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New Trump Tweetstorm; New North Korea Sanctions; How Far Will Trump-Russia Investigation Go?; North Korea Vows Retaliation Against U.S. for Sanctions. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 7, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president is definitely not taking a vacation from Twitter.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump is marking 200 days in office with one of his favorite pastimes. Nine holes of golf? No, nine tweets this morning attacking the news media and a sitting senator. Whatever happened to all that new discipline we were told about?

Just days after learning investigators are following the Trump money trail, the deputy attorney general says the special counsel can look into any crimes he might uncover. How deep or far afield might this Russia investigation go?

Plus, the president's national security adviser says all options are on the table when it comes to North Korea, while the hermit kingdom is vowing 1,000-fold revenge against the United States after the United Nations passed the toughest sanctions yet against the rogue regime.

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

We're going to start with the politics lead.

For Trump supporters on Capitol Hill and in the administration excite about the new discipline retired Marine General new Chief of Staff John Kelly might bring to this White House, this morning must have been of a disappointment.

The president turned the outdoor storm raining upon the New Jersey golf resort where he's staying to an indoor tweetstorm of his own making.

Was the subject of his frustration Congress for not having repealed and replaced Obamacare? Was it the tragedy of the opioid epidemic or unfair trade practices? His desire for changes to the tax code or immigration system? His desire for an infrastructure bill?

Nope. The president again attacked the free press, specifically CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." He also went after a critic, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who had just been on CNN discussing the FBI probe into possible collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government in the 2016 election.

After those tweets, the president turned to meetings, including an hour-long call with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his new chief of staff, Kelly. The topic? North Korea and the nuclear threat it poses to the world, from impulsive nonsense to gravely serious.

CNN's Sara Murray starts us off today with President Trump in New Jersey.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: President Trump's big weekend win, securing unanimous United Nations sanctions against North Korea, quickly buried by a flurry of tweets today.

First, Trump took on the "New York Times," Congress the paper totally inept for publishing a story suggesting some Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence, have been quietly eying a run in 2020, just in case Trump doesn't make the ballot.

Pence is slated to travel to New Jersey to meet with the president this week after issuing a terse statement Sunday calling called "The New York Times" story disgraceful and offensive, adding: "The allegations are categorically false."

MARC LOTTER, VICE PRESIDENT'S PRESS SECRETARY: What you're seeing is the vice president in this case pushing back strongly, emphatically, that he's not engaging in some sort of shadow operation.

MURRAY: Still unable to ignore the Russia investigation, the president also took aim at Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He is calling for bipartisan legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from political interference.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: If the president threatens to fire Bob Mueller, I think it's very important to protect and safeguard the independence and integrity of that investigation.

MURRAY: After watching that interview on CNN, Trump responding: "Interesting to Watch Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut talking about hoax Russian collusion, when he was a phony Vietnam con artist. Never in U.S. history has anyone lied or defrauded voters like Senator Richard Blumenthal. He told stories about his Vietnam battles and conquests, how brave he was, and it was all a lie. He cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness like a child. Now he judges collusion?"

Trump's jabs a reference to misrepresentations Blumenthal has made in his past about his military service in the Vietnam era. While Blumenthal did enlist in the Marine Reserves after multiple deferments, Trump, who was also eligible for the draft, never enlisted and received multiple deferments himself, including for a foot problem.

Then Trump turned his Twitter attention to national polls showing his numbers sinking, tweeting: "The Trump base is far bigger and stronger than ever before, despite some phony fake news polling. Look at rallies in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio."

Trump also insisting his 17-day trip to his New Jersey golf club is not a vacation, tweeting: "Working hard from New Jersey, while White House goes through long-planned renovation. Going to New York next week for more meetings."


That after social media posts surfaced this weekend showing him schmoozing with wedding guests at his Bedminster retreat while wearing golf clothes.


MURRAY: President Trump is adamant that while he is here in New Jersey, he's going to be working hard.

But the White House is offering only sparing details about how he is spending his days. We know he's got his daily intelligence briefing today, as well as that call on North Korea with some top aides.

But aside from that, still unclear how Trump has spent his very soggy day in Bedminster -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much.

As the president slams those in Congress trying to protect the special counsel , Bob Mueller, from the same treatment the president gave fired FBI Director James Comey, there have been new developments on the scope of the investigation.

CNN's Jessica Schneider explains what may be a new focus going forward.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is defending the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia investigation.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The special counsel is subject to the rules and regulations of the Department of Justice. And we don't engage in fishing expeditions.

SCHNEIDER: And says Mueller's team could expand its probe if appropriate.

ROSENSTEIN: If he finds evidence of a crime that is within the scope of what Director Mueller and I have agreed is the appropriate scope of this investigation, then he can. If it's something outside that scope, he needs to come to the acting attorney general, at this time me, for permission to expand his investigation.

SCHNEIDER: Rosenstein oversees the special counsel, whose investigation has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, as CNN has reported. Mueller's team is seizing on President Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia, even though President Trump indicated in a "New York Times" interview any move to investigate his businesses would be crossing a red line.

QUESTION: If Mueller is looking at your finances, your family finances's unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. I would say yes. I don't make money Russia.

SCHNEIDER: President Trump has repeatedly tweeted, calling Mueller's investigation a witch-hunt and fake news.

But Mueller is moving forward, using a grand jury sitting in Washington to issue subpoenas related to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer inside Trump Tower, according to a source.

Former U.S. attorney general and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie telling CNN's Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION" that's to be expected.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: This is a normal step taken by a careful prosecutor who is doing a thorough investigation. And I think that's exactly what Bob Mueller is doing. You can't issue subpoenas without a grand jury. It's the grand jury that actually issues the subpoenas.

SCHNEIDER: Christie adding that the June 2016 meeting was -- quote -- "ill-advised."

CHRISTIE: This is not something that should have happened. Everybody, in retrospect, knows this was a bad idea.

SCHNEIDER: But the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, told Jake the grand jury move is significant.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: That wouldn't be taking place if there was really no evidence, no evidentiary basis to move forward.

SCHNEIDER: Republican Senator Thom Tillis, meanwhile, cautioning the president against any move to fire the special counsel. Tillis is co- sponsoring a measure which would bar the president from directly firing any special counsel.

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: It would just be another piece of fodder or fodder for people who are trying to credit what I consider to be one of the important parts of the administration and the FBI within the Department of Justice.


SCHNEIDER: And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would not comment on which individuals might be the subject of the special counsel's probe, but he insisted that the president has not directed the Justice Department to investigate particular people, despite the fact that President Trump has often pressed publicly for the DOJ to investigate Hillary Clinton.

But Rosenstein did say, Jake, that's not the way they operate.

TAPPER: No, it isn't.

Jessica Schneider, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

North Korea wants the United States to -- quote -- "pay dearly" for the tough new sanctions. When we come back, what are any good options? Are there any good military options? What are they at the U.S. disposal?

Spoiler alert: There aren't many.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Breaking news in our world lead now. North Korea is vowing revenge against the United States after the U.N. Security Council, led by U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, unanimously adopted the toughest sanctions yet against that country.

Pyongyang is threatening the U.S. with -- quote -- "thousands-fold retaliation."

Let's bring in CNN Barbara Starr, who joins us live from the Pentagon.

Barbara, when North Korea says things like it will make the U.S. pay dearly, what does that mean?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Pentagon has to assume, Jake, that it means North Korea would attack, an attack the president says he would not allow to have to happen.


STARR (voice-over): North Korea now says the U.S. is driving the Korean Peninsula to war, vowing revenge against new U.N. sanctions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean.

STARR: Making clear that it won't give up its weapons program.

BANG KWANG HYUK, NORTH KOREAN SPOKESMAN (through translator): We affirm that we will never place our nuclear and ballistics missiles program on the negotiating table and won't budge an inch on strengthening nuclear armament.

STARR: The U.S. officially remains focused on diplomacy, but there are military options for dealing with North Korea.

H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Are we preparing plans for a preventive war, right, a war that would prevent North Korea from threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon? And the president has been very clear about it. He said he's want going to tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: What I will tell you from the United States' perspective is we're prepared to do whatever it takes to defend ourselves and to defend our allies.

STARR: With two recent intercontinental ballistic missile launches, and a nuclear warhead development program, all options are on the table.

MCMASTER: And that includes a military option. Now, would we like to resolve it short of what would be a very costly war in terms of the suffering of mainly the South Korean people?

[16:15:06] STARR: Experts says the problem is not bombing North Korea's weapons program. It's what happens next.

JOSEPH CIRICINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: You strike North Korea, they're going to strike back. And they have a devastating, conventional arsenal built up right on the border that could lay waste to Seoul.

STARR: The former director of national intelligence says the military option has to be kept on the table, but it's not a good one.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Particularly, a peremptory operation against North Korea would be disastrous, because I believe the North Koreans will unleash all that artillery and rocketry they have lined up along the DMZ and they would, as they have vowed many times, turn Seoul into, quote, a sea of fire.


STARR: And, of course, one of the big questions, if you bomb North Korea's weapons program, how fast can they turn around and start rebuilding it? Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

I'm joined now by Gordon Chang and David Sanger.

Gentlemen, you both say sanctions likely will not work, so now what? We'll get your answers when we come back from this quick break.


[16:20:18] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. More on our world lead.

President Trump praised the United Nations Security Council's new sanctions on North Korea and, in fact, just tweeted moments ago, quote, The fake news media will not talk about the importance of the United Nations Security Council's 15-0 vote in favor of sanctions on North Korea.

We have been talking about it. This is our second block talking about it.

But anyway, some experts are skeptical about these sanctions, saying that the new ones are unlikely to make Kim Jong-un blink.

Let's talk about this with Gordon Chang, the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World," and columnist for "The Daily Beast", and David Sanger, CNN national security analyst and national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

David, first of all, bottom line, how concerned should the American people be about there actually being a war with North Korea?

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I don't think there is going to be an all-out war in which the North Koreans shoot a nuclear weapon at Los Angeles or beyond. This regime is all about survival and they know what the rest of that story would sound like and look like.

I think there are significant risks here, though. One of them is that if the North was in a situation of collapse sometime in the next few years, the way we've seen with so many other regimes, though they've been immune to it so far, I think it's conceivable that you could see somebody launch a loose nuclear weapon or loose missile thinking that if the North was going to go away, they would take some other states out with it. I think there is some risk that a conventional conflict could result in escalation that became nuclear.

And finally, Jake, I think you have to take these military options fairly seriously that President Trump is discussing. They may be intended just to try to scare the Chinese into doing more, but it's also very possible that President Trump, when he says we can't tolerate a nuclear North Korea, means he really is going to solve it as he tweeted on January 2nd.

TAPPER: Sure. Take President Trump at his word.

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Gordon, spoke with CNN's Ana Cabrera over the weekend about the latest sanctions. Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: This was a gut punch to North Korea. We did what we could in the U.N. and that was basically speak with one voice. He is now on an island. North Korea now has to look at the rest of the world and see that they're all telling him to stop this reckless activity.


TAPPER: Gordon, she described this as a gut punch, these sanctions. Is it? Will the sanctions stop North Korea?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KORE TAKES ON THE WORLD": Yes, I don't think they'll stop North Korea. I don't think they'll change the calculus that Kim Jong-un is working under. You know, they, for instance, cut one third off of North Korea's export revenue, one billion off of three.

But, you know, Nikki Haley in that same interview said, look, the North uses the same way to build up their arsenal, so the question naturally is, why are they permitted to have $2 billion more?

And also, that's North's legal export income. Probably the North earns somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion a year from Iran, for their various forms of cooperations. Missiles, nukes, god knows what else. And so, we're not touching that as well.

There is a whole bunch of things we need to do. And until we stop this incremental approach, you know, yanking up sanctions to see what would happen, well, the North Koreans, they just adjust, and I think what we have to do is go all in, all at once, stop all of their income. If we do that, then the North Koreans will understand not only that we're serious, but they also have to deal with the international community in good faith.

TAPPER: David, if the recent intel assessment is correct, North Korea will be able to launch a reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM by early next year. Is the U.S. running out of time to stop this?

SANGER: Well, you know, I have some sympathy for President Trump on this, because every previous American president has looked at every incremental advance, including the kind that you just discussed, and said, you know, bad as it is, it's not worth the risk of losing Seoul, as Barbara was reporting before, or the outbreak of a renewal of the Korean war. And so, he happens to be president at the moment that they're finally reaching a point that every one of the previous four American presidents said the U.S. would never tolerate. And so, I understand why it is that President Trump feels like he's got to make pronouncements here.

At the same time, his options aren't a whole lot better. I think they did some very deft diplomacy in getting this resolution through, getting it through quickly and getting the Chinese and the Russians onboard.

But I agree with Gordon that until you do something that really makes Kim Jong-un wake up, which means cutting the oil that's coming in from China, cutting off all other sources, I don't think he is fundamentally going to change course, because for him the nuclear weapons program isn't a bargaining chip.

[16:25:17] It's an existential way of preserving his regime. And so, this is not for him all about getting reintegrated with the West. And he looks at people like Gadhafi in Libya and says, you know, how did that work out for him?

TAPPER: Gordon, President Trump tried to persuade China to help with the North Korean crisis, first, praising Chinese President Xi Jinping, then chastising China for not doing enough. You say no matter what Trump says, China is not going to help unless the U.S. changes its strategy.

CHANG: Yes, the U.S. needs to impose some cost on China, because that's the one thing that we have not done over two or three decades of failed diplomacy. And what President Trump started to do at the end of June was to signal to the Chinese that, yes, the United States had political will. So, for instance, we severed Bank of Dong Dong, a small Chinese institution from the global banking system for money laundering. But we also didn't go after Bank of China, one of China's so-called big four banks, which the U.N. last year said was also washing up cash for the North Koreans.

And until we do that, Beijing is going to say, well, look, you know, the United States is placing such a low priority on its security, it's not willing to go after the Bank of China. So, what we need to do now is amp up the pressure. And the one thing that President Trump did, he gave up a lot to get that resolution on Saturday. So, for instance, he didn't announce Section 301 trade action against North Korea on Friday, which everybody said that he would.

I'm not thinking that President Trump is really at the point where he's willing to do what it takes to protect the American homeland.

TAPPER: All right. Gordon Chang and David Sanger, thank you so much.

In our politics lead today, while the president is blasting fake news, he is out with his version of what is called real news. Which one former ambassador to Russia said looks more like state-run television? That story after the short break.