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Pentagon Investigating Flynn Over Foreign Payments; GOP Health Care Push Renews Threat of Government Shutdown. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Accused of a coverup. A top House Democrat says the White House is protecting ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn by withholding documents from congressional investigators. And now new revelations that the Pentagon is investigating Flynn for taking money from Russia despite being warned.

"The threat is real." An ominous warning from the homeland security secretary. General John Kelly says concern over a bomb hidden inside an electronic device keeps him awake at night. Will the electronics ban on some flights entering the United States now be expanded?

Shutdown possible. Political brinksmanship reignites as House Republicans scramble to push through a revised healthcare bill, prompting a threat by Democrats to oppose a critical spending bill. After multiple assurances from the White House will the federal government grind to a halt this weekend after all?

And in the crosshairs. North Korea threatens the White House and a U.S. aircraft carrier in a new propaganda video. But behind the bluster, fake weapons that may belie the truth about Kim Jong-un's regime. We have an exclusive live report from North Korea this hour.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news about fired Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Documents released by the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee reveal the Pentagon is now investigating the retired Army lieutenant general after payments he accepted from Russia and Turkey. The documents also show that Flynn was explicitly warned against accepting such payments.

Also breaking, blunt remarks by the homeland security secretary about the danger facing the United States. General John Kelly says the electronics ban -- the electronics in effect on some planes entering the United States could now be expanded everywhere. He says, quote, "The threat is real." It keeps him awake at night.

We're also following a renewed threat of a government shutdown starting this weekend, despite assurances from the White House that it would be averted. House Democrats are now threatening to oppose a critical spending bill if -- if Republicans force a vote on a revised healthcare bill. And we're learning new information about China's influence on North

Korea. A pivotal part of the Trump's administration's effort to rein in the dictator, Kim Jong-un. We'll have an exclusive live report from the North Korean capital later this hour.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Ed Markey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.

Let's begin with the new revelations about fired Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us with the very latest.

Jim, we now know Flynn was warned against accepting any payments from foreign governments. Update us on the latest.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. And we now know, as well, that the inspector general for the Defense Department is now investigating Michael Flynn, not just for violating Army regulations but for breaking the law.

That investigation starting earlier this month and now continuing, and the key here is, well, that he was warned about not taking these payments and appears to have gone forward and -- and exacerbated the wrong by not reporting those payments after the fact.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any regrets about Michael Flynn?


SCIUTTO: Tonight President Trump ignoring a question about his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after new documents show that Flynn was warned he was prohibited from receiving payments from foreign governments.

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Thank you so much for -- for inviting me and having me here.

SCIUTTO: This one year on before he accepted tens of thousands of dollars from Russian state television for this speaking engagement in Moscow in 2015. The documents, released by the House Oversight Committee, show that the DIA informed Flynn that he could not receive, quote, "consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honoraria or salary" from foreign governments during his retirement.

Despite the warning, however, the DIA told the committee in a letter it could not locate records referring or relating to Lieutenant General Flynn's receipt of money from a foreign source, and the DIA did not locate any records of Lieutenant General Flynn seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: And we have no evidence, zilch, that he obtained permission from the secretary of the Army and the secretary of state to accept any foreign government payments, as required by law.

SCIUTTO: The inspector general of the Department of Defense has now launched an investigation. In a statement to CNN, the inspector general's office says the probe will cover, quote, "if Lieutenant General Flynn accepted payments in violation of the Emoluments Clause, implementing laws or Department of Defense regulations."

[17:05:14] FLYNN: I'm going to be really, really a bit provocative here today for this -- for this session.

SCIUTTO: The Kremlin-funded news agency Russia Today, or RT, paid Flynn $33,750 for his appearance in Moscow in 2015.


SCIUTTO: In interviews last year, Flynn acknowledged accepting payment but denied the source was the Russian government.

FLYNN: I didn't take any money from Russia, if that's what you're asking me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, then who paid you?

FLYNN: My -- my speaker's bureau. Ask them.

SCIUTTO: Now Representative Cummings says the White House is refusing to release documents related to their probe.

CUMMINGS: I honestly do not understand why the White House is covering for Michael Flynn. I don't get it. After the president fired him for lying.

SCIUTTO: Today White House spokesman Sean Spicer blamed the Obama administration for renewing Flynn's security clearance.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All of that clearance was -- was made by -- during the Obama administration, and apparently with knowledge of the trip that he took. So that's how the process works, and I welcome the Department of Defense's I.G.'s review.


SCIUTTO: Also today, former Trump adviser Carter Page, who was under an FBI investigation of his ties with known Russian intelligence operatives, told CNN's Chris Cuomo the allegations violate his civil rights.

PAGE: I've been the victim of one of the most horrendous civil rights violations in recent U.S. election history.


SCIUTTO: Michael Flynn's lawyer released a statement after the Oversight Committee's press conference this morning, saying that fully unredacted letters regarding this speech in Russia would show that Michael Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency both before and after that speaking engagement in Moscow. Wolf, this is clearly something that the Defense Department is looking into deeply, and that's the kind of question they're going to want to answer going forward.

BLITZER: On another matter, I know you're following the breaking news, Jim, from the Department of Homeland Security. Tell our viewers what you're learning.

SCIUTTO: This is a truly remarkable comment from the Department of Homeland Security secretary, General Kelly, retired General Kelly, I should say, saying that it is possible that he's considering expanding this ban on hand-held electronics on airlines.

A few weeks ago we know that they banned those on certain airlines coming to the U.S. from certain Middle Eastern airports where there are concerns about vetting. Could they -- could they -- were the security clearance -- security measures strong enough there? General Kelly saying that they might expand that beyond those countries, possibly to all flights.

And he said, as well, that this is a threat that keeps him up at night.

I've spoken to counterterror sources on this, Wolf. The concern here is that terror groups have developed the ability to shrink -- shrink electronics to a degree to get them inside iPhones and iPads, et cetera, and that they're now sharing that intelligence more broadly. It's a threat of great concern. Here's the comment from General Kelly.


GEN. JOHN KELLY, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The threat is real, and this thing could expand, and I'm looking at it three, four, five six times a day. It is the thing that keeps me awake at night.


SCIUTTO: The thing that keeps him awake at night. And I've heard that, as well, Wolf, from multiple counterterror officials. That they are concerned about electronics on airlines. Principally the group have been AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but now the concern is that AQAP might be sharing that technology with other groups. That, of course, makes it difficult for security services to figure out how to prevent those devices from getting onto airplanes.

A real concern. It's something that you and I and our viewers might have to face going forward, even on flights here possibly in the U.S.

BLITZER: Yes. That's a real concern indeed. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

Efforts by House Republicans to push through a revised healthcare law have renewed the threat of a government shutdown starting this weekend.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is following late- breaking developments for us.

Jim, the drama is unfolding as President Trump closes in on those first 100 days in office.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. That drama is back. It has returned. The White House is now saying, even after they assured the public just days ago that there is a possibility of a government shutdown, just as other aides are saying up on Capitol Hill right now, because this new fight has emerged over a government spending bill, that would keep the federal government open.

Keep in mind that White House, president and his top aides are all blaming Democrats who aren't even in charge up on Capitol Hill.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Less than 48 hours before President Trump hits 100 days in office, the threat of a government shutdown is back.

SPICER: The Democrats at the last minute have come in and thrown a lot of monkey wrenches into the ability for this to get done, despite the president doing everything that he can to show good faith to keep this going. So it's not just a question of -- it's they keep moving the goal post.

[17:10:13] ACOSTA: The president piled on on Twitter. "As families prepare for summer vacations in our national parks," he tweeted, "Democrats threaten to close them and shut down the government. Terrible."

Republicans leaders in Congress say they're nearly ready to pass a spending bill to keep the government open.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I would be shocked if they want to see a government shutdown, that the Democrats would want to do that.

ACOSTA: But Democrats insist they won't cooperate with any GOP efforts to pass a spending bill if Republicans also try to rush through a new effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

House Minority Whip Stenny Hoyer said in a statement, "If Republicans announce their intention to bring their harmful Trumpcare bill to the House floor tomorrow or Saturday, I will oppose a one-week continuing resolution and will advise House Democrats to oppose it, as well."

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I'm not sure they would tie the health care bill to what -- that would be the height of stupidity.

ACOSTA: The sudden return of the shutdown drama threatens to spoil White House efforts to tout their 100 days achievements. On Monday press secretary Sean Spicer said the government would remain open.

SPICER: We feel very confident the government is not going to shut down.

ACOSTA: It's a test for President Trump, who appears to be sending mixed signals about another key agenda item: his vow to renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA.

TRUMP: We will renegotiate. Now, if I'm unable to make a fair deal, if I'm unable to make a fair deal for the United States, meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA.

ACOSTA: Twenty-four hours ago, the White House signaled the president was about to give notice that he may withdraw from the free trade agreement, but after phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, the White House said the president agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time.

The president has repeatedly promised to get tough on NAFTA.

TRUMP: We're going to make some very big changes or we are going to get rid of NAFTA for once and for all. Cannot continue like this, believe me.

ACOSTA: Then there are the questions about the president's emerging tax reform plan and just how far it goes to give relief to middle- income Americans, a question top officials are struggling to answer.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Can you guarantee that no one in the middle class is going to pay more?

STEVE MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: That's our objective, absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it a guarantee?

MNUCHIN: I can't make any guarantees until this thing is done and on the president's desk.

ACOSTA: Democrats argue the Trump tax plan is a giveaway to the rich.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Massive tax cuts for the very wealthy, crumbs at best for everyone else.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House is pushing back on the notion that the president is softening at all on NAFTA. They say -- aides are saying that next week the president is likely to begin the process of renegotiating that free trade agreement.

And Wolf, if the president were to fall short of renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA, that would, again, be another major policy reversal from this president on what was a critical campaign promise during that election cycle, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it was. All right. Jim Acosta over at the White House. Thank you.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining is.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You're welcome. Good to see you.

BLITZER: So let's talk about the breaking news. Secretary Kelly is saying that the electronics ban keeps him awake at night, that the threat is real. He said the ban now on bringing electronics, iPads, iPhones onto planes from anywhere, in effect -- it could expand everywhere, not just a few of those countries.

Have you seen intelligence, Senator, supporting this? Do you think it should be everywhere, that ban should be expanded?

MARKEY: Well, it should be a concern. Mohammad Atta and the other nine highjacked two planes from Logan Airport in 2001. They used box cutters inside of the passenger cabin. And then they created a catastrophe in our country.

They try to find the easiest way in order to create an event which they believe will have a terrorizing effect upon the American people.

I had to fight for five years in order to pass a law -- which I was successful in 2007 -- to screen all cargo on passenger planes in our country. The airline industry and the cargo industry fought me from September 11th of 2001 all the way to January of 2007.

We know how al Qaeda, how ISIS operates. We know what they're trying to do. We know that they put airlines at the top of their terrorist target list. So they'll look for any aperture to be successful. So our goal has to be to close it down.

And if there is credible information that says that there is now a way that they are exploring in order to take explosive devices onto planes using the electronic devices of passengers, then we have to put in place these safeguards that ensure that they cannot be successful.

We have gone from September 11th of 2001 until today; we have done the job. We have to look at these new threats, because they're constantly trying to develop the means to achieve that end.

[17:15:12] BLITZER: All right. That's a good point.

Let's move on to some other developing stories right now. The White House saying the onus is on the Obama administration -- the Obama administration -- for offering retired General Michael Flynn a 2016 security clearance after his 2015 trip to Moscow.

Is the Obama administration responsible for not catching that Flynn was paid for that Russia speech?

MARKEY: Look, the Trump administration has to stop blaming, and they have to start explaining.

Obviously, this man, General Flynn, was the president's national security adviser throughout the entire Trump campaign. Then throughout the transition he played the same team -- he played the same role, and then he was actually appointed national security adviser.

The Trump administration had a responsibility to ask all of the questions about whether or not there were conflicts of interest that General Flynn was bringing to this job.

And what the House Oversight Committee has asked is for the Trump White House to provide all of the documentation as to what he questions they asked General Flynn, because clearly in the campaign and then after the campaign, there was a clear impression that was left that there was going to be a very strong relationship between President Putin and President Trump, and we have to know as the American people what, in fact, was going on.

And that's why more than the Pentagon, more than the House and Senate committees, we now, I think, need a special prosecutor in order to get to the bottom of this case.

BLITZER: Senator, there's a lot more we need to discuss, including the nuclear tensions right now with North Korea, but we have to take a break. We will resume our conversation right after this.


[17:21:42] BLITZER: The U.S. military presence around the Korean Peninsula is growing, and threats of nuclear war by the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, growing as well.

U.S. warships are heading to the region. A U.S. guided missile submarine is already in South Korea along with a new anti-missile defense system that will be up and running within days as well as tens of thousands of U.S. Troops stationed in South Korea and Japan.

We are back with Democratic Senator Ed Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, I know you're concerned there could be a miscalculation, an accidental war with North Korea. How likely is that as all of these tensions ratchet up?

MARKEY: We don't have great communication with the North Korean government. This isn't like the old era between the United States and the Soviet Union, where there was a red phone that kept us in constant contact if there was an emergency that was escalating.

Here, for the most part, we're flying blind. We don't have the level of communication that I think can help us to ensure that any military maneuver we're making or the North Koreans are making in response doesn't accidentally cross a trip wire that could result in an engagement that could be conventional initially and then escalate into a nuclear conflict.

BLITZER: You want -- you want a direct dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea? You want U.S. officials to start talking to North Korean officials?

MARKEY: I think it's imperative that the United States talk to the North Korean officials. There is no military solution to this standoff with the North Koreans. They have nuclear weapons, and they have a delivery system. Right now they can destroy South Korea and could destroy Japan.

So they have nuclear weapons right now.

We don't want to have an accident to occur. We don't want a misunderstanding to lead to an escalation that could be disastrous. We have to work with the Chinese, establish a negotiation process with the North Koreans while we tighten sanctions around the North Koreans with trade so that we have a real dialogue, but not one that's relying upon this military route because, ultimately, that's not going to give us the solution to the problem that we have with North Korea.

BLITZER: Senator Markey, thanks for joining us.

MARKEY: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: All right. We'll have more on North Korea coming up. We'll also will have an exclusive live report from inside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.


[17:28:30] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. As the surprises continue to unfold in the investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, today we learned the Pentagon's inspector general is now investigating President Trump's former national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.

Also today, House Democrats released documents they say raise serious questions about whether Flynn concealed receiving tens of thousands of dollars in payments from Russia and Turkey.

Let's get the insights of our experts. And Phil Mudd, the DIA we are now told, specifically told General Flynn, he could not accept any sort of consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honoraria or salary from any foreign government. It sounds like he did take a lot of money from two foreign governments, indirectly, maybe, but still from foreign governments, Russia and Turkey.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right. Look at this. The net is tightening, and at some point, you've got to feel bad for this man, who did his service to the country.

The FBI's got the legal piece. He's got tremendous legal jeopardy. The Congress, obviously, is going to hammer him in hearings. Let's look at one angle we haven't discussed: the financial piece. When you leave government, as I did, one of your questions is, "How do I make a second income?

Two implications of what we're seeing from the Defense Intelligence Agency today. No. 1, you've got to believe he's not going to have a security clearance in the future. His ability to make a living in the secure world is going to disappear.

Over time, too, the Defense Intelligence Agency is going to say, "Your future, in terms of consulting on contracts we have, all disappearing." So I think you're got a financial implication that will affect him.

And before I forget, there's one other piece to this. Somebody's going to have a question about his pension. Somebody at the Department of Defense. And this is going to go up to Secretary of Defense, he's going to say, "Do we owe him his full pension or should he be ratcheted back. So, in addition to the legal piece, I think there's financial jeopardy faces here, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Potentially, Mark Preston, the bigger problems than his pension if he's being investigated now potentially for a felony.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and there are multiple investigations going on right now. Look, he could go to jail. I mean, the bottom line is what we don't know, we'll let the investigations move forward, but he could end up in jail. But to Phil's point, his reputation has been destroyed. You know, he spent 33 years in the service, a three-star general. Not very many people make it to that level. Quite frankly, the earning potential as Phil says is gigantic when you reach that level. Who wants to hire him, even if he's -- even if he's cleared, Wolf, who wants to hire him now after going through all of this?

BLITZER: The top democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, Rebecca, says, "I honestly don't understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn." This is a serious problem for the White House, for the President, who named him his National Security Adviser.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND REAL CLEAR POLITICS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, right. So, the reason the White House gave for not responding fully to the documents request from the Oversight Committee, from Cummings and from Chaffetz, they say it was because some of the documents they requested would have had classified, confidential, sensitive information even in them, and that was their rationale. And then Sean Spicer added that they didn't think his call logs at the White House while employed by the President were relevant to this investigation.

So they're making that judgment call. That's their right to do so, but it does raise suspicions about why isn't the White House cooperating fully with this Oversight investigation? What are they hiding from the public or from congress about Mike Flynn? And they're not really giving us any answers to those questions at this point.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, the White House, we heard from Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, he is blaming the Obama administration. General Flynn, he went to Moscow in 2015, but in 2016, during the years of the Obama administration, his security clearances were renewed. So you got a problem, go blame the Obama administration. MUDD: Look, there's three people at fault here. Forget about Obama,

forget about Trump. The first responsibility -- and I went through this confirmation process. It wasn't a confirmation process for Flynn, but there's got to be a process to go on the national security team for the President. The first responsibility is for him to declare what he did. It's not clear that happened. The second, you're right, is for the Defense Intelligence Agency and they've got some questions to answer, to secure somebody's clearances over time. Is he recertifying that he is not taking money from foreign governments? This was public knowledge. They didn't know? Well, time out.

The NFL ain't until August but I'm throwing a penalty flag. For the White House to say, we don't have anything to offer on whether we vetted him for a top secret job is a little bit disingenuous. They got to have some documents for how he got into this position.

BERG: Or they're saying they have documents but they just don't want to hand them over. They think that they have reason to withhold them. I think, Congressional lawmakers are sending signals that they don't have reason to withhold these documents.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's a lot more we need to assess and discuss. Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:37:54] BLITZER: We're back with our political and counterterrorism experts as we follow new and alarming breaking news. President Trump's Homeland Security Secretary, retired General John Kelly is warning the ban on laptop, computers and other electronics aboard some airline flights from foreign countries could expand. There's growing concern, he says that terrorists may have come up with a way to hide bombs in electronics' battery compartments.


JOHN KELLY, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The threat is real, and this thing could expand, and I'm looking at it three, four, five, six times a day. It is the thing that keeps me awake at night.


BLITZER: How worried should Americans be, Phil?

MUDD: Look, let's give you a report card on national security. If you look at the stuff we talked about, stuff like North Korea, people coming across the southern border, southern border in my report card, that gets about a D. North Korea, that's a B moving up North Korea. It doesn't have the capability yet to reach the continental United States. This is you -- I agree with Homeland Security Secretary. This an A heading towards an A+. You do not sit in the Intelligence Community and shut down some aspects of air travel that is forcing people to put laptops in the belly of an aircraft unless you have specific intelligence that indicates that terrorists have the capability to put an iPad on a plane and blow up the wall of a plane. This one, if you want to rank threats, is way at the top.

BLITZER: I used to hear a very similar words from the former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to what we heard from the new Homeland Security, keeps them up awake -- keeps them up at night, Jeh Johnson used to say, this homegrown terror issue keeps him up at night as well. Is there going to be a government shutdown this weekend?

PRESTON: I don't think so, no. I mean, and I think we've seen Donald Trump really come to the table and understand that he would be blamed for it, and, look, I think there might be a little bit of drama, you know, tomorrow, but the bottom line is it's not going to be to the point where we really think the government is going to shut down. Federal workers are told to stay home and then they get checks six months from now because of their lost wages.

BLITZER: Yes, somebody said on the show yesterday, Donald Trump, President Trump celebrates his first 100 days in office and there's a government shutdown.


BERG: Right.

BLITZER: That would not be --

PRESTON: And he is out in a rally in Pennsylvania saying what a great job he has done and the government is shutdown.


[17:40:03] PRESTON: Doesn't make sense.

BLITZER: Has already the government shutdown. Do they have the votes in the House of -- on the House of Representatives to pass repeal and replace Obamacare?

BERG: It doesn't look like they do yet, Wolf. But it's a process. As you know, they have to whip these things. They have to try to apply pressure where they can to some of these members who are on the fence. This time, though, it looks like they'll need to win over the moderates as opposed to the conservatives. The conservatives, the Freedom Caucus, they say they are on board with this new version of the bill. So I think you are going to see the WHIP team working very hard on the house side trying to get some of these moderates to come over. But I don't think it's there yet. I don't think we're going to see it.

BLITZER: But even if they get those 216 votes on the house floor, Mark, it's got to go to the senate where there's a bigger problem.

PRESTON: It's symbolic. I mean, look, they wanted to win before the first 100 days, Wolf. We all know that. But, to your point, it goes to the senate. Senate republicans aren't for it. Certainly, senate democrats are not going to be for it. And then, let's assume the senate passes their own type of legislation, then they go to conference committee, then they have vote again. This is not going to happen today, tomorrow, perhaps might not even happen this year.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very, very much. We'll stay on top of all of these issues.

Coming up, fake weapons. Experts say some of the military equipment North Korea recently showed off may not be real. And as Kim Jong-un's latest propaganda shows an attack on Washington, could China be the key to defusing the crisis? Stand by for an exclusive live report. Our own Will Ripley, he's in Pyongyang. We're going there right after this.


[17:45:55] BLITZER: Amid the increasing tensions with the United States, North Korea just released a new propaganda video of simulated attacks on U.S. warships and on Washington. The Trump administration is pushing China to use its leverage to convince Kim Jong-un's regime to dial back the provocations. CNN's Will Ripley has been looking at how much influence the Chinese actually have. He's standing by live in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

Will, we're going to get to you in a moment. But first, CNN's Brian Todd has been talking with experts who suspect some of the weapons North Korea recently showed off may not be real. Brian, what have you learned?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we've got new information on the very impressive munitions that Kim Jong-un put on display in a massive parade recently. Our analysis reveals that some of the weapons were outdated, others outright fake. But that doesn't stop Kim from flaunting his fire power in parades and on video.


TODD: In a new North Korean propaganda video, the White House and an aircraft carrier are in the cross hairs. A carrier and the U.S. capital are shown blowing up. It's the latest installment of intimidating images from the regime. Here, Kim Jong-un enters on the red carpet flanked by officers. He beams with pride at the weaponry on display. But tonight, a closer look reveals some of these weapons are far less deadly than they seem.

MICHAEL PREGENT, FORMER U.S. MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: I think the parade was based more on impressing their leader, Kim Jong-un, than impressing an adversary.

TODD: This was the grand parade on April 15th, the Day of the Sun, North Korea's most important holiday of the year, held on the anniversary of Kim's grandfather's birth. It was impressive. ICBMS and other missiles rolled by. Soldiers and commandos goose-stepped, brandishing some imposing munitions. Weapons expert Michael Pregent, a former U.S. military intelligence officer who's war-gamed against North Korea, saw some things amiss with the weapons displayed. These are Type 88 rifles, AK-74s with a grenade projectile. And

you're seeing that here. Now, these rounds are dummy, these rounds are fake. But this capability is so outdated -- I mean, this is the capability the North Koreans stole from the United States during the Korean War. We stopped using this in 1961. The reason this is not a menacing weapon to an adversary is because it has a high failure rate.

TODD: At first glance, these appear to be sophisticated grenade launchers, but experts say they're really outdated bullet magazines with a high failure rate. We're told some missiles at the parade were likely mock-ups. Experts say it's too risky for them to display the real thing. But the flaws may not have been just with the weapons.

Even the sunglasses have a problem.

PREGENT: Right. We expect the commander to look like the soldiers he's commanding, right? In this case, you have a commander of this commando force wearing $5 sunglasses, flat face sunglasses, so they're not ballistic. They don't protect him from a blast.

TODD: But one analyst says for the North Korean audience, this equipment doesn't have to be combat ready.

SUK-YOUNG KIM, "ILLUSIVE UTOPIA" AUTHOR: Staging realistic image of North Korean military and society is not the point of these parades. I mean, these parades are supposed to show what North Korea should be rather than what it is.


TODD: Neither North Korean nor U.S. officials we reached out to commented on the observation of outdated or fake weapons at the parade. Analysts say despite the flaws on display, this is not a military to be laughed at. They're a million men strong, they're fit, they're well-trained, committed with legitimate artillery backing them up, artillery pointed right at Seoul and at 28,000 American troops in the DMZ. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, they had thousands of different rifles being carried out by the troops at that parade. What do your analysts say about those?

TODD: Well, Mike Pregent says these -- there are real questions about whether some of these rifles actually had any ammunition in them. He says the regime sometimes struggles to manufacture enough ammunition for its weapons, and of course, theirs is the security component, he says. They likely don't want these weapons loaded because they don't want to risk any of these soldiers possibly firing on Kim.

[17:50:08] BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thanks very much. As we said the U.S. is looking to China to pressure North Korea into dialing back its military provocations but just how much influence do the Chinese really have? CNN's Will Ripley is in the North Korean capital right now in his 12th visit to North Korea. He has an exclusive report for us. Will, tell us what you're seeing. WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We had some very rare

access, Wolf, to places that outside media normally is not allowed to even step foot in including North Korean stores where we found a number of products from China on display, a sign of just how much influence North Korea's neighbor really has here.


RIPLEY: North Korea says it values one thing above all else, self- reliance. A concept they call juche. Driving around the North Korean capital, it's clear this fiercely independent nation is not entirely self-reliant. Many everyday items are imported from cars on the streets, electronics in the stores, even food in the supermarkets. These shelves are surprisingly full of imports, especially from one particular country.

It's interesting, a lot of the canned good items you see here come from China. It shows that there's a lot of trade happening between the two countries despite heightened international sanctions.

China is North Korea's neighbor and most important ally, a powerful patron that pumps billions of dollars into this still largely impoverished economy. We're not allowed to see life outside the showpiece capital. Inside, people say life is getting better.

"Under Kim Jong-un, our living standards are improving," says this doctor. North Korean economist say, China still accounts for at least 70 percent of their trade, and not just consumer items. a Chinese oil pipeline literally helps keep this country's engine running. President Trump is urging China to use its economic leverage to punish Pyongyang for provocative behavior. North Korean officials say China's actions won't affect their weapons development.

"Whatever new sanctions we're likely to face, whatever trade restrictions, we're not afraid," says (INAUDIBLE). Everyday North Koreans also insist they'll be just fine with or without China. We don't worry much says this housewife. We have a strong military. We can overcome anything. Despite five nuclear tests in the last decade, Beijing has been reluctant to get too tough on Pyongyang. North Korea serves as a buffer between China and South Korea, where 28,000 U.S. troops are based. China also worries a destabilized Korean peninsula could trigger a refugee crisis at its border. China has taken some steps to sanction North Korea, temporarily suspending coal imports, a major source of revenue for the regime.

But in the first quarter of this year, trade is still up nearly 40 percent. The true test will come if Pyongyang keeps its promise to launch more missiles and conduct more nuclear tests. That's when North Korea's self-reliance may truly be put to the test.


RIPLEY: And that is really the remarkable thing that we see on the ground here, Wolf. People say that even though their living standards have improved because of trade with China and if their living standards might go down dramatically if China were to cut off North Korea, they actually told me they'd rather go back to the days of the great famine, they call the "Arduous March" than have their country give up its weapons. Weapons that were on display at that big military parade. But we always have to note, this is an authoritarian regime where political descent and opposing voices are not tolerated. Wolf?

BLITZER: Will Ripley with another exclusive report from Pyongyang in North Korea. Will, thank you very much. There's breaking news ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, details of the Pentagon investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Why one top democrat is now accusing the White House of a cover-up.


BILLY JOEL, MUSICIAN: I'm in a New York state of mind.

DWAYNE JOHNSON, HOST: The music and the artists post-9/11 they are reflective of the many emotions we feel.

JOEL: We ain't going anywhere. We played for an audience of police and firemen, and emergency rescue workers. And they needed a boost. I put a fireman's helmet on the piano just to help me concentrate because if I didn't have that I might have just lost it. It is kind of an anthem for New York City. I didn't think of that when I wrote it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The events that transpired defined the music and made it bigger than it was intended to be.

JOHNSON: The music will always remind us that it is possible.

[17:55:01] RANDY JACKSON, MUSICIAN/PRODUCER: Somebody has got to put these into words and emotions. That is what anthems are made of.

ANNOUNCER: "SOUNDTRACKS: Songs That Defined History." Tonight at 10:00 on CNN.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Flynn blame game. The president's fired national Security Adviser now the subject of a new investigation of his Russia ties as a top democratic accuses the White House of a cover-up. Tonight, the Trump team has a stunning defense suggesting it's the Obama administration's fault.

Last minute legislation. House republicans press forward with their new attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare but their hopes are colliding with another urgent goal to keep the government running. Is this shutdown imminent?

Broad strokes.