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North Korea Claims Successful Hydrogen Bomb Test; H-Bomb Test Registered As 5.1 Magnitude Seismic Event; Trump Speaks On Cruz; Cruz Eligibility For Presidency; Ted Cruz's Eligibility; Interview with Sen. Lindsey Graham. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 6, 2016 - 13:00   ET

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


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 12:00 p.m. noon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It's 1:00 p.m. here in New York, 2:00 a.m. Thursday morning in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We begin with North Korea ratcheting up tensions around the world right now by claiming it has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb for the very first time. If it's true, and that's still a big if, this would be a major breakthrough in the rogue state's quest to build a nuclear arsenal.

The United Nation's Security Council calling an emergency meeting to discuss how they would handle one of the world's most dangerous dictators, Kim Jong-Un, having a weapon that's a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb's drop during World War II.

To compare, the A-Bomb dropped on Hiroshima packed the power of 15,000 tons of dynamite, while the Tsar Bomb, an H-Bomb developed by Russia, had the power of 50 million tons of dynamite.

Whatever was tested, it certainly register a lot -- registered with the force of a 5.1 magnitude earthquake. That was felt as far away as China where some residents were forced to evacuate their buildings earlier this morning.

Our Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson is joining us now from Hong Kong. Ivan, the test is drawing worldwide condemnation but also a healthy dose of skepticism. Explain why.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Worldwide condemnation of what North Korea state media has heralded as the, quote, "H-Bomb of justice." Among the voices coming out to condemn North Korea was the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BAN KI-MOON, SECRETARY-GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: I condemn it unequivocally. I demand the DPIK cease any further nuclear activities and meets its obligations for verifiable denuclearization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: So, the big question, was this, in fact, a hydrogen bomb, an H-Bomb. You have Japan that has sent two military planes up in the air to try to collect dust particles to then test it. You've had South Korea, of course, very concerned also trying to test and come to its own conclusions,

You know, a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by top South Korean intelligence officials came out and then told journalists, Wolf, that, according to their information, the explosion only had only about a 10th of the power of magnitude that would be needed for it, in fact, to have been some kind of a hydrogen bomb.

So, that -- it is voices like that, coming out of South Korea, that are lending some skepticism to North Korea's claims, which are very triumphant, that it has, in fact, tested its first hydrogen bomb -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Ivan, China, North Korea's main ally over these many years, has condemned this test, as we call it. Could this further jeopardize the Chinese-North Korean relationship?

WATSON: It's something that's going to be very important to watch right now. China not only also condemned the nuclear test, but also announced that it did not get any advanced warning from Pyongyang which it has had during some of the previous nuclear tests that North Korea has carried out. And that, perhaps, is something that the Obama administration is pinning its hopes on right now.

A U.S. official has told CNN that Washington now wants to impose some new U.N. Security Council resolutions, quote, unquote, "with teeth" that would have some new sanctions against North Korea. And also, hoping that this new tough rhetoric that is coming from Beijing against its North Korean neighbor, that perhaps that could actually prompt China in the future to impose some kind of unilateral sanctions against North Korea.

One of the big problems here, hardly anybody has real leverage over the so-called hermit kingdom. Perhaps the only country that does is China which still enjoys a good economic relations with North Korea -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson reporting for us. Ivan, thanks very much.

And as Ivan just mentioned, reaction to North Korea's alleged hydrogen bomb has been swift. Japan's foreign minister -- foreign affairs minister is -- says, and I'm quoting, "We see the announcement that a hydrogen bomb was tested is a major threat to regional and international peace and stability." South Korea's president saying, quote, "It's not only grave provocation of our national security, but also an act that threatens our lives and future." And from the White House National Security Council, we have consistently made clear that we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state. [13:05:13] Joining us now is Texas Republican Congressman Max Thornberry. He serves as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us. When you woke up to the news this morning, what was your immediate reaction?

REP. WILLIAM "MAC" THORNBERRY (R), CHAIRMAN, U.S. HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Not really surprised. North Korea always will do something to get attention for itself. That's been its method of operations historically. And so, there has been concern about a missile test, a nuclear test in the near future. They are always going to say, hey, don't forget about us. Remember, you've got to bargain with us and try to get concessions from us, from China, from the South Koreans or from others.

BLITZER: I know you've been well briefed on this already, information is coming in. Do you believe this was, in fact, a hydrogen-bomb test?

THORNBERRY: We don't know. Our intelligence community is still gathering evidence about exactly what it was. It seems pretty clear there was some sort of manmade detonation that was significant. And it is important to know, best we -- if we can, whether it was a hydrogen bomb or an atomic bomb which they have detonated before.

But, in some ways, what this tells us about North Korea, regardless of what sort of nuclear weapon it was, is that this continues to be a very dangerous state willing to go its own path. And we, in the United States, cannot afford to focus on ISIS or Russia or Iran. That there are many dangers around the world and North Korea is certainly one of them.

BLITZER: As you know, the U.N. Security Council is meeting. Reportedly, they're going to be considering more sanctions against North Korea. But in the past, they really haven't done a whole lot to stop North Korea from developing this nuclear arsenal, if you will. What will it take to convince the North Koreans to move in the other direction?

THORNBERRY: I'm not sure that you can. As your report, just a few moments ago, pointed out, China has the most leverage over them. Except China is very concerned about instability in North Korea because that would mean lots of refugees coming into China and potentially being a destabilizing force there.

So, there's only so much China has historically been willing to do in the way of pressure against North Korea. Otherwise, they are very isolated, have very limited contact with the outside world, and, unfortunately, we have very limited information about what's going on inside that country.

So, the key thing for us is to have strong defenses, strong missile defense, and strengthen our nuclear -- our own nuclear deterrent which has been allowed to deteriorate over the past 20 years.

BLITZER: As you know, that Korean Peninsula is one of the most dangerous spots on earth with nearly a million North Korean troops north of the DMZ, the demilitarized zone. Nearly a million South Korean troops just below the DMZ. Seoul, the capital, 30 miles away, 30,000 or so U.S. troops right along the demilitarized zone. Should they stay there or is it time to pull those American troops out?

THORNBERRY: No, I think it's important for us to standby our South Korean allies now as much as it ever has been. Because if there is one thing that can help deter North Korea from aggression, it is knowing that the United States is there with our allies with our nuclear deterrent. But that's when I see we really need to make sure we strengthen our own defenses to leave them and others no doubt at all that we have the capability to do even more destruction than they do.

BLITZER: Mac Thornberry is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us.

THORNBERRY: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: We aren't going to go very far away from the breaking news. Just ahead, I'll be joined by Bill Richardson, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He's made several diplomatic missions to North Korea.

Also, on politics, Donald Trump now questioning Ted Cruz's citizenship, saying it could be a big issue if Cruz is elected president of the United States. His national spokeswoman is standing by live. There she is. We'll discuss what's going on right after this.

[13:09:29]

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BLITZER: All right, let's get to the race for the White House. Senator Ted Cruz is brushing off questions about whether he's eligible to be president of the United States. It's no surprise that questions are coming from the rival candidate, Donald Trump. He was a leader of the so-called birther campaign against President Obama. Now Trump is warning Republicans to think twice about voting for Senator Cruz. He says the fact that Cruz was not born in the United States, was born in Canada, potentially could be a problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, a lot of people are talking about it. I hope it's not so. I hope it does not come about. But people are worried that if he weren't born in this country which he wasn't. He was born in Canada. And if the Democrats bring a lawsuit, the lawsuit could take years to resolve. How do you have a candidate where there's something, you know, over the head of the party and that individual.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Cruz responded by tweeting a link to an episode of "Happy Days" where Fonzie jumps the shark. That's a reference to something that has become over the top and gimmicky, if you will. At a campaign stop just a little while ago, Senator Cruz said, as a legal matter, the issue has been settled and he is, in fact, he says, eligible to run for president of the United States and to become president of the United States.

The first contest, by the way, for the 2016 presidential race now less than four weeks away. Senator Ted Cruz leading in some of those polls in Iowa, the first caucus state. Donald Trump is clearly, by far, the frontrunner in New Hampshire and nationally as well.

Katrina Pierson is the national spokesman for the Trump campaign. She's joining us now from Dallas. Let's talk a little bit about this so-called birther issue. Explain what Mr. Trump really believes about the natural born citizenship status of Senator Cruz. Why is this an issue all of the sudden?

KATRINA PIERSON, NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I'd be happy to explain that, Wolf, because this was not an issue that was brought up by Mr. Trump. This issue was brought to Mr. Trump by a reporter and he simply responded. And the first part of his response is that he personally believes everything is fine with Mr. Cruz. He feels like that Senator Cruz put this to bed early on.

However, he also says there is a lot of discussion about his naturalization. And it's not really coming from Mr. Trump, it's everyone else. There's a ton of voters who are a little uncomfortable voting for someone outside of the country. And the fact that Senator Cruz has sort of left this issue off the table for so long has created some of the controversy.

[15:15:10]

And, yes, many legal scholars agree that this shouldn't be an issue for Senator Cruz. However, it has not been decided by the Supreme Court. And even when Senator Cruz discusses Mitt Romney or John McCain having similar issues, this is a little bit different because I really don't think that either John McCain and Mitt Romney were threats to the Democrats winning the White House.

BLITZER: Well, the whole notion, though, that Trump obviously points out accurately that Senator Cruz was born in Canada, his father was Cuban, his mother was a -- was born in the United States, a U.S. citizen. Do you believe that -- that Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen?

PIERSON: Well, I have no reason to believe he isn't. But again, that's not for myself or Mr. Trump to convince the voters of that. That's up to Senator Cruz.

BLITZER: Well, it -- are you saying that it's going to be adjudicated, it's going to go before the courts? Because the courts have never really adjudicated, described what exactly is a natural born citizen according to the Constitution.

PIERSON: Well, I think you just made the point, Wolf, and that's exactly what Mr. Trump is saying. He personally doesn't think it's an issue. He -- Mr. Cruz has addressed it and Trump has been fine with that. He's saying if he becomes the nominee, what are the Democrats going to do? Are the Democrats going to bring this up? Are they going to force the issue legally with standing at this point? Just because it hasn't happened in the past, doesn't mean it's not going to happen this time.

BLITZER: I heard Mr. Trump suggest maybe Senator Cruz should preemptively do something to try to resolve this once and for all, even before the election. What if -- what is he talking about? What could you think he could do?

PIERSON: Well, he could actually, you know, seek a court intervention to get a ruling of some sort. You know we've heard the lower courts say that, yes, this is correct, and that Mr. Cruz also brings up, like I said before, John McCain and Mitt Romney. However, this has not gone to the Supreme Court. Whether or not they'd even hear the case, we don't know. But what we do know is that Hillary Clinton will stop at nothing to win this election. And so if Mr. Cruz can get in front of it and put the issue to bed, then great. Mr. Trump is just saying that even though he personally does not have an issue with it, he knows there are a lot of voters, not just Democrats, but on the Republicans side that are taking issue with this.

BLITZER: John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone on a U.S. base in the Panama Canal Zone. His father was an admiral. You're not referring -- you're not -- Mitt Romney was born in the United States, but his father, George Romney, was born outside of the United States.

PIERSON: George Romney, yes.

BLITZER: And so you're saying when he ran for president, nobody even considered that an issue. Is that what you're suggesting?

PIERSON: No, what I'm saying is, every time it's been an issue, it hasn't been in a case where the race was going to be extremely close. I mean, for example, with John McCain, even when that came up with an issue, that issue was put to bed. But most cases, no one was really afraid the Republican was going to beat the Democrat. In the case up against Hillary Clinton, there's a serious contention in this election cycle and the country is really in a position to do some historic moves, right now, today. And the question is, is Hillary Clinton going to make this an issue because there hasn't been a Supreme Court ruling. Is she going to push it? Is the nomination then going to be tied up in court behind the eligibility of a candidate if Mr. Cruz doesn't just put this to bed?

BLITZER: Katrina Pierson, thanks very much for joining us.

PIERSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Republicans are pointing fingers at Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration over the North Korean nuclear crisis. Just one of the topics for our political panel right now.

Joining us here in New York, our CNN political commentator, Sally Cohen and Tara Setmayer. Sally's a columnist for "The Daily Beast."

Let me get your reaction, both of you, to this latest issue that we just discussed with Katrina right now.

Tara, first to you.

Why all of a sudden are we talking about the fact that Senator Cruz was born in Canada, his mother was born in the United States, a U.S. citizen, his mom. Why is this all of a sudden coming up?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because he's on the heels of Donald Trump. He poses a threat.

This whole birth certificate -- I mean the birth question, eligibility question about Ted Cruz is ridiculous. It's already been discussed. It's already been -- it's clear that he's eligible the be president. But this is just a distraction that Trump is using because if he were to go toe to toe with Cruz or Rubio or anybody else, other than maybe Carson, on actual policy positions, he wouldn't be able to hold a candle to any of them because Trump is not about actual substance. He's all about this distraction. And, oh, well, I don't really believe that, but some are telling me that. he's just throwing it out there because he's a master at distraction, deflection and creating a buzz for things so that we're now talking about this instead of what Ted Cruz is doing, which is gaining ground, beating Trump in Iowa, particularly, and gaining ground nationally on him. So this is -- that's what this is all about. And I just think that it's a brilliant move on Trump's part for the distraction part of it, but it's also ridiculous because it's already been settled and everyone knows that Ted Cruz is eligible for the presidency.

BLITZER: As you know, Sally, there are some Democratic lawmakers who've already said that they would go to court to challenge his eligibility, Senator Cruz's eligibility to become president of the United States based on the U.S. Constitution.

[13:20:08] SALLY COHEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and shame on them, and, frankly, shame on them, and just as shame on the Republicans who want to repeal the 14th Amendment and deny the same -- the same rights and principles under the Constitution to those who are born to immigrants in the United States. Shame -- shame on all of them. Look, this is --

SETMAYER: Two completely different issues.

COHEN: But going back -- well, I'm sorry, I'm -- I'm going to uphold the Constitution no matter who it applies to, so there you have it.

BLITZER: All right, I want -- I want to play this little clip. This is Senator Cruz talking -- talking about North -- we're going to switch gears, talk about North Korea's test, supposedly, of this hydrogen bomb. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night's nuclear test underscores why, if I'm elected president, on the very first day in office, I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal. Because if Hillary Clinton is elected president, we will see a nuclear test from Iran. But, sadly, the test may not be underground. The test may be in the skies of a populated city. Whether Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles, and we should not be risking that. And if I am elected president, Iran will not acquire nuclear weapon, because we will have a commander in chief focused on keeping this country safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Sally, I want your reaction because, as you know, there's a lot of concern, just as North Korea signed a nuclear deal with the Clinton administration back in 1994, I was then CNN's White House correspondent, I remember all the optimism that was coming from President Clinton at the time about North Korea giving up its nuclear ambitions. We see how that deal worked out. And now there's a lot of concern that this new deal that the Obama administration and others have worked out with Iran could wind up the same way as North Korea. Your reaction to Senator Cruz?

COHEN: Well, I mean, I think there's sort of two things for the American people to know here. Number one is that, look, when -- when Bush was president, Putin invaded Georgia. And when Obama was president, Putin invaded Ukraine. The actions of dictators abroad, whether it's in Russia, whether it's in Iran, whether it's in North Korea, often do not know one party (INAUDIBLE). The question is, how do we want our country to respond? And, look, throwing rhetoric and I think the threats of war and violence and escalation are not necessarily a solution.

The other thing people need to pull the covers back on here is that when people are scared, when voters are scared, they tend to vote for Republicans. So it's in Republican interest to scare voters and to stop them from voting -- from focusing on the economic policies of Republicans that have hurt working class Americans in this country. Plain and simple, this is calculated to drum up fear.

SETMAYER: We've been, in what, almost eight years now under Obama and the economic situation in this country is not great, particularly for the middle class. We have record numbers on people on welfare, on disability, on food stamps. But that has nothing to do with Republican policy. So that's a scare tactic of the left.

But as far as what's going on here with North Korea, you know, this has been a failure in foreign policy for -- since the Clinton administration. I mean the Bush administration didn't do well on this issue either and now definitely there's been no leadership from the Obama administration on what's going on in North Korea. It's just another example of where you don't exhibit leadership, this is what happens. North Korea has -- they -- they are -- it's a lunatic regime. You have a lunatic leader over there and they need attention. So this is his way of trying to say, hey, we're still relevant too in this nuclear race thing, because it's been all about Iran.

BLITZER: So what -- what should the U.S. do?

SETMAYER: Well, what the U.S. should do is, you have to, again, you have to get China involved in this. We have to get -- we have to figure out sanction. We have to get other countries. But we have to take the lead to do it. And it's not necessarily fear. When the American people -- they aren't stupid. They look around at what's going on in the world. They look at Afghanistan falling apart under this president. They look at Iraq falling apart under this president. They look at ISIS being created under this president.

BLITZER: All right, Sally --

SETMAYER: And they don't -- that's not necessarily a fear that's not valid. That's fear of lack of leadership and it's a direct threat to the national security of the United States. And that's valid.

COHEN: This -- this whole notion that it's a sort of personality thing (ph). I mean, first of all, Iraq didn't fall apart until we invaded it, number one. Number two -- right, same with Afghanistan for that matter. But -- but, second thing, this sort of personality thing.

SETMAYER: They're (INAUDIBLE).

COHEN: All the things Tara just mentioned, those things we call diplomacy. Unless you want boots on the ground in North Korea, you want an envision of North -- then you want diplomacy.

SETMAYER: That -- that's not the way it works in North Korea.

COHEN: Now, which party right now does the American people trust on diplomacy? That's kind of a no-brainer. It's the Democrats.

BLITZER: All right.

SETMAYER: Diplomacy has -- that kind of diplomacy has failed clearly.

COHEN: That's -- that's -- well --

BLITZER: Tara, Sally, guys, we'll leave it on that note, but we'll continue this conversation.

With less than a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, will Donald Trump supporters show up at the polls? I'll ask him, by the way, when he joins me in "The Situation Room" later today. My interview with Donald Trump, that's coming up, 5:00 p.m. Eastern later today in "The Situation Room."

House Republicans are trying to decide the best course of action in response to President Obama's executive's order on guns. The president's orders intended to expand background checks, narrow the so-called gun show loophole, which exempts some small sellers from keeping formal sales records. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, reacted to all of this as -- at his weekly news conference earlier today. He was asked if House Republicans would sue to stop the executive branch from implementing the president's new gun measures?

[13:25:02] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We're looking at all of our options. Look, first of all, if you are buying and selling guns, you have to have a FFL, whether or not you do so at a gun show or anywhere else. There isn't a loophole. This is a distraction. The president clearly does not respect the Second Amendment rights for law abiding Americans. I think it would be nice if he would actually focus on defeating ISIS, on calling radical Islamic terrorism on what actually is, instead of talking about how we can intimidate and frustrate the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens. We will look at all of our options, but we will not take this distraction for more than it is, a distraction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And, remember, President Obama will join Anderson Cooper tomorrow night for an exclusive one hour live town hall on gun control over at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. It begins 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, Senator Lindsey Graham weighs in on North Korea and the war against ISIS. He's standing by to join us live.

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BLITZER: Only six days into the new year and there are a number of global conflicts taking center stage right now. Let's discuss some of them with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. he's a former Republican presidential candidate. He's a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to get right to North Korea in a minute, but quickly your reaction to all of a sudden this so-called birther issue, questions about Senator Ted Cruz. He was born in Canada. Is he a natural born citizen eligible to become president of the United States according to the Constitution?

[13:29:58] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes, I think Ted is qualified constitutionally. I don't -- I'm not going to vote for Ted, but I think he's a decent enough fellow and he's qualified to run for president.