Return to Transcripts main page


War Of Words Over Birthright Citizenship; North And South Korea Preparing For Conflict; Washington State Asks For Fire Volunteers; European Official: France Shooting A "Terrorist Attack"; New Concerns Over Airline Safety. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 21, 2015 - 16:30   ET


KATIE PACKER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Part of the Donald Trump effect, is everything he says is incredibly inflammatory. It's inconsistent with previous positions he's taken. It's not backed up by facts, and all the candidates have to respond.

And the unfortunate thing is what we're not talking about is Hillary Clinton using an unsecured server for classified documents, Hillary Clinton mischaracterizing how she handled things and really lying to the American people.

We're not talking about the Republican plans to fix the economy, to make education a priority in this country. We're talking about things that are damaging to our party in a general election and I think that's something that Republican voters can thank Donald Trump for.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST HOST: So Mitch, what about that? Because over the last 24 hours, we've seen Jeb Bush engage Donald Trump in ways that he hasn't before. Yesterday, we said he's gone from being the joyful tortoise now to a snapping turtle Jeb Bush has.

Is it smart to engage with Donald Trump in this way? Do you want to put yourself in direct combat with him and carry risks?

MITCH STEWART, FOUNDING PARTNER, 270 STRATEGIES: Well, the Democratic operative, yes, I hope he does. I think there are examples of healthy primaries and unhealthy primaries and I think he saw on the Democratic side in 2007 and 2008 the healthy primary. They were talking about issues that inspired a generation of people to

participate to vote. I think you are seeing that again right now on the Democratic side, whether Senator Sanders or Secretary Clinton or Governor O'Malley, they're talking about issues that matter to American families.

I think what you're seeing on the Republican side is the repeat of an unhealthy primary similar to what we saw in 2012. The real danger for Republican establishment candidates like Jeb Bush is that they're going to follow Donald Trump down this dangerous rabbit hole and wake up after the primary and realize that they're unelectable because of the positions and statements that they've made.

BERMAN: Katie, so how would you advise then the 15 or 16 other Republican candidates, what would you advise them to do right now to change the conversation from Trump to Hillary Clinton? Should they be out there talking about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, are voters listening to that?

PACKER: Well, I think it is important to be mindful of who the mark is, and that's the Democrats and the Democrat agenda that's failed this country for the last eight years. I think that's important for the candidates to do.

I also think that there's a way to go at Donald Trump that isn't whacking him with a stick, and I think maybe Governor Bush has had some missteps this week, but he'll get his footing, and the other candidates approaching this in a reasonable manner.

I think you saw earlier Senator Rubio respond in a reasonable manner to say this isn't realistic. The things he's proposing are not realistic. This guy is not even really a Republican.

I think it's important to challenge him, but you have to be careful about the approach you take and getting into some bickering fight with Donald Trump I don't think is effective.

BERMAN: Yes, it goes on for a while it turns out. Katie Packer, Mitch Stewart, great to have you on with us today. You both seem to get along so well when you're not campaigning against each other. So thanks, guys.

All right, in our World Lead, a stern warning from North Korea to the South, stop blasting propaganda over the border or face war. Now Kim Jong-Un reportedly is ordering troops into battle position as South Korea vows to respond with force. That's next.



BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper on this very busy day. Topping our World Lead, is a possible war looming between North and South Korea. North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un, ordering troops along the heavily fortified border to prepare for battle.

Pyongyang is setting a deadline demanding its arch nemesis stop broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda by tomorrow or face the regime's wrath. South Korea, home to nearly 30,000 U.S. troops, is not backing down, responded sternly to the provocation of North Korea.

This comes after both sides trade fire yesterday in a dramatic escalation of tensions there. Let's get right to CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. Jim, at this point, how concerned are U.S. officials?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They are extremely concerned because this is not your typical back and forth and posturing between the north and south.

Two differences here, one, North Korea, more under predictable under Kim Jong-Un, we've seen in a whole host of ways. But the south has been tougher under their new leader, their new president there, and there's concern from U.S. officials about how either side can successfully back down.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): South Koreans evacuating their homes today near the border, with North Korea now threatening all-out war. Kim Jong-Un ordered his troops to move to a war footing at this emergency meeting Friday, just one day before North Korea's deadline for the South to shut off these giant loud speakers, broadcasting messages critical of the regime.

But South Korea's president is defying the threat, giving her military full authority to retaliate against North Korean attacks, ordering them to take military action first and report back later. Fear now that neither side can easily back down.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: I think we're really into a crisis moment right now, and I'm not sure there's an easy way to deescalate this at this point. So I think we all have to keep our seat belts on.

SCIUTTO: Tensions on the Korean Peninsula were already high after two South Korean soldiers were seriously wounded by land mines, believe planted by North Korea earlier this month. Annual military exercises between the U.S. and the South have further angered the North. Today, the Pentagon confirmed they suspended the exercises briefly.

DAVID SHEAR, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: U.S. forces are remaining in an enhanced status as part of the exercise and of course, to ensure adequate deterrence on the peninsula.

[16:40:02] SCIUTTO: Striking that delicate balance has become more difficult, as the North Korean regime has become more unpredictable and more threatening with multiple problems at home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The economy is failing. There are food problems and the North Korea leader is spending all of his money on nuclear weapons and amusement parks. So there's a real sense that the governing of the regime has broken down.


SCIUTTO: There are three things that U.S. officials are watching right now. One, possible preparations by North Korea to launch a short or medium range missile, this would most likely be a scud, that of course would be an escalation.

This deadline that Kim Jong-Un has set at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow, unusual to have a hard deadline like that, but also South Korea's new policy of non-proportional response. In other words, they will respond to a greater degree than any North Korean attack. That sets the ground work for escalation.

John, one indication of these is these annual exercises between South Korea and the U.S. are very important. The fact that the U.S. has suspended them shows how concerned they are.

BERMAN: It's important because there are 30,000 U.S. troops there. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

I want to talk about the escalating tensions between North and South Korea with CNN's Tom Foreman who is in our virtual room, and Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Tom, I want to start with you. As Jim was saying, the U.S. is watching the situation very closely. The military drills going on with South Korea this week. The U.S. has some 26,000, 27,000 troops in the area. Give us a sense of the military geography we are talking about?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the DMZ as you know is about 160 miles long and it divides the peninsula. Seoul is about 30 miles south of it. Pyongyang, the northern capital is about 80 miles north of it. And there are very strong military forces on both sides, have been for about 60 years right now, always ready for a possible invasion from the other side.

How big are those forces? They have about 1 million active forces in the north, 600,000 in the south. Big reserves on both sides and as I said, they've always been ready. This is the area where there's been this shelling across the border.

If there is to be more, in all likelihood, the North says it would target these speakers blasting into the South, in the mountains along the border here. We know there are 11 of these units, and we know there are well within the range of northern artillery and missiles -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Tom, sit tight. I want to talk more about those speakers in a moment. But first, Jamie Metzl, you've been in North Korea recently. You spent nine days there this last year. People say look, there's always heated rhetoric between North and South Korea. Is it different this time?

JAMIE METZL, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT UNDERSECRETARY FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY: I think it's different a little bit and we just discuss some of the ways that it's the different, but in many ways, it's the same. There have been waves where there's greater escalation and provocations by North Korea. But the North Koreans know what lines they can and can't cross.

Even when they've gone much farther, eventually things have calmed down. At the end of the day, the North Koreans know that they would be obliterated in any kind of military confrontation with the South and the United States.

As terrible as this is, I see it more as military theater, as conflict theater, than as a prelude to serious conflict, but we need to respond to it as if it's serious. But I don't think this is likely to get out of hand.

BERMAN: They're watching it right now and they take it seriously. Tom, not to make light of it, but a big part of this fight is over South Korea playing its music too loud, speakers broadcasting propaganda over the border. How can it be that this lead to shooting?

FOREMAN: This system is incredibly powerful. This speaker system, if you had one unit down here on the border and you were using it to broadcast over into North Korea, in the day, it can reach about six miles and by night when the air is lighter, it can reach about 12 miles in.

As Jim mentioned, they've been sharpening their messages against North Korean leadership. By contrast, when the North Koreans try to broadcast back, they don't have this new equipment. They can only reach about a mile, so they can't even get through the two-mile DMZ.

So there is a technological change here that is allowing the South to push harder at the North with this propaganda, and the North is responding with not a lot of patience.

BERMAN: Speaker wars here. Jamie, how does this deescalate?

METZL: I think at the end of the day, there has to be some kind of mini negotiation. Maybe China will need to be involved in some behind the scenes way. But North Korea clearly doesn't want war. They know, as I mentioned a moment ago, they'll lose a war. So they're going to have to pull back. But they've set this hard deadline of about 24 hours from now for these broadcasts to stop.

[16:45:06] BERMAN: Does South Korea turn down the volume?

METZL: I think eventually there is going to be some kind of turning down because if you think about it for 11 years, they've had this broadcast capability and it's been turned off. And in response to the North Koreans planting this landmine along the DMZ, they turned it back on.

It's not because South Korea thinks that these broadcasts are going to be determinative in the future of North Korea. This is one lever, and I think as North Korea pulls back, I'm sure the South Korea will turn off these broadcasts.

BERMAN: All right, Jamie Metzl, Tom Foreman, great to have you both with us. Thank you so much.

Ahead for us in the National Lead, a scary trend in airports across the country, an increase in close calls on the runway. Why so many mistakes right now and what's being done about them?

But first, a dire situation in Washington State, wildfires there raging out of control, getting much worse today. Fires moving so fast, residents being told to get out now. Officials making a big request.


BERMAN: We're back with the explosion of wildfires. In today's National Lead, fire officials say 259 wildfires are burning right now in 17 states, mostly out west.

[16:50:10] The situation perhaps most dire in Washington state where a desperate call for help has gone up. More than 100 structures have been burned. About 3,000 firefighters are on the ground. President Obama just signed an emergency declaration allowing federal resources to move in.

Now for the first time ever, firefighters in Washington are asking for volunteers to help. Many will put themselves in the same danger that killed three firefighters earlier this week. CNN's Paul Vercammen is following this emergency situation.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Washington State, the eerie glow of rampaging wildfires, some of the images looked almost like lava flowing from a volcano.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: These fires have burned a big hole in our state's heart.

VERCAMMEN: A funeral procession for three firefighters killed earlier this week near Twisp, Washington. The youngest victim, 20-year-old Tom Zbyszewki, was just getting ready to head off for his junior year of college.

JENNIFER ZBYSZEWKI, TOM ZBYSZEWKI'S MOTHER: He was the center of our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to miss him more than anything in the whole world.

VERCAMMEN: The tragedy comes just before 200 active duty soldiers head to the fire lines this weekend for Joint Base Lewis McCord. Federal officials say they will not put the troops in dangerous complex fire situations after just days of training.

Civilians are also joining in the wildfire campaigns, with a formal invitation from the state. This citizen firefighter is watching for flare-ups.

DUSTIN HULBURT, VOLUNTEER: We'll go drive around and see if we can find something out, grab a shovel and put hot spots out ourselves or whatever it takes.

VERCAMMEN: Some evacuees camped in a Home Depot parking lot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so sad because I love where we live. I love the grandeur, the beauty, the wildlife.

VERCAMMEN: Near picturesque, Kings Canyon National Park, one of 17 active wildfires in California has scorched some 40,000 acres. Federal officials predict thunderstorms, the single greatest cause of the rash of fires, won't be a factor for the next couple of days, but wind will. TODD PACHOTA, INCIDENT COMMANDER: It makes it very difficult, if not impossible to utilize aviation resources on a day like this. It's just a very challenging day.

VERCAMMEN: Just more potential trouble for fire crews also scaring down what some first responders are calling a hell storm. Paul Vercammen, CNN, Los Angeles.


BERMAN: All right, we are following some breaking news, just in to CNN, word of a possible terrorist attack in France. We have the details next.



BERMAN: All right, this breaking news just in to CNN. A terrorist attack in France, that is what source calls a brazen shooting aboard a high speed train headed to Paris. Let's go to CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. Pamela, what do you know?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: According to counterterrorism sources in Europe, the attack on a train going from Amsterdam to Paris today is believed to be a terrorist attack, an Islamist terrorist attack. The gunman, who is a Moroccan national, had been on the radar of counterterrorism officials in Europe, specifically French intelligence.

And a second security source in Europe says that it appears the gunman was sympathetic to ISIS, but a full determination on his special loyalties has yet to be reached.

A high-ranking French official spoke today about the suspected terrorist attack and said that there were two Americans on board, and one of the Americans apparently helped subdue the attacker.

The French official is commending both Americans on board for their role. Two were wounded, the American and a Britain with a knife wound and a gunshot wound. Back to you, John.

BERMAN: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much. More to come on this as they get the details of exactly what went on, on that train. Thank you so much, Pamela.

Some scary incidents in the air over the past week, a plane slammed right into a jet way in Virginia on Wednesday. Days before that in North Carolina, a plane nearly crashed while trying to land in severe weather.

Luckily no one was injured in either incidents, but now there's new concern about planes before even they leave the ground. CNN aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh has this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This Southwest Airlines flight landed nose first at LaGuardia Airport. A Delta plane skidded off the runway at that same airport, narrowly avoiding plunging into a bay.

And just this weekend, a U.S. Airways flight made a crash landing in North Carolina. For all the drama in the skies, government data shows new concerns about planes while they are still on the ground.

According to FAA records, runway mishaps are up 27 percent since 2010, with more than 1,200 so far this year.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: We've got more traffic. There are more planes out there. We have better technology that monitors this and we can count it better.

MARSH: What the FAA calls runway incursions means anything from taking off or landing with clearance to go into the wrong runway. That could result in planes clipping each other, getting dangerously close or even a fatal collision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most fatal accident in history was a runway accident where two 747s collided on a runway.

MARSH: Incursions caused by pilot error has increased nearly 20 percent in the last five years and mistakes by air traffic controllers who helped direct those planes are up 55 percent since 2012.


MARSH: All right, well, the FAA has been working very hard to reduce the number of incidents. We do know from 2008 to now, they've reduced it by 44 percent.