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Report: North Korea Has Developed Mini Nuclear Warhead; 'USA Today': Trump Sent Private Messages to Special Counsel. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 8, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Nuclear warhead. CNN has learned that U.S. intelligence now thinks North Korea has produced a miniaturized missile-ready nuclear weapon. Has Kim Jong-un achieved his goal of an atomic bomb capable of striking the United States?
[17:00:19] Fire and fury. President Trump issues an extraordinary warning to North Korea, saying further threats will be met with unprecedented power. Are his words escalating the already very tense situation?
Trust deficit. A new CNN poll reveals a crisis of credibility for the president with a surprising number of Americans saying they don't believe Mr. Trump is honest and trustworthy. Will a controversial new move on climate change fuel the skepticism?
And tweet vacation. The president takes to Twitter to lash out at the news media, bashing newspapers and unfavorable polling while touting his success. Is there a strategy to his online outbursts?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Disturbing new developments in the standoff with North Korea. Sources are now telling CNN that U.S. intelligence analysts have assessed that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead. Experts say it's only a matter of time before the Kim Jong-un regime can launch a nuclear missile, and the country's foreign minister says its nuclear program is non- negotiable.
President Trump responded with a stunning threat, saying the United States will respond with, quote, "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if North Korea threatens the United States. His national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, has said a North Korea nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States is intolerable to the president and that military options, including launching a preemptive war, are all on the table.
Complicating matters for President Trump, a crisis of credibility. A new CNN poll shows 60 percent of Americans say they don't believe the president is honest and trustworthy. Mr. Trump dismissed the numbers in a tweet, calling them, quote, "fake news suppression polls." We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests,
including Senator Chris Coons on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But first, let's get straight to the breaking news, and it is significant. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, a very ominous new development involving North Korea.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very disturbing development tonight, Wolf, coming on the heels of CNN's reporting that Kim Jong-un could be just months away from having a nuclear-capable missile that could reach the U.S.
Tonight Kim is threatening to take what his regime calls, quote, "physical action to retaliate for new U.N. sanctions." And he now seems frighteningly close to being able to back that up.
TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-un appears to have ramped up his capability to deliver his deadliest weapons, and tonight is drawing a stern warning from President Trump about threatening the U.S.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.
TODD: U.S. intelligence officials have assessed that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, including its long-range ICBMs that could reach the United States. That's according to multiple sources familiar with the analysis of Kim's missile and nuclear program. The one source tells CNN this is not a consensus viewed by the entire intelligence community.
LT. CL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVE: Because of the North Korean progress, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington state, Oregon, California are all now threatened directly by the progress that Un and the North Koreans have made.
TODD: A missile expert explains where that miniaturized warhead would go and how it would work.
THOMAS KARAKO, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Within this nose cone or shroud would be the warhead. That, you know, goes up into space, separates, comes back down. And a pointed object is going to enter the atmosphere very fast.
TODD: Sources tell CNN, it is not believed the warhead capability has been tested. And there's another key question tonight about the missiles that would deliver it.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: It's unclear that that reentry vehicle that would hold the warhead would survive coming back into the atmosphere and reaching the target. TODD: For a warhead to reach its target, it has to reenter the
atmosphere from space at very high speed. So the engineers need to protect it from extreme heat. North Korea has already been testing heat shields that protect the warhead during its fiery reentry.
President Trump's national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, recently said the possibility that North Korea could possess nuclear weapons capable of reaching America would be, quote, "intolerable" and could lead to a U.S. military response. What could that response be?
[17:05:03] SHAFFER: One of the options is to use military weapons, precision-strike weapons to take these weapons out, both in their hide sites, the deep underground facilities, as well as, as they're being mounted to the weapon themselves. These are all throughout North Korea. We do know where a lot of them are.
TODD: But that option comes with a warning tonight about how Kim Jong-un could strike back.
SHAFFER: Because we have Seoul right on the border within direct artillery range, one of the very likely retaliations would be a launch of weapons, direct artillery weapons, against Seoul. Seoul, for example, is a hostage city.
TODD: A densely populated city of more than 10 million people also in the target range of Kim and his million-man army, some 28,000 American troops in South Korea. Some estimates project tens of thousands of people killed in the first couple of days of a potential conflict -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, what are the latest assessments of how many nuclear bombs North Korea may already have?
TODD: Well, according to "The Washington Post," Wolf, U.S. officials calculated last month that Kim has got up to 60 nuclear weapons right now, but I spoke a short time ago with David Albright, a respected former U.N. weapons inspector, who tracks this whole thing very closely. He says that number 60 is a worst-case estimate. He says more realistically, North Korea still has about 30 nuclear bombs now. Still, very, very ominous.
BLITZER: Yes, 30 or 60, very, very ominous indeed. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr; our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto; and CNN's Will Ripley, who's joining us from Beijing. He's traveled extensively to North Korea.
How ominous, Jim Sciutto, is this situation right now?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this threat from the president is certainly extremely unusual. Whether it was intentional or not, we don't know. But these words coming from the president's mouth, in effect, setting a new red line here, saying, the president very explicitly, if North Korea makes another threat, the U.S. will respond with fire and fury. North Korea makes threats all the time. What does that mean? What does it actually mean the U.S. response will be? Does it set this administration up for its own failure to enforce a red line? How does North Korea interpret this threat?
Keep in mind that North Korea is a very nervous power. It sees enemies and threats all around it, not just from the west. The U.S., North -- South Korea, rather, Japan, even its ally, China. It sees the U.S. moving military resources into the region: submarines, ships, aircraft, et cetera. Does it take one of those movements as a hostile movement and then feel the need, defensively in its view, to react militarily?
There are a lot of things North Korea can do short of launching a nuclear-tipped missile. It could shoot at U.S. aircraft, at U.S. -- at U.S. ships in the region. And keep in mind -- and as you know, Wolf, the president retweeted this report earlier today, which seemed to contain the possibly classified information that North Korea was equipping patrol boats with anti-ship missiles, which could be a threat to U.S. ships in the region.
Presidential language matters. The words coming from the president's mouth, via Twitter or in a comments like this, matters and it's the kind of thing that can cause a reaction from a state like North Korea, which is a very nervous power with lots of very dangerous weapons in that region, even short of ICBMs and missiles.
BLITZER: You know, significantly, the president made this statement at an unrelated photo opportunity. He clearly came prepared. He knew reporters were going to ask him for his comments. Fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.
SCIUTTO: Well, remember, we were talking even just a few days ago, how long has John Kelly been his chief of staff? The interpretation was John Kelly was going to keep the president from tweeting or making comments on the most sensitive issues.
It's hard to imagine a more sensitive issue today than North Korea. And these are very, at a minimum, compelling comments but potentially incendiary comments.
BLITZER: Let me go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. What are your sources over there telling you, Barbara? This sounds extremely dangerous right now.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson still, by every measure we see, really hoping for diplomacy to work. There's no indication at this point that the North Koreans are ready for that.
But Defense Secretary Mattis for months now has been warning the prospect of war with North Korea would be catastrophic, that the death toll would be enormous, that the North Koreans could quickly retaliate with that very well-understood attack on Seoul. So I think we have to see in the coming days where the president's
rhetoric really fits into this overall picture. There is a sense, perhaps, perhaps with some people, that he's trying to match Kim's rhetoric, trying to send that message. But the question is what message is North Korea actually hearing?
BLITZER: You know, Will Ripley, you've been to North Korea 13 times over the past few years. What's Kim Jong-un's end game right now?
[17:10:09] WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what he wants is to perfect this ICBM with a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could reliably deliver it to anywhere in the mainland United States. Because he feels that, once he has that weapon in his arsenal -- and this is the sense that I got even as recently as June, when I was in North Korea, speaking with officials there. Once they have this weapon, they feel that they really do have an insurance policy against what they've been telling their citizens for a very long time, for decades, is the imminent threat of invasion by the United States. They told their citizens that American started the Korean War, which goes against the views of all outside historians. They tell citizens they have to train and be prepared for the next war. These are even young children who are being told this, that America could attack at any minute.
And so therefore, he wants to have a weapon in his arsenal to prevent that and also to tell his own citizens that he is strong and he is in command, and hopefully, perhaps have his leverage in dealing with the international community, and in particularly, the United States.
BLITZER: How's Kim Jong-un, Will, likely to respond to President Trump's threat. He said North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. He warned of fire, fury and, frankly, power the likes of which the world has never seen before. How is Kim Jong-un likely going to respond to that threat from the president?
RIPLEY: There are a number of ways that North Korea will likely respond. They'll certainly put out a very strongly-worded statement of their own, their own fiery rhetoric. North Korea has said things like this about the United States, that they'll rain fire down on Washington, that the United States will be annihilated in a nuclear attack. So that kind of rhetoric from North Korea is not unusual, but they've never had a weapon like the one that they have right now.
We could also see more missile tests or other acts, other ways to project strength militarily. Perhaps we'll see them fire a missile into the sea. Perhaps we'll see them test another ICBM. And then of course, we've been saying for months now intelligence indicates that North Korea is ready to push the button on their sixth nuclear test at some point. It hasn't happened yet. Could this push Kim Jong-un to the point where he decides it's time for that nuclear test?
That's what we don't know now, and what we also don't know now is how the United States will respond. Because if verbal threats are a red line, then what will the U.S. do, if and when there's another major test like the two ICBM launches that occurred just last month? BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jim. The threat from the
president, North Korea better not make any more threats. You know the North Koreans are going to be threatening a lot.
SCIUTTO: Right. And do they do that intentionally to, in effect, test the president and then call out the U.S. for not responding, right, sensing weakness there, at least for their own population and elsewhere. It sets up a whole host of possibilities here.
And keep in mind it's not just North Korea that's nervous. It's U.S. allies in the region. Japan, South Korea, they're talking about arming in ways they haven't armed before because of that threat.
BLITZER: It's an amazing development right now we're staying on top of. Everybody, I want you to stand by, because we're going to continue following the breaking news. Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware is joining us. He's a key member of both the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.
Senator, first of all, you heard what the president just said. If North Korea continues making more threats, they will be met with what the president describes as fire, fury and power the likes of which the world has never seen before.
When you heard that, what does that mean to you?
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, Wolf, I was reminded that, as a candidate, President Trump promised that he would be unpredictable and unconventional. In his first seven months in office, he's certainly demonstrated that he's kept to that promise.
I think this is a very dangerous moment. And it's important for our president not to be unpredictable. It's important for President Trump to tweet less and to coordinate closely with our regional allies, South Korea and Japan, and to carefully calibrate statements, threats and actions.
It's clear that the counter -- that the response from North Korea could impose punishing losses on South Korean civilians, potentially on American troops on the Korean Peninsula. And so I think we need to proceed very carefully.
I'll congratulate the Trump administration on having secured a 15-0 vote in the United Nations Security Council last weekend and moving forward with tough sanctions on North Korea, but I think this is a time for us to redouble our diplomatic efforts with China and to make sure that we are coordinating closely with our regional allies to avoid a miscalculation.
BLITZER: But couldn't a statement like the one we just heard from the president actually provoke Kim Jong-un and others in North Korea?
COONS: Yes, absolutely. As was just discussed in the segment, North Korea is known for having an isolated leadership. Kim Jong-un is 35 years old, we think. We don't even know his exact birthday. He's only been in control of the country since 2011. And he's given to very bellicose, aggressive rhetoric, and he's now, according to some intelligence reports, managed to marry their recent nuclear developments and ICBM developments with, potentially, an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the American homeland.
[17:15:14] This is a very destabilizing development, and I think we need to proceed carefully; and President Trump needs to deliver a clear strategy to the American people and certainly to his partners in Congress so that we can move forward in a way that is measured, thoughtful, and doesn't lead to an unexpected conflict with North Korea.
BLITZER: And you heard that he may have, maybe 30 nuclear bombs already, maybe as many as 60 according to that U.S. intelligence estimate that was reported in "The Washington Post." But what number are you hearing lately, Senator? How many nuclear bombs does Kim Jong-un already have?
COONS: Well, I can only repeat to you open-source reporting, which as you've already covered, is somewhere between 2 dozen and 50 or 60. In any event, they certainly have dozens of nuclear warheads, and they've detonated several in recent years. So I don't think we can question whether or not North Korea has nuclear weapons.
The question is, can they accurately deliver them? And this makes it an increasingly destabilized Korean Peninsula and region. Abd the likelihood that they could strike the American homeland makes this an extremely dangerous situation and one where I hope the Trump administration will proceed cautiously.
BLITZER: The Trump administration says all options are on the table, including the military option. But realistically, Senator, is there a good military option on the table?
COONS: There is no good military option. Because North Korea has thousands -- I think roughly 8,000 artillery and rocket pieces that are embedded deeply in the hillsides north of Seoul, they could exact a punishing revenge on South Korea almost immediately after a first strike by the United States. So there is no good or easy option here.
A conflict with North Korea would not be quick and would not be painless. But we do have to measure the very real possibility that North Korea's dictator might directly threaten America's homeland and our civilian population. That's a very high threat level, indeed, and I think this is exactly the sort of thing that calls for measured, careful but decisive American leadership in the region.
BLITZER: The North Korean regime has promised retaliation against the United States. Do you believe Kim Jong-un?
COONS: I believe that Kim Jong-un is someone who believes his back is to the wall, who has been raised in a country where they have believed for decades that the United States would like to effect a regime change, and so I think this paranoid, militaristic and capable young leader is someone whose threats we should take very seriously.
BLITZER: The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, over the weekend, he was in Manila, in the Philippines at this meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He pointedly did not meet with the North Korean foreign minister, even though the North Korean foreign minister did meet with the South Korean foreign minister, the Russian foreign minister, a whole bunch of other foreign ministers. Was it a mistake for the U.S. Not to meet with him?
COONS: Well, I'm not sure exactly how Secretary Tillerson is proceeding on his diplomatic strategy with North Korea. My hope would be that we will later learn there were side meetings and that there are side channels being explored. At the same time that we prepare for a possible military confrontation with North Korea, it's my hope that we're continuing an all-hands diplomatic front in order to push China to take a more decisive role here in pressing the North Korean regime to take down its rhetoric and to step back from further confrontation with South Korea, Japan and the United States.
BLITZER: Well, do you believe the U.S. should engage in direct talks with North Korea?
COONS: I think we should engage in direct talks as long as the possibility of their relinquishing their nuclear weapons ambitions is on the table for negotiation.
BLITZER: Well, they're not going to do that. You don't really believe they're going to give up their nuclear weapons program. They see that as their insurance policy for survival.
COONS: Well, I think they misperceive America's aggressive stance towards them. We've previously made statements that regime change is not our goal. Secretary Tillerson has recently made statements that we don't intend to invade North Korea; that we don't intend to seek regime change in North Korea.
So I do think there are things we can discuss. But I also think that we need to be prepared for the worst. We need to recognize that North Korea is an isolated, heavily militarized nation that is paranoid and that see threats all around it.
Even China is amping up its pressure against North Korea by joining with the United States and Russia in a U.N. Security Council-imposed sanctions regime has not persuaded them to back off.
So Wolf, this is very difficult and treacherous situation.
[17:20:15] BLITZER: Yes. We've got to take a break, but I'll just point out to you what others have pointed out. The North Koreans watched very closely Moammar Gadhafi of Libya give up his nuclear weapons program. Where's Moammar Gadhafi right now? Where's his regime? They don't want to follow in that -- with that example.
Senator, stay with us. There's much more developing right now in the breaking news. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, an extraordinary warning by President Trump to North Korea, which U.S. intelligence now believes has a nuclear weapon capable of fitting on a missile, according to sources.
We're back with Democratic senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, I want you to stand by. I need to go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray. She's in New Jersey with the president right now.
[17:25:09] Sara, some extraordinarily strong words from the president involving North Korea.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and we know that over the past couple of days, the president has huddled with officials about the situation in North Korea. They have made clear that all options are on the table, including the military option, and the president himself appeared to be try to be getting that across today in a very stern warning to North Korea.
MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump issuing a sharp warning today to North Korea.
TRUMP: 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. 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.
MURRAY: The president saying dire consequences lie ahead if North Korea's nuclear threats continue. The warning as the president injects a dash of policy to his New Jersey retreat...
TRUMP: It is horrible what's going on with opioid and other drugs.
MURRAY: ... vowing to combat the opioid crisis as Trump faces a credibility crisis of his own.
Six months into his presidency, just 38 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing. Fifty-six percent disapprove, according to the latest CNN polls.
But it's clear the new president is already facing a credibility gap, with 60 percent of Americans saying they don't believe Trump is honest and trustworthy.
Add to that, only a quarter of Americans say they believe all or most of the official communications in the White House, compared to 30 percent who say they don't understand anything they hear from the president's office.
A series of questionable moves by the administration may only fuel American skepticism, like this recommendation from Department of Agriculture officials to drop the term "climate change" and instead refer to "weather extremes," according to an e-mail obtained by CNN.
The guidance comes under a president who has frequently questioned the scientific consensus behind human impact on rising global temperatures.
But Trump has also faced scrutiny for his handling of classified information. On Tuesday, he retweeted a FOX News report, based on anonymous sources who leaked the information. It declared, U.S. By satellites detected North Korea moving anti-cruise missiles to patrol boat. This is what Nikki Haley had to say about that issue.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I can't. I can't talk about anything that's classified, and if that's in the newspaper, that's a shame.
MURRAY: But the president apparently has no qualms about once again sharing potentially classified information. In July, Trump tweeted about a covert CIA program to arm Syrian rebels, after "The Washington Post" reported the administration planned to end it. Sources say Trump also shared highly-classified information with Russian officials when he invited them into the Oval Office in May.
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: It is alarming the casualness with which President Trump sharesoverwhelming how much the president shares classified information.
(END VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY: Now one of the things we have not heard much from President Trump much about today is the Russian investigation, but his chief counsel, John Dowd, did a fascinating interview with "USA Today" in which he reveals that President Trump actually asked him to pass along his appreciation for the work Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is doing in the Russia investigation. Trump's lawyer said he did just that.
Obviously, a very different tone going on privately between these two gentlemen than what we've heard from the president publicly.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very different tone, indeed. Very interesting. Sara, thanks very much. Sara Murray in New Jersey for us.
Senator Coons, let me ask you. Do you think it's appropriate for the president to be passing along these private messages through his legal team to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as "USA Today" is now reporting?
COONS: That seems an odd choice, Wolf. I really think the best course of action for the president is just stay away from the Russia investigation and Special Counsel Mueller altogether. Allow him to conduct his investigation and to reach whatever conclusion the information, the evidence justifies.
As I think you know, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Republican Senator Tom Tillis just before we went out for August in order to buttress Special Counsel Mueller and to make sure that a strong by bipartisan signal was sent to protect him from any sort of interference by the executive.
BLITZER: Yes, because your proposal, a bipartisan proposal, would prevent Mueller from being fired by the president, for all practical purposes.
Here's the question, Senator. Have you spoken to your chairman, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, about this? Do you have assurances that your committee will vote on this proposal?
COONS: We don't have a commitment yet from the committee chairman. Senator Tillis has reached out to Chairman Grassley. I've heard from Ranking Member Feinstein. She's willing to go ahead and support the bill, and I'm waiting to hear from Senator Tillis about how their conversation went.
There's another bill, by the way, that senators Graham and Booker also introduced right before we left that similarly protects the special counsel, and I think that suggests a widening number of senators interested in this topic and willing to legislate to protect Robert Mueller from any interference.
BLITZER: So you're leaving it to Senator Tillis to deal with the chairman? Is that right?
COONS: So far. I do intend to reach out to the chairman, as well. And given the way that Chairman Grassley has conducted himself in leading the Judiciary Committee in pursuing obstruction of justice and pursuing some of the leads around failure to report for former senior administration officials, I think he is interested in acting to defend this investigation.
The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Justice, and the chairman has acted actively to make sure that the jurisdiction of the committee is protected, and I would expect him to ultimately come to a point of being supportive.
BLITZER: Senator Coons, thank you so much for joining us.
COONS: Thank you.
BLITZER: The breaking news continues here. Red-hot rhetoric as the North Korea crisis escalates dramatically today. Is President Trump threatening the use of force?
Plus, the credibility crisis plaguing the president and the White House. We have exclusive and surprising new poll numbers.
[17:36:22] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. President Trump warning of, quote, "fire and fury" if North Korea threatens the United States. This tough talk in response to word that U.S. intelligence now thinks North Korea has a miniaturized nuclear weapon that could fit on a missile. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and specialists. And Gloria
Borger, I want you to listen and our viewers to listen once again to the president's very, very strong statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), 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. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So how did you read that? Because you know the North Koreans are going to issue a lot of verbal threats.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, I think look, he thinks they are sabre rattling, so he is sabre rattling back. We're not used to that from American presidents.
What you need to do is lower the temperature and not increase the temperature, and in a way, I think you could say that he's playing right into Kim's hands. Because they can now say that "The U.S. regime is threatening us, and we have no choice but to defend ourselves and even to retaliate."
I mean, the question that I have is what does Seoul think about this? You know? And you know -- and how nervous? And what do our allies think about this kind of sabre rattling? I mean, you know, we -- the administration is to be given credit for the Security Council vote, the unanimous Security Council vote. I think that's a great achievement. But now what? And, you know, we have to join our allies, not isolate ourselves from our allies.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, how do you interpret the president's very powerful statement?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: First of all, you're putting North Korea on the same level as the U.S., in effect, which is exactly what they want. Right? They send these kinds of rhetorical shots across the bow all the time in this very flowery kind of goofy language. In a way, you're matching that language here.
Second of all, listen, the United States has 7 and a half thousand nuclear warheads. It could level the planet many times over. You don't really have to remind people of that. North Korea is a much smaller threat, a containable threat to some degree.
So what exactly is the president threatening? What does he mean by fire and fury? Is he talking about a nuclear strike on North Korea? What does that mean for our allies? South Korea is just across the border, with its capital within 20 miles of the North Korean border. It would -- first of all, it would be a target of North Korea and certainly would have to deal with the consequences of, if that's what the president is threatening, nuclear strike.
And then beyond that, what is he threatening it for? If North Korea makes a threat again? That was the president's specific wording here. North Korea makes threats every other day. Right? Is that a new red line? Those were Obama's somersaults that he went through for making the red line versus...
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But you know, we edit the president now so much just sort of automatically, but what he said was, the fire and fury will not be met -- will not meet an attack on the United States. He said just a threat will meet a fate worse than Hiroshima, I mean, like the world has ever seen. I don't think anyone believes that, but I think it's the problem with having a president who sort of congenitally overstates what he's saying.
BLITZER: We know that President Obama, in his final days, when he was meeting with then-President-elect Trump, told him the gravest national security threat facing the United States is North Korea. And clearly, this is shaping up as the greatest national security threat that President Trump has had to deal with, at least so far.
[17:40:17] REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no doubt about it, Wolf. When President Obama gave President Trump, then- President-elect Trump that advice, North Korea, there wasn't a consensus that they had miniaturized a nuclear weapon, that they were at this stage of capability. Now there is an intelligence consensus that they are at this stage of capability.
That changes the game entirely. That removes a number of options from an already slim menu of options that the United States had in dealing with North Korea and makes this an even tougher problem to solve.
I mean, when we talk about fire and fury, what is the feasibility of that? When you have Seoul in range, when you have Tokyo in range, when you have U.S. troops on the peninsula? I mean, "fire and fury" might sound tough, but when you think of this from a practical standpoint, it's actually very difficult when you're dealing with a nuclear armed state.
And so that's why you have people like Senator Dianne Feinstein coming out in a statement and saying diplomacy, in her mind, is the path forward at this point.
BORGER: You know, "fire and fury" kind of reminds me of "shock and awe." Do you remember that? And -- but that wasn't anything that was said before. That was something that was said...
BORGER: ... after. Now, so it makes me wonder whether there is something written somewhere that says "fire and fury."
TOOBIN: He said it twice.
TOOBIN: It was obviously not an accident.
BORGER: It sort of makes me -- it sort of makes me wonder whether that was something that had been said or written.
SCIUTTO: Raised the level with "unlike the world has ever seen before."
SCIUTTO: I mean, you're making reference, it seems, veiled reference to the use of nuclear weapons.
BLITZER: He came into that photo op ready to make that statement.
BLITZER: Clearly, he was thinking about it. Contrast that, Jeff, to what the president said in an interview back in April with John Dickerson of CBS News. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS: What do you make of the North Korean leader?
TRUMP: I have -- I really, you know, have no comment on him. People are saying, is he sane? I have no idea.
I can tell you this, and a lot of people don't like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died. He's dealing with, obviously, very tough people, in particular the generals and others, and at a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else, and he was able to do it.
So, obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie, but we have a situation that we just cannot let -- we cannot let what's been going on for a long period of years continue. And frankly, this should have been done and taken care of by the Obama administration. It should have been taken care of by the Bush administration; should have been taken care of by Clinton.
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TOOBIN: It was a curlicue of a statement. It was sort of, you know, positive/negative. And, you know, in fairness to the president and to the Trump administration, this is a very hard problem. And he says, you know, Bush should have taken care of it; Obama should have taken care of it. If there was an obvious solution, it would have been accomplished by now.
What to do with someone with nuclear weapons 20 miles from Seoul? I certainly don't know.
SCIUTTO: That cross-party criticism is clearly justified, because Republican and Democratic administrations have set a red line, in effect, no nuclear weapons for North Korea, and lo and behold, that's where we are today.
But -- but to describe the North Korean leader in positive terms -- yes, he has to deal with competition at home. He kills rivals with anti-aircraft weapons in soccer stadiums. That's a fact. He killed another rival, a half-brother with a chemical weapon in the Kuala Lumpur airport. I mean, you know, to make that kind of positive comment about the North Korean leader as a U.S. president is a very remarkable thing to do.
BLITZER: And we just got a statement in that we saw, John McCain giving a radio interview, the senator from Arizona, in which he said, "I take exception to the president's comments, because you've got to be sure
that you can do what you say you're going to do, in other words, the old 'walk softly but carry a big stick'."
All right. Everybody stay with us. We're going to have more on the breaking news. President Trump's unprecedented threat no North Korea as the Kim Jong-un regime appears to have reached a nuclear milestone.
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TRUMP: 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.
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[17:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news tonight. President Trump is threatening North Korea with, quote, fire and fury now that the Kim Jong-un regime is believed to have developed a miniaturized nuclear weapon. We'll have more on that.
That's coming up, but right now, candidate Donald Trump, as you know, frequently criticized President Obama for the time he spent golfing -- even more time on the links than his predecessor.
Our Senior Washington Correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us right now.
Brianna, we are just past the 200-day mark in this Trump presidency. He's already spent a considerable amount of time at the golf course.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He is. He's quite the prolific golfer. This is such a part of Donald Trump's life.
It's really confounding that he ever said he wouldn't golf -- that was a promise that he made on the trail -- because Donald Trump not golfing is like Donald Trump not tweeting. It's just not going to happen.
[17:50:03] KEILAR (voice-over): For President Trump, golf is more than just a game. It's a way of life. It seems he'd rather entertain world leaders like Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the links than in the White House.
And Trump casual? It's not jeans and sneakers. It's khaki pants and golf shoes, even for a visit to tour the U.S.-Mexico border as a candidate.
In March, the President held a meeting with several cabinet secretaries at his course near Washington. And he's spending a 17-day working vacation at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club. Though he tweeted, this is not a vacation -- meetings and calls. But also --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can I start doing a good job for you all?
KEILAR (voice-over): -- golf. Trump in a clear state of play greeted guests of a wedding Saturday at Bedminster's clubhouse, all this time on the course.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump for the birdie.
KEILAR (voice-over): Head scratching, considering Trump constantly hammered President Obama for golfing.
TRUMP: Everything is executive order because he doesn't have enough time because he's playing so much golf.
I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go play golf.
He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods. I love golf. I think it's one of the greats, but I don't have time.
But I'm not going to be playing much golf, believe me. If I win this, I'm not going to be playing much golf.
KEILAR (voice-over): At this point in his presidency, Obama had spent 11 days golfing. Since taking office, Trump has visited his golf properties several days each month, 48 in total as of Tuesday and counting.
In 2012, Trump criticized Obama for playing mostly with close friends, tweeting, he should play golf with Republicans and opponents. That way, maybe the terrible gridlock would end.
As president, Trump has not taken his own advice. He's played with senators but only members of his own party. Rand Paul back in April, and Senator Bob Corker in June. Joined by football great, Peyton Manning.
KEILAR (voice-over): The President has teed it up with CEOs and quite a few professional golfers, including Ernie Els, David Frost, and Rory McIlroy, who revealed in February he'd played 18 holes with the President after now White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Trump had played only a couple of holes that day.
The White House has tried to downplay just how much golf Trump plays, and with whom, saying a trip to a golf course doesn't mean he played.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just because you go somewhere doesn't necessarily mean that you did it. So on a couple of occasions, he's actually conducted meetings there. He's actually had phone calls. So just because he heads there doesn't mean that that's what's happening.
KEILAR (voice-over): But in the era of social media, even the walls of the country club have ears and eyes. On Instagram in March, check out that presidential golf glove. And in June.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the only place you could drive on the green, right? Your own golf course.
KEILAR (voice-over): Busted on Twitter breaking a cardinal rule of golf etiquette. But that's the norm, according to sports writer Rick Reilly who played with Trump when he was writing his book, "Who's Your Caddy?"
RICK REILLY, AUTHOR, "WHO'S YOUR CADDY? LOOPING FOR THE GREAT, NEAR GREAT, AND REPROBATES OF GOLF": It's like bringing your own ham to a great restaurant. It's just not done. It's the worst thing you can do.
And he also parks his cart on the tee box. And when you ask him, why? He says, hey, it's my course.
KEILAR (voice-over): Trump has only visited courses he owns since becoming President. He has 17 from Los Angeles to the East Coast to Ireland, Scotland, and the United Arab Emirates. He takes as much pride in his courses as he does his game, so those trying to get on his good side do best to mention it.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: But here's what I'd tell you about the President. He's the most competitive person I've ever met. He sinks three-foot putts.
KEILAR (voice-over): Short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci probably meant to say 30-foot putts. Three-foot putts aren't that hard to make, especially when you take gimmes the Trump way.
REILLY: Most people give you a putt within the leather. That means the leather -- the length of the leather grip on your putter. He takes putts within a driver, just like those long drivers.
And it's just like, well, wait a minute. What about that putt you just took? And by that, that moment is gone. And he's -- now he's over here tipping some greens keepers, and then he's over here yelling at some people that are building his cart path. And it's madness. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KEILAR: But also a lot of fun to hear Rick Reilly and other folks who played with Donald Trump describe it. They say he is the consummate host, if not factually challenged when it comes to his golf score, Wolf, because reportedly, Donald Trump claims a 2.8 handicap. That means -- I mean that's a very elite level of play. You're looking at someone who would shoot in the mid-70s and maybe the low 70s.
When you talk to people who played with him, including professional golfers like Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy, they say he's more likely to shoot in the 80s, which is still nothing to be ashamed of. That is fantastic golf, but he does exaggerate about it.
BLITZER: Yes, it's excellent golf.
KEILAR: Fantastic. We would be so lucky to shoot in the 80s.
BLITZER: And you're a pretty good golfer yourself, so you know what you're talking about.
KEILAR: And I would be lucky to shoot in the 80s most days now.
BLITZER: How good are you?
KEILAR: It's been a while, so I would be happy to shoot in the 80s. That would be a fantastic round for me.
[17:55:00] BLITZER: Most people would be very happy.
KEILAR: I'd say the 90s now.
BLITZER: All right. Brianna, good report, very good report.
KEILAR: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. Coming up, we're going to get back to the breaking news.
We're following a very dramatic escalation in the crisis with North Korea today. Kim Jong-un now believed to have a nuclear weapon that can fit on a missile, prompting an unprecedented warning from President Trump.
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TRUMP: They will be met with fire, fury, and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.
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