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Tillerson: 'Unchecked' Iran Could Be Next North Korea; Russian Bombers Near Alaska Coast Twice in 24 Hours; Pence: No Direct Talks with North Korea at This Time; Bill O'Reilly Fired Over Sexual Harassment Scandal; GOP Fearing Anti-Trump Anger in Upcoming Races; North Korea Missile Failures Raise Questions of U.S. Sabotage. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 19, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: We'll also be on at 9 p.m. starting Monday. Hope you'll join us. That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer, right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Iran warning. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the nuclear deal with Iran completely ignores other serious threats posed by the country which he warns could be on the path to becoming the next North Korea. What is the Trump administration planning to do about it?

Putin's planes. For the second day in a row, Russian bombers buzz the Alaska coast, and now Syria's warplanes are huddled next to a Russian base in an apparent attempt to protect them from another U.S. missile strike. Are the moves a message from Vladimir Putin?

Missile sabotage? Growing questions about a series of unsuccessful North Korean missile tests. The program's failure rate is oddly above average. Is the U.S. working to secretly sabotage it?

And FOX fired. The company announces it's dropping the host of its highly-rated program, Bill O'Reilly, amid a wave of sexual harassment allegations. Will the move end weeks of behind-the-scenes turmoil at FOX?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, charges by the Trump administration that Iran continues to, quote, "export terror and violence," despite making good on the nuclear deal that President Trump has slammed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just said the agreement ignores what he calls other serious threats posed by Iran, which he says could be on the same path as North Korea, if left unchecked.

We're also following new developments in Syria, where government warplanes are now under the protection of an advanced Russian air defense system. Sources tell CNN the Bashar al-Assad regime moved most of its fighter jets close to a base housing Russia's air force following the U.S. missile strike that took out a portion of Syria's military air fleet.

We're also investigating questions about possible sabotage of North Korea's missile program by the U.S. Were a series of failed test launches the result of American cyber-attacks?

And more breaking news. Top-rated FOX News host Bill O'Reilly has been ousted from the network among a series of sexual harassment allegations. Dozens of companies pulled their ads from O'Reilly's show following a report that FOX paid millions of dollars in settlements to his accusers.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Andre Carson of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and expert panelists are also standing by.

First, let's get straight to the State Department and the breaking news. Our diplomatic -- senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, has the very latest for us. Michelle, rare remarks, tough remarks by the secretary of state.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right, and no one doubts that Iran is continuing its destabilizing activity around the world, but the secretary of state's remarks just add to some of the confusion today, especially over what exactly the administration is going for here; because this is the very day that the administration officially certified to Congress, as it's supposed to do every 90 days, that Iran is keeping up its end of the Iran nuclear deal.

So they spelled that out, but at the same time said that the administration is now beginning a review of the nuclear deal and specifically whether the U.S.'s lifting of sanctions, which is a key part of that deal are in the U.S. national security interests. And if the U.S. decided to reimpose those sanctions, there would be no Iran nuclear deal, and Iran could continue with activity however way it wanted.

So Secretary of State Tillerson then comes out today, delivers a long list of the ways that Iran continues to be a bad actor, and he equates it with the Iran nuclear deal. Here's some of what he said.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining U.S. interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon and continuing to support attacks against Israel. An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it.


KOSINSKI: So this is interesting, because all of those activities, when the Iran nuclear deal was forged, were viewed as separate. Those activities are sanctioned by the U.S. and others, and they are sanctioned separately.

The reason why is because, if they try to punish Iran for everything, Iran never would have joined in to the deal in the first place. That's why those things are kept completely apart.

[17:05:09] But Tillerson seemed to be saying that the Iran nuclear deal has failed, because it doesn't take those things into account. He says it has already failed in its objectives and he called it a failed approach.

So a couple of questions here that this now raises. If this administration believes that the deal has already failed, why conduct this review? And if the review is because of these other activities that Iran is doing related to terror, why isn't the U.S. talking about those sanctions that are already related to those activities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski with the latest news at the State Department, thank you very much.

Let's get some more now. As Syria is apparently moving to protect its warplanes in the wake of the U.S. missile strike. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working this story for us.

Barbara, what are you finding out about these Syrian warplanes moving closer to a Russian base?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you'll remember in the Tomahawk missile strike the U.S. conducted in early April, about 20 percent of Syria's operational aircraft were destroyed, according to U.S. estimates, so now they are taking some protective measures and have moved most of the remaining aircraft to an air base along the coast very close to the main Russian military footprint in the region there, on that coastal region.

The Russians have sophisticated air defense systems and sophisticated missiles there, so by moving all of their aircraft to this area along the coast, it puts them under the protective umbrella of the Russian military and would make it very difficult for the U.S. to make a decision to strike Syrian aircraft again, because they would be flying into that Russian protective umbrella.

If the Syrians decide to conduct another chemical attack using aircraft from this area, it's going to really narrow some of the options for the U.S. It's going to make it much more dangerous for the U.S. to retaliate. Again, of course, the Syrians maintain other methods of delivering chemical weapons, helicopters, artillery and rockets and by all accounts those remain spread out across the country, at least the parts the regime controls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And if this were not enough, Barbara, all this comes as Russian bombers once again were spotted off the Alaska coast. What are you finding out about that?

STARR: The second time in two days that Russian Bear bombers, Cold War-era bombers, approached Alaska. And they haven't done that in a couple of years. They came within 36 miles of the mainland coast of Alaska. But, you know, important to mention they stayed in international airspace.

For the second day in a row the U.S. responded, sending up aircraft. The Russians turned and flew back towards Russia, exactly as everybody expected.

So is it routine or is it a provocation? The question now is what is Putin really up to with these aircraft? Is he just sort of pinging at President Trump, saying, "Look, I can fly near your coastline"? Or is there some other motivation there? Nobody thinks this is about a Russian attack, but it's becoming to -- at least an annoyance for the U.S. military.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Thanks very much, Barbara Starr, over at the Pentagon.

The vice president, Mike Pence, meanwhile, he's ruling out any direct negotiations with North Korea, at least for now, even though President Trump said as a candidate he would be willing to talk with Kim Jong- un.

Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, spoke exclusively to the vice president. She's joins us live from Tokyo right now.

Dana, you spoke on board the aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan. Tell us how it went.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, the vice president spent the past four days with really, really stepped-up rhetoric towards North Korea, talking about the need for more diplomatic talks and also putting on the table -- or keeping on table, I should say -- the notion of military action.

But with regard to diplomatic talks, what I talked to him about aboard the USS Ronald Reagan was trying to get beyond the rhetoric and trying to set a sense of what exactly the Trump administration's policy is. Take a listen.


BASH: Let's talk about North Korea and what you've been saying while here in the region, that the strategy of the U.S. will be to reach out to allies in the region and that the best path to dialogue, you're saying, is through a family of nations.

I've got to tell you. That sounds a whole lot like the six-party talks back in the Bush administration that failed. How is your policy different?

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that the president has made it very clear that, after more than two decades of failed dialogue and even what was called strategic patience, that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has really run out and that we are now going to begin to take such measures, diplomatically and economically, to isolate the regime in Pyongyang.

[17:10:24] And the encouraging news, Dana, for anyone looking on, is that, because of President Trump's leadership, now we're not only seeing our allies in South Korea and Japan and in the wider world standing with us, but -- but China has taken unprecedented steps now to begin to economically isolate North Korea. And given the fact that China represents more than 80 percent of the exports from North Korea, is enormously important to their economic marketplace, we believe this is an important step forward.

BASH: So I just want to try to -- to drill down on the diplomatic side of this a little bit more. Will the U.S. actually sit down in any way, shape or form for diplomatic negotiations with the North Koreans?

PENCE: You know, whether you go back to the agreed framework of the 1990s or the six-party talks...

BASH: Well, not that, just looking forward, whatever -- whatever version it would be. Will there be any negotiating, whether it's direct? I mean, you can answer that -- could you see a direct negotiation with North Korea and the U.S.?

PENCE: I think not at this time. The policy that President Trump has articulated is to marshal the support of our allies in the region, here in Japan, in South Korea and nations around the world, and China, who have taken the position now for decades of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

BASH: Bilateral talks, that's not going happen; understandable. Is there a move or a thought that, as part of those diplomatic steps you're talking about, to get the nations like South Korea, like Japan, maybe even China back to the table with North Korea and the U.S.? Is that something you think is doable and would make much of a difference?

PENCE: I think the president's vision for this is very straightforward, and that is that we are going to make it clear to the regime in Pyongyang that the days of broken promises, the days of running out the clock on agreements with the wider world are over; that when you look at two -- two nuclear tests in the last year alone, you look at an unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches, there's no question that North Korea represents the most dangerous and most immediate threat in the Asian Pacific, and President Trump is determined to confront that threat by marshalling unprecedented cooperation of our allies in the region and China and the world.

BASH: You've got your rhetorical strategy down and so does the president, but is it a rhetorical strategy in search of an actually practical diplomatic approach?

PENCE: I think it's -- I think it's imminently practical. I think the president's direct engagement with President Xi of China and the fact that now you've seen China turning back coal shipments from North Korea, making changes in the ability of ability of people to travel by air from Pyongyang into China, and other measures that they may well take in the future, is -- demonstrates the kinds of hands-on diplomacy that -- that President Trump has brought to this, and -- and that's what it will take. BASH: Did the missile test that the North Koreans launched while you

were on your plane heading to the region fail because the U.S. used any electronic or cyber-technology to sabotage it?

PENCE: I really can't comment on the electronic or technical capabilities of our military, but we certainly -- we certainly recognize that that was a failed missile test. It filled almost immediately, just like another recent test.

BASH: But the U.S. didn't have anything to do with it?

PENCE: But the -- well, I can't comment either way, as you know, Dana. What I can say is that, failed or not, it was one more provocation by a regime that continues to flout the views of the international community, and it's got to come to an end.


BASH: Now, there's no question that, although the vice president didn't want to talk about whether the U.S. was involved in this most recent failed North Korean missile test, that this has been something that the administration's certainly past, the Obama administration in particular, has reportedly been working on in a big way, Wolf, trying to figure out other ways, besides direct military operations, to try to stop North Korea. And scrambling using cyber warfare and other electronic means, scrambling North Korea's nuclear missile test, has been reportedly a big way that the U.S. has tried to do that -- Wolf.

[17:15:24] BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you. Dana Bash reporting live from Tokyo right now.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana is joining us. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. ANDREW CARSON (D), INDIANA: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: Does the Trump administration right now have any good options as far as dealing with North Korea?

CARSON: Well, I think the provocation that we're seeing coming from North Korea is not unusual. We saw the same actions under the Obama administration. We saw the same actions under the Bush administration before him, and even President Clinton.

It is unfortunate that North Korea has a very irresponsible leader who is impulsive and who is a threat to the Korean Peninsula, but having said that I think that removing any negotiating strategy off of the table should not be our ultimatum.

I think we should be firm in our posturing. I think we should have a reasonable show of force, but I also think that they have a lot to lose, as well. Listen, much of their artillery is -- is Soviet-era equipment. But that is not to say that we should take their regular testing of missiles lightly.

BLITZER: It's a -- it's a serious situation. Now you probably know the top Democrat on your committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, he issued a statement yesterday, warning against what he called "casual talk or tweets that could lead to war." Congressman, do you believe some of the recent tough talk coming out of the Trump White House is pushing the U.S. and North Korea right now closer toward a confrontation?

CARSON: Well, I think, in a very real sense, we have to be firm as it relates to North Korea. The Republic of Korea, South Korea, is our strategic ally. They're an important ally. But we also need China's help. I know that they rely heavily, North Korea that is, on China for food and fuel.

But if they are willing to dismantle their attempts at nuclear weaponry and dispose of the small arsenal that they have now, then it would be in their best interests to look at ways in which concessions could be made for them to look at us lifting sanctions on them.

BLITZER: But Congressman, and you...

CARSON: And lift entry to the international market.

BLITZER: You know that that's been the U.S. goal now for a couple -- for at least 20 years to get them to end their nuclear...


BLITZER: ... program, but from their perspective, they believe that, if they were to do so, if Kim Jong-un were to eliminate his nuclear weapons program -- he's got a bunch of nuclear bombs already, developing these intercontinental ballistic missiles with potentially nuclear warheads -- if he didn't have that threat, he'd be gone. He'd wind up like Gadhafi, who ended his nuclear program, and we all know what happened to him in Libya. That's the argument they make. They're not going to give up their nuclear program, realistically, are they?

CARSON: Well, you know, it's difficult to say, which is why our -- our tough talk has to get tougher. It has to be firmer. We need to lean more heavily on China. You know, decades ago, they had -- North Korea had support from the Russians and, of course, we supported South Korea.

But I think that, when you're dealing with this kind of leadership, this kind of childish leadership, we cannot play games with them. Now, they cannot match our military might, it's true, but the casualties that they could cause in the region alone could create a humanitarian crisis that we would have to ultimately respond to.

And so, in a very real sense, Wolf, I think it's important that we do show a sizable presence in the region. We need to let them know that we're very serious, as the Trump administration is doing, and we have to work on, at least in the very near future, letting them know, without excuse, without apology, that we're not here to play. BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. There's more to discuss. We're

getting more information. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:23:39] BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, let me get your reaction to the news that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has now moved most of its remaining operational combat aircraft to a new location in very close proximity to a Russian air base. Now those planes that have been relocated, does this complicate the potential for President Trump to order another missile strike against that -- those Syrian warplanes with the protective cover, if you will, of the Russians?

CARSON: It absolutely does. I mean, this is an even greater reason for President Trump to condemn President Putin. And even beyond that, Wolf, I think it shows that Russia is, in fact, or it looks like Russia is, in fact, complicit in the chemical attacks launched against Syrians. This kind of protection is questionable and unacceptable and deserves condemnation from our president.

BLITZER: Does Russia ultimately hold the cards when it comes to the -- the war in Syria?

CARSON: Not necessarily so, but I think they have a lot of leverage. I mean, you know, Syria has for some time been a client state of the Russian government; and this relationship is one in which we cannot avoid with a direct confrontation with -- with Russia.

I think that, of course, I salute the air force for scrambling the F- 22s a few hours ago. They have a military. Ours is stronger; ours is mightier. But I think that, at some point, we may have a direct confrontation with Russia.

This provocation coming from North Korea, the provocation coming from the Russians is, to me, troubling, but it shows that this is why we train regularly. This is why our military trains. This is why our intelligence services train for these kinds of attempts. And I think that, if we are provoked, we will show the kind of force that has not been seen.

But of course, we all want global peace, but Wolf, I think that there are people out there who are fighting to be the ultimate superpower and, unfortunately, when you're dealing with these kinds of egos, direct confrontation is necessary.

BLITZER: Congressman Andre Carson, thanks so much for joining us.

CARSON: What an honor, thank you.

BLITZER: Breaking news coming up. FOX News fires Bill O'Reilly. Is it enough to calm the sexual harassment controversy that's rocking the network? Plus, growing concern among Republicans about anti-Trump anger.

Should the president be taking a victory lap after an inclusive election result? Inconclusive, I should say.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Bill O'Reilly fired today from FOX News amid a sexual harassment scandal that caused advertisers to flee his show, his top-rated show, we should say.

[17:31:17] He's just put out a statement. The statement from Bill O'Reilly. Let me read it. "Over the past 20 years at FOX News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history, which has consistently informed and entertained millions of Americans and, significantly contributed to building FOX into the dominant news network in television."

The statement adds, "It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims, but that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today. I will always look back at my time at FOX with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for FOX News Channel."

That's the statement from Bill O'Reilly on this day that he was fired.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and analysts. And Chris Cillizza, he is certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest star, in cable news.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: It's that statement, if you had -- if an alien landed on earth and wanted to know who Bill O'Reilly was, you could read them that statement, and it would do a pretty good job at the same, you know, sort of brassy, unapologetic, egotistical. At the same time, he's -- he's not wrong. He and Roger Ailes did help build FOX into what it was.

I'll take it a step further. He and Roger Ailes -- he is the public face; Roger Ailes is sort of the architect behind the scenes -- made FOX News into sort of the voice, face, the modern conservative movement, you know, not the William F. Buckleys and the Irving Kristols, but you know, Bill O'Reilly. He was the guy. Populism, elite, the mainstream media and all its problems; and he was in many ways that person.

So he's not wrong. The show did get amazing ratings. The show -- FOX does have tremendous influence in mindshare among conservatives. That's why, I think, the fall of Ailes right around the conventions in the summer, summer of 2016, and Bill O'Reilly going is hugely significant, not just for conservatives or media but for the conservative movement broadly.

BLITZER: And they're both gone -- Roger Ailes, now Bill O'Reilly -- amid these sexual harassment allegations, two of the architects of this conservative media alignment. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and

often, you know, if you were going out and talking to voters out in the country, they would often parrot things that they heard on -- on FOX News, O'Reilly, this attitude of anti-political correctness this, this sort of brash blustery approach to things, very much in terms of crafting the identity of Obama and the ones -- sort of identity that conservatives rallied against. That was very much part of O'Reilly and FOX News. The rise of the Tea Party.

And you saw candidates for president really want to go on FOX News, go on and talk to O'Reilly to get their face out there, to get their message out there.

So this is just, I mean, a seismic shift, to have him not on that slot no -- any longer on FOX News.

CILLIZZA: One thing to add quickly. Bill O'Reilly, the first interview Donald Trump gave after he announced for president, Bill O'Reilly.

HENDERSON: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: And Trump strongly defended him the other day, Bill O'Reilly, in that interview he gave to Maggie Haberman in "The New York Times," saying "He did nothing wrong. He's a great guy." He went out of his way to support him. He said he should never have settled any of those sexual harassment lawsuits. He should have fought every step of the way.

And as you know, Mark Preston, Donald Trump as a candidate and as a private citizen, he faced those kinds of allegations himself.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot of similarities there, aren't there? No doubt. And as Chris was saying that, you know, the idea that he felt like he was under attack, but he's bombastic and he's a fighter, that statement that you just read right there, if you just took off that last sentence where he wished FOX News well, that could have been delivered by Donald Trump himself.

[17:35:11] The fact is, they both did share this certain strain of populism. Now, populists, traditional sense, the liberals will get upset by using that, but the populism that -- that they were advocating for was very similar. Donald Trump used it on the campaign trail; and Bill O'Reilly would parrot that on his show, or Donald Trump would parrot Bill O'Reilly on the campaign trail over the past two years. Very much what we saw with Bill O'Reilly was taking a conservative talk radio and putting it on TV.

BLITZER: Take a look at this picture, Chris. We just got it. This is Bill O'Reilly. He's been on vacation for a week and a half now in Italy, and this picture, he shows up at the Vatican. He's at St. Peter's Square with Pope Francis, getting a handshake from the pope.

CILLIZZA: So a lot of times people are like, wow, your job, you know, people are beating on you all the time; it must be really hard. And then things like this happen, which is like it's just such an interesting odd job.

If we talked about the same day that Bill O'Reilly, I think the largest brand in cable television, if we talked about the same day that Bill O'Reilly got fired from FOX that you would have a picture of him meeting Pope Francis. Oh, no, come on.

When I first saw this picture, I thought for sure it was either a hoax or from ten years ago, that it couldn't possibly be serendipitous enough in the news cycle that Bill O'Reilly would meet the pope on that day.

BLITZER: It's interesting. "The New York Times" quotes a spokesman for Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, as saying he wrote to the Vatican several months ago, requesting these tickets for Mr. O'Reilly and his family to meet with the pope, at least get an audience. Quote, "The cardinals is often asked to assist people from the archdiocese of New York who are going to Rome and always does his best to help," the spokesman for the cardinal said. "As in all cases, the decision is ultimately up to Rome."

But this -- the request came in months ago.

PRESTON: Sure, and it certainly -- it certainly didn't hurt Bill O'Reilly that he was Bill O'Reilly, that...

HENDERSON: Yes, I'm sure. Yes.

PRESTON: He say that he got to the top of the line. But I've got to tell you what: timing is everything in politics, and that's what we just saw right there.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, amazing coincidence, and I think it also sort of gets to one of the problems here. I mean, I think conservatives, had been this sort of arbiter of morality, right? I mean, that was kind of part of the conservative brand, this idea that they represented family values. So then you have Bill O'Reilly here being accused of this string of harassing women and having to pay out all of these settlements.

So, again, I think that's one of the reasons it was so untenable. And then you had all these advertisers, of course, pull out. But a massive day in terms of FOX News and cable television.

BLITZER: And it follows that huge story that was in the "New York Times,"


BLITZER: A couple weeks ago that reported that what he had paid -- he and FOX had paid out $13 million.

HENDERSON: Thirteen million dollars.

CILLIZZA: It speaks to -- it speaks to O'Reilly's strength as a brand and his ratings that it took that long. I mean, think about it. Any other -- most other people, you withstand a story like that, you're gone the next day.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys. We have more coming up.

Did President Trump play a role in preventing a major Republican election loss? Some Republicans are worried he may do more harm than good.

Plus, a series of failed North Korean missile tests. Were they sabotaged by U.S. cyber-attacks?


[17:43:00] BLITZER: The Republicans narrowly passed their first major electoral test since Donald Trump became president, but some are fearing the effects of anti-Trump anger out there in the upcoming races.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has the very latest for us.

Jim, the president personally weighed in on this closely-watched race.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and the White House is taking something of a victory lap after this special congressional election last night in Georgia, where the Democrat in the race just missed a chance to seize a traditionally Republican district.

But the race in Georgia highlights some real problems for the White House that are making fellow Republicans very nervous.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It was almost a stunning upset for Democrats in a GOP stronghold in the red state of Georgia.


ACOSTA: But for the White House, Democrat Jon Ossoff's near miss was a big victory for Republicans.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was one candidate on the Democratic side. Their goal was to get over 50 percent. They came up short.

ACOSTA: President Trump, who became personally invested in the race with a series of tweets slamming Ossoff, crowed, "Despite major outside money, fake media support and 11 Republican candidates, big 'R' win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, everybody!

ACOSTA: But not all Republicans share this assessment.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There are districts like this all over the country that this should be a wake-up call to the Republican Party in the South.

ACOSTA: Because Ossoff fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a run-off, he will face the leading GOP contender in the race, Karen Handel, who's received assurances of more White House help from the president.

KAREN HANDEL (R), GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: He just called to say congratulations and encourage me and let me know that, as we go into June 20, that you know, it's all hands on deck.

OSSOFF: Nice to meet you.

ACOSTA: That nationalizing of the race could make life difficult for Ossoff.

OSSOFF: I think folks in Washington tend to overstate their influence in local races like this.

ACOSTA: Still, the anti-Trump anger that fueled Ossoff's rise is also being felt in more congressional town halls. In Iowa, GOP Senator Joni Ernst voiced her concerns about the president's repeated trips to Mar-a-Lago.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I do wish that he would spent more time in Washington, D.C. That's what we have the White House for.

[17:45:00] ACOSTA: At a town hall in Oklahoma, Republican Senator James Lankford urged the President to release his tax returns, adding, "He promised he would. He should keep his promise."

Part of the problem, the White House is still searching for some legislative wins in Washington.

GEORGE CANDON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Can you say what the single piece of legislation that you are proudest that you got through Congress that was on the President's agenda?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, a few things on that. Number one, we're not done. We've got a little ways before we hit the 100-day mark.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whether you're trying to win the Super Bowl or rebuild our country, as Coach Belichick would say, there are no days off.

ACOSTA: In search of that winning spirit, the President welcomed the Super Bowl champion, New England Patriots, to the White House. Mr. Trump counted on Brady as a key supporter during the campaign.

TRUMP: Tom Brady.


TRUMP: Great guy. He called today and he said, Donald, I support you. You're my friend. ACOSTA: The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was on the

receiving end of a cameo from Patriots star Rob Gronkowski in the briefing room.

SPICER: Can I just --



SPICER: I think I got this, but thank you.

GRONKOWSKI: Are you sure?

SPICER: Maybe.

GRONKOWSKI: All right. I'll let you.

SPICER: All right. Thanks, man.

GRONKOWSKI: All right.

SPICER: I'll see you in a minute.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, Sean. Following that --

SPICER: Hold on.


SPICER: All right. That was cool.



ACOSTA: Now, as for White House plans to highlight the President's legislative accomplishments when he reaches 100 days in office, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted Mr. Trump's executive orders and selection of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, but, of course, those are not legislative achievements.

But, Wolf, we are hearing from sources close to the health care legislative process up on Capitol Hill and here at the White House that White House officials are exploring ways to take one more stab at repealing and replacing ObamaCare next week before that 100-day milestone. Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We'll see how that works out. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, over at the White House.

Coming up, are U.S. cyber attacks responsible for North Korea's failed missile tests?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:51:41] BLITZER: A series of unsuccessful missile tests by North Korea now raising new questions about possible U.S. sabotage. CNN's Brian Todd has been investigating for us.

Brian, there's speculation U.S. cyber attacks could have caused these North Korean test launches to fail.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is, Wolf. You know, we recall the Stuxnet virus, the secret, very effective cyber attack on Iran's nuclear program. Tonight, there's a key question in intelligence circles. Has the U.S. been launching Stuxnet-like attacks on North Korea's missiles?


TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-un proudly flaunts some of his deadliest weapons, a missile that's launched from a submarine, a land based mobile launch missile, the intermediate range Musudan, and the ICBMs, the longest-range missiles that could, someday, carry nuclear warheads to the U.S. But a new question tonight, are these missiles being sabotaged by the U.S.?

In the most recent test just days ago, a North Korean missile exploded seconds after launch. Current and former U.S. military officials have said the U.S. has a program to disrupt North Korean missiles with cyber attacks. "The New York Times" reports President Obama accelerated the program three years ago.

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: If you track what's happened to the missile tests since then, you discover an unusually high failure rate. For the Musudan, which is their most potent intermediate range missile, last year, that failure rate was 88 percent.

TODD (voice-over): It's not clear if the North Korean missiles were hacked. Neither the Pentagon, the CIA, the U.S. Cyber Command, nor the White House would comment to CNN. Experts stress hacks of missiles are almost impossible to detect, and things like poor design or bad engineering could cause a missile to fail. Btu what could hackers target on a North Korea missiles?

BRUCE BENNETT, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL/DEFENSE RESEARCHER, RAND CORPORATION: Any of the things that electronically happen. The ignition of the fuel, the staging of the missile, the cut off of fuel burn with a liquid fuel missile, the guidance system, any of those things, and the kill switch, are possibilities.

TODD (voice-over): In addition to possibly setting back North Korea's missile program, analyst say cyber attacks could have a crucial psychological effect on this brutal young tyrant.

BENNETT: If his missiles continually fail, then he's not looking strong. He is looking weak. That is something he can't live with.

TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-un has reportedly ordered an investigation into possible sabotage of his missiles, looking for spies inside his regime.

GREG SCARLATOIU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: Basically try to ferret out a spy would involve all types of surveillance. It would possibly involve conducting an investigation of hardware, computers that were used, all communications. And, of course, remember, in North Korea, pretty much each and every person has to be an informer.


TODD: And while they are investigating, experts say the North Koreans are also getting better at cyber defense, and they could be plotting retaliation. Analyst say if Kim Jong-un becomes convinced that his missiles have been hacked by the U.S., he could launch a cyber attack on the scale of the Sony hack or worse. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd, reporting.

[17:55:01] Breaking news coming up. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issues a blunt new warning about Iran, saying it could become the next North Korea. We have details of his rare public remarks. That's next.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Nuclear threats. A new U.S. review of the Iran nuclear agreement is underway as the Secretary of State speaks out, warning that Iran may follow the same dangerous path as North Korea. What does it mean for the future of the deal that the President railed against during the campaign?

[18:00:00] Putin's protection. Syria moves most of its warplanes to a single location in the shadow of a Russian airbase. The Bashar al- Assad regime apparently looking for cover from the Kremlin, in case U.S. missiles strike again.