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Interview With California Congressman Darrell Issa; Trump Filling the Swamp?; Facebook Murder Manhunt; North Korea Tensions; President Trump Visits Golf Course for 19th Time. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 17, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Amidst the bunnies and Easter eggs, President Trump says North Korea has got to behave.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The vice president visiting one of the most militarized and spooky places on Earth, and he says U.S. patience is running low as another North Korean missile fires and fizzles.

Murder on Facebook, an urgent manhunt happening right now for the man accused of murdering a grandfather and posting it online, as he promises to keep on his killing spree. Where was he last seen?

Plus, conflict of interest watch, lobbyists hired to run the agencies they were just trying to sell stuff to. Is this draining the swamp or filling it with a whole bunch of new critters?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Tensions between leaders of the U.S. and North Korea are rising sharply, as both countries seem to be signaling this time they are not going to blink. The Trump administration now ratcheting up its tough talk in response to Kim Jong-un's failed missile launch over the weekend, with President Trump asked by CNN's Jim Acosta today offering a terse warning today to the bellicose dictator.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Any message for North Korea, sir, and Kim Jong-un?



TAPPER: Got to behave.

Well, visiting Vice President Mike Pence was filling in the blanks, cautioning Kim Jong-un, take a look at the United States' military actions in Syria and Afghanistan, he seemed to be saying. You don't want to test President Trump.

One thing the White House says it will not do is draw any specific red lines that would trigger a specific response from the U.S.

Let's get right to CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

And, Barbara, North Korea could conduct theoretically another nuclear test at any moment. It would be number six. Is it likely that if there were a nuclear test, the U.S. would retaliate?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, U.S. officials are telling me today there's no immediate plan for any retaliation, even if there is a nuclear test, but every step in this crisis does bring it closer to U.S. shores.


STARR (voice-over): Vice President Mike Pence arrived at the DMZ for one reason, to be visible to North Korea, making the case to CNN's Dana Bash in an exclusive interview that the Trump administration is a new sheriff in town.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the president's made clear, that we're going to abandon the failed policy of strategic patience, but we're going to redouble our efforts to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on North Korea.

STARR: North Korea's ambassador to the U.N. ramping up the rhetoric.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been created dangerous situation in which the nuclear war might break out at any minute.

STARR: But is Trump's doctrine really new? National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster says all options are on the table, but a peaceful solution is what the president wants, just like all other presidents.

H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This problem is coming to a head, and so it's time for us to undertake all actions we can short of a military option to try to resolve this peacefully, and so we're going to rely on our allies, like we always do.

STARR: The military parade through Pyongyang being scrutinized by the U.S. intelligence community. These canisters could carry a missile capable of reaching the U.S., but are they real, or are they what one intelligence official called just big green tubes?

Spy satellites will be used to figure it out.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There are certain infrared signatures, for example, that could reveal the contents of a canister like that.

STARR: Just hours after the parade, a medium-range ballistic missile being tested exploded, the second test failure in a row. It may be just mechanical failure, but experts say U.S. Navy submarines could secretly attack those missile launches, jamming their electronics.

LEIGHTON: Depends on some very specialized equipment, and it would have to be done probably covertly if they were actually going to do that.

STARR: But out in the open, the U.S. Air Force announcing a successful long-planned test of its improved B-61 aerial bomb, both nuclear and non-nuclear components, a bomb that could be vital in striking North Korea if it came to that.


STARR: Much of the focus now, of course, is on pressuring China with economic sanctions against North Korea, but no one right now thinks that the North Korean leader is about to change his ways any time soon -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you.

After Vice President Pence went to the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, and stared into North Korean territory this weekend, he spoke exclusively with our own Dana Bash about the options that the Trump administration is considering to respond to a threat of a nuclear North Korea.


And, Dana, the vice president is on the Korean Peninsula at a real key moment.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, going to the Korean DMZ for anybody at any time is filled with tension, but even more so now when it's the vice president of the United States amid all of this saber-rattling.


BASH: You said that the era of patience, strategic patience is over. What does that mean in real terms?

PENCE: It was the policy of the United States of America during prior administrations to practice what they called strategic patience. And that was to hope to marshal international support to bring an end to the nuclear ambitions and the ballistic missile program of North Korea.

That clearly has failed, and the advent of nuclear weapons testing, the development of a nuclear program, even this weekend to see another attempt at a ballistic missile launch, all confirms the fact that strategic patience has failed.

BASH: But what does it mean to end it in practical terms? It's either use military force or find a diplomatic solution that has eluded all of your predecessors.

PENCE: Well, I think as the president has made clear, that we're going to abandon the failed policy of strategic patience, but we're going to redouble our efforts to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on North Korea. Our hope is that we can resolve this issue peaceably. And I know the president was heartened by his discussions with

President Xi. We have seen China begin to take some actions to bring pressure on North Korea, but there needs to be more.

BASH: And, you know, this is real for you. You know that there are estimates that North Korea could have a missile ready that could hit the continental U.S., Seattle, by 2020, which is going to be on your watch. I mean, is that weighing on you, and is that a deadline that you all have in mind?

PENCE: I know the president of the United States has no higher priority than the safety and security of the American people. The presence of U.S. forces here in South Korea, our longstanding commitment to the Asia-Pacific, and ensuring the security of the continental United States will remain the priority of this administration.

But, look, we want to be clear. Our hope and frankly our prayer is that by marshaling the resources of nations across the Asian Pacific, not just South Korea and Japan, other allies and China, to bring renewed pressure to bear will achieve our goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

But the people in North Korea should -- should make no mistake that the United States of America and our allies will see to the security of this region and see to the security of the people of our country.

BASH: I know we're running late. I just have to ask about your dad. I just heard you say that General Brooks gave you some information about his service here. He was awarded the Bronze Star.

What did you learn, and how does it feel to be here in an area that is still at war, effectively? I mean, only an armistice, still at war for 67 years.

PENCE: It's very meaningful for me and my family to be here so many years after my father's service.


BASH: Now, the fact that the vice president there at the DMZ was stand begun 100 feet from North Korean soldiers, it's probably not a big surprise that he was more focused on a potential diplomatic solution.

But just a few hours later here in Seoul, he was standing with the acting South Korean president, and he was much more forward-leaning on a potential military solution, certainly issued a not-very-veiled threat, saying that this president has already conducted strikes in Syria and Afghanistan, and that the North Koreans should remember that and pay attention to, in his words, President Trump's resolve -- Jake.

TAPPER: Dana Bash in Seoul, South Korea, thank you so much.

Is the Trump administration's position on North Korea really all that different from previous administrations? A key member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will join us next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead now, high tensions on the Korean Peninsula after more threats from North Korea's nuclear program.


TAPPER: And joining me now is Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman Issa, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, thank you, and thanks for covering these important issues.

TAPPER: So, Vice President Pence, while visiting South Korea, said that the era of strategic patience with North Korea is over.

What does that mean, do you think, and what does that mean in terms of what the U.S. does now?

ISSA: Well, I think, after nearly 67 veers, the vice president was saying that we are going to hold China accountable for the actions of North Korea.

For all those years since just after the Inchon landing, China has been the protectorate of North Korea and the enabler of this awful behavior.

TAPPER: How is this administration's posture towards North Korea different from previous administrations, do you think?

ISSA: Well, I think, in the past, there was an attempt to reason with North Korea, make deals with North Korea, but that's failed time and time again.

And now the only power broker in the world, and particularly in the region, that can affect North Korea's action would seem to be China.

TAPPER: The chairman of your committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, over the weekend said that he's pushing a bill that would allow sanctions on 10 Chinese banks that do business with North Korea.

Do you support that bill?

ISSA: Well, I haven't seen it, but the concept that we hold China responsible for enabling North Korea's activity, whether it's through banking, which obviously allows them to buy these materials, or even the purchase of coal that gives them hard currency, I think is an appropriate pressure point in a new pivot toward China responsibility.

[16:15:13] TAPPER: Vice President Pence said that we saw the resolve of President Trump with the strikes in Syria and Afghanistan. And he warned, quote, "North Korea would do we will not to test the resolve or strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region" under President Trump. What do you think, if anything, should trigger use of military force by the U.S.?

ISSA: Well, I think that you have to not have a specific action but rather a recognition that a measured response to provocative activities by North Korea can be expected. Again, you know, they tried to launch a missile just the other day, depending upon where that went. That certainly would be considered to be a provocative act.

But I think the important thing is that those two attacks done during this administration are recognition that the National Security Council is working, that a team of people very diverse, security people made unanimous decisions for those measured responses in the other two areas.

TAPPER: Was Vice President Pence, do you think, trying to send a message to North Korea by going into the DMZ and going basically up to the border and staring down North Korean troops?

ISSA: I think he was sending a message to China, and I think when the president met with the premier, that was also something that undoubtedly was brought up, that you have a powerful nation that is enabling a rogue -- small rogue nation that it has protected for over 60 years to do things that are internationally just wrong.

But, you know, there's another point which is that I think there's a recognition of human rights. North Koreans are five or six inches shorter than South Koreans. That's a difference in nutrition. For all these decades, we've seen North Koreans suffer under a failed government, and there's got to be a recognition that China's moving forward but North Korea isn't.

TAPPER: North Korea displayed new missiles or at least they looked like missiles during a military parade in Pyongyang over the weekend during their holiday. A scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center described what we're going through right now as the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion. Do you agree?

ISSA: I do, and the similarity is that the Cuban missile crisis was a decision by Russia to use a surrogate to threaten the United States, and China has effectively been using a surrogate to threaten Japan and other nations in the region, and ultimately could threaten the United States.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Darrell Issa -- thank you so much. Appreciate it, sir.

ISSA: Sure thing.

TAPPER: The urgent manhunt for the alleged Facebook killer is expanding. Police are now offering a $50,000 reward as people in five states are being told to be on the lookout.

Stay with us.


[16:22:03] TAPPER: We're back with more in our politics lead.

President Trump was at Mar-a-Lago for the Easter weekend, his seventh weekend at the club in the 13 weekends of his presidency. He visited his golf course at least twice, a total of 19 visits to a golf course since becoming president.

His numerous tweets attacking his predecessor for golfing during world crises notwithstanding such as this golden oldie from 2014. "Can you believe that with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf?"

In addition to his trips to the 18 holes, the president fired off ten tweets since just yesterday, ranging from Easter well-wishes to dismissing protesters as being paid, to weighing in in his own inimitable style on a set of special elections this month.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for us.

And, Jeff, this morning, the president participated in the 139th annual Easter egg roll. But it wasn't all fun and games. He also said that North Korea has got to behave.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he did. And he said North Korea has got to behave. He didn't elaborate exactly what that means or if they do not behave. But there's no question that North Korea and the emerging threat is emerging as one of the biggest foreign policy challenges of this new administration as it reaches its near 100-day mark at the end of this month.

Now, the White House is not taking any options off the table on North Korea. They are also not saying exactly what a red line would be in North Korea. We've heard so much, though, about strategic patience of this administration. The vice president, of course, said that in South Korea.

Well, today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained exactly what that means, strategic patience.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The era of strategic patience was a policy that the Obama administration enacted, to basically wait and see. I think we have now understood that that policy is not one that is prudent for the United States, and I think that's why you've seen stepped-up efforts, particularly with respect to China.


ZELENY: So, the president is now counting on China's help with North Korea, and he's indeed being patient and he's waiting for that help that he hopes to materialize.

But, Jake, it is a stunning turnaround, the language, the tone, the entire posture towards China that this president had during the campaign when he accused China of raping the U.S., taking jobs from America's heartland. Well, the president will travel to Wisconsin tomorrow to talk about some of those jobs, even as he hopes and waits for China's help in North Korea -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

On campaign trail, candidate Trump promised to, quote, "drain the swamp" in Washington and now that he's in the Oval Office, why does he seem to be filling it with new critters?

Stick around.



[16:28:55] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When it comes to Washington, D.C., it is time to drain the damn swamp.


TAPPER: "Drain the damn swamp," that's a promise that candidate Trump made throughout the campaign. But is now President Trump draining the swamp or stocking it with a bunch of whole new critters?

The administration has made a number of hires who are advising or leading the agencies they targeted as lobbyists just a short time ago, even though candidate Trump suggested he was open to banning lobbyists from his administration all together, calling it a pretty good idea. That has not happened. Quite the opposite, and it is our conflict of interest watch today.

And here with me is CNN's Cristina Alesci.

And, Cristina, the revolving door on lobbying in government, that's not new. But what's different about it with the Trump administration?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's not new. There's always been a revolving door with lobbyists and government, but under this administration, that activity seems to be easier and less transparent than it was under Obama. Fact is, Obama -- Trump has relaxed some of the ethical standards that Obama imposed.

For example, Obama put a ban on lobbyists working at agencies that they lobbied in the past two years. Trump allows that.