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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Fails to Sanction Russia Over Election Meddling; North Korea: "Take Our Hydrogen Bomb Warning Literally"; 2 GOP Senators: Trump Untruthful, Danger on Foreign Stage; Flake: More Republicans Will Rebuke Trump; Official: U.S. Soldiers Possibly Betrayed by Niger Villagers. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Still hasn't gone into effect. Why is he delaying? This is the law.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, (R), CALIFORNIA: I don't know, Wolf. I don't have an answer for you on why he's not. But you have to trust somebody. You have to trust the commander-in-chief to know when the right timing is and when to put this into effect to get the most advantage of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The State Department has been asked about this recently and they say they are well aware of the concerns of many up here on Capitol Hill, that they're being very careful with the guidance that, of course, they should have issued by October 1st. But certainly, Kate, I think we can all expect for there to be increasing concern, increasing questions coming up here on Capitol Hill, where this information is. And Senators McCain and others continue to push to get it.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And where the Senators and members of Congress say they deserve answers elsewhere, you think they would deserve an answer on this one, as well.

Sunlen, thank you.

Breaking news we are following. In a new interview, a top North Korean official is telling CNN that North Korea's threat to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific is deadly serious. What does this mean for President Trump's visit to the region just next week? We have details coming in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Breaking news. North Korea issuing a new warning to the United States: Take our threats seriously and literally. One top official telling CNN, when it comes to their threat to test their strongest hydrogen bomb yet over the Pacific, they mean it, literally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should the world prepare for North Korea to detonate a nuclear device aboveground?

UNIDENTIFIED NORTH KOREAN OFFICIAL (through translation): The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:35:00] BOLDUAN: This comes, of course, as President Trump is about to head to Asia just next week, including stops in South Korea, China, and Japan.

Let me bring in right now Ambassador Nicholas Burns, he served as undersecretary for political affairs and was also U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Bush administration.

Ambassador, great to see you.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS, STATE DEPARTMENT & FORMER NATO AMBASSADOR: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: You hear this new threat coming from North Korea. Do you take the threat literally?

BURNS: I think you have to take it seriously, because the North Koreans have been threatening all sorts of actions the last few months and they've usually followed up with the ballistic missile tests and with the nuclear tests, as well. This would be extremely unwise of the North Koreans to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test of a hydrogen bomb. It would have adverse environmental consequences. It's an outright repudiation of all the limits that normal countries place on themselves.

And of course, it would be another indication that Kim Jong-Un is just stoking the fires when President Trump is traveling to Asia to meet Xi Jinping, to meet the APAC leadership. And it's going to be important, I think, for our government to stay strong and calm. I think Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson have been very strong in indicating we're not trying to attack North Korea, but we'll respond if attacked. President Trump needs to watch his Twitter account. He doesn't need to match the North Korean's one by one in terms of rhetoric. I think that would be a mistake.

BOLDUAN: Well, we will see. Keep an eye on the Twitter feed, as we always say.

But this actually gets to what Senator Jeff Flake has been talking about. He wrote an opinion piece in "The Washington Post" writing in part this, "How many childish insults do we need to see hurled at a hostile foreign power before we acknowledge the danger of it."

That coming from Senator Flake, and everything he's said in the past 24 hours.

But I talked to another Republican, Adam Kinzinger yesterday, who had a very different take. He said this, listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R), ILLINOIS: When it's all said and done, look, I think the president is actually doing a lot of good things internationally. And I think some of the unpredictability on Twitter with like North Korea and Iran is actually beneficial. Because it's kind of this idea that we don't know where the president is going to do or what he's going to do, and I think there's some benefit to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So which is it? Can it be both good and dangerous?

BURNS: I don't think it's positive at all. I disagree, respectfully, with Congressman Kinzinger. When you're trying to practice strategic deterrence, you're trying to convince Kim Jong-Un that we're not going to be the aggressor, but we'll defend the United States and South Korea and Japan from attack by North Korea, you want to be absolutely crystal clear about where you're drawing the lines. You do not want to introduce a doubt in the mind of Kim Jong-Un that we might attack preemptively, because that could cause him to do so. It could lead to a mistake, which might be the most likely occurrence for a clash between North Korea and the United States. A mistake! And so, the so-called madman theory, that countries should fear President Trump, that he's unpredictable, it doesn't make any sense at all. And if you're talking about nuclear weapons, this is not what Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan did. They were absolutely clear. So I think that's where the president needs to go. His rhetoric has been very dangerous, and I think it's been irresponsible on North Korea.

BOLDUAN: And that is something with the time that we have left, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake yesterday in their comments against the president, you share their concerns, as you've said. But as someone who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations and been in Washington a long time, what did you think when you saw Jeff Flake take to the Senate floor yesterday?

BURNS: I thought it was an extraordinary speech, courageous speech, beautifully composed, and the message needed to be said. And that is that we need a president who understands he's got to govern through both parties. He has to represent all Americans. You can't insult our friends. And you can't gratuitously try to muddy the water with your foes. You've got to be strong and clear on your rhetoric. And the president has been very divisive. He's dividing us by race. He's dividing us in any every other way. And I think to see Senator Corker and Senator Flake and Senator McCain and former President George W. Bush all come out and say the same thing, that this bullying, divisive rhetoric is hurting America, it's a powerful statement by the Republican Party and by the adults in the Republican Party.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, many more questions, but I think our satellite window is about to close. So thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

BURNS: Thank you, Kate. A pleasure. [11:39:26] BOLDUAN: So President Trump, he appears anything but

concerned about the renouncement he received from two Senators from his own party. Is there room in the Republican tent for the Bob Corkers and the Jeff Flakes of the world? One of their Republican colleagues in the Senate is joining me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: President Trump is in high spirits today, an aide says, amid this escalating war we're seeing now in the Republican Party. The president is said to be happy that Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker will not seeking re-election. Look no further than his Twitter feed for that. He's also dismissive of their public rebuke of the sitting president of their own party. But where is that party right now?

Joining me from Capitol Hill, Republican Senator John Kennedy, of Louisiana.

Senator, great to see you, with thanks for coming in.

SEN. JOHN NEELY KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: You bet. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: What did you think of Jeff Flake's speech on the Senate floor yesterday?

KENNEDY: I haven't listened to it completely yet. I know Jeff. I've gotten to know him in nine months. I have a lot of respect for him. Very bright guy. I think this was a personal decision. As decision not to run for re-election usually are. I'm not saying politics don't have something to do with it. But I respect Jeff's decision and I respect Jeff. I'll miss him.

BOLDUAN: Today, according to Jeff Flake, it is not a choice. It is a responsibility, what he did, for all lawmakers, Republican, Democrat, but especially your party, to speak out. Listen to what he told CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF FLAKE, (R), ARIZONA: I think that we have a responsibility as elected officials to speak out when there's behavior that is just beyond the pale. And then some of what we've seen, I think, fits in that category.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: When the president doesn't tell the truth, do you feel responsible to speak up?

KENNEDY: Look, this is America. And Jeff is very eloquent. This is America. You can believe what you want. And within reason, you can say what you want. But I don't think the American people right now are especially interested in watching all of us act like kids in the back of a minivan. Most Americans right now care about results, because they're getting up every day, and they're going to work and they're obeying the law and they're paying the taxes and they're falling further and further and further behind. And I've tried not to comment on the president's tweets. I'm not going to say Jeff's right or wrong. You know, those are his feelings. And he's entitled to express them.

But I don't think there's some crisis in the Republican Party. There's certainly no crisis in the conference among Senators, who happen to be Republican. We are focused on tax reform and we're going to get it done, hopefully, by Thanksgiving.

I know this makes news and there's a lot of drama to it. But, you know, just because some people like drama doesn't mean I have to attend the performance. And I would prefer to focus on the issues.

[11:45:30] BOLDUAN: I hear you. But, in attending the performance, this wasn't just drama. This was history. I mean, this was a sitting Republican Senator taking to the Senate floor to renounce the sitting president of his own party. That doesn't happen every day.

KENNEDY: People -- sure it does. People go -- I gave a speech this morning on the Senate floor --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Renouncing President Trump?

KENNEDY: No.

BOLDUAN: No?

KENNEDY: Talking about policy. I think what Jeff is saying -- and again, I'm at a disadvantage, because I haven't heard his whole speech. But I think what Jeff is saying is he doesn't disagree with the policy, much of the policy, and the messaging of the Trump administration. And he's entitled to say that. There are others who would disagree with him.

My point, I guess, is all the name calling, and, you know, the things that kids do on a junior high cafeteria, it makes for interesting television, but I don't think that's what Americans are focused on. It doesn't bother me. I believe in the First Amendment. But I think what Americans want right now are some results. I think that's the biggest problem with my party, at least in the Senate on Capitol Hill. We've been here nine months and a lot of people are frustrated, including me, that we haven't done more. Now, we shot twice in health care, trying to fix it. We missed. We'll be back for a third round, a fourth round, a fifth round if necessary. But we don't have any margin for error. We've got to do tax reform. Not just because of politics, but for the American economy.

BOLDUAN: Well, let's talk about that. The tax reform was the -- was the big topic, of course, at the Senate lunch yesterday. The president tweeted out this morning that he called it a lovefest. Is that how you would -- is that what it was like in the room?

KENNEDY: It's not the way I would describe it. I would describe it as cordial, professional. We didn't get into a lot of detail. The president covered a lot of ground. He did talk about tax reform. He talked a little bit about health care. He talked about the regulatory environment. He talked a good bit about trade. But to answer your question about tax reform. Look, all hell is going to break lose next week when the House releases its bill.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

KENNEDY: I think it's a great thing. I think it's a great thing. There's no way to have meaningful change that's easy. It's just any change worth doing is going to be tough. But I'm ready to see a proposal on the table. We're working on our proposal in the Senate. It's going to be true tax reform. We're going to lower people's taxes, because we're going to broaden the base. We're beginning to help middle class Americans and help everybody business. But it's not going to be without pain. I don't want to kid anybody.

BOLDUAN: Well, that is something that we haven't yet heard yet, Senator.

KENNEDY: You'll hear it very soon.

BOLDUAN: I'm looking forward to it.

Let me ask real quick. I'm told that you told McClatchy yesterday, that when it comes to tax reform, you want to see the president go to every state and talk tax reform, tax reform, tax reform.

KENNEDY: You bet.

BOLDUAN: But a month ago, the White House said that he was going to do that. He was going to hit this thing hard. A month has passed, and you want to get this done by Thanksgiving or the end of the year, is this a mistake?

KENNEDY: My advice to the president, very gently and respectfully, would be, saddle up and go. Talk about three things. Go to every state and talk about three things, tax reform, tax reform, tax reform. Because that's what is important to the American people right now, because it affects their pocketbooks. Look, the American people are smart. They don't read Aristotle every day, but they get it. Their take-home pay is just about the same as it was in 1999. Median household income this country is about the same it was in 1999.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: If this is the end-all, be-all, do-all for all of you, all- important, why isn't the president hitting the road? You have good advice for him, let's see if he takes it.

KENNEDY: You bet.

BOLDUAN: Senator, please come back on and let's talk taxes next week.

KENNEDY: I'll do it, Kate. [11:49:38] BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up, new details on the investigation into how four U.S. soldiers were killed in an is ambush in Niger. Was it a setup? We'll go live to Niger for more on the investigation. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Was it a setup? That is the question right now when it comes to the ambush investigation in Niger. Officials telling CNN they suspect that the U.S. soldiers who were killed in Niger were betrayed by villagers who may have tipped off the ISIS-affiliated fighters who ambushed the soldiers. The U.S. Army team, including the four U.S. soldiers killed in the firefight, was collecting intelligence on a terror leader right before the attack.

Joining me now, CNN's David McKenzie, live in Niger, and CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, first to you.

What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORESPONDENT: Kate, this is what we know. This team sent on a mission to gather intelligence on a ISIS leader known to be operating in the area. They completed that mission. On their way back to base, they stopped at another village to replenish their supplies, meet with local leaders. It's during that stop there that the U.S. military believes that someone or some people in that village tipped off ISIS fighters that the U.S. forces, Nigerian forces were there and then attacked. It was an elaborate attack. It involved heavy machine guns, mortars, RPGs, and it was in that firefight where those four servicemembers lost their lives.

Still a lot of unanswered questions, one, for instance, how La David Johnson was found a mile away from the scene of that initial firefight. But one thing we know as well, in combat situations like this, it's often confusing and oftentimes soldiers do get separated from their units -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

David, you're on the grounds there. Talk to me about the challenges that U.S. troops are up against.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, many Senators or several have expressed shock that many, according to them, 800 or so soldiers are here in the theater in Niger. Flying into this country, you really get a sense of the challenges they face, the vast Sahil, the desert area, where the U.S. is helping to do investigation gathering assisting the Nigerian troops. They have to cover an area the size of the continental U.S., often in areas where there have been attacks in the past. That's another question that will be added to this investigation, is whether the intelligence they had going in to what is being described as a routine assignment by these Green Berets and other Special Forces, how it ended up in this ambush. There have been several attacks on Nigerian troops in that volatile border region between Niger and Mali for the entire year -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: What are you hearing, David, about the head of African Command raising the alarm about the need for more resources?

MCKENZIE: Look, earlier this year, in March, in fact, in Congress, General Walthauser (ph), commander of AFRICOM, of African Command, raised several troubling alarms, if you will, at Congress. He said that they are impacted by inconsistent resourcing of key requirements, that, in fact, they can only execute between 20 or 30 percent of their key intelligence and reconnaissance missions. And perhaps most troubling, he said that in this theater and across Africa, they often have to depend on contracted search-and-rescue teams that he could put their soldiers at risk. So it raises two questions. One, have those challenges been fixed since March? And, two, why are Senators saying they're surprised at the deployment when, in fact, they had these hearings earlier this year -- Kate?

[11:55:48] BOLDUAN: And, Jim, real quick, where does this go from here?

SCIUTTO: Listen, you're going to have harder questions about those operations there, not only nearly a thousand troops in Niger, 6,000 across the continent of Africa in 53 different countries, where you have a greater and greater presence from a group like ISIS. It's where some of these terrorist operations are blooming right now. What will be the U.S. response and what will be the tolerance here at home for the costs of have response?

BOLDUAN: Great to see you both. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, President Trump says Bob Corker and Jeff Flake are hurt and wounded. Jeff Flake says this is just the beginning of those standing up to the president. The latest round in the Republican family feud. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)