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Trump Retweets Classified Leaked Intel on North Korea; North Korea Threatens Preemptive Strike on Guam. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 8, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: nuclear- ready. U.S. intelligence analysts now believe that North Korea has produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile. Is Kim Jong-un close to making good on his threat to attack the United States?
Trump's fury. The president is warning he will respond to North Korea's taunts with a fire and power that the world has never seen. Will the war of words escalate into an actual nuclear war?
Downward slide. CNN's new polling shows Mr. Trump's approval ratings have sunk to a new low, as Americans reveal an astounding lack of trust in their commander in chief. Tonight, the president has an unprecedented credibility problem.
And political climate. A new government report on global warming is creating anxiety among scientists who fear the Trump administration will ignore the dire results or worse.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, a terrifying assessment of North Korea's nuclear capability and President Trump's unprecedented and provocative reaction.
Sources tell CNN that U.S. intelligence analysts now think Kim Jong- un's regime has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead small enough to fit on its missiles. That advancement along with new progress in North Korea's ballistic missile program is now escalating concerns that the regime may be moving more quickly than expected toward its stated goal, the ability to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland.
Tonight, President Trump is ramping up his rhetoric and raising the specter of a powerful military response. He's warning North Korea that if it continues to threaten the United States, it will be met with -- quote -- "a fire and fury like the world has never seen before"-- close quote, this as Mr. Trump faces worsening political troubles here at home, including a growing credibility probably. A new CNN poll shows his approval rating has now hit a new low of only
38 percent, driven in part by a loss of support among his base. Perhaps the most stunning figure in the survey, three-quarters of Americans say they can't trust all or most of what they hear from the Trump White House.
This hour, I will get reaction to those stories and more from Republican Senator James Risch. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, as the danger from North Korea clearly escalates, President Trump may be drawing a new red line.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, tonight, the uncertainty about what exactly the president means and what he plans to do about it is nerve-racking.
STARR (voice-over): An extraordinary warning from an American president.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.
STARR: Tonight, news details about North Korea's nuclear weapons program that could unleash a catastrophic scenario.
U.S. intelligence analysts have assessed, but not concluded, that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead potentially small enough to fit on a ballistic missile, according to U.S. officials familiar with the assessment.
One official warns that the entire intelligence community may not be in agreement on the assessment which continues to be updated. It's not clear if the warhead has been tested and could even be used in an attack.
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We thought in the past that we had some time to let diplomacy work, to let the economic sanctions work. That decision cycle has almost collapsed and now we're faced with a North Korea that could potentially launch a missile in a very short period of time.
STARR: "The Washington Post" was the first to report that North Korea has produced nuclear warheads that could be delivered to targets thousands of miles away, even in the U.S., by intercontinental ballistic missiles like these recently tested by the regime.
The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific has long warned he assumes North Korea has the capability to attack the U.S.
ADM. HARRY HARRIS, COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND: I have to assume that he has it, as do my fellow combatant commanders, Lori Robinson and John Hillyer. And we have to assume that the capability is real. We know his intentions are, and he's moving toward them.
STARR: Although North Korea has successfully tested long-range missiles capable of possibly hitting the U.S., there are still many questions on whether those missiles, with a warhead on top, could survive the heat and pressure of reentering the Earth's atmosphere and hitting a target.
But the U.S. military and intelligence community is now planning as if it's for real, and Kim will continue to threaten an attack.
DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: While he's a very unusual type of person, he's not crazy. And there is some rationale backing his actions, which are survival, survival for his regime, survival for his country, and he has watched, I think, what has happened around the world relative to nations that possess nuclear capabilities and the leverage they have and seeing that having the nuclear card in your pocket.
STARR: A nuclear card the Pentagon will try to keep Kim from playing.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: What the North Koreans are capable of today is a limited missile attack. Our concern is growth in capacity. That is increased numbers of missiles over time in the combination of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon.
STARR: Now, President Trump's comments getting attention across the world tonight.
A short time ago, the former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, one of the most respected voices on informed nuclear deterrence, tweeted this. I want to read it to you, Dr. Perry saying: "Nuclear deterrence is only effective if threats are deemed credible. Bluster hurts our national security posture," words from someone who, out of office for many years, remains one of the most credible voices, as I say, on informed nuclear deterrence -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. Very interesting. Barbara, thank you, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
Let's talk some more about the breaking news.
We are joined by our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, it and CNN's Will Ripley, who has done extensive reporting from inside North Korea, traveling there 13 times.
Will, based on your experience -- you are joining us now from Beijing -- what is Kim Jong-un's endgame right now? How might he respond to President Trump's warning of fire and fury?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the endgame is to have an ICBM with a miniaturized nuclear warhead, and have more than one, a whole arsenal of them to serve as a deterrent against the United States, because North Korea has told its citizens for decades that they're under the imminent threat of invasion.
As for his direct response to this rhetoric from the U.S. president, this truly unprecedented, fiery rhetoric, we could see missile launches. We could see a nuclear test. We will most certainly see North Korea put out its own strongly worded statement.
KCNA just put out a statement a couple minutes ago blasting the U.S. for its reckless nuclear war frenzy. And this was written before these remarks from President Trump. This plays right into the North Korean narrative that the United States is just waiting to attack and that is what they are going to tell their citizens and that is the message they are going to try to convince the rest of the world as well to justify their activities, their missile testing and their nuclear program.
BLITZER: Elise, it seems as though we heard a different tone coming from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson towards North Korea only yesterday than what we heard from the president today. What do you think?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it sounded like something that the North Koreans themselves would say, fire and fury.
And what Secretary Tillerson was saying yesterday is the U.S. does not want regime change, that the U.S. would be willing to talk under the right circumstances. And that message was as much to the Chinese who were also in Manila at this group of ASEAN regional countries, to deal with the North Korean issue.
They just got China to sign onto that very tough resolution and there was a lot of kind of big hugging of each other, of being able to work together. So, here he's trying to manage the Chinese by giving them, even as you pass the sanctions, a more softer message, and now this, he's sure to hear from the Chinese. It's just daybreak in Asia right now. Sure to hear from the Chinese about this, Wolf.
BLITZER: He certainly will.
Elise, what will it take to get actual diplomacy, diplomatic talks?
LABOTT: Well, a few of us here at the State Department just met with Deputy Secretary Sullivan.
And he was saying that Secretary Tillerson opinion really hasn't changed since he first went out to Asia when he came. And that is that he's not going to negotiate his way to the negotiating table. He's willing to talk, but North Korea has to send a signal that it wants a diplomatic solution, and that would be stopping nuclear tests, stopping missile tests, and committing to some kind of denuclearization.
It doesn't have to be a full-scale stopping of everything, but it has to be a signal that it's ready to solve this problem diplomatically. Certainly, we are going to hear, I think, as Will said, the rhetoric is just going to go sky-high. And I think the concern is that they will move further away from that, Wolf.
Elise, thank you. Will Ripley, thanks to you as well.
RIPLEY: If I could just add quickly, Wolf...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Will.
RIPLEY: The North Koreans said just last month that they absolutely -- that denuclearization is a nonstarter for them. So, the United States saying they have to commit to something that North Korean officials told me a month-and-a-half ago absolutely won't happen. So, the two sides very far apart right now. It's hard to see a way out of it at this point.
BLITZER: Good point, indeed. All right, Will, thank you very much. Elise, thanks to you as well.
Also tonight, President Trump's new warning to Kim Jong-un is raising a lot of questions among members of both parties.
Let's bring in Republican Senator James Risch. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Thank you, Wolf. Glad to be here.
BLITZER: All right. So, you just heard the president say that if North Korea makes any more threats, they will be met with, in his words, fire, fury, and the power, the likes of which the world has never seen before.
What does this mean to you? Is he threatening war?
RISCH: Well, I don't know that he's threatening war, but certainly the person we have as president of the United States right now is a person who says what's on his mind.
He tweets it and he's very clear on what he's thinking, whether you agree or disagree with him. He's usually pretty good at communicating what's on his mind and he certainly did today. Obviously, we have a secretary of state and we have a really good secretary of state in Rex Tillerson.
And his job is to work diplomacy as best it can be worked. But as your reporters just put on the table, there's a long ways away between the parties. It's really hard to overstate what a serious situation that this is. There are some keys here, but this is a very serious situation.
BLITZER: Because the president seems to be drawing a red line, not as if North Korea has to actually take some military move that would provoke the U.S., but he says North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.
You know, Senator, that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, he is going to continue the rhetorical threats against the United States. There's no stopping that, right?
RISCH: It's a dangerous situation. There is absolutely no question about this. This is a president who is very dedicated to protecting the United States.
I have spoken with him about it. He has a passion for it. He means it. And as has been said, all options are on the table. It's hard, like I say, to overstate how serious this is and the problems that we can face. And the problem is you have a despot over there who, like Saddam Hussein, these guys start to believe their own baloney and really misassess a situation and wind up in a very bad place.
BLITZER: But, Senator, you know that the president is not simply tweeting. This is a carefully considered statement that he made. He knew he was going to be asked about the latest North Korean developments and he came out and he issued this statement. He said it. It's being played all over the world right now.
Basically, he's threatening nuclear war against North Korea if they continue these threats.
RISCH: Well, I have no doubt, Wolf, that he is doing his best to convey to North Korea exactly what's on his mind.
And one should never forget that this is a man who in the first six months in office has pulled the trigger twice already. And he's a man who in his pocket has the nuclear codes. This is a serious situation.
BLITZER: But is it smart...
RISCH: And he is stating what's on his mind.
BLITZER: I agree with you, Senator, this is extremely dangerous right now. But given an unstable, unpredictable regime in Pyongyang, is it smart for the president to be issuing a red-line warning like this?
RISCH: Well, Wolf, I'm not going to sit here and criticize the president. He is the president of the United States. He has said what's on his mind.
I think the people in Pyongyang need to listen very carefully to what he said, and they're going to have to make a decision as to how they want to go forward. Look, there is a key here, and the key is the Chinese. The North
Koreans are not going to listen to us. They're not going to be moved by anything that anybody says. Obviously, it is important that the president convey to them what posture that they're in.
RISCH: But the key is in the pocket of the Chinese.
BLITZER: Senator, Senator, I just want to point out you're unwilling to criticize the president.
John McCain, your Republican colleague from Arizona, he said this.
He said: "I take exception to the president's comments because you have got to be sure that you can do what you say you're going to do. In other words, the old walk softly, but carry a big stick."
So, here is the question. If the North Koreans tomorrow issue a threat, a rhetorical threat to the United States, given what the president has just said, must the U.S. then respond, or seen to be blinking?
RISCH: Well, Wolf, that's a hypothetical question.
I guess the issue would be what action do they take. Talk is talk. What action they take will be important. I'm also not going to criticize John McCain, obviously. And he has his thoughts on these things.
But, look, people need to listen to what President Trump is saying. And Pyongyang is going to have to make their decision and whether they're going to be willing to take that risk is going to be up to them. And it is a serious situation.
BLITZER: I just want to read to you -- because we did some historical checking to see how extraordinary the statement from the president actually is, Senator.
We go back to August 6, 1945. This is President Truman issuing a warning to the Japanese. And I'll read it to you.
"It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware."
This is after Hiroshima, before Nagasaki. You know what happened. That's the last time we heard a president of the United States issue a direct threat to an adversary like that. Your reaction?
RISCH: Well, again, if I were sitting in Pyongyang, I would listen to what you just said with historical research background and put this in perspective and decide whether -- they're going to have to decide whether they want to proceed with the road that they're going down.
Look, President Truman is the only person in history of the world who has ordered a nuclear attack. This is a president who is facing a challenge which is very different than what we have seen before. But it is a situation that could be just as extreme as what the United States was facing at the time that President Truman did that.
So, look, this is -- you can't overstate how serious this is. And not only that, but the weapons that President Truman used were much, much smaller and much less in power than the nuclear weapons that the United States has today.
And, of course, North Korea has nothing like that.
BLITZER: Well, North Korea could have 30, maybe 60 nuclear bombs. They may have miniaturized those bombs on warheads, on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
I have got to take a break, but very quickly, how many nuclear bombs do you believe North Korea right now has?
RISCH: You know, as you know, Wolf, I wouldn't be at liberty to say that. I do have an assessment of that, but I can't -- it's obviously classified.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Senator. There's more we're going to discuss. We are following the breaking news. And, as you correctly point out, this is an extremely ominous situation that the U.S. and its allies are facing right now. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with Senator Risch of the Intelligence Committee.
We are following breaking news on North Korea. It is significant, potential ability by the North Koreans to attack the United States with a nuclear weapon. U.S. intelligence now believes the regime has produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a long-range ballistic missile.
Senator, I want you to stand by. We are going to continue our interview.
But I want to quickly go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray.
Sara, President Trump is reacting to the breaking story with a truly extraordinary new warning to Kim Jong-un's regime.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And we know that over the last couple of days, the president has huddled with top U.S. officials to discuss the threats from North Korea. One thing that those officials have made clear is that all the options are on the table, including the military option. That seemed to be something President Trump wanted to get across in his own words today.
TRUMP: Thank you.
MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump issuing a sharp warning today to North Korea.
TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
He has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement. And, as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before.
MURRAY: The president saying dire consequence lie ahead if North Korea's nuclear threats continue, the warning coming as the president injects a dash of policy to his New Jersey retreat.
TRUMP: It is horrible what's going on with opioid and other drugs.
MURRAY: Vowing to combat the opioid crisis, as Trump faces a credibility crisis of his own. Six months into his presidency, just 38 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing, 56 percent disapprove, according to the latest CNN polls.
But it's clear the new president is already facing a credibility gap, with 60 percent of Americans saying they don't believe Trump is honest and trustworthy. Add to that, only a quarter of Americans say they believe all or most of the official communications from the White House, compared to 30 percent who say they don't trust anything they hear from the president's office.
A series of questionable moves by the administration may only fuel American skepticism, like this recommendation from Department of Agriculture officials to drop the term climate change and instead refer to weather extremes, according to an e-mail obtained by CNN.
The guidance comes under a president who has frequently questioned the scientific consensus behind human impacts on rising global temperatures. But Trump has also faced scrutiny for his handling of classified information. On Tuesday, he retweeted a FOX News report based on anonymous sources who leaked the information. It declared, "U.S. by satellites detect North Korea moving anti-ship
cruise missiles to patrol boat."
This is what Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations,had to say about that issue.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I can't. I can't talk about anything that's classified. If that's in the newspaper, that's a shame.
MURRAY: But the president has no qualms about once again sharing potentially classified information. In July, Trump tweeted about a covert CIA program to arm Syrian rebels after "The Washington Post" reported the administration planned to end it.
Sources say Trump also shared highly classified information with Russian officials when he invited them into the Oval Office in May.
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: It is alarming the casualness with which President Trump shares classified information.
MURRAY: Now, other things we have not heard much from the president on today is the Russia investigation, but his chief counsel, John Dowd, did a fascinating interview with "USA Today" where he explained that Trump actually told his lawyer that he appreciated the work that special counsel Robert Mueller was doing on the Russia investigation and asked his lawyer to pass that message along.
Trump's lawyer said he did just that, clearly a very different tone behind the scenes than what we have seen from the president publicly when it comes to the issue of this investigation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara Murray, with the president in New Jersey today, Sara, thanks very much.
We're back with Senator James Risch.
Senator, you're a member of the Intelligence Committee. Do you think it's appropriate for the president to be passing along messages through his legal team, first of all, to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as "USA Today" is now reporting?
RISCH: You know, I'm not familiar with that at all, Wolf. I haven't heard that there were such communications. I didn't see the story. And I sure don't want to speculate on it.
BLITZER: Yes, the president's attorney that now works for him said that the president asked him to express his appreciation to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, for -- presumably for all the important work that he's doing. It seems to be a marked contrast to some of the other statements we have heard from the White House about what Robert Mueller is doing.
But let me move on to other item that we just saw in Sara Murray's report, the president retweeting that FOX News report that clearly contained some classified information on U.S. spying on North Korea.
CNN was later able to confirm the story, but at the time you heard the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, she wouldn't confirm this information, saying it's classified. She doesn't discuss classified information.
Here is the question to you, Senator. Is it appropriate for the president to retweet what clearly includes some classified information?
RISCH: Wolf, those of us that deal with classified information every day really are not authorized to discuss it, to comment on it, to confirm it, deny it or anything else.
There is only one person that can do that and that's the president of the United States. He has the ability to declassify. By simply uttering it, he does declassify it. Every president has done it. I saw -- we all saw President Obama do it almost a year ago right now when he discussed with the Russians the fact that we knew that the Russians were attempting to interfere with our elections based upon classified information.
And he discussed it with him and he declassified it and had that discussion. It is the job of the president of the United States to use classified information in the most appropriate manner that he deems, and to use it such that it is in the best interests of the American people.
BLITZER: You're right. The president of the United States, he's the only one, he can declassify anything he wants. But the question is, is it appropriate on a sensitive issue like this to immediately declassify it, to retweet it, and basically confirm that classified information? He can do it. It's legal for the president, the commander in chief to do it, but is it appropriate?
RISCH: I'll let you...
BLITZER: You're on the Intelligence -- but Senator, you're on the Intelligence Committee.
RISCH: I don't -- I don't have to make that decision. I don't have to make that decision, because I'm not at liberty to declassify anything. So, I don't comment on it. His decision is to, when it's in the best interests of the United States, is his decision and his decision alone. The editorial writers will comment whether he did it correctly or not.
BLITZER: CNN conducted a new poll, and we released it. Only 36 percent of the American public thinks the president is, quote, "honest and trustworthy." Does the president, Senator, have a credibility problem right now?
RISCH: Well, look, those numbers, assuming the -- the survey was correct -- and we all know that there's horrendous problems with it. Probably the same people did that that told us that Hillary Clinton was going to be president. But, look, if those are the numbers, those are the numbers; and he's
going to have to deal with it.
BLITZER: The poll also found out only 24 percent of those surveyed believe what they hear from the White House. The question was, do you trust most of what you hear from the White House? Yes, 24 percent; no, 73 percent. I assume you agree the White House needs to do a better job at being transparent and open and more honest, right?
RISCH: Well, there's no question that if those are the numbers, that they need to do that better. I have the advantage, because I get information from the White House every day. I get it from people that I know over there. And generally, I'm able to cross-examine and find out what the background is. So, I have a different view of it. But I'm in a different position, obviously, than people that are getting their news from "The Washington Post" or CNN or wherever they're getting it from.
BLITZER: Well, I will point out, Senator, that the national polls leading up to the next election, our national polls, were pretty accurate. The state polls in Wisconsin, Michigan, some of the other states, Pennsylvania, not so accurate. But the national polls were pretty accurate.
Hillary Clinton did win by 3 million votes, and that was the percentage, basically, what we were showing. So, these polls are not necessarily all wrong. Go ahead. I'll give you the last word.
RISCH: Yes, well, the problem with that is it's the states that elect the president. That's what you've got to focus on.
BLITZER: That's correct; you're absolutely right. It's the Electoral College. That's what counts. We were talking about the national polls, which showed she had an advantage, and she did. She won by 3 million votes. But that was irrelevant, because he won the Electoral College; and Donald Trump is now president of the United States.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
RISCH: Wolf, always good to be with you. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Senator James Risch, always good to have you.
Just ahead, more breaking news. Coverage of North Korea's nuclear threat, its ominous progress, and President Trump's fiery response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury, like the world has never seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:38:19] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We have more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. A threat just issued by North Korea to launch what is being described as a preemptive strike against the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific.
Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as expected, more rhetoric from North Korea a short time ago. The state-run news agency, KCNA, issuing a statement saying that North Korea's military is, quote, "examining the operational plans" to strike around Guam with medium- to long-range ballistic missiles. Now, that's according to the North Korean news agency. A statement from the spokesman for the strategic force of the Korean People's Army warns that recent U.S. military maneuvers, including a regularly-scheduled U.S. ICBM test, provoke -- may provoke a dangerous conflict.
So, Guam, an American territory about 1,800 miles or so from North Korea, about 160,000 or so people living on that island, two U.S. military bases. So, there is a direct threat to the United States here from the North Koreans. It doesn't get any more direct than that for them to say they are looking at a plan to attack Guam.
This now puts it back in President Trump's ball court, of course, because he said earlier today any more threats from the North Koreans would be met with that fire and fury. Now we will have to see what President Trump decides to do, Wolf.
BLITZER: A major new development, as if we didn't have enough already. Barbara Starr, stand by. I want to bring in our analysts and our specialists.
[18:40:05] You know, Admiral Kirby, you've been to Guam. I've been to Guam. There are about 162,000 American citizens -- Guamanians are all American citizens -- who live there, a major U.S. Air Force Base, Anderson Air Force Base. Clearly, what has irritated North Korea was this exercise that Barbara was referring to back on July 8 when B-1 bombers flew from Guam over the Korean Peninsula.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Guam is a central hub for our Pacific -- for the Pacific fleet and for Pacific Command. And we do -- there are strategic bombers that can fly in and out of there. There's a naval base there, as well. There's a live- fire training area. And there's 12,000 military troops and families. It is a -- it is a central element of our ability to project power in the Pacific region.
BLITZER: You know, what do you -- Phil Mudd, your reaction to -- this is a significant development. The North Korean military has just issued this threat, and we heard what the president of the United States said just a little while ago. If there are more threats, you know what's going to happen.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think this is maybe the most significant moment in his presidency, and I would urge his advisors, he's got to get off the Twitter. It's not for political purposes.
BLITZER: He didn't tweet that.
MUDD: He tweeted earlier today threatening the North Koreans.
BLITZER: I know, but he did issue -- let me play it for you and for our viewers...
MUDD: All right.
BLITZER: ... who may just be tuning in. Here is the threat that the president leveled against North Korea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's threatening war.
MUDD: The point I was making earlier is he's making one of the most fundamental mistakes in foreign policy, and that is assuming that, when you pass a message, in this case publicly, that your potential adversary will interpret that message as you expect.
He wants to intimidate the North Koreans. Obviously, compare the United States militarily, economically. They're a fly spec.
That said, the interpretation from the North Koreans could very well be, in the face of cooperation with the South Koreans, military operations by the Americans in this region, in the face of what the president says, maybe he really means to destroy me. Maybe he means to overturn my regime.
In the midst of this kind of tension, if you're the president, you can't afford to have a foreign leader misinterpret what you say. The fundamental principle is simple. The hotter it gets in the kitchen, the cooler the cook has to be. And the president is getting hotter. That's not a good way to do business.
BLITZER: You know, Bianna, I want you to weigh in, as well. The president issued that threat, saying if the North Koreans make any more threats, you know what's going to happen. Now the North Korean military said they're examining the operational plan to strike around the U.S. territory of Guam, which has a significant U.S. military presence there. How do you see it?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, it could, in fact, be calling his bluff. It was a bit disconcerting to see the president say those words, not with his national security advisor at his side, but with his HHS secretary there. We know that McMaster is going to be in Bedminster with him later on this week. I'm not sure if they were on the phone earlier today before he issued that statement.
But, look, one of the reasons why North Korea feels that they do need a nuclear weapon. It's not for deterrence. For whatever reason, it's for survival's sake, as well. And seeing different statements from the president various months -- I mean, back in May President Trump said he'd be honored to sit down with Kim Jong-un if the circumstances were right. And then a month later, when North Korea did test a ballistic missile, the president tweeted, "Oh, does this man have nothing better to do?"
So, there is a bit of unknown in what the strategic, if anything, plan there is right now from the United States. But clearly, we're seeing a reaction from North Korea following these heated words from the president.
BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, how do you see it?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there are two things that every military analyst that I have listened to and every diplomat that understands the region has basically pointed to that are important to think about.
One is he didn't threaten to retaliate against some kind of military action. He threatened to retaliate against a verbal threat, as far as we can tell. I've never seen that in foreign policy, where one leader says to another leader, "If you threaten us, we will rain fire and fury down on you." That's perplexing, to say the least.
And now, of course, as Barbara Starr reported, there's a threat. So what do we do now? He's now created this red line that is very, very easy to have to cross.
And then, you know, the other thing I would say is North Korea has been making bizarre threats for decades, for years and years. It's a sign of the weakness of that regime that they lash out with this bizarre language. And for some reason, all of a sudden Trump has decided that that is something that is threatening to the United States.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And this is -- this is where his hyperbole really does get him into some trouble, because he does like to talk like this. He likes to make things bigger than maybe they are. This is where it gets serious. This is where you actually...
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And for some reason, all of a sudden, Trump has decided that that is something that is threatening to the United States.
[18:45:02] JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And this is -- this is where his hyperbole really does get him into some trouble because he does like to talk like this. He likes to make things bigger than maybe they are. This is where it gets serious. This is where you actually -- what words very much do matter at this point.
And as Phil said, while he might be -- this might be saber rattling and building himself up at this point and looking like a strong leader to people in the United States, the North Koreans are reading this in a very different way and perhaps this wasn't something that was written down. This wasn't something -- this is something he just said. The pooler there said this wasn't something he had prepared. And so, if this was off the cuff, you can't say things like this off the cuff when --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: But he knew he was going to be asked the question by reporters about North Korea.
BLITZER: Normally, when you have an unrelated photo opportunity, he doesn't want to answer the question, he says thank you, and the pool is escorted out.
In this particular case, the president of the United States clearly wanted to make a statement. He came in ready to make that statement. He delivered that statement.
And it's an ominous statement. And now, the North Koreans have responded, John Kirby, with a threat to 162,000 American citizens who live on Guam.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DEFENSE AND MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, that's U.S. territory. Guam belongs to the United States. That is a threat against the United States, no question about it.
Now, it remains to be seen whether they actually have the capability to do it. And they might tell that they've got some wiggle room in the statement because they are saying they are examining a plan rather than executing a plan. And for the president, you're right. He did say -- you know, if they continue to threaten, I wouldn't be surprised if the Whiter House kind of walk that back a little bit and say, well, he meant -- what he meant was a physical threat.
LIZZA: I hope so, because otherwise he's locked himself into a completely untenable situation.
KIRBY: Right, exactly. But, look, he's playing right into Kim Jong- un's propaganda hands. I mean, his whole -- as Bianna said rightly, he believes he needs nukes because his regime is threatened. And every time we say stuff like this, every time we get bellicose and get down on that level, we only reinforce his own propaganda and his own justification for having the program.
BLITZER: You know, Bianna, I want to play for you and our viewers what Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, just said in a radio interview.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), CHAIRMAN, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The great leaders that I've seen, they don't threaten unless they are ready to act. And I'm not sure that President Trump is ready to act. And, so, maybe it will turnout all right. He's the president, I'm not.
But I don't think that some of the great leaders that I have admired would have taken that same path. I just don't think that's the way you attack an issue and challenge like this. It's not terrible what he said, but it's kind of the classic Trump and he overstates things, you know? I -- the presence and leadership that I admire, that I've had anything to do with, would not have said that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, Bianna, do you think that statement from Senator McCain will resonate with the president?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Who knows? All I can say is that Senator McCain said those words because previous presidents had been advised by people far smarter than them in the region about there being no good option here. Regime change is not necessarily viable. Attacking their nukes and their nuclear program may give them just time enough to attack South Korea, where we have some 30,000 troops as well. And going to war is something that nobody wants to do either.
So, given that there are no great options on the table, you just had China and Russia sign on to these sanctions. So, you perhaps have angered them in this process by throwing out these harsh words, whether or not they were planned, no one knows. But I don't think the president did himself any favors at sort of cooling temperatures. That's for sure.
BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, I want you to listen. This is President Trump back in April speaking about North Korea in an interview with John Dickerson of CBS News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS HOST: What do you make of the North Korean leader?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have -- I really, you know, have no comment on him. People are saying, is he sane? I have no idea.
I can tell you this, and a lot of people don't like when I say it. But he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died. He's dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others. And at a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people I'm people tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else and he was able to do it. So, obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie. But we have a situation
that we just cannot let -- we cannot let what's been going on for a long period of years continue. And, frankly, this should have been done and taken care of by the Obama administration. It should have been taken care of by the Bush administration.
[18:50:01] It should have been taken care of by Clinton.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's what he said in April. What do you think?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, if you're going to go into this situation, there's one word you've got to think about if you're the president. And I don't think he thought about today in his comments. That is end game.
You start with where you want to end up with. Do you want to replace the regime? Do you want to take military action against ballistic missiles and their nuclear program? Do you want to work conventionally with the South Koreans? What do you want to accomplish? What risk do you want to take with men and women who will go die for America and work back and figure out how you get there.
If you say, we can't let this stand, what the heck does that mean? Does that mean we want to take military action? If you do that, you've got to take out the regime, as well, because if you take out their capabilities, they'll just rebuild it. If you're going to take out the regime, you've got to rebuild the country, just as we're trying to do in the Iraq. I don't think the president is thinking about end game and I think that's the question you ought to consider.
BLITZER: You know, Jackie, back on January 2nd during the transition, U.S. president-elect, he tweeted this: North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the United States. It won't happen.
North Korea seems to have accelerated its capability with its intercontinental ballistic missile tests and now our confirmation, other confirmations that the U.S. intelligence community, at least the defense intelligence community has come up with this assessment that they have been able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead.
KUCINICH: I think that's pretty clear that at that point of his presidency or pre-presidency, he didn't know what he was talking about. And, you know, President Obama warned him. That was one of the things that they talked about, that North Korea was going to be his biggest challenge as president. And I think since then, there has been quite a bit of on the job training.
Now, whether it -- it doesn't seem like he's internalized the fact that this bluster has real-world consequences and we're seeing it right now. And again, Phil's absolutely right, because what is the end game here? What does any of this mean? What is the red line actually, when you cross it, what's going to happen? BLITZER: The president has been consistent. He says the United
States, under his administration, will not tolerate a nuclear-capable North Korea that could potentially threaten the U.S. mainland.
LIZZA: Yes. I think every president since, you know, going back decades, has made that same promise, and, you know, it hasn't -- it hasn't been kept. I think the other thing that's strange here is, as Brianna was -- as Bianna was talking about, we had some success at the U.N. recently getting this 15-0 vote on sanctions. Most analysts think the way to solve this problem is not to allow it to be a personal one-on-one thing between the United States and the regime, to make this a collective problem that the world needs to solve, that China and Russia need to help with.
By doing what he did today, he's personalized this, without making any reference to the other countries that are affected by this. And that plays into North Korea's hands.
BLITZER: And, John Kirby, it seems to be, such contrast to what we heard the other day from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson --
BLITZER: -- who said this. He said, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel. We are trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy. We're not your threat.
BLITZER: Well, that certainly was not conveyed by the president today.
KIRBY: No, I mean, he's undermining his secretary of state and Ambassador Haley, who are trying to work a diplomatic and economic solution to this.
And, look, I think there's still room for diplomacy. This rhetoric isn't helping any, but there's still room for diplomacy. And what Tillerson said the other day was messaging the Chinese as much as it was Pyongyang. And now, they're going to wake up in Beijing and in Seoul and in Tokyo, by the way, and they're going to see this and it's going to do nothing to calm nerves and ease the tension and face very escalatory and unnecessarily so.
BLITZER: Yes, Bianna, go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: Well, I was just going to say, one opportunity that the president may be missing right now from his larger strategic standpoint is looking at Iran. Iran, for all intents and purposes, is combined with its nuclear deal. The president seems to be -- from what we're hearing in reports, suggesting that he's trying to circumvent that and find any way to actually have a more tense relationship with Iran, where instead he could be using it to show North Korea, you see what happens when a country complies with the nuclear deal. You, yourself, could be in this situation, too, if we can just get back to the drawing board. It doesn't seem like the president's willing to embrace that right now. It could be a missed opportunity.
BLITZER: But there really is no good military option here, is there?
MUDD: Zero. We keep talking about what options should be on the table.
BLITZER: All options are on the table at this time.
MUDD: They are not on the table. There is no good military option.
And one quick comment on what Admiral Kirby was saying, the president keeps talking about the Chinese, he just undercut them. What do you think the North Koreans are going to say when the Chinese come in next time? How are we going to negotiate? The president says he's going to take me out. He's destroying the capability of the Chinese to do something for us.
BLITZER: Because the reason Russia and China got onboard with this U.N. Security Council resolution, unanimously passed 15-0, is because of those statements, the conciliatory statements coming from Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and Rex Tillerson.
All right. I want everybody to stay with us.
[18:55:01] We're going to stay on top of the breaking news.
But there's other disturbing news we're following right now. New government report tonight on climate change and scientists are deeply worried about what the Trump administration will or won't do with it.
Let's go to CNN's Rene Marsh. She has more on this developing story.
Rene, tell us about this report?
RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a draft report that's been reviewed by scientists from 13 federal agencies. The National Academy of Sciences earlier this year reviewed the draft and called it impressive, timely, and generally well- written. But scientists are afraid that the Trump administration could go rogue by suppressing the data, the research, and even the findings that suggest that the earth is in environmental trouble.
MARSH (voice-over): From melting glaciers to disappearing snow cover, shrinking sea ice, and rising sea level, scientists say it's all evidence of a rapidly warming planet. In the most comprehensive draft of a U.S. government report on climate change, scientists conclude record-breaking climate-related weather extremes are undoubtedly linked to climate change. Humans are responsible. And if no action is taken, the impact will be deadly.
Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, is one of the lead authors of the report.
KATHARINE HAYHOE, CLIMATE SCIENCE CENTER DIRECTOR, TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY: It's like now we've gone to the doctor and the doctor as done an X-ray of our lungs and sees some worrying spots on our lungs and calls us in and says, some of this damage is irreversible. But the worst consequences can be avoided if we act now. That's what this report is.
MARSH: The draft report reviewed by 13 government agencies is mandated by Congress every four years. It says 15 of the last 16 years are the warmest years on record. Human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible for the observed climate changes over the last 15 decades. Intensity of heavy precipitation and extreme heat events are increasing and will very likely continue.
The report awaits comments and final approval from an administration led by a president who's repeatedly questioned the science behind climate change.
TRUMP: We've got a blizzard outside. There's no warming.
REPORTER: What does the president actually believe on climate change?
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.
MICK MULVANEY, OMB DIRECTOR: Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward -- we're not spending money on that anymore.
MARSH: Scientists' fears about what the administration will do are rooted in Trump's track record. He's tweeted: Climate change is a Chinese hoax, although he later denied that on the campaign trail.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it's real.
TRUMP: I did not -- I did not.
CLINTON: I think science is real.
TRUMP: I did not say that.
MARSH: And newly released e-mails show managers at the Agriculture Department directed employees to avoid the phrase "climate change" and instead use "weather extremes." And rather than reducing greenhouse gases, the emails suggest the term increased nutrient use efficiency.
The agency says employees overstepped their bounds and it isn't changing the approach to science, just how they talk about it. Some scientists see a dangerous pattern and are warning the Trump administration not to suppress their work.
HAYHOE: If the federal government is required to release these reports at regular intervals, that mean if the report and the national assessment were not released, it would be possible for organizations to officially sue the federal government to release these documents and this information.
MARSH: But U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley today seemed to go further than others in the administration, suggesting the climate report would not be suppressed, telling NBC she didn't see any reason why the administration would not embrace their findings.
NIKKI HALEY, U.N. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We're not saying that climate change is not real. It is real.
MARSH: Well, CNN reached out to the White House. An official tells us that the draft of this report had been published and made widely available online months ago during the public comment period, but the White House will withhold comment on this draft or any other draft of the report before the scheduled release -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Rene Marsh reporting for us. Thanks very much.
And finally tonight, we want to thank our viewers here in the United States and around the world as we mark a milestone. Twelve years ago today, I first welcomed you here into THE SITUATION ROOM.
This program's debut broke some new ground in television news. The look of the show, my look, in fact, they have changed a little bit over the years, but our mission is the same -- to cover major breaking stories on politics, national security, and more, fairly, urgently, and accurately. It's a mission that's more important than ever.
And that's why you'll see me back here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow night. Please join us then. Until then, I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.