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North Korea Nuclear Fears; Three-Quarters of Americans Don't Trust White House. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 8, 2017 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:02]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Apparently, he is very fun. It is sort of a circus to play with him.

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: That's what we heard from Rick Reilly,. And he's just the consummate host. It's really something to behold. In fact, Rick said he was trying to play a second day with Donald Trump.

He asked Donald Trump if he could play a second day for...

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

KEILAR: And Trump actually said to him, you really only need one day. It's enough.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Outstanding. Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.

KEILAR: You bet.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Here we go, breaking news here at the top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Here's the story out North Korea, this potential game-changer in the world's standoff over the North's nuclear weapons. U.S. intelligence sources telling CNN that they believe North Korea has now produced nuclearized -- a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside of its missiles.

Essentially, that means this is a nuke small enough to be strapped to an intercontinental ballistic missile. This is a huge development in Kim Jong-un's missile program that nuclear experts have been fearing for years.

let's go straight to the region to CNN's Will Ripley, who is one of few Western journalists who has reported extensively from within North Korea. Will Ripley, I realize it is in the middle of the night where you are,

but as people are beginning to wake up, what do you anticipate regional reaction will be?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly here in China, they are going to call for calm, as they always do whenever there is any provocation from North Korea or any word of a major development like this.

Keep in mind, North Korea has been claiming that they had a miniaturized nuclear warhead since last March. They even put out a photo of their leader, Kim Jong-un, standing in front of this metallic orb, and there was so much skepticism, even ridicule in the media, saying that there was no way North Korea had miniaturized a warhead by that point.

And yet you fast forward, here we are now, July of the next year, and they not only, U.S. analysts believe, have a miniaturized nuclear warhead, but are months away from having a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver that warhead to pretty much all of the mainland United States.

What China is going to say, though, is that the United States shares some of the responsibility here for this escalating situation, because of the military exercises that they engage in regularly with South Korea that North Korea looks at just miles from their border and views as a dress rehearsal for an invasion, and therefore they feel very justified in testing these missiles and developing their nuclear program.

But the fact that China signed off on this new round of sanctions and is promising to enforce them to try to cut $1 billion from North Korea's export income, roughly a third of their export income, it does show, Brooke, that China, just like the rest of the key players in the region, are getting increasingly concerned about this.

BALDWIN: Let me play just this exchange, since you have been in North Korea multiple times. You were there. You had this exchange with a military official. This was April. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: What should the world think when they see these ballistic missiles rolling by? Is North Korea a threat to the world?

"The Korean People's Army is fully ready to attack our enemies at any moment," he says, "if they try to attack us."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Tell me more about that exchange, Will, and what do you think -- what's he saying there?

RIPLEY: Well, what's so remarkable is that I have heard that time and time again. I first started going into North Korea back in late 2014, and officials have always been confident that they would have a weapon like this.

North Korea had it written into their constitution on orders of Kim Jong-un that they will become a full-fledged nuclear power. But back in 2014, even 2015, and last year, people were skeptical, saying it was going to be quite some time before North Korea would be able to accomplish that, and that certainly the sanctions would stop them or slow them, and yet North Korea has proven that they are very resourceful.

They have gotten around the sanctions. They set up fake companies that were able to allow the transfer of billions of dollars cash into that country that have helped pay for this missile program and the parts to build the missiles as well.

And now nobody is skeptical. Now people are realizing that the strategic patience of the Obama years didn't work, and President Trump may be the U.S. president who has to do something to get North Korea either to the diplomatic table to talk about this and try to figure out a way to get rid of the nukes, or the situation could escalate.

And that's the real danger is that, if there's one misstep, that could lead to a chain reaction. Nobody on either side wants a war to break out. Nobody wants to use these weapons, because the consequences would be catastrophic. But the fear, what if there is a mistake that leads to a conflict that there's no walking back from?

BALDWIN: No, the fact that this has been years in the making, the fear years in the faking, we're going have all those conversations here with my next two guests.

Will Ripley, thank you so much.

I have Dave Schmerler, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. And Laura Rosenberger is with us. She was a member of the six-party talks delegation on North Korea's nuclear program under President George W. Bush, and she's the director for China and Korea at the National Security Council. She was under President Obama.

[15:05:13]

So, a huge welcome to both of you.

But, David, I mean, you're the expert here on this nonproliferation and talking about these nukes. I mean, when you hear that this has now happened, years in the making, now happened, reportedly, how worrisome is this?

DAVID SCHMERLER, JAMES MARTIN CENTER FOR NONPROLIFERATION STUDIES: Well, it's certainly not a good thing. But, again, the North Koreans have been telling us that they're moving in this direction as early as last year.

As mentioned previously, the North Koreans had a photo-op with Kim Jong-un early in 2016 showing Kim Jong-un standing in front of an implosion device that was intended for being mated with an ICBM, and then their last nuclear test, they did use words to indicate that they had possibly tested that design.

So it's certainly something that's worrisome, but it's not out of the blue.

BALDWIN: So, Laura, how do you see it? I mean, so much over the years, North Korea, it's been bluster, it's been rhetoric. Yes, they have been testing a lot of these ICBMs, but do you see them actually using it?

LAURA ROSENBERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFF MEMBER: Well, I think that, as you mentioned, this is absolutely a challenge that has vexed numerous administrations of both parties.

It's an incredibly serious challenge. I think we have seen a very clear intention from North Korea's leaders and particularly since Kim Jong-un came to power, a very clear determination to pursue and achieve this capability.

That's why we have seen the pace of missile tests accelerate. That's why we have seen continued nuclear testing. And while there is a whole lot of bluster and rhetoric, I do think that they have been clear in their intentions. And it's a very, very serious challenge that really requires a serious strategy to deal with it.

BALDWIN: So, Dave, we have talked about, you know, what does the U.S. do in response? We know that China here would like it if the U.S. stopped its military exercises with South Korea. The U.S. is saying no way, we need to be ready just in case.

What's the strategy? Is it getting North Korea to the table to have some sort of conversation, to stop this before it gets any worse? What do you foresee?

SCHMERLER: Correct.

I think a conversation is vital to solving this issue. Military conflict on the peninsula would be catastrophic. So I think the only option we really have is to start talking with the North Koreans, to see what they want, to see what the administration wants, and to try to find some type of middle ground between both parties.

BALDWIN: Laura, the White House has said that all options are on the table. Obviously, they said they would prefer to negotiate.

But even yesterday, North Korea said its missiles and nuclear weapons are not up for negotiation. They vowed to retaliate with 1,000-fold revenge over the sanctions that even Russia and China agreed to. So, what is President Trump's move? What does he do now?

ROSENBERGER: It is important...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: That's to Laura.

Go ahead, Laura. ROSENBERGER: Sorry.

It is important that all options remain on the table, I mean, I do think that in any kind of scenario where we are still, in fact, trying to deter North Korea from taking any action that would be harmful to our national security interests or the national security interests of our allies and partners.

But in order to be able to have a successful negotiation, we need to create the conditions for that to happen. I mean, Kim Jong-un, at the moment, has made pretty clear he has no interest in giving up these programs. And so that's why the sanctions are just so important in order to increase that pressure to help change his calculus.

And it can't be sanctions alone. Sanctions are just one of the tools that we have. We need to think about the military options that we have, not necessarily in terms of actually using them in an offensive way, but our posture in the region, the kinds of exercises we can be conducting, making sure our missile defense capabilities are what they need to be.

And frankly, China needs to feel more pressure. I think that we need to be making sure that China understands that there will be consequences for its security if we don't rein in the threat that we face from North Korea.

BALDWIN: What about, Dave, the THAAD system, the anti-missile system, in terms if there were to be an ICBM coming anywhere in our direction, we could knock it down? Where is that?

SCHMERLER: Right. I don't believe -- I don't believe THAAD is designed for an ICBM targeted at the United States. THAAD is more built around the defense of the Korean Peninsula.

And missile defense is great, but it doesn't ultimately solve the problem of nuclear North Korea with missiles that can deliver those bombs. So, it's a layer of defense, like many other things are, but, ultimately, I think conversations, however small, are key to resolving this issue.

BALDWIN: OK. So that's for Korean Peninsula specifically.

Last question, Laura, quickly to you. I was listening to a military colonel on our air today asking the question, is Kim Jong-un suicidal, homicidal, or rational? How would you answer that?

ROSENBERGER: I think Kim Jong-un cares about Kim Jong-un. I mean, this is about his own self-preservation.

[15:10:00]

This isn't even necessarily about the preservation of the regime, I think, in the way his father and grandchildren thought. This is about Kim Jong-un wanting to survive himself.

And so I think that we really need to understand that he sees that -- he sees having this capability as essential to that, just as he's seen taking out all his potential political adversaries, as he sees it, internally as part of the strategy.

This is somebody who has a very clear focus on his own survival. And as we are structuring a strategy, and it has to be a coordinated, integrated strategy. It can't be different messages from different representatives of the different administration and it can't be random tweets.

It has to be a coordinated strategy that sends a very clear signal and helps provide that environment for changing the calculus of the North Korean leader. I think that's absolutely essential.

BALDWIN: Laura and Dave, thank you so much.

ROSENBERGER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: As we are covering all this breaking news here out of North Korea and this advancement that apparently has been years and years in the making here, the president of the United States instead choosing to tweet about polls, specifically CNN polls that show three-quarters of Americans don't believe a word that comes out of the White House.

We're going to get you -- walk you through those damning new numbers.

And the president still hasn't condemned the mosque bombing in Minnesota. Now the community is calling him out. That's next. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:15:30]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Any moment now, the president will be briefed on the opioid crisis devastating America, with more overdose deaths reported than ever before. We will take that as soon as we see it.

But, in the past hour, he has sent out a couple of new tweets, including this one, the president tweeting: "Don't believe the fake news suppression polls."

Perhaps this is in response here to a new CNN poll that shows a crisis of credibility at the White House.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray. She is following the president, who's spending some time at his golf club there in New Jersey.

Sara Murray, lots to talk about in these polls, including the biggie, that number. Basically, three-fourths of Americans don't believe a darn word coming out of the White House.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Look, this is a president who has historically low approval numbers

and that voters and Americans still view very skeptically. So, let's start with whether or not you can trust the information coming out of the White House.

Just 24 percent of Americans say yes to that, a shockingly low number; 73 percent say, no, they don't trust the information that is coming out of this White House, that is coming from this president. And when you look at the approval numbers, yes, the president can slam them on Twitter as much as he wants, but we know he pays attention to these.

His approval rating is at 38 percent. So, 56 percent of Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. This number is at a low for CNN's polling, and he is in very thin company, in terms of presidents who have had approval ratings that are this low just six months into office, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Let me just ask you, Sara, just quickly, since you covered his campaign, you cover the White House, the fact that the president's tweeting about these poll numbers while there's a potential major crisis in a nuclearized warhead in North Korea.

MURRAY: It does make you wonder what the president is paying attention to today.

Even if he were, let's say, paying attention to cable news, he would see that every show is basically leading with this crisis in North Korea. We have obviously asked the White House for any kind of information, any kind of response to the news that we have been getting on this development. So far, we have heard nothing from them.

As you pointed out, we're expecting to hear from the president shortly, as he's at this opioid event. I imagine the reporters who are there for the beginning of that will try to ask him questions about it. We will see if he engages on this issue.

Advisers say, behind the scenes, this is a top concern for the president. He's been dialed in on the issue of North Korea for months, but, so far, we're just getting silence from them today.

BALDWIN: All right, we will listen in very closely on that upcoming event. Sara Murray, for now, thank you in New Jersey.

And just as the president's credibility is under deepening scrutiny, we are learning about an administration attempt to suppress the way officials are talking about climate change.

In an e-mail obtained by CNN, President Trump's Department of Agriculture advised staff members at the Natural Resources Conservation Service to avoid saying the term climate change. Instead, use terms like weather extremes when describing their work.

That is happening on the very same day that 13 federal agencies are contradicting the Trump administration's stance on climate change. "The New York Times" cites a draft report that states -- quote -- "Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change."

One scientist says he leaked the report to "The New York Times" because he was just simply afraid that the Trump administration would change it. And this is partly why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Does the president still believe that climate change is a hoax?

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think you will hear more today about the climate and what he believes. He does not believe that, as I mentioned at the outset, that you -- that there is a binary choice between job creation, economic growth, and caring about the environment. I have not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this.

QUESTION: Yes or no, does the president believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States?

SCOTT PRUITT, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: You know what's interesting about all the discussions we had? The focus remained on whether Paris put us at a disadvantage. And, in fact, it did.

QUESTION: Does the president believe today that climate change is a hoax?

PRUITT: Is Paris good or bad for this country? The president and I focused our attentions there.

QUESTION: Does he still believe it's a hoax?

SPICER: I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Donald Trump did weigh in on climate change as a private citizen and also as a candidate, so let me just read you a couple of tweets.

[15:20:00]

This was back in 2012. He wrote: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive."

OK.

2013, he writes: "It's freezing outside. Where the hell is global warming?"

2015 -- quote -- "I believe in clean air, immaculate air, but I don't believe in climate change."

And, lastly, 2016: "I'm not supposed to be using hairspray. Obama's always talking about the global warming. That global warming is our biggest and most dangerous problem, OK?"

We're going to discuss all of those threads, all these stories, the president and his White House facing a massive credibility crisis.

Also, Google reportedly firing the employee who said women are less suited biologically for technology jobs. Well, there are two sides of any story. We're going to talk to two women, one of whom doesn't believe this guy should have been fired.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:25:23]

BALDWIN: Back on our breaking news here.

Multiple sources say U.S. intelligence analysts have assessed that North Korea has achieved a miniaturized nuclear warhead.

So, Sara Murray, let me just bring you back in over in New Jersey, covering the president there.

We were just talking about this, you know, scrum or Q&A with the president as he was addressing the opioid crisis in the country, and apparently he made news because he did react to this North Korea report. What did he say?

MURRAY: That's right. As we expected, he was asked about this, and the president issued a very stern warning to North Korea. Until we get the video, I'm just going to read you what the president just said.

He said: "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. They will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which the world has never seen."

Now, we know some of the other president's top advisers said all options are on the table when it comes to dealing the North Korea. They have made clear that that includes the military option.

Obviously, we will be waiting to see if they offer any more details on how they plan to deal with this as the day proceeds, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, Sara, thank you very much.

I have got Sabrina Siddiqui here with me, politics reporter for "The Guardian," CNN political commentator Andre Bauer, a Republican, used to serve as the lieutenant governor in South Carolina, and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, when you hear the words out of Trump's mouth, "fire, fury and frankly the power the likes the world has never seen" in talking to, of all people, Kim Jong-un, what do you make of that language?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the language is very strong. I think the saber-rattling goes on, on both sides in this case. And I

think the president is sending a very -- sending a very direct message. You know, the problem this president has right now is -- and we have been talking about this because of our polling -- is his credibility on all issues, including foreign policy.

You know, six out of 10 people don't think he's done a very good job.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Actually, Gloria, let me cut you off. Here's the president. Let's listen in for the precise words he used.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

He has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement. And, as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Thank you. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right, so, that's exactly what Sara Murray just reported out.

Gloria, let me -- you were mid-thought. Go ahead.

BORGER: Well, I mean, look, you saw the president. I mean, he was very somber. He was very determined, clearly angry. They have threatened us. Now we have threatened them back.

And, you know, the question is, does this ratchet up or do we find a way to calm everyone down to avoid something that could -- you know, that could result in the use of force at, you know, at this point?

And I think the president, you know, there is an issue here for the American public. Forgetting the North Korea issue, which we can't, there is an issue because two-thirds of the people out there don't seem to trust what the president says.

And six out of 10 don't give him high marks on handling foreign policy. And so the bar is going to be pretty high for people. They know that Kim Jong-un is crazy. They under -- you know, they understand that. But they may want to see a more measured response before we take it up to -- you know, to another level here.

And I think the president's threat was kind of a tit for tat, and we will have to see what happens next.

BALDWIN: No, I think on that -- and, Sabrina, just asking you, yes, tit for tat, and normally it's the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang that's the over-the-top kind of fiery words. It seems to me that the president is matching, instead of lowering the temperature.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": One of the key concerns that was actually raised by candidate Trump's opponents, and also Republicans, if you recall in the national security community, was whether or not he would be prepared to lead in a time of crisis.

And they were exactly concerned about, you know, his erratic behavior, his propensity to tweet, and I think that, you know, it does contrast what you have heard from those on the foreign policy side of this administration, Nikki Haley, Rex Tillerson, even CIA Director Mike Pompeo, all expressing a desire to de-escalate...

BALDWIN: Right.

SIDDIQUI: ... this conflict and pursue some kind of diplomatic resolution with Pyongyang.

I think the biggest question will be whether or not the president is willing to listen to the counsel of those around --