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THE SITUATION ROOM
North Korea Vows Merciless Response to Any US Provocation; Afghan Officials say US Bomb Killed 36 ISIS Fighters; US Military Defends Mother of All Bombs; Trump White House to Keep Visitor Logs Private; Signs Of A Power Shift Inside The White House; VP Pence To Head To South Korea As Tensions Rise; Samuel L. Jackson Asks Voters To Summon "Furious Anger". Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 14, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Happening now, swords drawn amidst signs of a looming North Korean nuclear test. The US is flexing its own muscle, positioning carrier strike group in the region. Kim Jong-un's regime is warning of a merciless response to any US provocation, while President Trump calls North Korea a problem that will be taken care of.
Explosive force. The US military releases images of its Mother of All Bombs dropped on an ISIS tunnel complex. This is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon used in combat. A top US commander calling the right weapon against the right target.
Log out. The Trump administration pulls a veil of secrecy over the White House, saying it will not release White House visitor logs citing national security and privacy concerns.
And furious anger. Campaigning for a Democratic candidate in Georgia, actor Samuel L. Jackson asks voters to draw the furious anger they may feel over President Trump ripping on a scene by his character in the movie Pulp Fiction.
Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Chilling new threats from North Korea tonight as Kim Jong-un's regime vows a merciless response to any US provocation, warning it will leave no survivors. That comes as North Korea celebrates the birth its founder, often marked with provocations of its own. And a monitoring group says the North is primed and ready for a nuclear test.
The US is showing off its military might, deploying a carrier strike group to the area as a top North Korean official tells the Associated Press that the Trump administration is "becoming more vicious and more aggressive" than its predecessors.
President Trump is being briefed as he spends the weekend at his Florida resort, while Vice President Mike Pence heads to South Korea.
And the US if flexing its muscle half a world away, dropping a nearly 22,000-pound bomb on an ISIS tunnel complex in Afghanistan. The US military showed off video of this strike by the most powerful non- nuclear weapon used in combat, dubbed the Mother of All bombs. Afghan officials state three dozen ISIS fighters were killed.
President Trump has shrugged off suggestions of a show of force was a message to North Korea, saying only that North Korea is a problem, which will be taken care of.
And amid the public displays of force, the Trump administration today moved to shroud White House activities in secrecy, citing national security and privacy concerns. The White House says it will not release logs of visitors. This is breaking with the precedent set by the Obama administration.
I'll be talking to Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey. He's with the Armed Services Committee and our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
We begin with this very serious challenge that is facing President Trump. And aggressive North Korean regime trying to boost its nuclear capability. First up, CNN's Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, what's the latest that you're hearing?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, President Trump is down at Mar-A-Lago for the holiday weekend, but the president is not getting much of a break from what may be the biggest foreign policy test for his administration, an increasingly unpredictable North Korea whose leader may be about to pull off a dangerous provocation.
ACOSTA (voice-over): A critical moment may be at hand as US foreign policy experts worry North Korea just might celebrate its 105th anniversary with a dangerous display of military might, a nuclear weapons test ordered by that country's leader Kim Jong-un, designed to provoke President Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a new president. And Kim Jong-un is trying to challenge him, trying to get him back to the negotiating table.
US flexed its own muscles earlier this week, diverting an aircraft carrier to the region as the Trump administration dropped a massive non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS target in Afghanistan.
Add to that, the president is ratcheting up the rhetoric on North Korea.
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know if this sends a message. It doesn't make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.
ACOSTA (voice-over): A high-ranking North Korean official told the Associated Press the Trump administration's posture toward the communist nation is becoming more vicious and aggressive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are also making it worse, right? With our bluster and by sending aircraft carriers in there, we're raising the crisis.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Earlier in the week, the president held out hope that Chinese President Xi Jinping could help contain North Korea.
TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But the president acknowledged to The Wall Street Journal, he only recently learned that the Chinese may only be able to do so much, saying, "After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power over North Korea, but it's not what you would think."
The president will be monitoring the potential crisis down at his Florida resort, Mar-A-Lago where he'll spend the holiday weekend without much of his senior staff.
[17:05:05] But Vice President Pence is headed to the region this weekend. The Mar-A-Lago trip marks his 17th visit to a golf course as president and his 11th weekend at a Trump property.
TRUMP: But they don't have nukes yet. They will have them, by the way. Let's say, I get to be - if I get to be president, I promise you folks, they won't have them.
ACOSTA (voice-over): During the campaign, the president vowed he would keep nuclear weapons out of North Korea, while offering some surprising praise for Kim Jong-un.
TRUMP: But if you look at North Korea, this guy - I mean, he's like a maniac, OK - and you've got to give him credit. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Just who is coming and going at the White House to advise the president will be kept a secret. The White House announced today it won't be making its visitor logs public, a break from a practice during the Obama administration.
When Barack Obama was in the White House, Mr. Trump had a different take on openness, tweeting, "Why is Barack Obama spending millions to try and hide his records. He is the least transparent president ever and he ran on transparency."
ACOSTA: Now, as for keeping those visitor logs a secret, White House aides maintain, the Obama administration wasn't perfectly transparent in offering that information to the public, noting the records could be scrubbed at times at the discretion of top White House officials.
But, Brianna, critics of this move by the Trump White House say this is not draining the swamp. It's protecting it.
KEILAR: Right. Jim Acosta, thank you for that report from the White House.
Let's talk about North Korea because its nuclear stockpile is growing quickly. CNN's Brian Todd has been digging up new information on that.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, tonight we've got new information from a respected former UN weapons inspector, who is out with a new report saying Kim Jong-un may have already produced more than two dozen nuclear warheads.
Kim's arsenal is growing, according to this analyst and US intelligence officials, who are also telling us, in the past year, Kim has been more aggressive than ever in testing his missiles and his warheads.
TODD (voice-over): CNN has learned Kim Jong-un's nuclear weapons buildup is advancing rapidly. North Korea is now estimated to have produced between 13 and 30 nuclear warheads. That's according to a new report from former UN weapons inspector David Albright, whose firm examined the regime's plutonium and uranium production.
Albright stresses North Korea's nuclear program is so secretive that completely accurate figures are difficult to get. But based on what he's found, the former inspector has an ominous projection for the number of warheads Kim could soon produce.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: By the end of 2020, the numbers could go up to 25 to 50 and in the worst case could go up to 60.
With a stockpile that large, analysts say, Kim's regime could make it harder for the US to track his nuclear weapons.
GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY BEAST": That means they can disperse them. Most of them, I suspect, will be underground. And that ultimately means the US does not have a first strike capability because we can't be assured of taking out all of their weapons.
TODD (voice-over): US intelligence officials and independent weapons experts tell CNN, Kim Jong-un has been more aggressive with nuclear and missile tests over the past year-and-a-half than he's ever been.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies says the regime has tested missiles more than 20 times since the beginning of 2016 and tested nuclear warheads twice in that span. Albright says, with each nuclear test, the young dictator gets closer to producing a more powerful nuclear bomb."
ALBRIGHT: They could break into kind of thermonuclear weapons if they continue to test. And that would give them the ability to make a much larger explosion. It would give them the ability to actually miniaturize. TODD (voice-over): Experts with the monitoring group 38 North believe Kim already has the ability to test a nuclear warhead 16 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The calculations made even more menacing by the unpredictable nature of the young man with his finger on that nuclear trigger.
CHANG: I believe Kim Jong-un is even more dangerous than he appears. And the reason is that I don't think his regime is stable. And that means Kim Jong-un could have a much lower threshold of risk than we think. It means he could do something that could surprise us because, from his perspective, he may think he has little to lose.
TODD: Analysts say if North Korea does conduct another nuclear test in the coming days or weeks, it's going to mean that China likely was not able to use its levers - its influence over Kim Jong-un, and that, analysts say, is a very dangerous sign.
KEILAR: Brian Todd, thank you so much. And joining me now to talk more about this is Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee. Thank you, sir, for being with us and bringing that expertise to this conversation.
And because of that, I want to ask you, if there would be a scenario where you would support some sort of military action or an increased threat against North Korea?
REP. MARC VEASEY (D), ARMED SERVICE COMMITTEE: That's possible, Brianna. I would like for there to be some sort of communication, obviously, to try to de-escalate this crisis. I think that the president is wrong. I think that China does hold a lot of influence over North Korea and he needs to try and exhaust that.
[17:10:10] But I think before moving forward, one of the things that the president has failed to do is that he needs to brief Congress. He needs to present the United States Congress - the House and the Senate - with a clear plan on how he's going to deal with the situation because he is not done that at all yet, and that's something that needs to take place very quickly.
KEILAR: Do you believe that that is something that the White House is working on and that that is something that you and other lawmakers will learn about maybe a more cohesive strategy when it comes to North Korea?
VEASEY: I would hope that he would move in that direction. Of course, when it came to decide whether or not we were going to grant a waiver to Gen. Mattis, he would not even let Gen. Mattis come and speak before the House Armed Services Committee, so we could make that decision.
And so, he's been very elusive in dealing with the House and dealing with Congress, but I think that moving forward, if he wants buy in on all of these things that he's doing, if he wants the support of the American people, I think it's very important that he consult with Congress. And he has failed to do that repeatedly now.
And I think that these situations that we're talking about, whether it's Syria, whether it's North Korea, there needs to be better communication.
KEILAR: What specifically when you're talking about military options against North Korea because you're indicating you'd be open to that? What specifically would you support? Some things that have been suggested would be nuclear weapons in South Korea.
Some people say, look, Kim Jong-un has to go. What do you think?
VEASEY: I think that, long-term, he definitely has to go. His brain is, obviously, very unstable. But I think that we should - the first and foremost, we should try to exhaust any and all negotiations.
We should - obviously, China is a huge trading partner with North Korea. Their economy is very weak right now because of sanctions. They're very reliant upon the Chinese. I think the president is mistaken.
I think that the Chinese can flex a lot more muscle with them and try to get them to straight up their act. And, again, we need to try to de-escalate this crisis that is going on with them. And we need to, obviously, have an endgame that is going to work with them because this is a very serious situation.
KEILAR: To that point on China, congressman, you just recently saw the president meet with the premier. He said it was a very good visit. He had very positive words for him. And then we've also seen China now halt its imports of North Korean coal. You see Air China suspending flights between Beijing and Pyongyang. That was really one of the only major links that we're seeing.
So, that's something that is considered significant. Would you credit President Trump with that?
VEASEY: Well, I would like to also look at oil imports to North Korea. The Chinese may be able to have some more influence with them in that area. And again, I want to give credit where credit is due. I think that's important.
But there's been so little communication - we need more briefings on what the president is doing. He needs to get buy-in from Congress, so we can go back to our constituents.
Like, right now, we're on a two-week recess. I've already had a coffee with your congressman, with constituents in the district that I represent here in the Dallas, Fort Worth area, and they've been asking me about Syria. They've been asking me about North Korea. But, again, without that information, it's hard to give any credit if the president is not going to be communitive with the Congress.
KEILAR: You certainly feel like you are in the dark and that the White House isn't looping you into this.
I want to ask you about what we've seen recently from the Trump administration. The airstrike in Syria. Then we see this Mother of All Bombs dropped on ISIS in Afghanistan. President Trump says this isn't about sending - isn't necessarily about sending a message to North Korea. But what do you think the message received is?
VEASEY: I think that it's about sending a message to North Korea and any actors on the Asian continent that don't want to cooperate and do the right thing for world peace. But I think that the president needs to be a lot more clear about exactly it is what he's doing.
I think one of the things that was disturbing to me about the bomb that was dropped - I'm OK with the fact that the commanders on the ground OK-ed it. But the president seemed to have very little knowledge or any sort of direct input on whether or not it was used. That's very disturbing.
If you're going to have something like that that was used for the first time, this Mother of All Bombs, the president should have some more detail, so he can come to the American public and explain exactly what it is that happened.
[17:15:05] He was not able to do that. I think that's a bad sign. I think that he needs to be a little bit more engaged. He needs to pay close attention when he's having his security briefings, so he can, in fact, instill confidence in the American people that he's making the right decisions.
KEILAR: All right. Congressman Veasey, stay with me. We have many more questions, including foreign policy, but also the fact that there will be no released White House visitors log. We're going to talk about that ahead.
KEILAR: Well, we were talking with Congressman Marc Veasey. But, first, the US military is defending its decision to unleash extraordinary destructive force, the so-called Mother of All Bombs on an ISIS target in Afghanistan.
[17:20:01] Afghan officials say 36 ISIS fighters were killed. The US commander there calls "the right weapon against the right target."
I want to turn now to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. So, Barbara, you tell us how effective this strike was?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, the commanders are saying that it was effective, but let's look at the longer-term picture. They will also tell you there's still a very long way to go to defeating ISIS and the Taliban inside Afghanistan.
STARR (voice-over): The largest conventional bomb ever dropped in combat exploded above a complex of caves and tunnels in a remote area of Eastern Afghanistan. The top US commander adamant the mission was only about killing ISIS.
GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER, US FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: The timing of the use of this weapon was simply the appropriate tactical moment against a proper target to use this particular munition. So, it is not related to any outside events.
STARR (voice-over): It does deliver a psychological message to ISIS. One military official tells CNN, the massive bomb is powerful enough to destroy nine city blocks.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: A diameter of 15 to 20 soccer fields, football fields. It will level that area and provide an unbelievable amount of concussion to that area. So, it will collapse caves. It will blow up things. And it will - if you're alive afterwards, you're going to have perforated eardrums and a lot of trauma.
STARR (voice-over): Gen. Nicholson says it all went according to plan. Caves and tunnels destroyed, Afghan officials say dozens of ISIS fighters killed.
NICHOLSON: We had persistent surveillance over the area before, during and after the operation and now we have Afghan and US forces on the site and see no evidence of civilian casualties, nor have there been any reports of civilian casualties.
STARR (voice-over): The bomb had been in Afghanistan since early January. Nicholson signed the final order authorizing the mission just 24 hours before the bomb dropped.
Afterwards, local Afghans described the enormity of the blast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): Last night's bomb was really huge. When it dropped, it was shaking everywhere.
STARR: So, Gen. Nicholson thinks he can get rid of ISIS sometime in 2017. A lot of firepower used here, but the estimate is there's still upwards of 800 ISIS fighters inside Afghanistan.
KEILAR: That's a very good point. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you.
And we are back now with Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee. We have so much to talk about. I think that's something worth pointing out.
But when you look at this, what we saw in Afghanistan, do you think the use of this weapon, the largest non-nuclear weapon, in Afghanistan was appropriate?
VEASEY: If the generals on the ground say that it was appropriate, then I'm going to take their word that it is. What I would like for the president to do is to have a better explanation. When he was asked about it, he made it seem like he didn't have any direct knowledge about its initial use. That's a really big problem.
The president has made some major pivots. He's going very Clintonian and moved away from his isolationist approach that he used on the campaign trail, that he talked about on January 20 during his inauguration speech.
And, again, if he's going to be making these major foreign policy shifts, there needs to be better communication between the White House and House members, so we know which direction we're going in.
KEILAR: Is part of the frustration that there isn't a larger strategy that's been articulated here?
VEASEY: Absolutely. There seems to be no larger strategy. Again, on the campaign trail, you heard of Donald Trump that talked about the fact that he was going to do a lot of carpet bombing, that he was going to end this thing very quickly.
But you talk to any general, you talk to anyone in the intelligence community and they will tell you that this is going to be a prolonged effort. And if we're going to have a prolonged effort, there needs to be buy-in from the United States Congress, particularly when it comes to these major strikes. And again, he's just not doing that. He seems to be dropping the ball when it comes to major communications between himself and the legislative branch.
KEILAR: I want to shift gears and talk to you about the White House visitor logs because for some time we wondered if they were going to be released and it turns out that, no, they are not.
This is part of the statement coming from the White House. "Given the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, the White House office will disclose Secret Service logs as outlined under the Freedom of Information Act, a position the Obama White House successfully defended in federal court. That, from the White House communications director.
What is your reaction to this?
VEASEY: My reaction to that is that he does not want these logs to become the same game of hide and seek that we've had with his taxes. He needs to have as much transparency as possible. This is something that he bragged, he talked about draining the swamp and how things are going to be different and how there is going to be transparency like people have never seen before. And they're starting off very poorly.
I would say that they need to rethink this strategy. They need to take a closer look at this and be as forthcoming as possible, particularly with everything that's going on right now with allegations swirling around his administration about ties with Russia. People want to know exactly what's going on inside of the White House. People want more information about what's going on inside of the White House to sort of - to ease any uncertainties that they have and this is not a good start for him in his first 100 days.
KEILAR: All right. Congressman Marc Veasey, thank you so much for being with us, joining us from Texas. We appreciate it. And we'll see you back in Washington soon.
Coming up, in a campaign ad for Democratic candidate, actor Samuel L. Jackson draws on a scene by his character in the movie Pulp Fiction, asking voters to summon the furious anger that they may feel over President Trump, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:30:41] KEILAR: The U.S. military is defending its decision to drop the so-called "Mother of All Bombs" on an ISIS tunnel complex in Afghanistan. This is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon dropped in combat, and I want to bring in our experts to talk about this and what this means.
So do you first, Peter Bergen, and you've written about this on cnn.com. Why this weapon and why now?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the why now, I think, you know, the Afghan War is probably at the worst point it's been since the fall of Taliban a decade and a half ago. The Taliban now contest for control a third of the country and obviously they've also brought people like ISIS, some of these groups, ISIS groups in Afghanistan are, you know, people who (INAUDIBLE) on the ISIS actually were Taliban themselves. Elements of Al-Qaeda are returning from Pakistan, interestingly.
So, you know, I think the -- I'm skeptic about the idea this is all a demonstration project for North Korea. I think this is really about the Afghan War. General John Nicholson who ordered this strike, he's paid to worry about Afghanistan. He's not paid to worry about other things. It was his decision as we -- CNN has been reporting, and, you know, he took the strike with his bomb --
KEILAR: Not Donald Trump, that this was Nicholson-led.
BERGEN: No, no. I mean, you know, he's insured he's the theater commander. He's completed his tactical weapon -- it's not, you know, using nuclear weapons or something that would require presidential approval, and it was the right weapon for this particular place where there was no civilians -- you know, it's a very remote area. I've been there. It did the -- it did the job.
KEILAR: I think because of the name and just because of the size of this ordnance there's this expectation that it's really sending a message. Is it? Is it sending -- is it supposed to be sending a psychological message or is this really just -- this is the type of weapon that you use when you're going after ISIS tunnels.
BERGEN: We've used this weapon 15 years ago. We used a very similar weapon on Al-Qaeda in about a dozen miles away in the Tora Bora region when Bin Laden was hiding there and, of course, he escaped. So, you know, it's not --this is a very, I think, relatively minor sort of upgrade from weapons we've used in the past without them being seen as like the most important weapon used in American history.
KEILAR: So, Peter thinks, Dave, that this is -- this is part of and has a lot to do with the strategy for Afghanistan and we're seeing that the generals are sort of emboldened to kind of move where they want to go on this. But what does this mean for Donald Trump? Especially with all of these reversals in foreign policy. Are we seeing a Trump doctrine take shape or is this just hodgepodge?
DAVE CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't know if we're seeing a Trump doctrine take shape. Certainly Donald Trump is not portraying it as such. It is a little bit more of these disparate and discreet incidents that have happened, whether the Syria attack or this bomb. In fact, you just said tactical move that the theater commander was able to make, not necessarily the large strategic part of a strategic framework here, and I think one -- the only thing I could sort of ascertain in observing what Donald Trump is doing right now, is that he's going mainstream a little bit. He's going establishment which is totally against the brand that he ran on, but he -- I think it shows the power of -- and when I say establishment, Brianna, I don't mean just republican establishment -- republicans, democrats, the Washington --
KEILAR: He's getting a lot of accolades for what he's done.
CHALIAN: The Washington establishment, and it shows the power and the stranglehold that the establishment has. I know he tried to bust it up during the campaign and saying that he was going to be the irritant and destroy it, but when you don't have ideological moorings, you're not moored in a certain way that guides you, then I think you're susceptible to the power of the establishment. I think that's what we see playing out right now with Donald Trump.
KEILAR: You've pointed this out. It's not that he necessarily the circumstances, Dana, have changed, but something has changed Donald Trump's mind.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He said the world has changed and it hasn't. I mean, things change every day in the world, but the -- but the overall sort of zeitgeist of where these hot spots are, is where they were when he took office, so it wasn't that, it was him, and it is him, and to your point, David, it's that he's not a dogmatic guy. He never was. If he was a dogmatic guy, then he would have run for the democratic nomination because he would still be pro-choice and for single-payer health care system but he's not. He switched -- you know, did a complete 180 on those issues.
[17:34:57] And so, it's not surprising that he is willing to -- to use his words, be flexible when it comes to a whole host of issues, as he's learning a really, really hard, really new job that even people who are ideological and get the job tend to realize, you know, I need to switch a little bit.
KEILAR: But Abby, what's to say this isn't temporary, that he couldn't switch -
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He will.
KEILAR: -- right back. And if he flip-flop right back.
PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, I think if there's anything consistent about Donald Trump it's the inconsistency of Donald Trump. It's the for the - of Iraq War before he was against it. Against going into Syria, before he was for it. All of that is part of Donald Trump's sort of story as a political figure now in the world. And so, I think that's going to continue, but something to keep in mind to David's point, when Donald Trump put together his cabinet, look at the people that he put in his government. He put James Mattis in there. He's got H.R. McMaster there. He's got Mike Pompeo at the CIA, he has generals, republicans, CEOs, these are people who would be very comfortable in just about any republican administration, and they're talking to him, they're advising, and he's listening to them every day, and we're seeing the result of that come down the pike.
The one thing that people who know Donald Trump tell me is that he actually does listen. He always wants to hear what people are trying to say and then he'll figure out where he's going to land after getting, you know, tomes and tomes of various or sometimes random people's viewpoint as he goes through his day.
BASH: Whoever did (INAUDIBLE)
KEILAR: All right. Right. And speaking of advisers, that's what we're going to talk about. Who has his ear, who's in the room? We'll be back in just a moment with more on that.
[17:41:11] KEILAR: We're back now with our political and security experts, and we're talking a lot about who is Donald Trump listening to. Who's he hearing, right? Who's really there at the table with him? So, one of the folks that we're hearing a lot about right now is Gary Cohn, a lot about Steven Miller as well. We've heard a little bit about Steven Miller. Gary Cohn is a name that I think a lot of people might not know. What can you tell us about him, Abby?
PHILLIPS: Well, he's from Wall Street, essentially. He's the head of the National Economic Council, and he's someone who has been kind of for the first few months of the administration laying low a little bit, but he's closely aligned with people like Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, Dina Powell, who's another sort of like Wall Street-type who is -- who is also aligned with Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and he's seen as a moderate, but what he really is also is a democrat, and that's really the crux of the tension within this White House is, what is essentially a democrat doing in Donald Trump's White House? And can people really trust him?
KEILAR: Well, what is a democrat doing in Donald Trump's White House?
BASH: OK. Let's count them. I mean, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump.
KEILAR: Some people might even count Donald Trump at times, right?
BASHL: Right, exactly. I mean, they've all changed. I'm not saying that they're democrats now, but they've all sort of evolved. The thing about Gary Cohn that I find fascinating is that he is somebody -- what I've been told since starting to cover Donald Trump as a candidate, you know, almost two years ago, is that the way he perceives people, a lot - a lot of it depends on how much money they made on their own, like how self-made they are and where they - where they - where they worked.
So, Gary Cohn wasn't just a Wall Street executive. He was executive at Goldman Sachs. If you're a New Yorker, and especially working the financial world, Goldman Sachs is it.
CHALIAN: Dana, that graphic that we just showed of the players of (INAUDIBLE)
BASH: Yes, they're all Goldman Sachs.
CHALIAN: They're all Goldman Sachs.
BASH: Right. Exactly.
CHALIAN: It's more than half of the people.
BASH: Yes, and Dina Powell. Right. (INAUDIBLE) Steve Bannon, but that's --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At one point, that is a very good point.
BASH: But he's certainly not of Goldman Sachs. (INAUDIBLE) what I was going to say is that what I've been told is that - it's not just that he, Gary Cohn is smart, and that by definition, he's the head of the National Economic Council which allows him to build a structure. I mean, it is - it is by very nature, an organization that allows him to build a team with policy-makers and policy experts which gives him more meat on the bone and more power in that way, but it's also that I'm told - I was told that the president looks at him and says, "Oh, my gosh. I can't believe the former president of Goldman wants to come work for me." I mean, that's a big thing.
KEILAR: Well, you are President of the United States, right, some people would say.
BASH: Well, that's true.
KEILAR: And he also respects generals, right? That is very clear. You look at the lineup of generals who he has in his employ, if you will, and it seems like H.R. McMaster, General McMaster, is ascendant. It seems like he really has Donald Trump's ear right now on foreign policy.
BERGEN: Well, he's going to outthink and outwork almost anybody around him. You know, this is a guy with a PhD is also a war hero twice, in the first Gulf War and in Iraq, the second Iraq war, somebody who served in Afghanistan, and also, he brought in Dina Powell to be his deputy national security adviser, a very smart choice by all accounts who's close to Ivanka. He also brought in (INAUDIBLE) who's a very bright academic, defense expert, to write a strategy for the United States, so he's, you know, bringing his own people and just as Dana said that Gary Cohn was building his team.
And so, I think, you know, I think it's hard to imagine a more talented National Security Adviser, so we're - you know, this is very good news.
KEILAR: So -- and the establishment seems to -- there were some concerns from democrats and republicans obviously when Donald Trump was elected about what this was going to mean, but there seems to be some relief on both sides about the people that he has around him, like General McMaster, for instance.
[17:45:06] CHALIAN: Certainly on the foreign policy and national security front. There is concern among conservatives with Gary Cohn at the helm of the National Economic Council, sort of the Larry Kudlow types or the Stephen Moore types who really do fear that a lot of the talk that Trump had sort of promised, that Gary Cohn will sort of take the economic agenda in a more centrist condition. But the one thing you're hearing out of this White House after the last ten days on the foreign policy and national security front as it relates to the workings of the west wing.
Forget the political optics that they think have worked well for the president of looking strong and being decisive. They think that the last ten days they've started gelling a process inside, that McMaster has gotten his sea legs, that there is -- that Mattis and Tillerson now have a structure in place to deliver options to the president and be presenting his own plan "A," plan "B" and plan "C". Here's what happens if we do this, here's what happens if we do this, and without a lot of interference of noise, that they have found a way to feed into the president's intake that they think is working more smoothly now than it has at any time prior.
KEILAR: I want to ask you, Dana, because you're going on a trip. So, tell us about this. You're going to be covering the vice president this weekend.
BASH: That's right, and he's going to Asia. It's too bad it's not timely. He's going to South Korea, Japan and then he's going to go on to Indonesia and Australia, and so, you know, the fact that he is going to be there this weekend, he's going to be with troops and he's going to -- the primary purpose of this was -- it was sort of the anchor of the trip was around meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister because the president had promised that they would start a dialogue on the economic relationship between the two countries. But while there, he is going to be in South Korea, which is potentially going to be really curious if Kim Jong-un follows through on his promise to use the anniversary of his grandfather's birthday to what he's -- do what he's done in the past which is launch a nuclear missile.
KEILAR: Stay with me because we're going to talk about Samuel L. Jackson naturally. Actually, this does have something to do with politics. We'll explain when we get back.
[17:51:42] KEILAR: And we're back now with our political experts to talk about Samuel L. Jackson's book. But first, just a quick clarification because right before we went to break, and I totally missed this.
BASH: I talked about launching a nuclear missile, of course, I meant a test.
KEILAR: In North Korea.
BASH: In North Korea. Yes.
KEILAR: If they're -- if they're going to make a move --
BASH: Yes. So, I wanted to put this out there so that World War III didn't start --
KEILAR: That's right.
BASH: -- before the end of the situation.
KEILAR: OK. Perfect. OK. We have that -- we have that covered. OK.
Have you guys seen or heard, I should say, this radio ad? Because there is a special election in Georgia next Tuesday and a lot of people will have no idea about this until now. Because when it comes to the race for this seat, which is vacated by Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, democrats now have some help from Samuel L. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMUEL L. JACKSON, AMERICAN ACTOR AND FILM PRODUCER: Hi, I'm Samuel L. Jackson. There's a special congressional election on April 18th. What can you do? Go vote. Your vote goes a long way towards setting things right in this country. Vote for the Democratic Party. Stop Donald Trump, the man who encourages racial and religious discrimination and sexism. Remember what happened the last time people stayed home, we got stuck with Trump. We have to channel the great vengeance and furious anger we have for this administration into votes at the ballot box.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: You know, he has a children's book called, "Go the bleep to Sleep, with the not to bleep. It's almost like go the bleep to vote. But -- and so it's funny, but I also wonder, David, if it's -- if this is the message going towards the midterms. CHALIAN: Well, there are a couple of things here. First of all, he
is referencing a more than 20-year-old movie.
KEILAR: Iconic movie.
CHALIAN: There's no doubt about it but it's more than 20 years old. So there are young voters who will not understand the reference.
KEILAR: But they know who he is, right?
CHALIAN: But they certainly know who Samuel L. Jackson is.
CHALIAN: And what he is doing is trying to motivate black voters that base in the Democratic Party in the district, hugely important to Jon Ossoff, the young 30-year-old former congressional aide who is running as the democrat in this contest. Samuel Jackson is (INAUDIBLE) trying to motivate turnout. That's what -- as you know, a special election, it is all about turnout because nobody really knows it's happening. It's happening at some random time. Nobody is really counting on any kind of casual voter to show up. It is all about the most committed folks, and so, that's what this is geared towards. You have to remember also, on Tuesday, this is a game of getting the 50 percent plus 1 because if nobody gets to 50 percent plus 1, the top two finishers go into a June run-off election.
PHILIP: And there's also -- I mean, it doesn't -- it's clearly that it doesn't matter who the candidate is, you wouldn't even know it listening to that ad. There was no one actually named. But maybe it tells us a little bit about where democrats think they are. Where the anger and maybe (INAUDIBLE) against Donald Trump is so -- is potentially so powerful that it could push them into a little bit higher turnout, just what they need in the selection. I think the caution here is, as Samuel L. Jackson said, "Remember what happened the last time?" The argument against Donald Trump that is based on his temperament and his personality, the, you know, discrimination, et cetera, was not sufficient and it may not be sufficient in 2018.
KEILAR: Abby, Dana, David, thank you so much. This was a wonderful panel. I do appreciate it.
[17:55:03] And coming up, amid signs of a looming North Korean nuclear test, U.S. makes a show of force, positioning a carrier strike group in the region, while Kim Jong-un's regime is warning of a merciless response to any U.S. provocation.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: Happening now. Storm clouds. North Korea's Kim Jong-un
poised to taunt President Trump with a new nuclear test. The Dictator and the Commander-In-Chief trading threats as China warns about the dangers of war in the region. Will tensions explode in the hours ahead? Damage assessment, we are learning more about death and destruction caused by the mother of all bombs, and why this 11-ton monster of a weapon was unleashed against ISIS now? Are there plans to use it again anytime soon?