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Trump Threatens North Korea with "Fire and Fury"; Graham: "Two Scenarios" U.S. would act on North Korea; FBI has Searched Manafort's Home. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired August 9, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, top of the hour 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow. President Trump, elevating his tone and tenor on North Korea with a, quote, "fire and fury threat," this morning, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, though, trying to spread calm.
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REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think Americans should sleep well at night. Have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days. I think the president again as commander in chief -- I think he felt it necessary to issue a very strong statement directly to North Korea. But I think what the president was just reaffirming is the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack and defend our allies, and we will do so. So the American people should sleep well at night.
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HARLOW: Contrast that with the president's own words less than 24 hours ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: For its part, Pyongyang is threatening to hit the U.S. territory of Guam after fly overs from U.S. bombers. And here is how Americans are waking up feeling this morning. 62 percent now consider North Korea a very serious threat to the United States. That's up from March. Half of Americans now think the U.S. should take military action in response to those North Korean nuclear tests and that is 43 percent who say the U.S. should not.
We have global coverage of all of these developments this morning. Let's begin though with our Will Ripley in Beijing. And Will, given the fact that you have been to Pyongyang more than a dozen times and spoken with and spent considerable time with officials from the regime. What is your assessment of all that we have seen, transpire?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are going to respond. But we haven't gotten the response yet. And that could really come at any time. It normally takes North Korea around 24 hours to respond or perhaps even more from a particular viewed provocation from the United States.
So, the North Korean threat to possibly launch their intermediate range missiles at Guam came as you mentioned after that B-1B fly over mission on the Korean Peninsula on Monday. The U.S. also flew supersonic jets from Guam a couple of weeks ago.
And so, now, what we are waiting to hear is will North Korea simply issue a strongly worded statement or will they take action? Could there be some sort of a demonstration, a show of force to try to push back against President Trump's assertions that the United States will rain down fire and fury and will also boasting about the size of America's nuclear arsenal.
In the middle of all of this, we have China, which is as usual trying to urge all sides to remain calm. There's a new statement that's just out within the past few hours from the Chinese foreign ministry to CNN telling us, quote, "The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complex and sensitive. China calls on the relevant sides to follow the broad direction of resolving the nuclear issue through political means, avoid remarks and actions that could aggravate conflicts and escalate tensions and make a greater effort to return to the correct path of resolving the issue through dialogue and negotiations."
Dialogue and negotiation is what China wants. What they don't want, Poppy, is to see an accidental war break out at their doorstep.
HARLOW: And no kidding. Will Ripley in Beijing, thank you so much.
All of this comes on the heels of a U.S. Intelligence assessment of North Korea's increased nuclear capability. Let's go to the Pentagon, our Barbara Starr is there with more. Barbara, can you just breakdown for us exactly what this assessment says North Korea has advanced on and also if all U.S. Intelligence is on the same page on this one?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think it's a surprise. There is some disagreement within the U.S. Intelligence Community, our sources are telling us. And you often see that. Different parts of the community have different views, different information. So that would be no surprise. And you would want to know all the various points of view.
But there is an assessment from one segment that they have produced a nuclear warhead, that it is small enough now to be put on the front end of a ballistic missile. But I think the key word is produced. Because what we are being told is there's no indication that production item, if you will, has actually been tested or that it would be able, right now, to be on a functioning missile that could be fired, reentered the earth's atmosphere and solve all the targeting challenges North Korea has to be able to hit a particular target, possibly thousands of miles away. Is it serious? You bet. That North Korea clearly, on a very aggressive march to being able to put all the pieces together and have that credible attack option.
[10:05:06] But you know, I think Will Ripley has referred to this many times. Many people assess that North Korea is actually seeing this as their deterrent. They want to be a nuclear power because they feel that nuclear card gives them deterrents against what they claim would be the possibility of a U.S. invasion, something that no credible authorities out there think is likely. But that's the reason, many say, North Korea is determined to go down this road.
HARLOW: And Barbara, in terms of any plans that you have heard of to beef up, you know, U.S. military presence, forces in the region, in Guam, for example, anything?
STARR: Well, let me say, all of it can change at any moment. So as we stand right here this morning right now, we are being told there are no current plans to beef up forces, U.S. military forces in the region. There is, however, a long planned military exercise at the end of August that will be in the region, in South Korea. The U.S. will be participating. It will be very high profile. You will see more forces in the region, not just yet, but we're keeping a watch on it.
HARLOW: Barbara Starr, you always are. Thank you, joining us from the Pentagon.
Let's go now to Seoul, South Korea and an urging call from leaders there. The newly elected president tried to boost up defense. Alexandra Field is live for us. What are you hearing?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, for months now, Poppy, the newly elected president of South Korea has been calling for dialogue with North Korea. He sees that as the way forward. Instead, what he is getting is a war of words.
The president and top officials here in South Korea are not commenting publicly on the incendiary statements that came from the U.S. President Donald Trump. Of course, the United States and South Korea are longstanding allies. And South Korea depends on the U.S. for its defense, now perhaps more than ever.
But the president did today repeat the platform that he has recently taken up. This is a dovish president who's now talking a lot more about what South Korea needs to do to improve its ability to defend itself. Here is what he said.
"I believe our given task is reform of the military. It should be an intensive one. I believe we need a complete overhaul instead of defense reform at a level of minor improvements or modifications."
He made those remarks during a military ceremony to commanders. Again, that's a reflection of a platform and a position that he has recently taken up. It was also the subject of a conversation that he had over the phone with President Donald Trump just this weekend, talking about the need for South Korea to be able to expand its ability to defend itself and to help defend the region as North Korea presents a mounting security threat. Poppy?
HARLOW: Indeed, Alexandra Field live in Seoul. Thank you very much.
Let's go to where the president is. He's on this working vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey. Our Kaitlan Collins is there. And Kaitlan, the president is likely to get at least one briefing, right? An update from his national security team today.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We're expecting that he will have his daily intelligence briefing today, Poppy, as he has every day. But the White House has not confirmed that. There are no public events for the president today. And the White House has not - also not said if he plans to meet with any staffers or advisers today.
But we do know that he is tweeting right on schedule. Today, he continued with his strong language against North Korea when he asserted that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is far more powerful and stronger than ever before. And that this was something he wanted to modernize the minute he got into office.
He was apparently referencing an order he signed back in January that directed the Department of Defense to undergo a review of the nuclear arsenal. But the president made this remark today saying that this review has already started. We know it officially started in April. So, it's unclear what progress it has made in these last few short months.
We know that these reviews are mandated by Congress every eight years. And that the last one was conducted under the Obama administration back in 2010. So, it's unclear what progress they have made on that review so far.
All of this comes in light of some polling by CNN recently over the past few days before the president made his remarks yesterday that 37 percent of Americans approve of the way that the president has been handling North Korea since he has been in office so far. About 50 percent of Americans disapprove of the way he has handled North Korea. So it's clear there, Poppy, that there's no consensus over the way that the president has talked about North Korea. We will likely see that change in light of his fire and fury comments that we heard from the president yesterday. Poppy?
HARLOW: Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.
Joining us now, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby, who just penned a new opinion piece on this for CNN.com and Professor Balbina Hwang of Georgetown, she also served as a senior adviser to former ambassador to South Korea, Christopher Hill, nice to have you both here.
Admiral, let me begin with you. Your main argument here is that you believe the rhetoric we have heard from the president in the last 24 hours is playing right into Kim Jong-un's hands. Why?
[10:10:03] REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, because he wants to make this all about the U.S. If you look at the way they reacted to the U.N. Security Council resolution, their foreign minister said this is really all about the U.S. and DPRK. They want to make this about us versus them. Clearly, they view us - the United States as their chief threat. They are mostly worried about regime survival, not necessarily of pre-emptive attack on the United States. They want to protect themselves.
And so, when the president reacts the way he did so strongly, so harshly, he just plays right into their argument. He justifies their desire to continue this program. And he also justifies Kim Jong-un's propaganda that the U.S. is out to get them and therefore, they need this kind of program going forward. So, it was really again an unnecessary thing for him to say. I don't think helpful to the larger effort.
HARLOW: Professor, there are some interesting analysis by Siegfried Hecker in "The Washington Post." And he was former U.S. official, also the last U.S. official known to tour about a decade ago, the nuclear facilities in North Korea. And he is quoted as saying "overselling is particularly dangerous." Meaning, don't write Kim Jong-un off at all but treating him as a bigger menace than perhaps he is could be dangerous. Do you agree with that assessment?
BALBINA HWANG, ASIAN POLITICS AND POLITICAL ECONOMICS PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Yes, I do. And also, let me offer a different perspective from Admiral Kirby. While I fundamentally do agree with him, I think actually that President Trump's statements, I think, were all overreacting.
I think it was a rhetorical statement. And it is true that North Korea wants to make everything about the United States. But North Korea would do that regardless. I think now that the statement was made, we should understand that it's not necessarily bad for this president of all presidents to simply say very clearly to North Korea, this is what's going to happen. And I think that message has actually not been as clear as it should have been.
HARLOW: Do you think, though, the president, professor, has been clear about what is going to happen? I mean, it seems like you are saying, send a clearer message to Pyongyang. It wasn't clear to me, what seem to the president.
HWANG: Well, yes. And that is the problem with perhaps some of these off-the-cuff and sort of hyperbolic statements that I think we should be used to by now from this president. Having said that, I do think, though, it is useful and it's a useful message especially to China and perhaps even to Russia, because China wants at all costs to avoid any kind of use of force. And I think now coming on the heels of these groundbreaking sanctions, it is not bad to let China know that this president is actually very serious about using force if it is provoked or pushed to that limit. And it might actually just be exactly what we need to get China to take some further steps now.
HARLOW: You know, Admiral, it seems though that the president has said it before that the United States will go far in so many words whether it's what he has written in a statement on Twitter. Do you think you agree with the professor that this will potentially move China's hand? KIRBY: I'm not sure that I do actually. I do think he has - what we have made very clear our strong position on North Korea and the language yesterday was shrill and hyperbolic to a degree it didn't need to be. And look, I also think that there's a dissonance in the administration. So fine, if you take the professor's argument that it was good that he said this. Then, how do you explain Madison, McMaster, Tillerson, who are all having much more calm, balanced rhetoric. Even this morning, you saw Secretary Tillerson kind of try to put the president's comments in some sort of context and take a little of the air out of the tire.
I think China knows very well where we are on this. And I don't think that President Xi is going to be bullied or coerced by shrill and hyperbolic rhetoric from the president of the United States. I do agree with the professor that they don't want to see conflict. They don't want to see American troops on the other side of the aisle. They don't want to see a reunified Peninsula that's done so violently.
But I don't think they can be bullied and coerced through this kind of language into changing their behavior. The professor is absolutely right. They need to do more, China. And they do need to step up. They have unique influence that they need to use on Pyongyang. But I don't think that bullying them is the way to do it.
HARLOW: So, Senator Lindsey Graham, you know, who has been known to be hawkish, said this on CBS this morning. Do we have that?
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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There are two scenarios where we would go to war with North Korea. If they attack Guam or some other American interest or our allies or if they try to keep developing an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top to hit the homeland, we would act.
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HARLOW: By all accounts, North Korea, Professor, has at least done the latter, right, has continued the development and furthering of this program. What do you make of that assessment?
HWANG: Well, this is the point. And this is why it's not necessarily a major crisis that suddenly erupted yesterday with these comments. We have been in this mode for well over 15 years.
[10:15:00] The point is, I think - again, we have to have a little perspective. This is not an issue of, you know, the State Department defense want to have negotiations and diplomacy and now we are considering these other options. These are all parts of tools of one tool kit. And they can actually and they should all be pursued together. So sanction is a coercive tool. Negotiations and the offer for negotiations is a much more open one.
But remember, North Korea thus far has rejected negotiations. And if we want North Korea to change its interests and to understand that pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles is undermining its survival, not going to increase it as the argument is. Then one of the only ways is to show them that we are very serious about ending North Korea's survival if it continues on this path.
HARLOW: The question is, does the rhetoric do that or do they need to see the action in their lives that hang in the balance? Thank you very much, Professor, nice to have you. Admiral Kirby as well, thank you.
Still ahead, this -
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TRUMP: Like the world has never seen.
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HARLOW: Those words "like the world has never seen" from the president. We heard them yesterday about North Korea. But he actually has used that phrase quite a bit about a lot of other things. We're going to dive into that rhetoric.
Also, the president, touting the U.S. as the most powerful in the world, a move to also rally his base.
And Aleppo, before and after the Syrian city left in ruins by a devastating civil conflict just starting the long road to recovery and we will take you inside.
[10:20:41] HARLOW: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says this morning he does not have concerns over President Trump's escalating threats and rhetoric about North Korea. China though in a statement this morning calling on both sides to tone down the rhetoric.
Let's talk about the big picture here. CNN contributor and author of "The Truth About Trump," Michael Dantonio is here, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart joins us and CNN political commentator and political anchor of "Spectrum News," Errol Louis. Guys, thank you for being here, very much.
Michael Dantonio, I think it's interesting when you look at the phrase the president used which is "like the world has never seen before." That's what he used talking about North Korea in Bedminster yesterday. In fact, he used the statement, those words twice yesterday also talking about the opioid crisis. And he's also used that in the past. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Opioid overdose deaths have nearly quadrupled since 1999. It is a problem the likes of which we have not seen. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: You have written a lot about the president, studied his rhetoric and tone. What should we make of the similar statement being used over and over again in things very different than North Korea and then applying it there?
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": Well, I'm reminded of his phrase truthful hyperbole, which is in the art of the deal, the book that he actually didn't write, but he had someone else write in the 1980s. And I think this is all of a piece with the president.
He likes certain phrases. He likes to promote things as larger than life. We remember the piece of chocolate cake he had with President Xi being the most beautiful cake anybody ever saw. This is to some degree just almost like a set of verbal ticks that he has. And it's always to make something bigger and more dramatic.
The problem, of course, is when you are president of the United States, every sentence matters. And we're now -- we have gone from a president who was kind of the paragon of cool, so much so that Obama was criticized for it, to a president who is as red hot as a president can be in the way that he speaks. The American public is to be forgiven for experiencing a bit of whiplash.
The last thing I would like to say is I had one conversation this morning with someone who said she had been up at 4:00 a.m. worried about what's going on with North Korea. Secretary Tillerson's comments about people not losing sleep are welcomed. I don't think people should but some are.
HARLOW: Certainly. Certainly some are.
Errol Louis, to you, I mean, Michael calls him these verbal ticks that the president has. But you have to think about who is around him, right? H.R. McMaster, you know, Chief of Staff Kelly. I mean, where is he in all of this? Are these words that they would sanction? --
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND POLITICAL ANCHOR, "SPECTRUM NEWS": Well, this is an important question. How do we go from these verbal ticks and words like, you know, strength and fire and fury and so forth? How does that translate into, say, instructions for the diplomatic corps or for the military? We heard Rex Tillerson, just the other day, in fact the Secretary of State saying to North Korea directly, we are not your enemy. And then a couple of days -
HARLOW: We're not looking for regime change -- peaceful pressure.
LOUIS: And where this all starts to matter quite a lot, Poppy, is that we still don't have a lot of the infrastructure in place to implement really any kind of directed policy so people can be forgiven for wondering what the heck is going on. We come into this crisis without an assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs in the State Department, without Asian Pacific desk being filled at the Defense Department, without an ambassador to South Korea. So, it is unclear how -- whatever the policy is going to be, whether it's the Tillerson reconciliation talk or the president's threats, is going to actually get implemented.
HARLOW: Alice, increasingly there have been talks in Congress and legislation proposed about checking the president on multiple things, but including on these powers for a first launch of a nuclear weapon. You had Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu and Senator Ed Markey in January, putting forth this legislation that would mean that a first strike would have to include congressional approval, reversing the 1946 law.
[10:25:05] And you also have Republican Senator Dan Sullivan on last night with my colleague, Erin Burnett, saying, the president needs to work with Congress on this one, right? On any sort of first strike, the president needs to work with Congress. Do you think that that is something that more Republicans will get on board with?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Ideally in the grand scheme of things, it would be ideal if he could work with members of Congress. But this is a continuing quickly escalating situation with North Korea. And since Tillerson spoke the other day, the Kim regime has beefed up and even more successfully accelerated their weapons program. And I think, as the situation changes, I think the president is right to say we will meet this with fire and fury. --
HARLOW: You do? - I'm interested - there's been so much criticism of his comments. The word choice he used, the bellicosity that it came with. But you think it was warranted?
STEWART: Absolutely. Look, this has been going on for many, many years, many presidencies. However, I think the last eight years of strategic patience was not helpful. And we need to show some force with regard to North Korea. And we saw today, Secretary Tillerson backed up what the president said. It's important for us to -
HARLOW: Alice, he said -- Tillerson said Americans should sleep well tonight and he essentially said there's been no change.
STEWART: He also said it's critical for us to convey the message that America is prepared to defend ourselves and our allies. He backed up what the president said just yesterday.
HARLOW: Did you see it that way, Errol?
LOUIS: Not really. I mean, in fact, look, the level of tough talk from the United States -- if you could point to any instance in which it backed down the North Korean regime, then I would agree with Alice.
But I don't think we're going to see that. You know you have a dictator who is not going to lose his position. He's not going to give up his weapons. He's not going to stop the strangle hold that he has over the country. There are ways to deal with it, those include sanctions.
But making the sanctions work requires not tough talk, not more nuclear weapons but it requires getting the Asian nations through which the sanctions are evaded to work with you more closely. Its front businesses in Malaysia, and Thailand and the Philippines, that enables the North Korean regime to stay in power. You've got to work patiently and slowly and all of the tough talk and all of the bombs in the world are not going to change that.
HARLOW: Errol, thank you. Alice, thank you. Michael, thank you. Nice to have different perspectives, we do need to get some breaking news.
So, there's breaking news out just now in the Russia investigation. CNN has just learned that the FBI raided the home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. This is CNN's reporting. "The Washington Post" has additional reporting on this. Saying that it was in the early morning hours late last month, this was one day after you remember Manafort struck that deal with congressional leaders to meet with them voluntarily behind closed doors on the Hill to meet with staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Jessica Schneider, our justice correspondent, is following all this. Jessica, he was voluntarily turning over some documents. So this would imply that the FBI felt perhaps that they were not getting everything from Manafort and therefore needed to do this raid. Is that right?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really interesting the time line of this, Poppy. We know that this raid happened two weeks ago. Paul Manafort's spokesman, Jason Maloni, confirming that, yes, FBI agents raided Paul Manafort's home in Virginia, saying that they executed a search warrant and that Mr. Manafort has constantly, consistently cooperated with law enforcement and other serious inquiries and did so on this occasion as well.
So, what's interesting about the timing of this is, of course, it happened on July 26th, just one day before Paul Manafort actually went behind closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee to talk with them, interview with them and handover documents. Also on July 26th, the day after, the same day as this raid, that was when Paul Manafort was supposed to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of their Foreign Agents Registration Act hearing. We know that that didn't happen. And instead, the committee actually dropped the subpoenas in exchange for cooperation with Paul Manafort.
So, on the congressional side, we know that Paul Manafort has been cooperating. In fact, we got word today that Paul Manafort actually turned over 400 pages of documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, at the same time that these congressional probes are ongoing, we, of course, also have the special counsel investigation as well. And that, perhaps, is operating on a different track. That may be why FBI agents did, in fact, raid his home to make sure that they got all of these documents. Perhaps there was some concern that Paul Manafort wasn't handing over all of the documents that he needed to, to these congressional committees. Perhaps, maybe wasn't cooperating fully with the special counsel investigation.
So, yes, in fact, we do know at this point, that FBI agents raided Paul Manafort's home two weeks ago. Paul Manafort's spokesman confirming, in fact, that this raid has happened.