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Interview With Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego; Trump Thought Being President 'Would Be Easier'; Trump's First 100 Days; Trump Administration Tries to Shift Blame to Obama for Failure to Vet Flynn; Trump Still Trump on the Brink of 100-Day Mark; US Official Says North Korean Missile Exploded In Flight. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 28, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Obama. Tonight, the president is accusing his predecessor of failing to vet Michael Flynn, seizing on a stunning line of defense for the criminal investigation of his fired national security adviser. Barack Obama is returning the favor, taking a new dig at Mr. Trump.

And harder than I thought. The reality TV star turned commander in chief says he thought his new job would be easier. Is he longing for the simpler life of a billionaire?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, a new and very dangerous act of defiance by Kim Jong-un. A U.S. official now confirming that North Korea just test-fired a ballistic missile, this after President Trump warned of a major, major conflict, his words, with North Korea.

And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pressed the world community to ramp up sanctions, saying the U.S. is prepared to take military action if necessary.

Also breaking, the president is personally trying to blame the Obama administration for failing to vet his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn. In a brand-new interview, the president is echoing his press secretary's surprising attempt to deflect responsibility for the Flynn controversy, the retired general accused of possibly committing a felony by allegedly failing to disclose payments from foreign governments.

As President Trump nears his 100-day milestone just hours from now, he is basking in the warmth of a friendly audience. He spoke to the National Rifle Association just a few hours ago, waxing nostalgic about his election victory again, this after revealing that he thought the job of being president would be easier.

Up on Capitol Hill, Congress has delayed the threat of a government shutdown for another week by approving funding for federal agencies until May 5. Congressional leaders also put off key points of contention that are high on the president's to-do list, including a new health care bill and funding for the border wall with Mexico.

This hour, I will speak with Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN's Will Ripley. He is joining us live from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Will, you broke the story an hour ago. Tell our viewers what you're learning about this latest North Korean ballistic missile test.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have been going through the numbers and this is actually the ninth attempted launch by North Korea supreme leader Kim Jong-un in the first 99 days of the Trump administration, the first attempt on February 12, the second March 6, then March 21,, April 4, and April 16.

One of those was attempts was actually four Scud missiles launched simultaneously. We are learning that this particular missile of this morning's launch is believed to be KN-17. This is land-based ballistic missile launched from a mobile launcher.

This is the kind of solid-fuel missile that North Korea has really been trying to perfect and develop. They launched what they call the Pukguksong from a submarine. The Pukguksong-2 is a modified version of that submarine-launched ballistic missile that they can roll it out on a mobile missile launcher, launch from land, they can take it out of hiding very quickly in just a few minutes.

Because it has the solid fuel, it's like an explosive jelly and allows the missile to stay ready for launch sitting and hiding as opposed to the technicians having to fuel it up. This is an advance for missile development. U.S. officials that are speaking with CNN say that it landed in the waters off the Japanese coast.

So clearly this is a concern not only for South Korea, but also for tens of millions of people in Japan. We know that Japan has its anti- missile defense capability, the PAC-3 system on standby right now.

We also know in South Korea, the THAAD missile defense system is in the final stages of being up and read to be put into service perhaps in just a day or two, according to the United States military. Around the region, defensive capabilities are being boosted. This is not an unexpected provocation from North Korea's supreme leader.

We have had a very busy month here on the ground. We spent the last several weeks here in North Korea. On April 15, there was the massive military parade. The day after they attempted to launch one of these ballistic missiles. That launch attempt failed.

Just this week, there was a massive live fire exercise. The Korean's People Army says it was the largest military exercise of its kind in their history. There was that propaganda video showing a simulated missile attack on Washington on the White House and the Capitol and what appeared to be the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier.

And now in the early morning hours here around 5:30 local time, the time when North Korea usually conducts tests like, reports of the KN- 17 land-based ballistic missile being fired and traveling several hundred miles, we don't know the exact distance yet.


We will get more intelligence as the U.S. and South Korea and Japan analyze the data that is coming in. But this missile landed in the waters off the Sea of Japan. It appears after some failures, this ninth launch attempt by Kim Jong-un is a success.

Of course, now the question, what will the U.N. Security Council do after that big meeting chaired by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? How will President Trump respond after his comments that a major, major conflict with North Korea could happen?

You have China worried that this situation could spiral out of control. They have indicated willingness to work with the Trump administration to try to use economic leverage to rein in Pyongyang. That could look like unilateral sanctions from China. They do a lot of trade with North Korea. They have already suspended coal imports from North Korea.

And China also controls a major oil pipeline into this country. This is just the early moments of what is going to be fast-moving developments here in this part of the world and we also expect an announcement on North Korea state TV at some point. They haven't announced it inside the country yet. We just informed our government contacts of the missile launch. They were not aware of it until we told them, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. I assume there will be a formal statement from North Korean regime at some point.

Will, a lot of people here in Washington they have feared for weeks now that North Korea also would have another nuclear test, their sixth nuclear test. That has not yet happened. What are the latest indications you're getting? Because that would really raise the alarm if the North Koreans were to do that.

RIPLEY: That really is the red line certainly for the United States and perhaps for China as well. We have seen a number of missile launches from North Korea's supreme leader.

He has launched more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. And indications have been for quite some time that the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri was primed and ready for the nation's sixth nuclear test.

Spy satellites observed personnel and equipment at the site, vehicles, indicating they could push the button on the launch at any moment. But the latest images being analyzed by U.S. intelligence have shown a switch at that site, new digging operations taking place, which had led the United States to believe that at this moment a sixth nuclear test is not imminent.

I asked a North Korean official a couple of days ago if they are bowing down because of international pressure, if they had dialed back the possibility of that nuclear test, realizing that they could face very grave consequences and certainly economic consequences from Beijing, which reportedly has warned Pyongyang not to conduct this sixth nuclear test because the test site is only a hundred kilometers from the Chinese border.

China, which for a long time has helped support this regime as a strategic buffer between South Korea and 28,000 U.S. troops in mainland China, they are now beginning to view North Korea as a national security threat for people them, given the fact these nuclear tests are happening so close to their own border that Chinese border residents have actually reportedly felt earthquakes because these explosions are getting bigger and stronger.

And so North Korean officials saying that they will conduct more nuclear tests, but they're not saying when they will do it. They say they will do it when they are ready, despite what China or the U.S. or the U.N. or anyone in the world thinks about it.

BLITZER: Will Ripley is the only Western television correspondent in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital right now. We will keep checking back with you, Will. Thanks so much for that report.

This new missile test by North Korea comes as the Trump administration is trying to ramp up the diplomatic and military pressure on the Kim Jong-un regime.

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, joining us from the United Nations right now.

Elise, the secretary of state warned U.N. members today that the threat from North Korea is both urgent and real.


And today North Korea really called Secretary Tillerson's bluff, because with each test, regardless of how successful it is, regardless of the range, North Korea learns more about missile technology and gets closer to what U.S. says is the worst-case scenario, a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile that could be fitted with a nuclear weapon that could reach the U.S. mainland.

And that's why Secretary Tillerson had a very stern warning for the world that it is time to act, because when it comes to the North Korean threat, time is not on their side.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Business as usual is not an option.

LABOTT (voice-over): With next racing towards a nuclear weapon that could reach the U.S., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his first speech before the United Nations said time is running out and the world must act.

TILLERSON: Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.

LABOTT: As leader Kim Jong-un supervised live fire drills, President Trump warned in an interview with Reuters:

TRUMP: There's a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea, absolutely.


LABOTT: But Tillerson called for a global diplomatic and financial squeeze on North Korea, cutting ties with the regime, tightening existing sanctions and imposing new ones, stopping the flow of guest workers who send money back home, and cutting trade and said if the world didn't step up, the U.S. would.

TILLERSON: Diplomatic and financial levers of power will be backed up by willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary.

LABOTT: The U.N. secretary-general said the -- quote -- "absence of communications channels with North Korea is dangerous."

Tillerson actually proposed direct talks with North Korea on ending its nuclear program, offering reassurance to Kim Jong-un.

TILLERSON: Our goal is not regime change, nor do we desire to threaten the North Korean people or destabilize the Asian-Pacific region.

LABOTT: But lobbed a direct threat to sanction countries who continue to do business with the regime, especially China.

TILLERSON: Accounting for 90 percent of North Korean trade, China alone has economic leverage over Pyongyang that is unique and its role is therefore particularly important.

LABOTT: But, today, the Chinese foreign minister said his country is not to blame.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): China is not a focal point of the problem on the peninsula. And the key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of China's side.


LABOTT: And China just one of the countries today that was really voicing concern about the escalation of rhetoric and the need to cool the temperature before there's a miscalculation.

And Secretary Tillerson essentially closed the meeting by scolding the council, saying that if the international community acted, implemented those sanctions and really got tough on North Korea, Wolf, there would not be the kind of tensions that we see today. Clearly, the U.S. is going to be putting pressure on the U.N. Security

Council, especially in light of this recent very provocative launch.

BLITZER: Certainly was.

Elise Labott at the United Nations for us, thanks very much.

Let's get more on all of this.

Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, is joining us.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: What do you think Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, is trying to achieve by this latest provocative move, the launch of this ballistic missile?

GALLEGO: Basically, he's trying to test the limits of what we are actually saying in our rhetoric.

And that's the danger of the Trump rhetoric right now. We should be focusing mostly on the diplomatic, as well as economic sanctions regime that we need to basically rein in North Korea. By increasing the rhetoric in terms of military approach that we are seeing from Secretary Tillerson, Department of Defense and Trump, it really only leads us into one direction.

And in that case, what you see is North Korea trying to see how far they can go. I think the best approach you can do right now is to really focus on trying to rein in North Korea, trying to give them an approach that ends with us not having a shooting war.

And basically that ends being either a diplomatic approach or economic sanctions that really affects them, specifically companies based in China that does business with North Korea.

BLITZER: Following urgings of President Trump, China has been stepping up its pressure on North Korea. So far at least, based on this latest ballistic missile test that just happened a couple hours or so ago, it doesn't seem to be working.

GALLEGO: We actually haven't gone to full throttles, I would say, about our economic sanctions.

As a matter of fact, even if we wanted to do that, we don't actually have the staff in place because of the efforts or, I should say nonefforts, of the Trump administration to appoint the proper people both in the Treasury Department and the secretary of state, to follow through on secondary sanctions, especially if we want to go after those companies that do, do business with North Korea.

This is why I think it is really important that the Trump administration really looks at this at a multipronged approach and really focus on diplomatic and economic sanctions before military actions, because once you go into military escalation, there really is no going back and there are just many consequences that we are going to have to feel for years if that occurs.

BLITZER: The fact that this ballistic missile was fired from land in North Korea and flew a few hundred miles and landed in the Sea of Japan, East Sea, as it is called, does that suggest to you it was a success? Could it still have been a failure?

The last time they launched a ballistic missile,it exploded within a few seconds after takeoff.

GALLEGO: The message that they're trying to say is not whether the ballistic missile is a success or not, the fact that they were willing to defy the United States and Trump administration and do it anyway under the threats that already been coming from President Trump.

So, I think their end result was more based as a symbolic level, which, again, the reason why we need to approach this is not just on the military approach in terms of escalation of words and rhetoric. We need to really hit this from an economic approach and making sure they start really feeling the pinch.

I see China as doing the best they can, but there are a lot of other companies that do both work with China and North Korea that we could really make them have to make some hard decisions and in the end really put some pressure on North Korea.


BLITZER: As we are speaking, I'm getting some new information from Ryan Browne, our Pentagon reporter, saying there is a new assessment now coming in from U.S. military officials.

And let me be precise and let you know what he is reporting. The latest assessment by U.S. military now says the missile was fired toward the Sea of Japan, but did not land in the Sea of Japan, this according to a U.S. official. The missile blew up over land. The official added that it was a -- quote -- "failure." The main part of the missile landing approximately 35 kilometers from the launching point at the Pukchang airfield.

This is new reporting from the U.S. military replacing the earlier assessment that the missile actually flew several hundred miles and landed in the Sea of Japan.

If it was a failure, that's encouraging. But all military analysts -- and you served in the U.S. military in Iraq -- know that even a failure, you learn from that failure.

GALLEGO: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: You pick up significant information.

GALLEGO: You pick significant information, significant data, things they're going to be able to use later. And again I think this is also a symbolic and diplomatic -- not diplomatic -- but it's a symbolic shoot basically to tell the United States that they were not going to be cowed, which, again, is very dangerous at this point.

It means that we're escalating to a point that I think is going to go beyond the brink. And we should really start heavily looking at economic sanctions, heavy economic sanctions. My biggest concern is that again the Trump administration has not staffed the Department of State or the Treasury Department to actually effectively bring in those sanctions.

BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. We are getting more information. We need to take a quick break. We will resume all of the breaking news coverage right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with House Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego.

We're following the breaking news, a U.S. official now confirming to CNN that North Korea just test-fired another ballistic missile and that it exploded in fight.

Congressman, I want you to stand by.

I want to go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, first of all, any reaction from the White House to this latest provocation from the Kim Jong-un regime?


We're awaiting a statement. A White House official tells us there will be a statement coming shortly, but the president was asked about this as he arrived back here at White House from the trip down to Atlanta where he gave that speech at the National Rifle Association.

He was asked a number of times by reporters who were shouting questions, and he simply did not respond, likely went back inside the White House to huddle with advisers in order to put out this statement.

But, obviously, Wolf, this is something that this White House will respond to. The last missile test that was conducted by North Korea was also greeted with a bit of relief over here at the White House, in it was a failed test. And so we might see similar statements from the White House to that effect shortly.

BLITZER: Jim, the president answered new questions about the vetting of his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and he pointed a finger directly at the Obama administration. Tell us what he said.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. That's been the talking point over here at the White House over the last 48 hours.

First, it was the White House secretary and now it's the president who is blaming the Obama administration for the vetting of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Here is what the president told FOX News in an interview earlier today. Here is what he had to say.


TRUMP: I do feel badly for him. He served the country. He was a general.

But, just remember, he was approved by the Obama administration at the highest level. And when they say we didn't vet, well, Obama, I guess, didn't vet because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration.


ACOSTA: Now, of course, what the president has not mentioned and what the White House press secretary hasn't mentioned, Wolf, is the fact that President Obama fired General Flynn from his role as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. So, yes, he did pass a security clearance during the Obama administration, but he was also fired by that administration, too, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim, the president now on the brink tomorrow of his 100th day in office, he sounded though very much like a presidential candidate today. Tell us what happened.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.

As he is about to hit 100 days, he sounds as if he is campaigning for four more years and despite a rocky first few months in office the president is showing no signs of shifting to a more inclusive tone. Consider how he sounded earlier today at that speech to the National Rifle Association as he recounted his election night victory last November.

The president seemed to be reveling in defying his critics and he blasted the news media for predicting he would lose to Hillary Clinton. Here is what he had to say.


TRUMP: Remember those saying we have breaking news, Donald Trump has won the state of Michigan.

They go Michigan, how did -- Donald Trump has won the state of Wisconsin. Whoa. But earlier in the evening, remember, Florida. North Carolina. South Carolina. Pennsylvania. All the way up.

We ran up the East Coast. And you know, the Republicans have a tremendous disadvantage in the Electoral College. You know that. Tremendous disadvantage.

And to run the whole East Coast, and then you go with Iowa and Ohio and all of the different states, it was a great evening, one that a lot of people will never forget. A lot of people. Not going to forget that evening.

And remember they said there is no path to 270. For months, I was hearing that. You know, they tried to suppress the vote. So they keep saying it so people say I really like Trump. He loves the Second Amendment, he loves the NRA, I love him, but let's go to the movie because he can't win, because they are trying to suppress the vote.


But they say, I mean, hundreds of times, I heard, there is no route. They would say, there's no route to 270 and we ended up with 306. So they were right, not 270, 306.


ACOSTA: Now, we should point out in just the last couple of minutes, Wolf, we did receive a statement from the White House, from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on the North Korean missile test.

It is very brief, Wolf. This is not really going to reveal a whole lot. But it says: "The administration is aware of the most recent missile test and the president has been briefed." According to an official I just heard back from a few moments ago, that briefing occurred on Air Force One.

And so obviously they are being a bit hesitant to say too much in this sort of statement. We did hear from the secretary of state not too long ago who said they weren't going to be putting out statements every time there were one of these things, because obviously they don't want to play into Kim Jong-un's hands and reward him for every provocation.

But the White House at least wanted to acknowledge that, yes, the president's been briefed. He was briefed on Air Force One and they are monitoring the situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, with the latest. You're getting more over there at the White House. We will come back to you right away.

We are back with Congressman Ruben Gallego, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq as well.

Let me get your thoughts. When the president of the United States blames the Obama administration for failing to appropriately vet his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, what's your reaction to that?

GALLEGO: Well, it just further proves why his poll numbers are just so in the tank. He is not acting as a president. He's not acting as leader.

Whatever happened to the buck stops here? This is the Harry Truman basically embodied what a real leader is like, instead of just blaming other people. Obviously, we know what happened with the Obama administration. They fired him because he was erratic and an uncontrollable general.

And a lot of the actions that he partook after being fired are what actually stopped him from...


BLITZER: You have gone through security clearances.

GALLEGO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You have top-secret. I assumed you have that when you were in the Marine Corps and certainly as member of Congress, a member of the Armed Services Committee.

GALLEGO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: He was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Flynn, in 2014. In 2015, he goes to Moscow. It's a trip paid for by R.T., Russian television, a propaganda arm of the Russian government.

GALLEGO: Under the Putin administration.

BLITZER: In 2016, though, he gets his top-secret credentials recertified, I assume by U.S. Army, he was a retired general of the Army, and the State Department, I assume at least the U.S. Army.

But that was during the Obama administration. That's why they are blaming the Obama administration for requalifying him for that top- secret level.

GALLEGO: And, look, we should look into that.

But part of the reason why we should have share a full discussion is that the Trump administration should actually share with the Intelligence Committee the paperwork that he turned in to be vetted, which they are refusing at this point.

We don't know what he actually spoke to when he was going through a security clearance. And this is why it is extremely important that the Trump administration work with both the House Democrats and Senate Republicans in a bipartisan manner in general to actually come forward and tell us what General Flynn was, you know, being forthright with or not.

But at the end of the day, you're the president. You are the administration. There is a reason why this man was fired, and the fact that you hired him without being vetted -- without proper vetting, it is the responsibility of the Trump administration. And they should just be adults about it and admit it.

BLITZER: Congressman Gallego, thanks very much for joining us.

GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Up next, we're going to follow the breaking news, a North Korean missile launch now confirmed by U.S. officials. So, how will President Trump respond?


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: We're back with the breaking news. The US Pacific Command now confirming a ballistic missile was just test fired by North Korea. A US official tells us it exploded in flight. The White House says President Trump has been briefed.

Let's go back to Pyongyang and North Korea. Our CNN correspondent Will Ripley is standing by. Has there been any official reaction yet from the North Korean regime, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, we called our government contacts and alerted them about this, what now the US believes was a failed missile launch. They were not aware of it.

And given this new information from the United States, initially they told us that it flew for 15 minutes and blew up over the waters off the Japanese coast. Now, they're saying that it blew up shortly after launch on North Korean territory, so it never left North Korean territory.

This will not be acknowledged at all by North Korea. They will not announce this. They don't talk about failures in this country. They only talk about their successful missile tests, and so don't expect to get any response at all from North Korea as a result of this.

When these types of things happen, we are getting information that's coming in really in real time. This is a secretive regime. They do not announce these tests ahead of time, and so it's not unusual to see conflicting information from different government agencies until all of the intelligence gets together.

They do have some semblance of information sharing between Japan, United States and South Korea. They look at the data and that's how they figure out exactly what happened.

In this case, this is believed to be a KN-17. We saw these rolled out at the military parade on April 15. They're a SCUD missile variant. They're believed to be a SCUD missile variant. They have kind of a pointy tip. And they are on those mobile launchers.

[18:35:11] Now, what is significant about this particular type of missile? One, North Korea has had trouble with their tests of this missile. They're still trying to perfect it because they had a couple of other KN-17 launches that have failed as well, in addition to this latest launch this morning around 5:30 a.m. Pyongyang time.

However, this type of missile could be used as an anti-carrier missile. So, the test of this, given the fact that the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group is approaching the waters off the Korean Peninsula is certainly North Korea trying to send a message to the United States that they are trying to develop these missiles that could be fired at US warships, which are stationed off the waters of the Korean Peninsula.

So, a missile test failure. Also, important to note, Wolf, North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and his rocket scientists are not deterred by failures. They still gain valuable data each time there's a missile test failure and they use that to try to perfect it and they try again. We've seen that over and over. And so, don't expect this to be the last missile launch from North Korea.

And because it was a failure, we're going to probably not see a severe response from the United States, given what the Trump administration said after the last failed launch in April 16, when they said they didn't really want to pay too much attention. They said if North Korea put in the energy into a missile launch that failed, they're going to continue pushing for, trying to pressure the international community, diplomatic isolation, economic penalties, China indicating a willingness to do that.

The real red line here is the nuclear test. And now that there's been another failed missile launch, could a nuclear test happen? Certainly, it's a likely possibility at some point, Wolf.

BLITZER: We've got a statement from the South Korean military, Will. A statement in Seoul saying that North Korea fired an unidentified missile in the northeastern direction at around 5:30 a.m. local time from a site in the vicinity of the Pukchang province.

It is believed - the South Korea statement says it is believed to have been a failure. We are analyzing additional information. The South Korean statement goes on to say this.

"Our military is maintaining a thorough defense posture, while keeping a close eye on the possibility of North Korea's further provocations. We're going to check back with you, Will. I know you're getting more information there. Exclusive reporting for us. Will is the only Western television correspondent in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital right now. We'll get back to you shortly.

In the meantime, I want to bring in our national security and political experts. And John Kirby, let me get your analysis of what has just happened here.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, as I said earlier, this is Kim giving us the finger, giving China the finger, giving the UN a finger after what happened. There's no question about that. I think the timing is absolutely planned and preordained in his mind.

Now, as for the missile itself, I don't believe there's any such thing as a failure for him. Clearly, this one didn't go very far. Probably didn't do what he wanted it to do. If it was truly a medium-range missile, it should have gone a lot longer than that. But he learns from every single attempt and he gets knowledge and he

gets intel. And he takes those lessons learned and he just turns them right over into the next one. So, there's no such thing as failure.

I think we've got to continue to watch this very closely.

BLITZER: I get it. It follows the president's statement in that Reuters interview, "there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea." Absolutely, that's President Trump.

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's no question. And I was in Asia with the vice president last week on the DMZ in South Korea and in Japan. And the jitters there have been very real for, look, 64 years, but even more so since the last 25, since North Korea really starting in earnest to build up its weapons program and try to get a nuclear missile.

And the fact of the matter is that the combination of these tests, which I think you would probably - you can correct me if I'm wrong, it's not unexpected given the fact that they said that Kim likes to do this around the anniversary of his grandfather's birth and then up till another holiday at the end of this month.

But that combined with words like President Trump gave in that interview and the fact that now they have confirmed that submarines have been sent towards the peninsula, that USS Carl Vinson which was announced it was going, but really wasn't, now I think it really is going towards the region, it really has people on edge there.

And therefore - and we're talking about major allies and also with 30,000 US troops in the region.

BLITZER: If you can clarify something and there seems to be some confusion on the part of the Trump administration. When you interviewed the Vice President Mike Pence and you were with him along the Demilitarized Zone, he said the US was not going to enter into a direct dialogue with North Korea.

But Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, now says the US might enter into a direct dialogue with the North Korean regime. What is it?

[18:40:01] BASH: I'm not sure, but they're very, very different answers. You're right. I asked the vice president very specifically, very directly, if the new approach would at all entail bilateral negotiations with North Koreans. And his answer was explicitly no. And that was very different from what we heard from the Secretary of State.

Now, could it be that their position and their approach changeed in the past week? Possibly. Or could it be more that they're still trying to develop it and unfortunately came out with very different messaging?

BLITZER: Bianna, what do you think of this? Bianna Golodryga, "Yahoo! News" and Finance Anchor: Well, the president is right that he's trying to engage with China, and perhaps China has sort of entered the fray as well. What's concerning is whether or not the administration is doing that at the expense of South Korea because South Korea, obviously, very diplomatically challenged right now, given the internal dynamics that they're having politically at home.

And the pressure - that we heard from that same Reuters interview from the president - that he was putting on South Korea saying that they're going to be paying for this missile defense program where, in fact, that arrangement was made with the US paying for it doesn't help the situation either.

It's not the first time we've heard sort of contradictory statements coming in from the Trump administration.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: On Syria. Nikki Haley versus Rex Tillerson. Same thing. You'd like to say it's creative conflict that winds up in the best solution. I don't know if we can say that.

The thing I would say is in that same Reuters interview you cited, Wolf, Donald Trump said, this is harder than I thought. It's complex. This is an example of the complexity that he's dealing with.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second. I'm going to play that clip, so people can hear what he said about just how hard it is being president of the United States.


DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I loved my previous life. I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. I actually - this is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a - I'm a details oriented person, I think you would say that. But I do miss my old life.

I like to work, so that's not a problem, but this is actually more work.


BLITZER: You were making am important point.

CILLIZZA: Yes, it is more work. I think most of us who have spent any time in politics and policy in this town, I don't want to say roll your eyes, but you think holy cow, how can you not know that being president of the United States is a difficult - maybe the most difficult job in the country.

I think for him, I think he thought, like many businessmen do who run for office all the time as their first run in things, that, 'oh, well, how hard can it be? I've run a business. I'll run it just like a business.' The truth of the matter is significantly more complex and, as we've learned, you don't just snap your fingers and tell the House to pass healthcare. You don't just snap your fingers and tell China to do more with North Korea.

There are complicated actors both in this country, in the world that he just, I think, is beginning to grasp. And the reality is, these situations don't wait until he gets read into them, right? They continue to develop and grow more complex and he has to sort of play catch up there.

BLITZER: You were the former spokesman at the State Department. They want a diplomatic solution, but now there's word they want to cut maybe 2,500 jobs over at the State Department, 9 percent or 10 percent of the employees at the State Department. Your reaction?

KIRBY: Well, put aside for the fact that they aren't really relying on the State Department for much right now and diplomacy doesn't seem to be taking a front seat in the car of foreign diplomacy here, look, every administration comes in and wanted to cut that, and I'm not going to tell you that there is in fact - they can be cut at the State Department or at the Pentagon. There is. But you've got to do it carefully and it matters more not the numbers, but where you're taking the cuts and who you're going to eliminate.

And what I'm not hearing from friends of mine at the State Department is that Mr. Tillerson has done a good job sort of laying out what his strategy is and how he's going to do that. And so, there's a lot of nervous people there.

BLITZER: What are you hearing, Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Well, look at what the optics are here. We have unfilled jobs and we need them more than ever. We have a president saying I didn't know how hard this was going to be, my life was much easier.

I say this in half-jest, but that's something that Kim Jong-un would say, given how he came into power. His father died. He probably did have a better life when his father was in office. That's not how someone who is elected to the toughest job and the most powerful job, enjoying what he did while he was running on it, I can understand what he's trying to say, what he was saying along the campaign trail, meaning I don't have to do this, I'm doing this because I wanted for the sake of the country.

At the time, though, when we're talking about missile defense systems and we're talking of ballistic bombs going off and we're having allies in the region not knowing what they can expect out of the United States, it's not a time to be -


BLITZER: Bianna, it's fascinating for those of us who are political junkies. At his NRA - his National Rifle Association speech today, he's talking about the electoral college, talking about hi big win on November 8. During the course of that interview with those three Reuters White House correspondents, he hands them each a map, showing his electoral college win, going back to November 8. You're smiling.

BASH: Because, of course, he did. And I think he's going to do that until he can't speak anymore or until he can't remember anymore.

[18:45:04] It's who he is. He has always been even and especially when he was in the private sector, somebody who liked to boast about his properties and about his ratings when he was reality TV. This is about as good as it gets when you are talking about things to boast about, winning presidency of the United States. And it's part of his personality that is never going to change, unless maybe he does better, you know, in something else and then that will be the thing to hand reporters.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Just to add to Dana's comment about the arc of his life as it relates to this, he is always someone who felt like he was on the outside looking in, right? His dad was a big developer in Queens, never went into Manhattan. He goes in Manhattan, he's not accepted by the sort of old money in Manhattan.

He goes to the White House correspondents dinner in 2011, he is mocked by Seth Meyers and President Obama, outside of the political world.

This is the greatest example Donald Trump will ever have of "see, they all said I couldn't do it and I broke into their club and now I run their club." So, he will cite this because it is a fundamental core thing from the time he was 18 years old and the time he is 70 now, that motivates him. It's what drives him, prove these people wrong, show them all they don't know better.

And November 8th was them, they don't know better moment for him. So, I think he will say it right up you until Election Day 2020.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So, Bianna, so we shouldn't be surprised?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, I said this before on your show. People keep expecting him to change and becoming more presidential, this is who he is. He is 70 years old. I don't know why anyone would think, all of a sudden, he's going to change who he is and how he speaks and the bombastic language he uses on a daily basis.

I think what is alarming, though, is when you have concerns about our closest allies not knowing what to expect and if they can trust their closest and most powerful ally, and that's the U.S.

BLITZER: You've been around presidents, you briefed presidents over the years when you served at Pentagon, the State Department, it's not easy being president of the United States.

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: No, it's not. This is what we call in the Navy, steering by the wake instead of the bow. You you're looking aft instead of where you're going. And I keep reminded of something John Kennedy said, and I'm

paraphrasing it, but he said -- speaking of nuclear war and the potential conflict, which we are facing with North Korea, he said the fruits of victory don't taste like ashes in our mouths. And I think that that's something that they all need to be thinking over there.

BLITZER: What he said in that "Reuters" interview, I'm curious to get all of your reaction. He said, this is the president, President Trump, he said about ISIS, he said, quote, "There is an end and it has to be humiliation." What did that mean to you?

KIRBY: To ISIS, look, I don't know what they mean by humiliation. I hope that what he is talking about is destruction of their ideology and their narrative because a lot of their success comes from propaganda, from inspiring fighters whether they are there in Iraq and Syria or across Europe and the West.

So, maybe he is talking about that. But, look, this is a terrorist group like none we've ever seen before. They're almost quasi military. Now, they are a lot less than two years ago, but they still have some of those capabilities and that's what military lever is being used against and that's what they've got to keep doing. They got to destroy their capability to --

BLITZER: Despite all of the efforts we have heard the past 2, 2 1/2 years. ISIS is still control of Raqqa, their caliphate headquarters, their capital, and they're still in control of Mosul. At least most of it, the second largest city in Iraq.

BASH: That's right, a lot of effort. And at the end of the Obama administration, they were hoping, hoping, hoping that that would change, that that would be something that the president and his team could crow about. That they would finally, you know, hand in hand with the Iraqi army, be able to change that. They were very close, but didn't get there.

GOLODRYGA: He is a man who likes to declare victory. As we have come to figure out when it comes to battling ISIS and not an actual army, it is much harder to declare victory in the battle and this is something he ran on. He ran on it hard for a year and half, fighting and eliminating ISIS.


CILLIZZA: It is indicative of the hundred days I think, action, activity, rhetoric, with accomplishments, result, strategy much vaguer. Say it. What is humiliation? What does that mean? How are we going to prosecute that?

In the campaign trail, that's not really a follow-up that yes, because you're not president yet. When you're president, you have to figure it out. I feel like the first hundred days, you have seen him be best when he is candidate Trump. But he is now president.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. Don't go too far way.

More on breaking news involving North Korea and its ballistic missile tests. That's coming up.


[18:53:55] BLITZER: With hours-to-go before President Trump's 100th day in the White House, we've heard him musing about the difficulty of the job and how he misses his own life. Has he been changed by the highest office in the land? The answer is probably yes and no.

Let's get more from our chief political correspondent Dana Bash.


BASH (voice-over): Candidate Trump's prediction about what President Trump would be like.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to be so presidential that you people will be so bored.

BASH: One hundred days in, no one is bored.

TRUMP: And I want to pray for Arnold if we can for those ratings, OK?

BASH: And if this former reality TV star was traditionally presidential, he would never say this about his U.N. ambassador.

TRUMP: Does everybody like Nikki? Because if you don't -- otherwise, she can be easily replaced. No, we won't do it. I promise. We won't do it.

BASH: When it comes to personality, Donald Trump the president, he's the same guy he's always been and his supporters wouldn't have it any other way.

KEN BLACKWELL, FORMER TRUMP TRANSITION ADVISER: What's refreshing about the president is that he's hard charging.

[18:55:05] And I don't -- I don't want to change -- I don't want to change that.

BASH: Still, some Trumpian behavior is even more jarring coming from inside the White House, going after judges as a candidate is one thing.

TRUMP: But I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater.

BASH: It's another to do it as president. Repeatedly lashing out on Twitter against federal judges who rule against his executive orders referring to one as a "so-called judge."

Still, the magnitude of the office has changed Donald Trump in some ways. The vice president told us it was obvious from the first time he walked into the Oval Office.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He sat behind that desk and I could just tell from the look on his face how moved he was and the privilege that we feel, both of us, to serve our country at such a time as this.

BASH: Which is probably why the political novice is changing some of his decisions as he gets a high-stakes on-the-job education, especially on foreign policy. During the campaign --

TRUMP: NATO is obsolete.

BASH: Now --

TRUMP: I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.

BASH: Candidate Trump --

TRUMP: China which has been ripping us off, the greatest abuser in the history of this country.

BASH: And Trump as president.

TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding.

BASH: Trump changing position should be no surprise to anyone. After all, before he ran as an anti-abortion anti-Obamacare Republican, he had supported abortion rights and a universal health care system, which is why leading conservatives say they're relieved the president has followed through on things like allowing states to deny funding to Planned Parenthood.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CNS NEWS.COM: I wasn't sure quite frankly that candidate Trump really believed the things he was saying. I wasn't sure, particularly on the pro-life issue and on other issues. I think me came into office and did the things he did immediately, that he made it clear he was serious about these things.

BASH: But while he may have been serious about not being the world's policeman, he changed his mind as commander-in-chief, authorizing military strikes against Syria.

What do you say to voters back home who say, wait a minute, this is not what I signed up for?

PENCE: I'd say to voters that President Trump is a man of his word. Now, there are some that would like to see a greater American involvement in the Syrian conflict. But the president's made it clear. We had a -- we had a response to that horrific attack that was measured. It was focused.

BASH: So, how much more change could we see? An introspective Trump answered that himself.

TRUMP: I like to think of myself as a very flexible person. I don't have to have one specific way and if the world changes, I go the same way. I don't change. Well, I do change.


BLITZER: Well, let's bring back our chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

So, looking forward, Dana, do you sense the more he settles in, the less change we're about to see?

BASH: You know, possibly, but I have to say. Look -- I'm sure you feel this way as well, Wolf -- after covering him, Donald Trump the politician almost two years now, we've come to expect the unexpected, come to expect the unconventional and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Do you?

BLITZER: No, I think that he is who he is. But he also seems to listen to people and the last person who has his ear very often has a significant influence on him.

BASH: Sometimes. I've been told that it's not so much the last person, but it is the person who comes up with the most compelling argument, meaning he is, as he just said in that clip, he's very open to changing, particularly on issues of foreign policy that he's not familiar with, or wasn't before he became president. But it's not necessarily the person who he talks to last, which is true, I think, of other presidents and other leaders.

Bill Clinton was famously like that. Newt Gingrich when he was speaker, but with him, who makes the most cogent argument and even if it's something that is different from what he came in thinking, he's open to changes.

BLITZER: Because I've noticed, he's not really an ideologue.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: He's willing to change his views. As you pointed out in your piece, on a whole host of issues.

BASH: Absolutely.

Look, he is and always has been somebody who wants to get a deal, wants to get a win and he is willing to change the goal posts, frankly, in terms of making that win happen and making that deal happen. And from that perspective, he's very different from a lot of Republicans who have run, particularly in the House, who -- many of them are more ideologues.

He is not. He is much more pragmatic. Much more focused on kind of -- you know, the art of the deal.

BLITZER: He's certainly is.

All right. Dana, good reporting as usual.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, of President Trump's first 100 days. We'll be live tomorrow, Saturday, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.