive into a brief history of Donald Trump making baseless claims. He has done this many times before and we've seen this before. That doesn't make it good. That doesn't make it all right, something we should condone. But he has a history of doing this, Wolf, and not necessarily caring

about his credibility but making these claims nonetheless because they either muddy the waters, they make a political argument for them, untrue though they may be. And, you know, if you say something untrue enough times, some people will start to believe that it's true.

BORGER: And he can end it.

CILLIZZA: Of course.

BORGER: He can end this anytime he wants. He can just say this is why I believe she committed a crime. He can declassify any piece of information he wants in order to prove his point.

CILLIZZA: There's a danger in the idea that when the President of the United States speaks, we don't know whether it's based on a piece of information that he possesses that no one else does or if he is just saying it to say it. Yes, in this situation, it's serious. But when we talk about foreign policy, that is a dangerous thing here or abroad.

BLITZER: Right. You're absolutely right. Is he reacting to hard intelligence --

CILLIZZA: Right. That's not --

BLITZER: -- information that he received, or is he reacting to what he saw on the shows on television?

CILLIZZA: A story he read or saw on television.

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: Well, it's a question of, do we take him literally?

BLITZER: Just stand by. Everybody, stand by. In that same "New York Times" interview, the President also had some surprising comments about Bill O'Reilly. We'll have that for you when we come back.


[17:52:27] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts.

Rebecca, in that same "New York Times" interview, the President weighed in on the Bill O'Reilly controversies. He and Fox have paid over $13 million to settle complaints. More than 40 advertisers have now dropped advertising on Bill O'Reilly's show.

Here's what the President said, "He is a good person. I think he shouldn't have settled. Personally, I think he shouldn't have settled because you should've taken it all the way. I don't think Bill did anything wrong." All of a sudden, the President, weighing in.

BERG: Well, of course, the President has long said that he does not like settling lawsuits in general so that element of his response is, of course, no surprise. But let's remember that he invited Roger Ailes as an adviser onto his campaign informally during the presidential campaign after Roger Ailes was faced with all these accusations of sexual harassment at Fox News, had to settle a lawsuit as well for millions of dollars and then leave the company. So clearly, Donald Trump does not feel this is a diminishing characteristic for a man.

CILLIZZA: And let's be clear, by the way, Donald Trump has roughly zero percent knowledge of -- the idea that Donald Trump has any understanding of the cases against Bill O'Reilly, there is no there there. Essentially, what Donald Trump is saying in that quote is, I'm friends with Bill O'Reilly and he probably didn't do anything wrong --


CILLIZZA: -- which, again, if you're a private citizen, I mean, OK, if that's how you want to take it. You're the President of the United States. It's a higher bar and it should be.

BORGER: Can I just say, why is he even weighing in on this? I mean, Wolf, you were pointing out in the break that his aides were standing behind him during this interview with "The New York Times."

BLITZER: The President, yes.

BORGER: Do you think they wanted him to weigh in on the cases against Bill O'Reilly? I think not. But, as you point out, Rebecca, he was with Roger Ailes all the way, and he's going to be with Bill O'Reilly all the way. And he may feel that, in his own way, he himself has been wronged with the "Access Hollywood" tape or whatever. And that this is --

CILLIZZA: There's no question that that's a piece that he feels as though he's been targeted.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's been --

BORGER: So he's been targeted in the same way.


BERG: Right.

BORGER: And maybe that's why there's some alliance.

BLITZER: And it's significant that in "The New York Times" interview, she writes that the interview was held in the Oval Office. The President was behind his desk. There were half a dozen aides standing around the President, including Gary Cohn, Reince Priebus, the Vice President Mike Pence. And he's doing an interview, he's talking about Bill O'Reilly in front of all of these people.

CILLIZZA: I mean, again, it's very difficult for even the Vice President to say, you know, Mr. President, don't say that. Again, one thing I'll point out --

BORGER: I wish they had thought bubbles over their heads. [17:54:59] CILLIZZA: That would be -- my guess is that Mike Pence

probably had other more useful ways to spend his time than sort of being the wingman for Donald Trump in an interview, but this is how he does things.

BORGER: He wants them.

CILLIZZA: And it is radically, radically different than anything we've seen before, which I would normally dismiss, except the fact he started at 1 percent in the polls, was given no chance, did exactly the opposite of what political conventional wisdom would suggest you do at every turn, and got elected President.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, don't go too far away. Coming up, we have more breaking news we're following.

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