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Trump: Pakistan Has Given Us "Nothing But Lies And Deceit"; Kim Jong Un: Nuclear Button Is "Always On The Desk"; At Least 12 People Killed In Iran Protests; Mullen: Nuclear War With North Korea Closer Than Ever; NYT: Drunken Conversation May Have Sparked Russia Probe; New Jersey Teen Suspected In Deaths Of Parents and Sister. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired January 1, 2018 - 11:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: The president certainly is. In his first tweet of 2018, President Trump lashing out at Pakistan for what he calls their lies and deceit, saying the government is giving a safe haven to terrorists.

The president also taking aim at the regime in Iran while expressing support for anti-government protesters. Earlier today, President Trump tweeting out, quote, "Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years and they are hungry for food and freedom along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. Time for change."

CNN White House correspondent, Abby Philip, joins us from Florida, not far from the Mar-a-Lago estate where the president is set to wrap up his holiday break today. Abby, what does this tell you about the administration's policy toward Iran?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Boris. Well, Iran has been really a centerpiece of President Trump's platform, dating all the way back to the campaign when he used that as a major argument against Hillary Clinton. This is a president who is very concerned with drawing a bright line on Iran.

He wants to be as tough on the Iranian regime as he can be, and the protests here are an important test of his ability to do that and his clout in that region. A lot of Republicans right now are looking back at the 2009 protests in Iran that they believe the Obama administration did not respond forcefully enough to.

And that's one of the reasons why you're seeing a lot from President Trump on this issue down here in South Florida as he starts his day every morning the last few days by expressing support for the protesters in the street and condemning the Iranian regime. The message is clear that he believes that this is a key moment for him to weigh in on which -- the side that he believes should win out here.

SANCHEZ: And Abby, the president also having harsh words for an American ally. Do we know why he decided to take such a hardline against Pakistan today?

PHILLIP: You know, Boris, it's unclear exactly what precipitated this tweet. It seemed to come out of nowhere, bright and early this morning on New Year's Day. Here's what the president wrote on Twitter this morning.

The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit. Thinking of our leaders as fools. They have given safe haven to terrorists in Afghanistan with little help. No more.

So, it's not clear if President Trump will follow through on what seems to be a threat to pull foreign aid to Pakistan. This is another issue that he's been talking about for quite some time, wanting to bring money back from overseas where we've been giving in the form of foreign aid to other countries like Pakistan.

And what the president believes is us getting nothing in return, so he's raising this issue at the beginning of the year. It's possible in an effort to fulfill some of these campaign promises, he is really focused right now on the threat of terror, and he's been touting the progress that's been made on ISIS. Clearly here the president is frustrated that Pakistan is not doing more to help them with that effort.

SANCHEZ: All right. Abby Philip reporting from West Palm Beach, thank you.

Meantime, North Korea's leader is calling on his country to speed up the production of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. Kim Jong- un says, quote, "We need to constantly be ready to retaliate against the enemy's move for a nuclear war." Now a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs says that threat is closer than it has ever been.

Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. What are we hearing from Admiral Mike Mullen about the situation with North Korea?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, Boris. Admiral Mullen was interviewed over the weekend, and he's a very calm, no drama kind of guy, so his remarks are getting a lot of attention here in Washington. Have a listen to what he had to say about all of this.


ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We're actually closer in my view to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we've ever been, and I just don't see how -- I don't see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point.


STARR: That said, the Trump administration's defense secretary, James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, all very much on the diplomatic page publicly at this point. We have seen tweets from the president hinting at a very tough military stance. But Defense Secretary Mattis as recently as Friday talked about diplomacy, backed up by economic sanctions, very much being front and center and the feeling that there was still very much an effort to try to make all of that work.

Hard to see, though, in 2018 that Kim Jong-un is going to change his mind. All indications are he will proceed with his weapons development -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Barbara, we also got some mixed messaging from him today. He talked about his country's nuclear capabilities, but then he also talked about potentially sitting down and talking to South Korea?

[11:05:10] STARR: He did. He hinted that he would be open to some discussion about North Korea sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics being hosted in a few weeks by South Korea. Whether that happens, I think the world sports community is very uncertain at this point, whether that is even likely.

Will Kim follow through on this kind of olive branch New Year's talk? Hard to see. Maybe yes. But still, very much he also was adamant that if he felt attacked, if he felt threatened, he would respond, and we know that he has this missile capability. He also talked about the nuclear button, his words, always being on his desk, always being ready to go.

SANCHEZ: Certainly disconcerting. Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon, thank you.

From one hot spot to another, in Iran where the death toll is rising after four straight days of nationwide protests, at least 12 people have been killed, according to state media. The violence comes despite an appeal for calm by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. CNN's Arwa Damon is in neighboring Turkey with the details -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Boris. We are expecting to hear from the Iranian president at any point now. He has been making quite a few public statements warning demonstrators against creating chaos, against turning to violence, saying that will be met with force.

But at the same time in what is perhaps an interesting conciliatory tone, he is acknowledging that people have a right to protest, they have a right to express their grievances with the government and with the economy.

He acknowledges that people do and are struggling when it comes to food, fuel, and other basic necessities. But at the same time, he is continuing to warn demonstrators not to end up being political pawns.

And he is also lashing out at U.S. President Donald Trump saying that he, America, is really the root cause of many of the difficulties that Iran is facing. We did hear from Trump again tweeting over the weekend on Sunday, again warning Iran that the world is watching. What is especially interesting for observers when they look at these demonstrations taking place is just how widespread they are. The fact that they also are encompassing unlike perhaps previous moments such as the 2009 Green Movement, they are encompassing lower income individuals.

And at the same time there is no clear leadership, there is no group that is in charge. Other than taking to the streets and really voicing their fury with the government and we are hearing some chants such as "death to the dictator" and "we don't want an Islamic republic."

And we are hearing very rare cries among some of the protesters that they want to see the supreme leader step down, it's unclear exactly what the end game is and specifically what demands this diverse and non-cohesive group of individuals do have -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Arwa, calls for the death of the ayatollah, not something we have heard before in Iran. Arwa Damon, thank you for that reporting.

Joining us now to discuss this and much more, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, CNN's military and diplomatic analyst and a former spokesperson at the State Department and Pentagon. Admiral, thank you so much for joining us. Always a pleasure to see you.

Wish we had fewer things to talk about. It seems like there's a lot going on in the world. First, I want to start with Pakistan. The president tweeting out this morning, threatening to cut off aid to Pakistan.

There's been a lot of questions over the years about their allegiance and whether their interests align with the interests of the United States in South Asia. First, is Pakistan truly an ally and second, is this approach by the president to threaten to cut off aid the right approach?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Look, the relationship with Pakistan is and has been very complicated. I don't know that I would go so far to call them an ally and I certainly would not agree that their strategic interests are exactly the same as ours.

There are some overlaps. For instance, the fight against terrorist groups. Now, look, Pakistan has been playing a bit of a double game here and the president is not wrong at all when he expresses frustration. He's not the first one to do that.

He's not wrong to think about and look at the chances of using our aid and assistance as a lever to try to get Pakistan to behave a little bit better when it comes to the safe haven we know they provide to these terrorist groups.

They're playing a double game and have for a long, long time. I think it's -- I think we should try to meter the aid and assistance they get, to elicit better behavior and cooperation from them, and not providing safe haven for these groups.

[11:10:00] But I also think, you know, that we need to do this in a judicious, prudent manner because Pakistan has already long ago determined that the United States is perhaps not their most reliable partner and are looking for more and more excuses to turn to China for help. I don't think it's in our best interest to have China more involved than they already are in that particular part of the world.

SANCHEZ: I have a couple questions on China, but first specifically about North Korea, you heard the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen over the weekend talking about this being the closest that we've been to nuclear war with North Korea. You laughed when Barbara Starr said he was a serious guy, not prone to alarm. Do you think with we're that close, we're on the brink of war with North Korea?

KIRBY: Well, look, I worked with Admiral Mullen for a long time, I was his spokesman for over a decade, so I smiled because Barbara is exactly right. I know Admiral Mullen well and he is a very calm, measured, deliberate leader who says what's on his mind and you can count on it.

I do share his concerns that we are closer and closer now to conflict and there's no doubt that Kim Jong-un continues to try to improve and perfect this suite of capabilities that would not only make him a threat to the region but even to the united states mainland.

It's unclear right now, Boris, how much that threat to the mainland really exists. Secretary Mattis seems to be a little less deliberate in terms of his decision that they have got that capability. I'm heartened when I hear him, Secretary Mattis, and Secretary Tillerson, talk about diplomatic-led solutions.

I have to believe, even though you and I don't hear about it every day, that they are doing something behind the scenes to try to get to the table with North Korea. But I think we all need to realize that Kim Jong-un is not going to stop and he's never going to negotiate away these capabilities as long as he continues to believe that the United States is an existential threat.

SANCHEZ: Very quickly on China, this weekend South Korea claimed that they apprehended a ship that was flying a Panamanian flag that was mostly crewed by Chinese. The insinuation being that this is a Chinese ship violating U.N. sanctions.

I guess, the question ultimately is, does China really have an incentive to work with the United States on North Korea or does it really play in their favor to have this proxy, this buffer, that's challenging American power directly the way no one is in that part of the world?

KIRBY: China is frustrated by what Kim Jong-un is doing. They do have more influence than any other nation state on North Korea, but that influence is limited. They don't have, you know, some unlimited ability to make Kim Jong-un behave the way they want to.

That said they can and should do more to enforce the sanctions. One of the problems we've had with international sanctions against North Korea in the past including very recently is that China and Russia aren't uniformly implementing those sanctions to the degree they can and should.

China has done a lot. They have cut off natural gas. They have stopped importing seafood, but they haven't done everything that they can, and I think what we're seeing is this is the proof of that. They should do more. We need to continue to press them to do more.

SANCHEZ: On the subject of Iran, two very different approaches from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. When we last saw this kind of unrest back in 2009, President Obama was hesitant to lend his support to the protesters in Iran. Part of that was laying the groundwork for the Iran nuclear deal. Do you think this is the right approach, the president now strongly throwing himself behind these protesters?

KIRBY: Well, let me push back a little bit on the presumption of what Obama did. I don't think it was about preserving the Iran deal. I think he was very cautiously trying to move forward to see where the green movement was going because we didn't completely fully understand it.

And he was -- President Obama was very public about advocating for peaceful protests, as I think you've seen the Trump administration do. I think we need to be careful here. Arwa Damon's report was excellent in terms of how much we don't really understand about this.

I'm not an Iran expert, but I've been reading a bunch over the last few days and it seems like it's not necessarily an ideological set of driven protest, it's more practical, more economic, more political, but it's also very diffuse.

As Arwa said there's no one leader or outcome they seem to be driving at. So, I think we need to be humble as we look at this and understand there's a lot we don't know. That's what troubles me a little bit about what President Trump has been tweeting and so -- coming down so hard on the side of the protesters when we don't completely understand what they are after.

SANCHEZ: Yes. President Trump saying the world is watching. We will be to see what turns out in Iran. Rear Admiral John Kirby, always a pleasure, sir. Happy New Year.

Coming up, it wasn't the dossier after all, at least according to a new report, that says a drunken conversation between a Trump campaign aide and a diplomat was the real spark for the Russia investigation. Details on that ahead.

Plus, new year, new battles on Capitol Hill. Congress now gearing up for epic showdowns on everything from the budget to the border wall. We break down what's in store. Stay with us.


[11:18:49] SANCHEZ: The spark for the Russia investigation may have come from a drunken conversation between a former Trump adviser and Australian diplomat according to the "New York Times." The "Times" says that during an evening of drinking at a London bar back in May of 2016, George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. Australian officials later notified the U.S. about the conversation when Wikileaks began posting e-mails hacked from the Democratic National Committee online.

I want to bring in our political panel to chat this over, Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and a former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Department of Justice. Zeke Miller is also with us, a White House reporter for the "Associated Press."

Michael, let's start with you. If George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that the Russians had stolen Hillary Clinton e- mails, at the very least dirt on Hillary Clinton, long before that information became public, what does that signal to you?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it signals that Papadopoulos as a cooperating witness, has a much bigger story to tell Mueller than we first anticipated. This reporting in "The New York Times," if true, also dovetails with the reporting that "The Guardian" has done on Carter Page having similar types of meetings.

[11:20:06] And that the intelligence unit, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, U.K, U.S., were beginning to see these communications early in the March, April, May period of 2016. So, this may be further confirmation of the possibility that the Trump campaign did, indeed, have liaison with Russians or Russian intermediaries much earlier than has been reported previously.

SANCHEZ: Michael, staying with you, if this was the spark for the Russia investigation, then some of the claims from Trump supporters that it was all initiated by the salacious dossier compiled by a former British spy, that's not the case, right?

ZELDIN: Well, that's right, in part, Boris. The other thing, though, is that this reporting of Papadopoulos meeting with Australian diplomats and being told that Russians have dirt and Carter Page, similarly meeting with Russians and being told that Russians have dirt, does tend to dovetail some with the memoranda that Steele did present to U.S. intelligence agencies which gave rise to the investigation.

These things are beginning to coalesce in a way that confirms in part what Steele has reported, leaving aside the salacious stuff, but on the contacts between Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries, so it's become a much more sort of rich environment for Mueller to evaluate witness testimony.

I think that you will see that others like Sam Clovis and Stephen Miller and Carter Page may well find themselves similarly situated to George Papadopoulos.

SANCHEZ: Zeke, to you, another revelation in this "New York Times" story seems to cast doubt on whether or not George Papadopoulos was just a coffee boy. It turns out that he actually brokered a meeting between then-Candidate Trump and Egyptian President Fattah el-SiSi. The idea he is a low-level volunteer is kind of unraveling.

ZEKE MILLER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Yes. And also don't forget George Papadopoulos entered the political lexicon, nobody knew who he really was until the president revealed that he was a foreign policy adviser on his campaign in an interview with "The Washington Post" early last year.

So, there is an element of, you know, the White House and the president seem to be trying to have it both ways. He was both trying to be the secret back channel, whether it be with the Russians, the Egyptians and others, you know.

And -- but the White House, the president cited him as a foreign policy expert he was bringing on to his campaign when nobody was really willing to work for him. This has been a challenge for the president who says he's going to hire the best people.

Here he is hiring somebody who is clearly not very good at being a foreign policy adviser or being discreet. There are so many things wrong with him. The president hired him and touted his hiring and now trying to sort of rewrite history a little bit.

He was not an integral member of the foreign policy leadership, certainly not, but he had a larger role than they're trying to admit now.

SANCHEZ: I mean, he touted his abilities, it's on tape so it can't really be denied or said that his words were twisted. Do you think it's plausible that if Papadopoulos is this volunteer who's clearly ambitious, trying to make a name for himself in this campaign, that he would have had this information about the Russians, but then kept it to himself and not told anyone in power within the campaign that could then capitalize on that kind of information?

MILLER: It certainly is possible. This could have just been entirely idle bluster in a drunken meeting with a foreign diplomat. He could have been inebriated to make these wild claims --

SANCHEZ: Eerily predicative.

MILLER: Things happen like that in hindsight where we can put the pieces together and things stand out that way. That said, Robert Mueller, you know, there's a plea deal here for a reason. He lied to the FBI. He's giving something to the special counsel's office. What that is we'll find out soon.

It could be that he tried to pass some of these conversations on and some of that intelligence or knowledge on to others in the campaign and in the president's orbit or it was all bluster, and he's giving something else to Robert Mueller. We don't know that yet.

SANCHEZ: Michael, I did want to ask you about a -- you wanted to jump in? ZELDIN: I was going to say what Papadopoulos is saying back there in the summer, I think we will find also was picked up on intercepts from the Dutch and Germans and the French and has been reporting about that. I don't think this is going to turn out to be idle talk, among drunks at a bar.

SANCHEZ: All right. We have to leave it there, unfortunately, but we can go through this "New York Times" piece for quite a long time. Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for that. Michael Zeldin and Zeke Miller, thank you both for joining us. Happy New Year to you both.

Coming up, a 16-year-old boy now in custody after police say he used a semiautomatic rifle to gun down his mother, father, sister and a family friend. Details on this story just ahead.



SANCHEZ: A New Jersey teenager is in police custody this morning after four people were found shot to death in his parents' home. Both of the suspect's parents, his sister and family acquaintance were found last night when police responded to a 911 call reporting shots had been fired.

CNN correspondent, Polo Sandoval is live in New York with more. Polo, what do we know?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, get you caught up with what we do know at this point. Investigators in New Jersey are treating this as a domestic incident. That's how they're investigating this. We understand according to information released by authorities that police were called to a home there in Long Branch, New Jersey, just before midnight last night.

They arrived to find four people had been killed there, a married couple by the name of Linda and Steven Kologi, also their 18-year-old daughter Britany, and a 70-year-old family friend by the name of Mary Schultz. All of them had been shot and killed inside that home.

They also arrested the 16-year-old son of that murdered couple. At this point, there's still a lot of unanswered questions in this case. Obviously, a motive, the big question as to why this could have happened, is being investigated right now.