Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
States Fighting Back Against Trump Vote Commission; Putin to Meet With Trump; North Korea Nuclear Fears; Growing Opposition to Trump's Voter Fraud Panel. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 5, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley demands action and warns that the U.S. will use military force if necessary.
Face to face? President Trump arrives in Europe ahead of his upcoming first meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. But the cloud of Russian election meddling is straining relations, along with the wars in Ukraine and Syria. Will the president stand up to Putin?
Pulling back. President Trump renews threats to retreat from existing trade deals that he says do not benefit the U.S. Now China and Mexico are talking about a trade deal of their own, as Germany's leader criticizes Trump's trade policies. Will he be isolated at the G20 summit?
And states of defiance. Opposition to the president's voter fraud commission is growing, with more states rejecting requests for voter information. And, tonight, there is more backlash, a lawsuit in federal court.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: We are following breaking news.
An emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in response to North Korea's latest missile test, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley demanding tougher sanctions against North Korea, and she had pointed words for the Russian ambassador, saying a vote against sanctions means -- quote -- "You are holding the hands of Kim Jong-un."
Tonight, we are learning new details of the missile. U.S. officials tell CNN the two-stage rocket will be classified by U.S. intelligence as a brand-new weapon that has not been seen before. President Trump will have the chance to discuss North Korea directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet at the G20 summit in Germany on Friday.
The president just arrived at his first stop, Warsaw, where he will give a speech tomorrow. White House officials say that he will outline his vision of transatlantic ties.
Covering all that with our guests, including former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden Jake Sullivan, and correspondents and specialists also standing by.
But let's get straight to the breaking news, President Trump arriving at his first stop on his high-stakes Europe trip.
CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, he is traveling with the president. He joins us now live from the Polish capital.
Jim, on that flight over, did the president, did his advisers address North Korea?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, just briefly.
Just before landing here in Warsaw, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that President Trump and top White House officials spent part of this flight working on his speech to the Polish people tomorrow.
Asked what the next steps are on North Korea, Sanders said, as the White House often said, that the president does not want to telegraph his next moves. We also asked Sanders about his tweet from the president earlier today on North Korea and China. We can put it up on screen.
It says: "Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 percent in the first quarter. So much for China working with us, but we had to give it a try."
Now, that seemed to be an indication that the president may be giving up on China's help with North Korea. When asked whether that was the case, Sarah Sanders simply did not have anything to offer to us. We hope to hear more from the president on this issue tomorrow, Jim. He is scheduled to deliver joint statements with the president of Poland, but there is some uncertainty over whether he will take questions.
As you recall, during the president's first foreign trip, he did not hold a news conference and officials with the Polish president say, yes, they are taking questions tomorrow, but the White House, Jim, says they are still working those details out -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Of course, enormous attention focused on the president's first meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Did White House officials give you any indication as to what his priorities will be in that meeting, what he will address, what he will offer, et cetera?
ACOSTA: Not much, Jim.
I have to tell you, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she was asked about that as well, but she did not want to get ahead of their meeting set for Friday. Of course, the big question, Jim, is whether the president will bring up Russian meddling in last year's election. I asked Sanders myself whether the president would in fact confront Vladimir Putin on this issue. She did not offer us any answer on that front.
But we should point out another thing we're going to be watching tomorrow here in Poland, Jim, as you know, this is a NATO partner. During that last foreign trip, the president did not offer a stout defense of Article 5 that says an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all. A lot of people in Poland will be watching that very closely to see if the president does that tomorrow, because, after all, Poland does pay its fair share of its GDP into the NATO coffers, Jim.
SCIUTTO: And right on the front lines, you could say, in the standoff with Russia.
CNN's Jim Acosta in Warsaw, thanks very much.
Let's get more now on the emergency Security Council meeting on North Korea.
CNN senior diplomatic reporter Michelle Kosinski working the story for us from the State Department.
Michelle, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley had strong words not just for North Korea, but for China as well.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and this is the U.S. calling this special session, wanting to send a strong message of rebuke to North Korea, but also beyond that, a rebuke and warning to any country that continues to do business with North Korea, especially China.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen the U.S. increasingly criticize China's role here, using words like complicit and aiding and abetting. But with this problem that has only been getting worse and nothing is working, you also kind of run out of ways of saying essentially the same thing.
And today Nikki Haley told the Security Council that now the world is on notice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: There are countries that are allowing, even encouraging, trade with North Korea, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Such countries would also like to continue their trade -- such countries would also like to continue their trade arrangements with the United States. That's not going to happen.
Our attitude on trade changes when countries do not take international security threats seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: It's interesting to see in there today Russia and China aligned in their view, saying that dialogue has to come first, even without preconditions, which the U.S. has been against, saying that you need to be creative in diplomacy, that they're against the kind of rhetoric and stance that the U.S. has put out there.
But, in response, Nikki Haley said, well, nothing has been working and that's why it's time to do more, and that if you're going to sit there and not vote for additional sanctions against North Korea, then you're holding hands with Kim Jong-un, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Now, Ambassador Haley said, as U.S. officials have said for years, that military options remain on the table. How important is that threat?
KOSINSKI: Yes, well, she said that the U.S. is prepared and willing to take its own path if necessary. It's unknown how close the U.S. is to doing something like that, but she made her words very clear today. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: The United States is prepared to use the full range of our capabilities to defend ourselves and our allies. One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must. But we prefer not to have to go in that direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: So, what we're likely to see in the near term is more U.S. military presence in the region, more sanctions, more countries doing more to tighten the screws on trade. And the U.S. has also been urging other countries to limit their diplomatic engagement with North Korea -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: CNN's Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thanks very much.
We are also learning more new details, exactly about what we know about that missile launched by North Korea.
CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has more.
Barbara, you're picking up more information from your sources, but I imagine they keep analyzing intelligence for what they can learn about this missile launch.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They are continuing to look, Jim, at all the data they can gather about it, and they are beginning to come to some conclusions about the threat this North Korean missile may pose to all of us.
STARR (voice-over): Dueling North Korean videos, first, North Korea showing the world its new intercontinental ballistic missile, then hours later, a U.S. and South Korean show of force, holding a drill, firing missiles that could destroy North Korean targets. The Pentagon warning even the test of the North Korean missile poses
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This missile flew through busy airspace used by commercial airliners. It flew through space. It landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone in an area that is used by commercial and fishing vessels, all of this completely uncoordinated.
STARR: There is an internal debate within U.S. and allied circles about whether this never-before-seen missile really shows a North Korean capability to hit a target 3,400 miles away, the definition of intercontinental range.
The current calculation is it's right on the edge of being able to go that far, but would need extensive improvements, exactly what Defense Secretary James Mattis recently said would not be allowed.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Is it the policy of the Trump administration to deny North Korea the capability of building an ICBM that can hit the American homeland with a nuclear weapon on top? Is that the policy?
JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes, it is, Senator Graham.
STARR: U.S. commanders have updated options for President Trump for a rapid military response to North Korean provocations, a likelihood that had Russia's foreign minister issuing a blunt warning.
SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): For Russia and China, it is absolutely clear that any attempts to justify the military solution using the Security Council resolution as a pretext are not acceptable.
STARR: Meanwhile, South Korea showing its own graphic video simulating a response to a North Korean attack, which experts believe is a strong possibility if the U.S. were to strike.
BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Some have advocated that there be a military strike to prevent North Korea from completing development of an ICBM, but that kind of strike would escalate the likelihood, or at least the potential, of an all-out war on the peninsula.
STARR: And, as always, the idea of being able to strike all of North Korea's weapons sites before they could strike back at South Korea, take out the North Korean threat, that remains very problematic -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes, by design spread around the country.
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, thanks very much.
Let's get more on this with Jake Sullivan. He served as senior adviser to both Hillary Clinton and to Joseph Biden.
Thanks, Jake, for joining us today.
JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: Thanks for having me.
SCIUTTO: I wonder, a series of presidents, Democrat and Republican, said, we will not allow North Korea to get a nuclear-tipped missile. But here we are today, it appears that this is an ICBM. Whether it's a tested capability to deliver a nuclear device is another question.
But have we gotten close to that point to the point where it's effectively a reality?
SULLIVAN: We have gotten close, but we're not there yet.
They have now crossed the threshold of what the experts define as being an ICBM. They can fly the missile more than 3,400 miles. But what they haven't done is shown either that they can put a miniaturized nuclear weapon on top of it or that they can master the reentry vehicle or the targeting to make it an effective weapon.
So, there is still work for the North Koreans to do. But what we saw yesterday was a big leap forward for North Korea and one that should certainly make us all sit up and take notice, because it means they are moving faster than I think a lot of people anticipated towards that capability.
SCIUTTO: So, what's to stop them from -- they have taken all of the previous steps to, despite a mix of sanctions and public rebuke and statements at the U.N. Security Council, et cetera.
What's to stop them from taking the next step, the final step, in effect, knowing from their point of view they view this as a matter of survival?
SULLIVAN: You know, it's a very difficult question. It's a question that has bedeviled Republican and Democratic administrations alike.
Each new president comes in, and basically says, the last guy didn't do a very good job on this, I'm going to do a better job. And then they discover pretty quickly, as the Trump administration is now discovering, that the options are limited and the options aren't good.
So, the military option in particular poses all kinds of risks even if we knew what we were trying to take out, which we don't.
SCIUTTO: It's been interesting to see Donald Trump's rhetoric change from we're going to work with China to some very strong words from Nikki Haley on the floor of the U.N. Security Council today in effect threatening if not a trade war, some sort of trade response to China if it doesn't stop trading with North Korea.
Is that a useful strategy to sort of take -- you know, focus your attention on China here? SULLIVAN: If you take what Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United
Nations, said literally, what she said was we might cut off all of our trade with China because they trade with North Korea. I think that that is not a sensible strategy.
SCIUTTO: The U.S. economy would go hurdling down the hill.
SULLIVAN: Right, and the impact on middle-class Americans would be dramatic and it would likely be counterproductive.
So, I hope what she actually meant was that we should explore what are called secondary sanctions, which are sanctions imposed on specific entities, on banks or financial institutions or businesses in China that do business with North Korea. That is something that we should take another and harder look at going beyond what the Trump administration's already done.
SCIUTTO: For the sake of our viewers, I just want to show the percentage of U.S. trade imports, I should say, from China, 19 percent of U.S. imports from China. We just think about where you see that. You see it in clothes, you see it in electronics, et cetera. So, you're really talking about steps far short of a full cutoff or a trade war, right?
SULLIVAN: Look, the language she used was broad and expansive. We will find out in the coming days whether she really meant to go that far, or whether she was suggesting something more conventional like secondary sanctions.
I hope it's the latter, because what we need to do is focus like a laser beam on the actual entities that are supplying the North the currency and economic growth, not cut off all trade that could end up throwing our country into a depression. So, we want to avoid that.
SCIUTTO: Donald Trump has been in office less than half-a-year at this point. The Obama administration was in power for eight years. How much responsibility, certainly more than the Trump administration, for where we are today, but how much of a responsibility do you believe the Obama administration should accept for where we are today with North Korea?
SULLIVAN: Well, I think that the question in some ways is the wrong question, because you had the Clinton administration, then the Bush administration, then the Obama administration, then the Trump administration. All of them faced the same bad set of choices and all of them grappled with it as best they could.
And all along through each of those administrations, North Korea moved forward. That was true under Obama. It's been true under Trump. And, so, I think the fair thing for the president to stand up and do is level with the American people and say, this is tough, this is hard, and not just try to blame the guy who came before, which, you know, there is a real temptation to do.
SCIUTTO: But let's set aside blame for a moment. The question is what works, because a series of Republican and Democratic presidents have tried this kind of same mix of incentives we're talking about here, saying military options on the table even though in reality they're not really because of the cost, pressuring China, trade, sanctions, et cetera, the offer of negotiations.
Why would that combination work today if it didn't work for Obama or Bush or Clinton before?
SULLIVAN: Well, there are a couple of factors that are different today than before.
One is what we started this conversation talking about. North Korea is creeping up to the line of having the capability to strike the continental United States. That means the United States' capability to look China in the eye and say, the consequences of what will happen to your interests in the region if that eventuality occurs are dramatic and not in your interest.
So, their incentive to work with us should go up. I don't think that Trump should give up on China at this point, but I do think he should be prepared to toe a tougher line with them.
SCIUTTO: South Korea wants negotiations. You were part of the team that engineered negotiations with another budding nuclear power, Iran. Do you see negotiations as a path forward with North Korea?
SULLIVAN: I think that going back to the table with the right mix of pressure and engagement is a sensible thing to do, but we can't just revive old deals that North Korea has already broken, and we can't just run the same playbook over.
What we need to do is make sure it's not just the United States sitting down at the table and trading with North Korea, but that the Chinese are at the table, too.
The Chinese like to say, you guys all work it out. It's time for them to participate, not just on the pressure side, but on the diplomacy side as well. I think if we tried something like that, who knows if it would work, because North Korea is the land of lousy options, but it would give us a better chance.
SCIUTTO: As we have seen with his tweets and other public comments, Donald Trump likes to cajole, pressure, influence with somewhat incendiary public comment. Based on your own dealings with China and sometimes sensitive negotiations, is that something that China responds to?
SULLIVAN: I think China responds best to predictable strength, telling them what the United States is going to do and then following through and doing it.
So, when you are unpredictable, when you swerve from one extreme to the other, as Trump has done repeatedly over the last six months, not only do the Chinese not know what to make of that, but they sort of assume you're not serious.
So, what I hope that Donald Trump will do going forward is try as best he can to inject a measure of predictability and clarity into the policy. That being said, I don't think that this is an issue on which we can just bash the Trump administration over the head. This is a really tough one. It was tough for President Obama. It's tough for President Trump. And all Americans should have sympathy for the difficult issues they're grappling with.
SCIUTTO: No question, and all Americans face the same threat.
Jake Sullivan, stay there, a lot more to discuss, particularly with President Trump's upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Please stay with us.
SCIUTTO: Breaking news tonight, President Trump has arrived in Poland ahead of his high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit.
We're back with Jake Sullivan. He served as senior adviser to both Hillary Clinton and to Joe Biden.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, as you well know, former KGB agent, likes to think of himself as an influence operator of his own, famously brought a dog to the meeting with Angela Merkel. She doesn't like dogs.
Do you think Vladimir Putin will try to manipulate Trump in their face-to-face meeting?
SULLIVAN: Well, every time Vladimir Putin goes to a meeting -- and I have seen him go into a meeting with Hillary Clinton -- it is like a dog marking his territory. That's what he does. He comes in late. He likes to make U.S. presidents or German chancellors cool their heels.
He sits in kind of a slouch. He lectures in front of the press. And the real question is, will he come as that Vladimir Putin this time, or will he come buddy-buddy because he wants to project a different kind of image with Donald Trump? And his body language right off the top of this meeting with Trump will tell us a lot about the strategy that he's bringing to the meeting.
SCIUTTO: It's interesting. "The New York Times" reported that two people close to the president say they expect Trump and Putin to bond over a mutual disdain for what they both call fake news, ironic in that Russia is a number one purveyor of fake news, particularly targeting the U.S. election.
What is your reaction when you hear that about President Trump's view of Russia?
SULLIVAN: Honestly, I think that's deeply troubling, because what Vladimir Putin does, without hyperbole, is kill journalists who disagree with him, order their death.
What he does is shut down independent media sources of stations. So, the idea that the American president, who is following in the tradition of Washington and Lincoln and Reagan, would go and bond with a Russian autocrat who is happy to talk to Donald Trump about how he shuts down media and kills journalists, that's crazy to me.
And, really, it's -- you know, that's beyond the pale. And Trump should be standing up for the freedoms that we all hold dear, not joining Putin and laughing about them.
SCIUTTO: Well, this is the thing. These are not isolated comments. Right? It fits into a world view that President Trump repeats repeatedly. He's called the press the enemy of the people.
I want to replay his comments about Putin himself in February, this with Fox's Bill O'Reilly. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Do you respect Putin?
TRUMP: I do respect him.
TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people. But that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him. He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world...
TRUMP: ... major fight, that's a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.
O'REILLY: He's a killer, though. Putin's a killer.
TRUMP: There are a lot of killers. Got a lot of killers. What, you think our country's so innocent? You think our country's so innocent?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: That's the president of the United States taking a shot at his own country's reputation.
SULLIVAN: The crazy thing about that clip is that is a classic Soviet and Russian tactic.
SCIUTTO: What about-ism.
SULLIVAN: What about-ism.
What the Russians and Soviets would do any time we criticize them is they'd say, well, what about X in the United States?
And the funny thing is Trump isn't just sitting there praising Putin. He's actually adopting his tactics against his own country. That to me is really strange and deeply troubling, and I really hope that's not the Donald Trump who shows up on Friday, because, if it is, then Putin is going to play him.
SCIUTTO: Putin must hear that and celebrate, right? Because it serves his interest to have America's own leader do what Vladimir Putin has tried to do for years, which is undermine this idea of America as a model and the American system as a model country for the world or for his own people.
SULLIVAN: This is a fundamental motivating principle for Vladimir Putin. Find a way to get cracks in American democracy and Western institutions, undermine them, reduce confidence in them and thereby solidify his own influence and grip on power. That's his entire strategy. And Donald Trump is playing right into it.
SCIUTTO: So, we don't know what President Trump is going to do in that meeting. Of course, he could change his mind.
But administration officials have at least told CNN that right now it's not on the plan, on the agenda for President Trump to raise election meddling. Does Vladimir Putin see that, in effect, as an invitation to do if again, or at least that the cost wouldn't be so high if he were to do it again?
SULLIVAN: In a way, we have already kind of crossed that river, because Trump has spent the last several months casting doubt on or outright rejecting the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia in fact did interfere in our election.
The damage, in my view, has already been done. If Trump showed up tomorrow and said a few words on the topic -- or on Friday, and said a few words on the topic, it wouldn't really matter. Putin has already got the message that Trump wanted him to get, which is, not only do I not care about this, but, during the campaign, I actively encouraged it and benefited from it. And, frankly, I wouldn't mind if you do it again.
That's the message that Putin has heard loud and clear. And at this point, I think it's too late for Trump to really change his tune on that.
SCIUTTO: And it is particularly alarming because we know that Russian hackers continue to target U.S. political organizations, voting systems, et cetera.
It's happening right now.
Jake Sullivan, thanks very much, as always.
SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.
SCIUTTO: Breaking news -- next, more on the escalating North Korean crisis and the U.S. warning of possible military action.
Plus, the growing backlash to President Trump's voter fraud commission. We have details of a new federal lawsuit.
SCIUTTO: We're following breaking news. An emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to deal with North Korea's latest missile launch.
[18:32:45] Let's dig in deeper with our experts and analysts. John Kirby, I want you and for our audience to listen to the warning that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley gave earlier today. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: The United States is prepared to use the full range of our capabilities to defend ourselves and our allies. One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Knowing what we know, John Kirby, about all the weapons that North Korea has trained on Seoul, northern -- the northern area of South Korea, is that actually a realistic threat?
KIRBY: In order to be able to defend ourselves and our allies, yes. But I don't -- I don't know that I'd take it as a threat. I mean, look, we have a significant treaty alliance with the Republic of Korea. We have significant capabilities there because we have to, and they are ready.
And so, I don't know that that's so much a threat, but it is certainly something that we have to say publicly, and we have to be able to reassert that. And for the North to take that seriously.
SCIUTTO: Elise, I know you've been reporting on these options today.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think that everyone has said, you know, Defense Secretary Mattis, some of the U.S. commanders have said that U.S. military action, while of course, a last resort, is really unthinkable because of the consequences that you would see. Certainly, South Korea would face a barrage of artillery, missiles to begin with. So I think that military option, while clearly possible, is really a last resort and something nobody wants to think about.
I think you're thinking more about diplomatic options such as a tightening of sanctions against China and others who do business with North Korea, and also a negotiated settlement. I think that, even as you talk about military action, it's really going to be a negotiation that brings North Korea to the table to end it.
KIRBY: Remember, when we're talking military options, there's two things here. There's, you know, some sort of offensive preemptive strike, which I think is what Elise is getting at and clearly, nobody wants that to happen. But you still need defensive capabilities. You still need to be ready, just in case the North does something provocative and over the line, and that's what I think she was referring to.
SCIUTTO: Right. To make it clear if they do something, that we're going to make it very hostile for them.
SCIUTTO: We would have the ability to defend our...
SCIUTTO: Matt Rosenberg, the only country getting -- getting rhetoric as strong as North Korea, really, now is China. You almost have whiplash from the Trump administration, because it was just a few weeks ago all the talk was "We can work with China on this; they're going to come through." Now trade sanctions threatened.
[18:35:10] MATT ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I think this has been a brutal education for President Trump. He went in there, you know, "I'm a deal maker. I'm going to talk to people," have that nice, you know, meeting with Xi. And now he's finding out that there are real limits and that the Chinese are going to do what they think is in their own interests, not what's in our interests or what we want them to do.
And I think for Trump this continues to be, you know -- I mean who knew health care was so hard; who knew foreign policy was so hard, as well?
SCIUTTO: Jeremy, you're in the White House. I mean, is there sort of a humble understanding of those complications there? Or do you still hear bravado from Trump advisors, White House officials saying, "We've got this. Trump's going to be tougher with them. We're going to find a better way"?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think what White House officials have been saying over the last several days is that, "Listen, we had to try." Right? "We had to try, once again, this approach with China, to try and see if we could gently coax them into trying to pressure North Korea more."
And now they've come to the point where, OK, it hasn't really worked, and we need to change the approach and go back to the drawing board. The problem is that the president made it sound like it would be easy,
right? And experts throughout have been warning, "Listen, this approach has been tried before, and it's not going to work again." And yet this president has been insistent, publicly in his Twitter messages, insistent that China would help, that he had formed this great relationship with President Xi; and clearly it hasn't panned out.
SCIUTTO: So does it -- because that's the thing. He has that kind of confidence on a whole host of issues: health care, et cetera. They all proved to be more complicated in the reality. Does he, though, John Kirby, have a policy here? So, if this has failed, what is the -- what is the strategy going forward?
KIRBY: I don't think it's clear. I will say, though, Jim, that of all the national security issues that this administration has worked, in my view, they have treated the North Korea one in the most deliberate, thorough fashion possible, most measured. I mean, they really have taken this seriously. Now, where it goes, I don't know. We'll have to see.
And I do think -- and I agree with Jeremy -- I think they were right to try to use the lever of China at the outset. I mean, the path to Pyongyang, if it goes through anywhere, it goes through Beijing. That doesn't mean that China is all-knowing and can fix everything, but certainly, that was the right way to approach.
SCIUTTO: But -- but if Beijing is not playing ball, you know, what do you do as an alternative?
LABOTT: That's still the policy, though. Originally, they thought they would do it hand in hand, kind of walk into a table with North Korea together as friends. But now the U.S. is going to have to drag China to do something, and that's where these sanctions -- that's where a trade deal comes in.
But I do think there is a policy, and the policy is to get North Korea to the table. Through pressure with China, through other means. And I think that there are things that the U.S. has said -- you heard Secretary Tillerson about a month ago when there was that meeting at the U.N. Security Council say that we could offer assurances to the regime. We don't want a regime change. I still think that the policy is to bring North Korea to the table, but less than it was with the Obama administration, which was kind of strategic patience, let them come at their own time. Now it's, "You are going to sit down at the table because we are going to squeeze you," like you've seen with Iran with the sanctions campaign. Which there are a lot of sanctions on North Korea, but nothing like there were on Iran.
SCIUTTO: This gets down to an issue. Because the Trump brand on this issue and others as "I'm a great negotiator, and just with toughness and a quid pro quo, I'll make things happen."
But what you cannot change are the essential differences in interests here. Right? Because frankly, China does not want a reunited Korean Peninsula. They don't want a U.S. -- a western democracy on their border, a U.S. ally, et cetera, on the border. I mean, it's kind of impossible to square that circle at the end of the day.
ROSENBERG: I mean, you know, if you're looking at this and you're Trump, it's almost -- it's mindboggling the thought there could be a deal here. I don't say that -- casually criticize him. And I do agree that this has been the most deliberate and most thoughtful, on a foreign policy, that the Trump administration has taken on.
But, you know, what is a quid pro quo? What is the deal you can make here? Are you going to let North Korea keep its nuclear weapons? I mean, are you going to let the Chinese say...
SCIUTTO: That would be the hard reality, right? Is that the unspoken reality?
ROSENBERG: Will the Korean Peninsula forever be divided? Because I don't think the South Koreans would be too keen on that. I mean, I don't -- I never really got what the deal here was to be had.
SCIUTTO: All right. Well, listen, these are complicated issues. We have the advantage of more time. Please stay with us, panel. Just ahead, President Trump preparing for his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin. Who will have the upper hand in that meeting?
[18:44:11] SCIUTTO: President Trump has now arrived in Europe ahead of his meeting on Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany.
I'm back with my panel now. Phil Mudd joining us, as well. We played earlier some sound of what Trump has said on Putin. I want to play now what Putin has said about Trump. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): He is a brilliant and talented person without a doubt. Isn't he bright? He is.
I did not say anything else about him, but there's one thing that I paid attention to, and that I definitely welcome, is that Mr. Trump said he's ready to restore full-fledged Russian-American relations. What can there be bad about it? Don't you welcome it? We all welcome it.
Where would we get this information from? Why did we have some special relationship with him? We didn't have any relationship at all. There was a time when he used to come to Moscow, but, you know, I never met with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Phil Mudd, is that calculated praise by the former KGB agent?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, we're spending too much time on this. We think the president is going to get played. You get played if you go in with a different objective and you come out and get beat.
I think one of the conversations is going to be about Syria. Who has said we want ISIS out and we're willing to accept the continuation of the Assad regime to meet that objective? That's the president and the State Department.
So, I think we're going in here, it's not the president is getting played. It might be two people who are of the same mind on something that's critically important.
I think one quick problem, Jim, that is detail and patience. If you look at what happened on health care, if you look at what happened on the immigration effort, if you look even at the short lived effort with the Chinese on North Korea. If you want to engage on these issues with Putin, you better get in the weeds and you better be prepared for years, and I don't think the president can do that.
SCIUTTO: But why is he setting himself to get played if he won't call Russia on its interference in the election?
MUDD: You're assuming that he thinks Russia interfered with the election. I think he's looking at this and saying, I've got bigger fish to fry. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit.
He's saying, all along, I've said, we'll work with anybody on ISIS. He's had people ostracized by Obama. That includes the Egyptian president. He's praised the Turks in light of some issues in Turkey. They look anti-democratic.
I think he's looking at Putin saying, if there is one way to get rid of this ISIS menace, I know a guy willing to kill Muslim terrorists and that's Vladimir Putin.
SCIUTTO: Elise, you're hearing the same in State?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I just think he's not going to dwell on the election, if he mentions it at all. If anything, he might do what he did in the meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak, kind of laugh it off and say this isn't a big deal, I got rid of FBI Director Comey.
I think Phil is right. He's going to talk about Syria. He's going to talk about Ukraine.
But, you know, the Russians are kind of lowering expectations already and setting the tone. They're saying, look, this is the first meeting. They want a good dialogue. They're going to establish working dialogue.
By the way, it's very short meeting. I don't know if Vladimir Putin is going to be able to fully explain his actions in Ukraine or fully explain his positions.
So, they want to come out with good optics. President Trump wants to come out with good optics. But, you know, this is a gamble with an unpredictable president who is prone to off the cuff remarks.
I think the fear is that he would get played, that, you know, Vladimir Putin might say something to him. He is not super prepared for this meeting and he says, OK, that's a good idea. That comes home to roost later.
SCIUTTO: Maybe reveal some classified intelligence.
Jeremy Diamond, what are you hearing from inside the White House in terms of expectations?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I mean, listen, what folks are watching for is also going to be the body language here, right? How do these two men interact exactly, and what exactly is the vibe they give off each other. We have to remember that this is a president who campaigned on his posture of I'm going to be tough with leaders around the world.
I'm going to, you know, get better deals for the United States, except when it comes to Vladimir Putin who is the only leader who this president as of yet has yet to take a really confrontational stance with. He has delivered as far as being more aggressive and having this kind of machismo behavior when he's met with a lot of these other word leaders. The question is, will that translate with his meeting with Putin. And if it doesn't, if he is, if he does come across as too nice or too pliable or too compliant, that may get him a lot of criticism back home.
So, it's going to be a fine balance for him to decide, you know, is he going to try and build this rapport with Putin, that he has said is so important in relationships with these world leaders. And is he going to take heat for that, or is he going to try a different approach and risk that relationship the way he sees it.
SCIUTTO: Matt, just on the issue of election meddling, you know, the administration likes to look at this like something from the past. But the fact is, you cover this story as I do. There is evidence of Russian hackers continuing to probe election systems, political organizations, et cetera. It's a current and future threat, is it not?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, the intelligence community sort of sees it that way. Most of Congress certainly sees it that way, including on the Republican side of the aisle. Trump administration does not. They've been clear this is the past, we've got bigger issues now, we've got Syria, we've got, you know, a whole range of things, North Korea, whatever it is.
And I think Trump, you know, he's going to have a real problem if he goes off script. The Russians are going to come in prepared and disciplined, and his aides are desperate to like avoid a repeat of what went on back when he met with the Russian foreign minister, Russian ambassador in the Oval Office where he's bragging about firing the FBI director. He's joking around, he's taking pictures, smiling. They really want to avoid that. They made this a formal meeting. They're keeping it short.
Trump does like to freelance, I guess. And I think, you know, at some point, they're going to have to reckon with the fact the Russians are still trying to interfere.
SCIUTTO: Elise, why is Poland first stop on this trip for the president?
LABOTT: He's going to give a speech and I think he really wants to promote natural gas exports from the U.S. to Poland and the Baltics and Central Europe.
[18:50:06] I think that's really his goal. But, you know, it's really upsetting a lot of European leaders who see this as part of President Trump's support for these right wing anti-E.U. populist movements. Of course, Poland is a member of the E.U., but this is kind of, you know, thumb in the eye of Angela Merkel and those who are trying to promote this kind of liberal world order and Western values and I think, you know --
SCIUTTO: Polish leader also promised him a big crowd to welcome him there, and there is some reports of bussing them in.
Phil Mudd, CIA, I'm going to take advantage of your profiling.
SCIUTTO: You got a KGB agent who's president of Russia right now, sitting across from an American president, he says some very friendly things about him. And Trump has the things he wants to get out of this meeting. Putin has the things he wants to get out of the meeting.
What is Putin going to try to do in the room, in that eye to eye situation with the American president?
MUDD: It's not only in the room, if we were doing this from my side, we would write a profile and that profile would focus on vulnerabilities of the person across from me. I'm literally talking about having psychiatrists look at video about how someone speaks and how they --
SCIUTTO: So, what vulnerabilities would they have identified?
MUDD: Well, one is obviously when you speak in public about him, praise him. Don't get too much into detail. When you talk about the press, denigrate the press. When you talk about his position, say clearly you are the man that has the answers. The opposition doesn't have the answers.
I think anybody who looks at his video knows it's a man who wants to be praised. I guarantee you, the Kremlin has people who are breaking that down and saying, here's some words or language you can use to play up to that. SCIUTTO: Goodness gracious, sounds too easy, Phil Mudd. I'm sorry to
LABOTT: He was already psyching Trump out this week when he met with President Xi talking about they're going to work together on North Korea. So, I think there is already a little gamesmanship going on even before the meeting.
ROSENBERG: And Putin is good -- he's good at people. He knows their fears.
ROSENBERG: He met with Merkel a few years back. She's afraid of dogs. He brought a Labrador retriever with him.
SCIUTTO: We'll see what he brings in a meeting with Trump. Thanks very much to the panel. We cover a lot there.
Just ahead, a new threat of U.S. military action against North Korea and new details about that missile launch escalating the crisis.
Plus, a presidential commission facing growing opposition as it tries to investigate what it says is alleged widespread voter fraud.
[18:56:43] SCIUTTO: Public opposition, bipartisan opposition to President Trump's voter fraud commission is growing tonight as more states refuse to hand over the voter information that commission asked for.
CNN's Dianne Gallagher has the latest.
Dianne, the president has accused these states, he says, of trying to hide something.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did, Jim, in a tweet, and really, this could be another one of the president's executive orders left up to the courts. A lawsuit has already been filed and we could hear from the judge as early as tomorrow.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): President Trump's Voter Fraud Commission facing a revolt and now, a federal lawsuit trying to block Trump's effort to block voter data from all 50 states.
KRIS KOBACH, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISORY COMMISSION ON ELECTION INTEGRITY: Whatever a person on the street can walk in and get, that's what we would like.
GALLAGHER: But a private advocacy group in D.C., the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the transmission of the data could put voters at risk. The group filed this request for a temporary restraining order to halt the commission's efforts to obtain the data, citing privacy issues and concern about sending it over an unsecure Web site.
Responding late this afternoon, the Justice Department said the group has no standing to sue, and the records requests are only asking for publicly available information. The letter Kris Kobach, the vice chair of the commission, sent to every state last week, requests information publicly available under state law. Now, that could include everything from a voter's name, address and birth date, to their party affiliation, criminal or military record and partial Social Security number.
A handful of states still haven't responded to the letter. But so far, by CNN's count, 45 states plus Washington, D.C. have refused to provide some or all of the information, citing their own state laws or privacy concerns. Kobach released a statement late today disagreeing with that count, calling it a media distortion.
Now, several secretaries of state have raised questions about the commission's motive.
MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER (D), NEW MEXICO SECRETARY OF STATE: It's not really clear what this data is going to be used for. It seems to be a fishing expedition or a witch hunt of some kind.
GALLAGHER: Others believe this is simply an effort to support frequent claims made by President Trump without any evidence about widespread voter fraud.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They woke up from the dead and they went and voted.
BRIAN FROSH, MARYLAND ATTORENY GENERAL: I think the purpose of this, besides indulging the president's fantasy is to stop people from voting.
GALLAGHER: But still, the majority of states, even those who had vocally opposed the collection of data have said they will turn over at least some public information.
JAY ASHCROFT, MISSOURI SECRETARY OF STATE: We are just going to release that publicly available information that is routinely released to candidates, to news organizations and anyone that actually makes that request.
GALLAGHER: So based on that statement he released today, it actually seems that CNN and Kobach are simply breaking the numbers down differently as to what counts as a cooperating state. But really the bottom line is, again, Jim, the majority of states in both of our counts are likely to turn over at least some form of publicly available information.
SCIUTTO: Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much. Finally, we want to deliver our congratulations tonight to CNN
congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly. He and his wife Chelsea parents to their new son Carter. He was born just this morning. There he is there. Phil tells us that everyone is doing well. We at CNN send them our best wishes.
I'm Jim Sciutto. Thanks very much for watching tonight.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.