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Naval Mixup?; Interview With California Congressman John Garamendi; Trump Praises Turkish Power Grab?; Trump Order Pushes Feds to "Buy American, Hire American"; Inside North Korea Amid Threats & Rising Tensions. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 18, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: New questions tonight about President Trump's call to congratulate the Turkish president on a controversial election win. Other Western leaders are keeping their distance, fearing a key U.S. ally may be heading toward dictatorship.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, the U.S. military is on the brink of testing its ability to shoot down North Korea's missiles, a move that could help deter Kim Jong-un's nuclear threats or possibly provoke him even more.

The two tests set for next month come as a North Korean official is warning that the regime plans to launch missiles every week, defying warnings by the Trump administration that its nuclear weapons program won't be tolerated.

The Pentagon also is responding to a new taunt by Russia at a time of rising tensions, U.S. fighter jets intercepting two of Moscow's nuclear-capable bombers off the coast of Alaska. It's the first time the Kremlin has sent warplanes so close to the United States since President Trump took office.

Also tonight, a stark new warning by the head of Homeland Security that the risk after terror attack on American soil is worse today than it was on 9/11. Secretary John Kelly citing 37 ISIS-linked plots to attack the United States since 2013.

This hour, I will talk with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, a member of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

But, first, we have breaking news on the FBI investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible connections to Trump associates.

Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, broke the story, along with Shimon Prokupecz and Manu Raju.

Evan is joining us right now.

So, Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, U.S. officials tell CNN that, last year, the FBI used the dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign part of the justification to get approval to secretly monitor Trump associate Carter Page.

Now, those sources say that FBI Director James Comey has cited the dossier in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks as one as sources of the information that the bureau used to bolster its investigation.

This includes approval from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act known as FISA to monitor Page's communications. To obtain permission to target Page, the FBI and the Justice Department would have to present probable cause that he was acting as an agent of a foreign power, including possibly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering for a foreign government.

Comey and other top Justice Department officials would have had to sign off on that request. Last year, Page was identified by the Trump campaign as an adviser on national security matters, though it has since said that he had limited interaction with the campaign as a volunteer.

BLITZER: Evan, how surprising is it that this was even done?

PEREZ: It is surprising, because Comey's briefings to lawmakers stands in contrast to the efforts in recent months by the bureau and U.S. intelligence agencies to try to distance themselves from that dossier.

U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have said that U.S. investigators did their own work, separate from the dossier, to support the findings that Russia tried to meddle in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. Now our sources say that Comey hasn't mentioned the dossier in all of these lawmaker briefings.

BLITZER: Carter Page himself would not beware that this was going on, right?

PEREZ: That's right. You will recall that Page has been scrutinize before in a 2013 investigation of a Russian spy ring included descriptions of interactions that he had with one of the alleged spies.

Now, Page denies he knew they were Russian agents. And that summer, he traveled to Russia to give a speech highly critical of U.S. policy on Russia. That speech actually drew the attention of the FBI, according to U.S. officials we have been talking to, raising concerns that Page perhaps was having contact with suspected Russian operatives.

Page said he took the trip independently and that he expressed his own views, and overall he has disputed anything was illegal in his interactions with Russians. He did send us a statement. And in that statement, Page says -- quote -- "I look forward to the Privacy Act of 1974 lawsuit that I plan to file in response to the civil rights violations by Obama administration appointees last year. The discovery process will of great value to the United States as our nation hears testimony from them under oath that and we receive disclosure of the documents which show what exactly was done in 2016."

Wolf, he is pointing to Obama administration officials that he says are pushing these Russian allegations.

BLITZER: You know, I'm sure you will appreciate this, because if this was going on, Evan, during the election, Democrats will almost certainly complain that Comey, James Comey, the FBI director, spoke about the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton during the election campaign, but never spoke about this.


PEREZ: Right, exactly.

That's actually a criticism we have heard repeatedly from Democrats, Wolf. The explanation that Comey has given both to lawmakers and to people he has talked to about this is that, in contrast to the Clinton investigation, which was in his view and the FBI's view a done investigation, wrapped up, finished, the Trump investigation was just getting started last July and certainly was not done by the time the election came around.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Good reporting. Thanks very much, Evan Perez, and your entire team for that report.

Now to the threats coming from North Korea and the U.S. military's response.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you learning?


Well, the U.S. military has had a very longstanding program for missile defense against countries like North Korea and Iran, but two key upcoming tests next month are getting some renewed attention.

There will be two tests over the Pacific clearly aimed at both Iran and North Korea, but very much looking very newsy for the North Korean threat at this point. One of the tests will be a missile on board a ship, an improved missile. It will have a better warhead. It will have a bigger booster. If it all works, it will allow the Navy to target North Korea from further distances away.

The second test will be one for homeland defense, ground-based interceptor launching out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California trying to hit a target high over the Pacific Ocean. This will be very directly aimed at whether the U.S. can defend against an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile, something it fears North Korea is working on.

That program right now has about a 50 percent success rate. So they have a real urgent desire, let's say, to get that program very much improved, get them really able to defend the homeland against incoming threats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There is also some confusion, serious confusion, Barbara, about deployment of U.S. warships, the strike force. We were told they were heading toward the Korean Peninsula, but they weren't. What else can you tell us?

STARR: Well, by all accounts, a miscommunication between the White House and the Pentagon. Let's put it this way, the U.S. Navy always knew where its aircraft carrier was, right?

This aircraft carrier group had stopped off Australia to do a number of naval exercises. But that was even as the Pentagon was announcing it was headed towards the Western Pacific, and the White House and Pentagon pretty much let stand the impression, if you will, that it would be somewhere off the Korean Peninsula.

This aircraft carrier group at the best of times a show of force against North Korea -- the carrier has no offensive realistic capability against a North Korean threat. It was part of the messaging of the military to send it up that way. But, still, it stopped off Australia, surprising a lot of people that it would make a stop along the way, CNN having reported that several days ago, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. The Pentagon, meanwhile, also responding to a new military encounter with Russia. Tell us about that.

STARR: That was yesterday.

The Russians for the first time in a couple of years sending their bombers off the coast of Alaska, about a hundred miles off of Alaska. The U.S. maintains air patrols up there all the time. They saw them coming. Two U.S. Air Force F-22 aircraft went out, met the Russian planes. Some other U.S. planes showed up.

And they basically escorted the Russians, who turned around, and escorted them out of the area. The Russians definitely pinging, if you will, at a U.S. response. Not clear yet it was a full-on provocation, but they had not done it up in that region for some time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, reminiscent of the bad old days of the Cold War.

Thanks very much for that, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon.

Vice President Pence, meanwhile, says North Korea is getting the message that the United States won't stand for its reckless nuclear activity. It is a message Pence personally delivered during his visit to North Korea's heavily armed border with South Korea.

CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is the only network television reporter traveling with the vice president on his Asian tour. She is reporting for us tonight from Tokyo -- Dana.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the vice president initially planned this 10-day Asia trip to focus on economic discussions. But that was been overshadowed by bellicose back and forth about and now with North Korea.

(voice-over): Vice President Mike Pence is now in Japan. But his warnings for North Korea while at the demilitarized zone sent Pyongyang's representative at the United Nations scrambling to respond.


(on camera): The North Koreans have noticed the things you have been saying while you have been here in Asia. In fact, the deputy ambassador to the U.N. from North Korea said that you and the administration, but clearly responding to your words.

KIM IN RYONG, DEPUTY NORTH KOREAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It has been created a dangerous situation in which the nuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula and it poses a serious threat to the war, the peace and security.

BASH: Would you like to respond to that?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My hope is that the wider world and that the leadership in North Korea is listening to what President Trump and the world community is saying.

BASH (voice-over): North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador also made this accusation:

RYONG: The United States is disturbing global peace and stability and insisting on the gangster-like logic.

BASH (on camera): Are you concerned that what you are saying is being taken in North Korea as saber-rattling, despite the fact that you are also talking about diplomacy?

PENCE: I think what president is concerned about, what countries that we have visited are concerned about are the reckless and irresponsible actions of the regime in Pyongyang. The time has really come for North Korea to get the message. As the president says, it is time for them to behave, to listen to the world community and to set aside their nuclear ambitions, their ballistic missile ambitions, and be willing to join the family of nations.

And, for my part, in some odd way, it is encouraging that they are getting the message.

BASH (voice-over): North Korea definitely heard, though it's unclear whether they got the message, or how this new Trump administration rhetoric translates into practical policy. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged caution. SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): It goes

without saying that it is a matter of paramount importance for us to seek diplomatic efforts, as well as peaceful settlement of the issue. At the same time, dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless.

BASH: With North Korea only 650 miles across the Sea of Japan, where Pyongyang often tests missiles, the Japanese have perpetual jitters. Pence promised solidarity.

PENCE: President Trump is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region and with China to achieve a peaceful resolution and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

BASH (on camera): That sounds a lot like the so-called six-party talks more than a decade ago during the Bush administration that failed to stop North Korea's nuclear program. The question now for the Trump administration is how this approach will be any different -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Dana Bash reporting for us from Tokyo, thank you.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us, Congressman John Garamendi. He's Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: I want to get North Korea and all the other issues.

But first let's discuss the story CNN broke right at the top of the hour, the FBI using that Trump dossier to get a FISA warrant for Carter Page. What is your reaction to that? Does it suggest that at least some of the context of that dossier were verified by the FBI?

GARAMENDI: I think, yes. The answer would be yes.

They would not be able to go to the FISA court with only that. They had to back it up with additional information. And apparently they succeeded in getting additional information and getting the warrant. And whatever additional information they have gathered as a result of that, we will find.

But one thing that is absolutely apparent to me and should be to all Americans is that this cannot be handled by Congress. There has to be an independent committee set up outside of all of the politics of Congress, so that we can get to the bottom of an exceptionally important part of the American democracy.

BLITZER: But the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating. The House Intelligence Committee is investigating. The FBI is also investigating. You heard James Comey say there is a criminal investigation under way. Isn't that enough?

GARAMENDI: No, it's not.

The two congressional investigations are tainted with politics. It is the nature of us. It's nature of those people that are in Congress and the Senate. Rarely are we able to push aside the politics and get down to what is really going on.

The American people have to have trust in the investigation. The House investigation is purely tainted. The Senate is somewhat better off. But let's get an independent organization in place.

BLITZER: All right, I want to move on. But do you have confidence in your FBI investigation, Congressman?

GARAMENDI: Let's just say I'm hopeful.

BLITZER: What does that mean? Doesn't sound like you have a lot of confidence in the FBI director, James Comey.


GARAMENDI: I want Comey to prove us to that he is going to carry this out. He appeared in a classified session with us. And, frankly, most Democrats were very, very disappointed with what he had to say.


So, this is his opportunity to prove himself, to prove that the FBI is capable, is not going to be partisan one way or the other, but will get to the facts.

However, given the FBI, it's not necessary that those facts will ever be made public. And that's why an independent investigation, making the facts, all of the information, whether there is or is not a problem, we need to know. The FBI may never be able to or may never want to reveal that, nor do they have to.

BLITZER: All right, let's shift to North Korea right now.

The Trump administration is saying a miscommunication is to blame for the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier and the entire battle group not necessarily sent to Korean Peninsula, even as the president, the defense secretary were claiming it was moving toward the Korean Peninsula.

Can the United States afford a miscommunication like that when dealing with a threat from North Korea?

GARAMENDI: No, cannot.

And this is one of the fundamental problems of this administration. This last five days, we have seen the administration shift positions on fundamental issues. At least five major fundamental issues, they have shifted positions on. And so the world doesn't really know what they mean. And this is one for example. Call it miscommunications, which I

suppose it is. But the rest of the world says, what is going on over there? Do they have any idea what they are doing? One day, it is yes, the next day, it is no. And in between, people are wondering.

And with regard to Korea, it is a very, very dangerous situation. You talk about a hair trigger, that's what exists on the Korean Peninsula.

BLITZER: Yes, the DMZ may be the most dangerous spot on Earth right now.

You're on the Armed Services Committee. As you know, the Pentagon describes missile the defense system that will be tested in May as having what they call limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles and says only about half of the tests so far of this system have been successful.

Are American defenses keeping up with what is seen as a growing threat from Kim Jong-un?

GARAMENDI: Well, at the present time, the answer is yes, insofar as intercontinental ballistic missiles are concerned.

We have a sufficient number of missiles. While one or another might miss, we can fire off a significant salvo and we can deter or take down a limited, a limited number of missiles. And for some time, Korea, North Korea will not have either an intercontinental ballistic missile or a nuclear warhead that can be placed on that missile.

So we're talking about some time in the future where this will be a real situation. At the moment, the most likely way of delivering a nuclear weapon to the United States is on the fishing boat into one of our ports, not on an intercontinental ballistic missile, at least in the near term.

BLITZER: The question is definition of the near term.

GARAMENDI: Yes, exactly.

BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. There are new developments coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're back with House Armed Services Committee member John Garamendi.

Congressman, I want you to stand by for a moment.

We are learning more right now about President Trumps' outreach to the leader of Turkey, who dramatically expanded his authoritarian power in a vote tainted by allegations of serious fraud.

Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, the White House says Mr. Trump has no regrets about his congratulatory phone call to President Erdogan. What is the latest?


And this is a complicated relationship. The U.S. needs Turkey's continued help in the fight against ISIS, but it also wants to see a strong democracy there. So, what we are seeing from the administration right now is this odd almost good cop/bad cop dynamic, with President Trump being the only Western leader to call Turkish President Erdogan and congratulate him. But at the same time, the State Department is saying there are some problems here.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Turkish President Recep Erdogan's divisive, razor-thin national referendum win now means he has sweeping powers, but he tells CNN in an exclusive interview he is not a dictator.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): For a dictatorship to exist, you don't necessarily have to have a presidential system.

KOSINSKI: Outside observers, though, suspect a rigged election and that this was more about Erdogan gaining power than improving Turkey's political system. The only Western leader to call Erdogan and congratulate him? Donald Trump.

No mention of concerns observers have that ballots were manipulated or illegally counted, that there was intimidation, that the election happened during a state of emergency after last year's coup attempt, during which Erdogan's government fired or suspended more than 100,000 people, including teachers and journalists, and jailed tens of thousands of others.

Today, a Trump administration official tells CNN: "The president is aware of all of that. On the other hand, Turkey is a vital NATO ally in the counterterrorism field. If your policy is America first and protecting America, there are times when you're going to be picking from some imperfect options."

Still, zero European leaders joined Trump in contacting Erdogan. Others who did congratulate include Hamas, Qatar and Bahrain.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There are political consequences of this, but I think the president obviously made a decision to continue to reinforce our relationship with Turkey, given the circumstances of facing ISIS on the ground.

KOSINSKI: It was the president's own State Department that sounded the alarm about democracy in a statement. "Concerns include observed irregularities on voting day and an uneven playing field. We look to the government of Turkey to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens, commitment to the rule of law and a diverse and free media." [18:25:10]

Trump, though, has praised strongman leaders like Vladimir Putin. Critics question whether Trump's own business interests in Turkey prevent him pushing back against Erdogan's tactics. Trump admitted in the 2015 interview with Steve Bannon at Breitbart News:

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul that it is a tremendously successful job. It is called Trump Towers. They are incredible people. They have a strong leader.

SONER CAGAPTAY, DIRECTOR, TURKISH RESEARCH PROGRAM, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: The message that he congratulated President Erdogan of course will not sit well with the millions of Turks who did not vote for President Erdogan and were very upset that an election that looks like rigged will get a seal of approval from the United States.


KOSINSKI: Tonight, the White House continues to defend the phone call, saying that President Trump supports democracy, but he was protecting American interests in this call by focusing on working together.

And it should be said that the Obama administration also at times struggled with its relationship. Remember, after the coup attempt, as Erdogan was cracking down with tens of thousands of people affected, the White House at first refused to say they had any problem with it. It was only after constant questioning by reporters that they finally admitted, OK, we have some concerns -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Michelle, thank you, Michelle Kosinski at the State Department.

Let's get back to Congressman Garamendi.

So, Congressman, the Trump administration seems to be implying that speaking out on this shift towards authoritarianism in Turkey would hurt the overall fight against ISIS. Do you believe this is an either/or situation?

GARAMENDI: No, not at all.

I do think that the White House is quite correct that Trump is protecting an American interest in Istanbul. Clearly, President Trump has a serious conflict of interest in everything that goes on in Turkey. And this isn't the first example of where he has weighed into Turkish issues that ultimately come to his benefit, and the interview with Bannon is a pretty good example, where he admits his own conflict.

This speaks to the larger issue of just who and what is Trump protecting. Now, in the larger sense, Turkey is an extremely important part of the American-NATO system, also extremely important of the fight against ISIS, not without some serious difficulties as to what to do with the Kurds who we support, that is, the Syrian Kurds, in their effort to go after ISIS.

The Turks clearly oppose that. And so this conflict has yet to be worked out. And one of the reasons that things seemed to stall in the attack on Raqqa is that this issue between Turkey, the Kurds, the Syrian Kurds and the United States has not yet been worked out.

BLITZER: Certainly hasn't. So what message, do you believe, Congressman, President Trump's reaction to this referendum sends to other foreign leaders?

GARAMENDI: Well, it sends, don't worry about democracy. You are not going to get anything from the White House about human rights, about democracy, civil liberties, and the rest.

Take the Philippines, for example. The president has been very, very quiet about what is gone on in the Philippines with Duterte, and at the same time, Duterte has sent as his personal emissary to the White House Mr. Trump's business partner.

These connections are very, very troublesome, because it leads all of us to wonder, just what is the priority? Is it personal business or is it the American business?

It's not clear in my mind. These questions are raised multiple times across the entire world. And then the Ivanka Trump issue, receiving two additional trademarks after meeting with Xi at Mar-a-Lago, what is that all about?

This woman at the time was a White House aide. She was an employee of the U.S. government, of the American people. Meeting personally with the president of China, and then getting a little goody on the hands like a trademark?

These are real serious questions about conflict of interest at the highest level of the American government and, by the way, happens to be the way in which business is conducted in China, or at least was conducted in China, favoritism to the powerful.

We can't have that in America. But we're beginning to see that in many, many ways with this White House. And, by the way, we really ought to have the tax returns, so we can know exactly what the conflicts are.

BLITZER: John Garamendi, the congressman from California, thanks for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead: the armada mixup. How did U.S. officials get the location of U.S. warships wrong? And did President Trump oversell it as a show of force aimed at Kim Jong-un?

And the president's buy American message, is it resonating at a time when many Americans don't think he is keeping his promises? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:34:59] BLITZER: Following breaking news this hour. CNN has learned that the FBI used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign as part of the justification to get approval to secretly monitor Trump associate Carter Page.

Let's bring in our military, national security and political experts. And Phil Mudd, does the reliance on this dossier to get that FISA warrant mean that they have -- the FBI has at least confirmed parts of the dossier?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let's be clear. I looked at that dossier, and I thought it was a little bit more than rumors. You cannot go to a federal judge -- that's the judge that signs off on a FISA warrant -- with what amount to rumors. If they're using this dossier as back-up for a FISA, there has to be either validation of the information in the dossier or additional information, for example, from intercepts or from human sources who have talked about people like Carter Page to back up. You can't -- relying on that dossier alone, I think, would get you thrown out of the FISA court, Wolf.

BLITZER: Another story we're following, John Kirby, the whole issue of the Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier battle group strike force, as they now call it, moving towards the Korean Peninsula when it was actually moving in the opposite direction towards Australia. But the Pentagon, the White House, the president leaving the impression that that carrier was moving towards the Korean Peninsula to make a statement towards Kim Jong-un.

Now they say it's a miscommunication. You buy it? You're a former Pentagon spokesman. You're not supposed to do that.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No, you're not. But I have have talked to some folks in the military at the Pentagon and even out west, and they acknowledge that, from a communications perspective, they could have done a better job being more clear and more concise about the movements of the Vinson and where she was going and what she was doing.

The bottom line, though, is they did truncate the exercise with the Australians. They accelerated the start date -- they shortened it -- to try to get her and her escorts moving north; and now they are.

The larger message about what naval forces can bring to bear in terms of the deterrent aspect, that's not being lost on the North Koreans.

So it was a miscommunication. The military folks have owned up to that, but the larger thing, the larger deterrent operation is still going.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But you know, Wolf, you have to wonder -- and maybe you can answer this question -- if we would have known about it, if "The New York Times" hadn't discovered it and, you know, whether the Pentagon would have sort of owned up to this and said, "Oops, we made a -- we made a mistake and we misinformed the White House," which is what I think occurred. Or whether, you know, this -- this would have remained sort of an unknown, and then you know, what we thought was sort of a little bit of saber rattling to a degree really wasn't occurring.

KIRBY: Well, it wasn't occurring as fast as I think people thought. I mean, it's hard to say. You know, I don't know. But they did -- they did own up to making a mistake.

BLITZER: What does it say, Phil Mudd, about the credibility of the commander-in-chief, if anything?

MUDD: I think it says two things. No. 1 on facts, the credibility on national security is slipping. Ninety days in, he's got a chance, obviously, through a four-year turn.

But we went through the Susan Rice debacle, where he accused her of violating a law. She didn't. He accused the former president of bugging Trump Tower. The FBI director had to come out and say we didn't.

And in this case we have, not a lie, but a quick judgment of fact that turned out to be wrong.

The second quick point here, Wolf it is on decisiveness. The White Houses want to point to the president to be the man who makes the choices. He did on Syria. They're fudgy on his role on the big bomb in Afghanistan. I doubt his role was central on that.

In this one, they moved quickly, again, to try to prove that the commander-in-chief is the one making decisions. They moved too fast. In the future, when they talk about decisive decisions, we ought to question them.

BLITZER: Can the administration really afford questions like this, a mistake like this, a blunder, miscommunication on such a sensitive issue, Rebecca?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly, in this case, it worked out fine. They made a mistake. They fessed up. We move on from here.

But you know, if the stakes had been higher, if the tensions had been more intense, who knows what could have happened and who knows what could happen in the future if we're in similar circumstances or even more tense circumstances. Words matter in international relations and diplomacy and certainly, when other countries are trying to interpret what the United States is doing, with what our next move will be. What president is saying and what the administration is saying, those things matter.

And so who knows what this could mean in the future. Fortunately, this time, the consequences were pretty small.

BORGER: But I think any, you know, any attempt to communicate before branches of government should go a little bit more smoothly than this did. And I think it undermines the public faith in your policy when have you a mistake like this. And I don't want to overdraw it, but I do think it undermines people's faith.

And then you look at the problems that, for example, the State Department saying -- talking about the irregularities in the Turkish election and the president then calling Erdogan and congratulating him. That, again, gives you a sense that there are two different parts of the government that are having -- sending different signals. And I think, you know, that confuses people.

BLITZER: There's -- and John Kirby, on top of all the tensions involving North Korea, now we're learning from the Pentagon that there was a close encounter, not a very good encounter, that Russian bombers got very close to the Alaska border and that U.S. Air Force fighter jets had to go up and intercept those planes and tell them, "Get out of here."

[18:40:18] KIRBY: Yes, I think people are making too much of this one, Wolf. Again, talking about folks at the Pentagon, if there's going to be an intercept, this is the kind of intercept you want to see.

BLITZER: But there shouldn't even be an intercept. The Russians should know they're not supposed to get that close to Alaska.

KIRBY: This was an international air space. I'm not defending the Russians action here. Clearly, they're prodding and poking. That's what they've been doing. But you know, Wolf, we do the same thing. We fly these kinds of surveillance and reconnaissance flights off of Russia, too.

This was safest professional. It was in international airspace. Nobody got hurt. And you know, no secrets, national security secrets were violated here in any major way. So I think again -- I think people were making a little bit more of this.

BLITZER: Because -- because the critics have said, Phil Mudd, that what the Russians were trying to do was send a message. But also, test the U.S. How long would it take, for example, for those U.S. planes, those Air Force jets, to intercept and go out there and tell them to turn around? They learn from these kind of encounters, as they used to learn during the Cold War.

MUDD: Sure. But I hate to do this, I have to agree with the military. The intel guys hate that.

Here's the point here. I think in a couple cases recently, we've seen coverage of these incidents; in this case a Russian incident. Let's go back a few weeks to the president authorizing the strike on Syria, and we're trying to read so much into tea leaves.

I don't think this one means this much. This has been going on forever. I'd go back and say we read too much into the president firing 59 tea lamps into Syria. The Russians had to respond. But one serious incident in six years of civil war over four minutes of strikes? And that's some huge sea change in U.S. policy? I don't think so. I think the president wanted to take a pop because of chemical

weapons, and now we're trying to make sure this means that he's taking a U-turn in Syria. I don't think so.

BLITZER: All right. I know what you think, Phil Mudd.

Everybody, stand by.

BORGER: Do we ever not know what Phil Mudd thinks?

BLITZER: Just ahead, President Trump travels to Wisconsin to sign a "buy American, hire American: order. But could that actually backfire on American consumers?

And CNN's Will Ripley tells us about his 11th trip to North Korea, where Kim Jong-un's regime put on an extraordinary and ominous display of military might.


[18:47:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, President Trump has taken new action to promote goods made in the USA and to promote his agenda as well. He visited Wisconsin, a state that was critical to his election victory.

Our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us now from Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Jeff, the president taking a brief road trip. As that pivotal 100-day mark gets closer and closer.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a brief road trip indeed. President Trump spent about an hour and five minutes on the ground here in Kenosha. He came to sign an executive order to implement his "buy American, hire American" agenda that he talked about so much during the campaign.

Wolf, you were right, they do have their eye on that 100-day mark which comes at the end of next week. But important to point out, he came here to sign an executive order. Not a piece of legislation that would turn this into law.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump visiting Wisconsin today, trying to rejuvenate and jump-start his agenda.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I'm thrilled to be back in Wisconsin.

ZELENY: The president signing an executive order to buy American and hire American, returning to a clarion call from the campaign trail to put a priority on U.S. workers.

TRUMP: The policy of our government is to aggressively promote and use American-made goods, and to ensure that American labor is hired to do the job.

ZELENY: Yet, it was also another reminder that he is still signing executive orders, not legislation, that would turn his campaign pledges into laws.

Tonight, a new Gallup poll finds that 43 percent of Americans think Trump is keeping his promises, down 17 point from 62 percent only two months ago. As 100-day mark of the Trump presidency approaches, the White House is short on actual accomplishments. The president acknowledged the frustration today, given the collapse of his health care plan and the uncertainty facing other priorities like tax reform.

TRUMP: We have to get the health care taken care of. And as soon as health care takes care of, we are going to march very quickly, you're going to watch. We're going to surprise you.

ZELENY: The president not talking about his taxes today as he visited Wisconsin for the first time since taking office. Touring headquarters of Snap-On tool manufacturing company, the president trying to turn his focus back to the core of his winning coalition last year.

TRUMP: God bless the American worker.

ZELENY: In November, Trump carried Wisconsin by the slimmest of margins, winning on a message of restoring American jobs.

TRUMP: We are living through the greatest jobs theft in the history of the world. That's what is happening to our country.

ZELENY: He became the first Republican to carry the state since Ronald Reagan's reelection in 1984.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: The best thing about Wisconsin is you, her people.

ZELENY: Trump won in large part because of places like here in Kenosha County. He beat Clinton by less than 300 votes, after President Obama won by nearly votes in 2012.

[18:50:04] But Trump's message has changed since the election. That tough talk on China --

TRUMP: We can't continue to allow China to rape our country and that's what they're doing.

ZELENY: -- gone today as he enlists China's help with the rising threat of North Korea.

TRUMP: We're going to do everything in our power to make sure that more products are stamped with those wonderful words "Made in the USA".


ZELENY: And, Wolf, that was a big difference here in the president's message here this afternoon, versus his visits on the campaign trail -- the rhetoric against China, softened now, much more diplomatic, if you will, to have tough words on trade agreements, called NAFTA a total disaster.

Wolf, one thing the president didn't say is what he plans to do about it, what type of trade agenda he'll have. Important to note here in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it is in Speaker Paul Ryan's district. He was not here today. He was traveling abroad overseas, but the legislative agenda, Wolf, is something that's missing from the first 100 days that ends next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Good point. Jeff Zeleny in Wisconsin for us. Jeff, thank you.

Just ahead, we're going to hear from CNN's Will Ripley. He's just back from his 11th trip to North Korea where the regime there celebrated its founder's birthday with an ominous display of long- range missiles.


[18:55:51] BLITZER: Former President George H.W. Bush is hospitalized in Houston tonight. The spokesman says the 92-year-old was treated for a mild case of pneumonia which has been resolved and he's now being held for observation while he regains his strength. Back in January, he was hospitalized for two weeks for treatment of pneumonia. We, of course, wish him a very speedy recovery.

Now, back to the very tense situation on the Korean Peninsula, as Kim Jong-un threatens new missile and nuclear tests in defiance of warnings by President Trump.

CNN's Will Ripley just wrapped up his 11th trip to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. He is joining us now live from Tokyo.

Will, you were there when North Korea put on that very dramatic parade of its military arsenal. What struck you most on this trip?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I was chatting with North Korean officials at that parade and I'm looking at this, you know, potential missiles rolling by, mockups, obviously, in the parade but still, you know, seeing more missiles on display than North Korea's ever shown before.

And I was asking these officials, don't you think that this is leading your country down a path of further hardship and isolation? And their response was no. They said that they genuinely believe that these weapons of mass destruction are going to bring their country a better future because they're going to force the United States and the rest of the world to sit down and talk with North Korea and try to figure something out. And they also believed genuinely, Wolf -- I thought this was interesting, they have been told their whole lives that the United States could any time drop a nuclear bomb of them. That's what their propaganda tells them.

And as much as I tried to say that it was extraordinarily unlikely that the United States would ever consider dropping a nuclear weapon on any country, including North Korea, they just don't believe that. That is how much they distrust the U.S. And so, they're saying that they have faith in Kim Jong-un. Now, granted it's an authoritarian country, political dissent is not allowed. So, we wouldn't hear any opposing voices, because certainly nobody would say it publicly.

BLITZER: This was your 11th trip to North Korea, Will. So, what changes have you observed over your many visits?

RIPLEY: It's interesting how much the Pyongyang skyline has changed in just a few years. And this really is one of the big pushes by Kim Jong-un, not just growing the nuclear arsenal but also growing the skyline of Pyongyang. He's ordered the construction of all these buildings. He put up a new skyscraper. He did the ribbon cutting last week when we were. This is a 70-story building and several others on the street that they had built in less than a year.

You know, they're trying to show that despite economic sanctions, they can still create a modern city. Some critics would say they're putting all their resources into Pyongyang and kind of leaving the rest of the country home to 22 million people, kind of fighting for the scraps, though the North Koreans deny that, even though they never let us out in the countryside.

So, it's interesting to see, you know, Kim Il-sung, the North Korean founder, he rebuilt Pyongyang after the Korean war, those drabs soviet housing blocks, Kim Jong-il put all of the monuments around the city. And it seems as if Kim Jong-un is trying to create these more modern -- a more modern skylines in the buildings and the buildings kind of look like they're out of the Jetsons, their style and design.

BLITZER: What was it like, Will, to see Kim Jong-un in person?

RIPLEY: Well, it's always -- I've seen him a few times. And it's remarkable just the buildup around him. I mean, the fact that there -- the music plays. There's this tune that the military band always plays. We saw him rolling up in his black Mercedes limousine and then he appears and everybody just completely jumps up and down and goes wild.

And then after he leaves, everybody in the crowd is dead silent, kind of waiting for the cue that it's OK to talk again. So, you'll have a crowd of tens of thousands, or even hundred of thousands of people completely silent, waiting for him to arrive, going crazy when he arrives and then, you know, off he goes again.

And he's a pretty low energy kind of -- he's not jumping up and down. He's not trying to rally the troops. He's clapping in very small movements, kind of making a not very enthusiastic wave to the crowd. And yet, their response -- you know, they're trying to show him just how much revolutionary fervor they can, and that is what comes with being a citizen in Pyongyang.

BLITZER: Amazing reporting from our Will Ripley. Just wrapped up his 11th visit to Pyongyang, North Korea.

Will, thank you very much for all your excellent, excellent reporting.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.