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Interview With California Congressman Darrell Issa; President Trump Threatens North Korea; Trump Retweets North Korea Story Quoting Anonymous Sources; Interview with Nashville Mayor Megan Barry. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 8, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in our world lead.

President Trump just minutes ago issuing an extraordinary statement to North Korea, saying if the regime makes any more threats against the United States -- quote -- "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."

This, of course, comes after U.S. intelligence officials assessed that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could theoretically be attached to missiles.

CNN's Sara Murray is in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where the president is on a working vacation.

Sara, this is a shocking threat by President Trump.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a shocking threat, but it's also a shocking development, the news, the assessment that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead. That's what we're seeing President Trump responding to today.

This was supposed to be an event about the opioid crisis, but of course the president was asked about the news of the day. Here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.


MURRAY: Now, obviously, the question is whether Donald Trump is drawing a red line here when it comes to North Korea's actions. He did not offer a lot of details about what his next steps might

actually be. We do know this is something the president has spent a bit of time contemplating as he's been here in New Jersey. He spent an hour on the phone yesterday with his chief of staff, John Kelly, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussing the situation in North Korea.

We have heard from a number of senior officials in the Trump administration essentially saying all options are on the table when it comes to this conflict. That includes the military option -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray traveling with the president in New Jersey, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

And, Barbara, officials are telling CNN North Korea has yet to test this new missile capability, but the question here might be more about when and not if.


The uncertainty about all of this combined with the president's statement is making this all the more nerve-racking.


STARR (voice-over): Tonight, news details about North Korea's nuclear weapons program that could unleash a catastrophic scenario.

U.S. intelligence analysts have assessed, but not concluded, that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead potentially small enough to fit on a ballistic missile, according to U.S. officials familiar with the assessment.

One official warns that the entire intelligence community may not be in agreement on the assessment which continues to be updated. It's not clear if the warhead has been tested and could even be used in an attack.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We thought in the past that we had some time to let diplomacy work, to let the economic sanctions work. That decision cycle has almost collapsed and now we're faced with a North Korea that could potentially launch a missile in a very short period of time.

STARR: "The Washington Post" was the first to report that North Korea has produced nuclear warheads that could be delivered to targets thousands of miles away, even in the U.S., by intercontinental ballistic missiles like these recently tested by the regime.

The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific has long warned he assumes North Korea has the capability to attack the U.S.

ADM. HARRY HARRIS, COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND: I have to assume that he has it, as do my fellow combatant commanders, Lori Robinson and John Hillyer. And we have to assume that the capability is real. We know his intentions are, and he's moving toward them.

STARR: Although North Korea has successfully tested long-range missiles capable of possibly hitting the U.S., there are still many questions on whether those missiles, with a warhead on top, could survive the heat and pressure of reentering the Earth's atmosphere and hitting a target.

But the U.S. military and intelligence community is now planning as if it's for real, and Kim will continue to threaten an attack.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: While he's a very unusual type of person, he's not crazy. And there is some rationale backing his actions, which are survival, survival for his regime, survival for his country, and he has watched, I think, what has happened around the world relative to nations that possess nuclear capabilities and the leverage they have and seeing that having the nuclear card in your pocket.

STARR: A nuclear card the Pentagon will try to keep Kim from playing.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: What the North Koreans are capable of today is a limited missile attack. Our concern is growth in capacity. That is increased numbers of missiles over time in the combination of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon.



STARR: Even with all of this, Defense Secretary James Mattis has been adamant, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They want to see the diplomatic option work.

The president's words tonight, we don't know yet if that will change all of this -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California. He serves on the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Congressman, I want to get your reaction to the U.S. intelligence analysts assessing that Kim Jong-un's regime has crossed a major threshold in developing a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could fit inside a missile.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, if true, it represents the greatest probably since the -- let me rephrase that -- undoubtedly since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

And the correlation is very similar. This is something that can hit us and our allies and it's with a rogue nation that we suspect would use it. As Rex Tillerson, Secretary Tillerson, goes around enforcing the unanimous Security Council resolution to cut off the funding to this regime, it's go to be done in real time. It's got to be done now.

TAPPER: The White House says all options are on the table, but of course they would prefer to negotiate.

North Korea has shown no willingness to discuss their nuclear program that we can see. Do you think that the U.S. is heading to a military confrontation with North Korea?

ISSA: I believe military has to be the backup plan and diplomacy, but diplomacy of the type we're using now.

Cutting off the last, if you will, couple of billion dollars of hard money to this regime cuts the ability for this dictator, Kim Jong-un, to fund his generals, to fund the regime that ultimately, you have seen him. He's not the general in charge. People don't follow him because they're inspired. They follow this dictator because he doles out some of the very limited money to his generals.

The last dollar doesn't go in North Korea doesn't go to the people. It goes to the general and to the weapons program. And, finally, we are on the path toward cutting off all funds. If we cut off all currency, hard currency to this regime, this regime is going to have to choose, nuclear weapons or an internal problem that this dictator probably cannot deal with.

TAPPER: China, North Korea's strongest ally in the region, voted in favor of the new package of U.N. sanctions passed this weekend against North Korea, but there are a lot of people who say that if you really want to go after North Korea, you need to sanction the Chinese banks that do business with North Korea.

What more would you like to see from Beijing to solve this problem?

ISSA: Well, I think, for our own, if you will, intelligence community, they need to determine whether or not China is living up to the promise they made at the U.N.

If they're not, we need to make sure they do. And if they are, then this regime will recognize that they no longer have the support of China. So you're exactly right. Those banks and the countries, quite frankly, that have been taking in slave labor in return for hard currency, that behavior has to change. It has to change immediately.

And, as you know, Jake, to get a 15-0, a unanimous decision out of the Security Council, does make a statement that it's not about U.S. imperialism, as the North Koreans would like to say. Their greatest and most important ally, China, a country that gave up 600,000 lives to protect them in the 1950s, has said that their conduct is one that deserved these sanctions.

And as long as we hold China to their word, then I believe these sanctions will finally work.

TAPPER: Siegfried Hecker was the last U.S. official to inspect North Korea's nuclear program, and he says that Kim Jong-un is not crazy, he's not suicidal, he's not unpredictable. What do you think? ISSA: Well, I think you have to assume that at least his generals are

not crazy, are not suicidal. And they will make sure that his decisions are consistent with the survival of the regime.

And if we cut off the money, as we now are doing, in a way that threatens the survival of the regime, unless they change their behavior, I believe we have a chance at changing the behavior peacefully.

And, again, I keep relating this to what John F. Kennedy faced 55 years ago. You have to stand firm and not flinch, and at the same time you have to give them a diplomatic out. There is a diplomatic out that the regime has, but their time is running out, and when China turns against North Korea, they have to realize their time is running out.

TAPPER: Congressman, stick around. We have lots more to talk about, including the president's troubling poll numbers that show most Americans don't trust him, which could be a real issue for him during this international crisis.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with breaking news in our world lead, as the president threatens North Korea -- quote -- "with fire and fury like the world has never seen" -- unquote.

That's after CNN learned this afternoon that U.S. intelligence analysts believe that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead, this following the "Washington Post" report of a confidential assessment in which the Defense Intelligence Agency -- quote -- "assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles."

And that follows the news broken this morning that the intelligence community has detected North Koreans loading cruise missiles capable of destroying a ship onto a North Korean patrol boat.

[16:15:02] This later bit of news was retweeted by President Trump from the "Fox and Friends" Twitter feed this morning, and it frankly created quite the awkward situation when U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, was subsequently asked about the report that her boss just retweeted to his 35.3 million followers.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I can't talk about anything that's classified and if that's in the newspapers, that's a shame. It's incredibly dangerous when things get out to the press like that. You're not only just getting the scoop on something, you're playing with people's lives.



TAPPER: That poses the question, was the president's retweet of what Ambassador Haley called classified information therefore dangerous? Was it playing with people's lives as she said?

The FOX News article cites, quote, U.S. officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence in the region, and, quote, one official who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

So, we have here a president who constantly rails against anonymous sources and has called for the new Justice Department campaign against leaks, and he is now sharing a story that relies upon both anonymous sources and leaks.

Now, the president has the power to declassify materials and perhaps this was all planned and part of a strategy to send a message to North Korea, though Ambassador Haley didn't seem to think so. Either way, this could feed into an impression of hypocrisy that is eroding trust in this president.

A new Quinnipiac poll shows 60 percent of the American people think President Trump believes he's above the law. In CNN's new poll, 36 percent of the public think he's honest and trustworthy, 60 percent do not. Twenty-four percent of the public trust most of what they hear from the White House, according to the CNN poll, 73 percent do not.

This president doesn't have a credibility gap, he has a credibility chasm. And as this international security threat looms, that is quite a dangerous thing for a U.S. president to have.

Let's go now to CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He's at the White House where officials are facing many different types of crises today.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump is facing a crisis of credibility. A new CNN poll today shows that seven out of 10 Americans do not trust most of what they hear from the White House. It's a staggering figure for a president who should be in the honeymoon phase of his first term. After 200 days in office, the president's approval rating stands at 38 percent, while 56 percent say they do not approve. That sets a record.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've been very well. Lots of records, lots of records --

ZELENY: But not in the way Mr. Trump would like. In fact, it's a record low mark at this point of any president in the history of modern polling. Nearly half of President Kennedy's 75 percent, and six points lower than Bill Clinton's 44 percent.

After a string of major legislative setbacks, most notably on health care, new divisions are also showing in the relationship with Senate Republicans.


ZELENY: At home in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chastised the president for not understanding the reality of governing. He criticized Mr. Trump for setting artificial deadlines.

Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before, McConnell told a Kentucky Rotary Club. And I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happened in a democratic process.

From his working vacation at his golf course and resort in New Jersey, the president tweeting up a storm again today, defending his first six months in office in a tweet with this dubious claim, rarely has any administration achieved what we have achieved. Not even close.

Earlier, he retweeted a story from FOX News about U.S. spy satellites detecting North Korea's secretly moving cruise missiles.

When asked about it on "Fox and Friends", the president's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the information was classified.

HALEY: We can't talk about anything that's classified, and if that's in the newspaper, that's a shame. It's incredibly dangerous when things get out to the press like that. You're not only just getting a scoop on something. You're playing with people's lives.

ZELENY: The White House did not comment.

Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu called the episode troubling.

REP. TED LIEU (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: It is alarming the casualness with which President Trump shares classified information. The president should not be tweeting classified information just because he's the president.


TAPPER: Jeff, minutes ago, President Trump said, quote, North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen, unquote.

That is extraordinary language for an American president to use.

ZELENY: Jake, it is like language we have never seen from a U.S. president. For all the over-the-top, you know, statements that this president has made, this certainly is the strongest and most forceful with consequences. And this news is happening as Seoul and Tokyo and Beijing are waking up. So, we, of course, will await response there.

But instead of deescalating this discussion and tension, all these comments would seem to do would be to escalate them and close the door to a diplomatic solution to this, Jake, which everyone thinks is the best solution here. [16:20:01] So, it appears these comments were something that the

president just said off the cuff when he was asked about this during a different meeting in Bedminster a short time ago. It simply, you know, is not something you would normally hear a U.S. president say.

And Jake, the question is, will this also put some distance between the U.S. and other members of the international community as they respond to North Korea? We'll be watching for reaction to his reaction, Jake, but it is extraordinary, as you said.

TAPPER: We just heard Darrell Issa talk about -- comparing this to -- saying this is the worst crisis since the Cuban missile crisis, and saying like that crisis, there needs to be an exit for Kim Jong-un, a diplomatic way out of this. And it's unclear if the threat the president issued is part of that or that might prevent that exit.

Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

You just heard President Trump talking about the opioid crisis in addition to the threat from North Korea and what his administration plans to do to address it. We're going to talk to the mayor of Nashville in a little bit. She just returned to work after losing her son to a drug overdose and she'll react to the president.

Stay with us.


[16:25:19] TAPPER: We're back with the health lead.

The president moments ago receiving what he called a major briefing on the opioid crisis in this country. He met with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy, Richard Baum, at his New Jersey golf club.

Here's President Trump just moments ago.


TRUMP: The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don't start, they won't have a problem. If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off.


TAPPER: Unfortunately, this topic hits home for millions of Americans, but also for our next guest, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who just returned yesterday after losing her 22-year-old son Max to a drug overdose.

Mayor Barry joins me now.

Madam Mayor, first of all, our deepest condolences to you and your family. I can't even imagine what you're going through.

Please tell us about Max.

MAYOR MEGAN BARRY (D), NASHVILLE: So, Jake, thank you. I -- we talk specifically very much about the fact that we don't want Max's death to define his life, but we also have to have a frank conversation about how he died and this crisis that our country is experiencing as it relates to overdoses for our children is critical. And I'm speaking today as a mom, but as a mayor, I have a responsibility to make sure that we are doing things in our community so that other children and other parents don't have the same fate.

TAPPER: So, you're waiting on results of a toxicology report to confirm what drugs your son may have been taking.

BARRY: We are.

TAPPER: When did substance abuse enter his life?

BARRY: Well, Max actually had an encounter last summer where he went to rehab. He spent a month in rehab which was a great gift. We were able to make that happen for him and make it happen quickly because we had access to health care.

And actually, that got him back on the right track. He went back to school. He graduated in his senior year this year and was headed to his next phase of life. He made a really stupid choice two Saturdays ago and it's one he can't ever undo.

TAPPER: You acknowledge Max's drug overdose in his obituary. Why is it important for you and your family to be out there and talking about this in such a frank and candid way?

BARRY: Well, the one thing that I've found is that if we don't talk about it, then things don't change. And for us, we made a decision right away that we wanted to be very transparent about how he died. And I cannot tell you how many people have come to me and shared their own grief stories about a loved one who died where they never talked about it before.

And I think that as a community, we aren't ever going to get in front of this epidemic if we aren't actually having these kind of very frank conversations about what's killing our children.

TAPPER: During the campaign, President Trump promised more federal resources to combat the opioid crisis, more money for opioid treatment services, he promised to speed up FDA approval for drug treatment to stop the flow of illegal drugs across the border. He's been president more than 200 days now. Have you seen any progress?

BARRY: Well, we need the federal government to help us. You know, we actually in Nashville have been able to equip our police officers and first responders with Narcan, which is an incredible lifesaver if it's administered, but there are a lot of rural communities out there that don't have the resources that we do.

So, this is a partnership where the federal government could absolutely be helping, but it's also about treatment beds and we need more of those. So, I hope that President Trump, with his new report, will be very focused on making sure that those resources flow into communities.

TAPPER: As you know, a lot of -- and I don't know, and you don't know if Max died because of an opioid overdose, but a lot of the people who get hooked on opioids, it starts off with a prescription.

BARRY: Right.

TAPPER: The pharmaceutical industry is manufacturing enough of these for every American to have three weeks' prescription, every single American, and doctors are prescribing them perhaps too much, and then people get hooked.

BARRY: Right.

TAPPER: And there is no step-down program, and then they turn to heroin because it's cheaper.

BARRY: Right.

TAPPER: Is that a problem that Max had, and what can be done to stop this vicious epidemic?

BARRY: Well, again, we don't know the combination of drugs that killed Max, but I will tell you that his drug addiction started with a prescription and it did start with Xanax. And so, that Xanax was what put him into rehab last summer, and I think that -- although I don't know this for sure, because Xanax may very well have caused -- been a part of his death two Saturdays ago.

You're absolutely right. The prescription industry and overprescribing is something that our kids are experiencing and we have to stop it.

TAPPER: Your home state of Tennessee had the tenth highest number of drug-related deaths in 2015. What needs to be done? How can the average American help? What do our politicians need to be doing?

BARRY: Well, I think, again, we can really focus on making sure that there's kind of a two-prong approach. First of all, our first responders need to have access to life-saving Narcan and making sure that that's available.