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Trump To North Korea: Threats To Be Met With Fire And Fury; Defense Secretary Releases Statement On North Korea. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 9, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:06] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump certainly has the world's attention. Thanks to his fiery warning to North Korea. Here's a reminder of what he said after it was reported that the regime is now believed to have the technology to put a nuclear bomb inside a missile


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


BASH: That very last line makes it sound almost apocalyptic, but dig through the Presidents past statement statements. And you notice that there as well president to him describing thing as unprecedented.


TRUMP: A grass roots movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

We are all part of this very historic movement, a movement the likes of which, actually, the world has never seen before.

Unemployment is the lowest since been in 17 years. Business enthusiasm is about as high as they have ever seen. We're being very, very strong on our southern border. And I would say the likes of which this country certainly has never seen.


BASH: CNN's Sara Murray, a reporter, "like the world has never seen before" is now with us from Bedminster, New Jersey, close to where President Trump is vacationing and all serious.

And Sara, some members of Congress, I don't know if you've heard this morning are saying the president's statement was way too strong. John McCain called it "Classic Trump", Dianne Feinstein described it as "bombastic". What are you hearing from your Trump sources?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're certainly concern obviously from the members of Congress because we're not used to president's speaking like this. And I think people are still adjusting to the fact that this is how President Trump behaves when he's in the White House.

So, when you look at what his senior advisors were saying this morning. They say the president was sending a clear and strong message do not test the United States. Here's the one of his advisors Sebastian Gorka have to say about that today.


SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEUPTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: He's saying don't test America and don't test Donald J. Trump. We are not just a superpower, we were a superpower. We are now a hyper power. Nobody in the world, especially not North Korea comes close to challenging our military capabilities.

So the message is very clear, don't test this White House, Pyongyang.


MURRAY: Now, Dana, the president's statement may have shocked some in Washington. But it didn't shock people who are friends of the president, who have known the president for a while. They say that this is basically how he operates. He may take a more bombastic tone, a more fiery tone. But there are always diplomatic channels going on along side that.

And interestingly, that's essentially what we heard from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he was on his way to Guam. He said that America is still safe. He there are still diplomatic channels open with our allies but also with China, also with Russia. And essentially he said, look, it's up to the president to send a strong message and that's what he did. And then we're dealing with the diplomacy over here with the State Department.

BASH: Sara Murray, thank you so much for that report. Are you going to explain what a hyper power is?

MICHAEL SHEAR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Hyper power. You know, it's funny the whole time this -- in the last 24-hours that this has all exploded, maybe wrong choice of words there. But it was I thought back to the 2008 campaign when Senator McCain was asked a question -- when running for president, asked a question about Iran and broke into song and said bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.

BASH: I was there.

SHEAR: Yes. That's right. We were both there I think. And I remember the reaction to that was so dramatic.


SHEAR: Even though it was clear that at that time he was joking, it was different --

BASH: Yes. SHEAR: -- from this situation where, you know, where he was making a formal statement. But even then, you know, that kind of rhetoric is, you know, seen around the world and around the country as, you know, as important.

BASH: And you were talking -- and we were all talking about sort of the now versus then. And in the past several administrations, it has been a very different M.O. in terms of trying to keep things cool diplomatically and with the rhetoric. I want to play some examples of what we heard in the past.


RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea is one of the most repressive societies on earth. It does not prosper. It arms.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Multilateral diplomacy is the best way to peacefully solve the nuclear issue with North Korea.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons, now is the time for a strong international response.


BASH: But did the words mean an effect?

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: No. I mean we have been dealing with this problem for decades now and it's bedeviled every presidents haven't been able to solve it. And Trump is unfortunate enough to inherit a problem where we've really run out of good options. We only have a series of bad options.

When you heard statement about McCain it is sort of interesting how quaint it seems now that him kind of joking around about a Beach Boys song and bombing Iran was such -- it was a reaction to that.

[12:35:11] It reminds also of Reagan when he was caught on a mic joking about bombing the Soviet Union. It fed into this narrative that Reagan was a warmonger and couldn't, you know, couldn't be trusted with the nuclear codes. And with Trump, it's almost like I don't think it shocks us anymore that he would say what he said yesterday and then tweet about it.

BASH: And on that, you know, the president's statement was very strong. But we do have an example of a Democratic President Bill Clinton, actually at the DMZ with a pretty strong statement back in his time. Let's listen.


BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's pointless when you try to develop a nuclear weapon because if they ever use them, it would be the end of their country.


BASH: If they ever use them, it would be the end of their country. Before I get to you, I just want to give one other example. Not about North Korea but more broadly if they can just kind of just to put all of it at historical context because it's important. About you mentioned of Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan and another Republican president having some pretty strong statements that they got a lot of backlash for.


BUSH: There's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said wanted, dead or alive.

REAGAN: I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blindly declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally in cold to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire.


BASH: When he called the Soviet Union the evil empire, people said it was completely irresponsible. He was going to start World War III and Nuclear War. And at the end of the day, the evil empire crumbled.

So if you're Donald Trump you look at that and say, that's just what I'm trying to do here.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: That's such different situations. No, I'm so sorry. I mean we had been in a Cold War with Russia for how many decades. At that point they were already heading into a total economic meltdown. It was almost like -- it wasn't a safe thing for Reagan to do, but it was safer thing. And also there was, you know, we were talking powers that more equally balance, you know, not as equally balanced as we thought at the time.

In this situation you're talking about a regime that nobody knows quite how to predict the actions of. If they get -- the Clinton statement was if they do, you know, launching nuclear weapons, which is very different than if they threatened to which is what they have been doing as Abby pointed out non-stop, right.

If you -- the ultimate question is that normally -- and we knew this about the Soviet Union then too. Having nukes meant not using them.

BASH: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: It meant actually as your distraction. You build up your arsenal to be a threat, but you don't actually fire them up because you don't want to create destruction. Nobody is sure if there is even Pyongyang things the same way and that's the problem.

BASH: Well, and that's a good point in that North Korea, their number one mission of the reason for being in existence is to build a nuclear arsenal. I mean that really if they made a decision a quarter century ago, even longer, to more aggressively, basically starve their people in order to use as much of their money as they can to build up their nuclear power.

ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. And I think honestly, I think where we are now is that if the problem could be solved with just a tougher rhetoric, don't you think someone would have tried it by now and succeeded by now? So it's clearly a much more complex situation --

BASH: Abby, I'm sorry to interrupt you. We actually have some breaking news on this topic. Defense Secretary James Mattis has just released what can be described as an extremely aggressive statement on North Korea.

Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now. Barbara, what is he saying?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Dana, we're just getting this statement from Defense Secretary James Mattis. I want to read it in part to everyone and I think this is the headline. He refers to the DPRK, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. And he says that the DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

He then goes on to say -- and listen to this, the DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people. Worth repeating, Dana and the U.S. Secretary of Defense calling on North Korea to cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.

The defense secretary goes on to say that President Trump was first informed of the growing threat from North Korea back in December. Of course that would be before he took office. And Secretary Mattis goes on to say, that some of the first orders he got from President Trump were to emphasize the readiness of U.S. missile defense and U.S. nuclear deterrence.

The secretary concludes the statement by saying that North Korea's action will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours. And they would lose any arms race or conflict that they initiate.

[12:40:06] But going back, I don't think you can underestimate the precision with which James Mattis says the DPRK, North Korea, should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.

Until this statement, Jim Mattis was a voice for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. He had continued to warn repeatedly before Congress that any military action with North Korea would be catastrophic, that there would be massive casualties. It would be unlike anything people had seen, even perhaps with World War II.

He has been very, very cautious about it. There's no reason to think he's really changed that view, but he clearly has the backing, the authority and perhaps the orders from the White House to come out with this statement now today.

Again, calling on -- warning North Korea about the end of its regime and the destruction of its people. This kind of statement from a U.S. defense secretary would not be coming out if it wasn't coordinated from the White House and it hadn't been coordinated through Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as well.

You're seeing in the last 24-hours a bit of the so-called good cop/bad cop routine, Secretary Tillerson with his state department portfolio, very heavy on diplomacy, trying to tell everybody to take a breath. The U.S. defense secretary warning North Korea in no uncertain terms to stop what it's doing or potentially face destruction. Dana?

BASH: And Barbara, before I let you go. You said something that I think was very important there and that the context of who General Kelly is and -- excuse me -- General Mattis is, and that he has been much more opponent of a diplomatic in a softer tone.

So, given the fact that this is anything but a soft tone, what is your read on this. Is it just, you know, that he's just trying to beef up and amplify what we're hearing from the President of the United States, or is he really trying to get the United States on more of a war footing?

STARR: Well, in terms of a war footing, as secretary of defense, we know for a fact that he is very focused on ensuring that U.S. forces are always ready for any option they would have to present to President Trump. And there are all of those options if it ever came to conflict with North Korea.

So, you know, as defense secretary, number one in his portfolio, ensure that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is fully ready, ensure there's a credible nuclear deterrence, ensure conventional forces are ready. That goes without question as you say. But then it comes to sort of the next set of circumstances. Once all of that is ready, and you can tell the world credibly that it is ready, what about the diplomatic solution?

You know, I think it's potentially possible that what we are seeing here is the administration looking for two voices, one the international diplomatic voice of the secretary of state, and the other voice of the secretary of defense, reminding the world, reminding Kim Jong-Un.

I think Secretary Tillerson had said earlier, you know, that you should take President Trump's words trying to match the rhetoric of Kim Jong-Un because he doesn't listen to anything else. Perhaps there's a bit of that here. But -- and we know that U.S. military policy if you will is if Kim was to launch or give any indication of launching an attack, U.S. military policy is to wipe him out. And he knows that. And that's I think what all of this is coming down to.

Credible deterrent, Kim is going after nuclear weapons because he believes it's a deterrent against what he thinks there's going to be a U.S. invasion, no evidence of that. The U.S. is going for heavy, heavy military deterrence to try and convince Kim not to proceed, that he would be wiped out if he tries anything. This rhetoric is at a level I don't think -- and this equation of deterrence is at a level I don't think we have seen in many years.

BASH: You know, you just led me to my next question. Barbara, you have covered the North Korean nuclear crisis for, you know, several administrations. And you've seen the ebb and flow. Put this into context for us based on what you saw from the Clinton defense department, from the Bush defense department, from the Obama defense department to now?

STARR: Well, President Trump has made the point, I think, that he feels is this should have been dealt with years ago. And there is a case to be made for that by people much smarter than me.

[12:45:06] The North Koreans in the last several years, there's simply no question about it, they have accelerated their nuclear weapons program, which includes both their missiles and their actual nuclear bombs, in an extraordinary way that the U.S. has been really unable to find a way to counter, if you will. Diplomacy has not worked. All of the administrations in the past have tried to sit down with the North Koreans and get a diplomatic solution, even as they continue with the program.

And I think that's why you saw the Trump administration through Secretary Tillerson, very early on say the era of strategic patience is over. But what do you replace that with, are you really going to go to war? And that is a dire solution because there is no limited war option that is credible with North Korea. All of the analysis shows they would instantly launch artillery strikes against the South. Tens of thousands of people might be killed within hours, if not, days.

So this has been the constant problem and this is why I think it's coming back to this battle for who's got the, you know, credible deterrence and who's willing to use it. The U.S. is trying to convince Kim he can't use it, he will -- I mean Secretary Mattis saying it here, end of regime and destruction of people. You use that option, Kim, you are going to be destroyed.

So all of these years of sitting down and talking to them hasn't worked. The question now on the table may be will all of this rhetoric work? What will have to happen to calm it down, what will have to happen to get North Korea to talk to some court and kind of a diplomatic negotiating table, and would anything make them give up their weapons? A very difficult way to see ahead on that because Kim believes his weapons are his ticket to survival.

He could never explain to his own people how he's giving that all up. He has told them for years they must become a nuclear power to deter --

BASH: Yes.

STARR: -- the potential of a U.S. invasion.

BASH: He, his father, his grandfather. Barbara, thank you so much for that excellent reporting and insight. I want to now turn to Former Pentagon Spokesman and CNN Military Analyst John Kirby. You have been involved in writing statements for defense secretaries at times of crisis. When you read this, what is that tell you?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes. It's pretty stark, very direct, very Mattis like. And, you know, there is two paragraphs and seems like as I just went through it real quickly, each one has a purpose.

The first is to make clear that the United States military is ready, prepared, willing to defend itself, to defend our country and our allies. And it gets right to that last sentence and Barbara talked about this quite a bit. That last sentence gets right to what Kim Jong-Un considers his center of gravity which is the regime and survival. And he directly threatens exactly what they don't want to lose, which is their power in Pyongyang. The second paragraph --

BASH: And that last sentence. If I just -- I'm not sure if we have it to put on the screen yet, but I'll just read it just to underscore what you're saying.


BASH: The DPRK regime's actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms rates or conflict it initiates.

KIRBY: Yes. Its right at the heart of what we believe their whole strategic purposes. The second paragraph, you know, he says, look we fully support diplomatic efforts, states departments in the lead, we won't -- you know, he's making it clear that war is not what he wants to do. It's not his preferred option. But it takes a futuristic tone which is, hey, I got to be ready and we are going to be ready. And you should make no mistake about the fact that United States military is more than capable of defending the country and our allies.

So very, very strong language. I have to wonder how much of this was prompted by, obviously what the president said yesterday and whether the defense department was pushed to say this. When you have Tillerson on the plane saying, hey, look, sleep well, everything's fine. We're going to solve this peacefully. And then you got Mattis, you know, kind of coming up the other way and whether that was really --

BASH: What do you think the answer is?

KIRBY: I think -- yes. I think given what I know about how the interagency works of course, and in this administration. I think that the president's caused such a story yesterday that they had to figure out how to wiggle their way through it. And the option was, hey, let's get Tillerson out first, let's lead with the state department, lead with diplomacy, get him out there and calm the waters and take a little bit of the air out.

But also then have Mattis come in sort of a one-two punch to make it clear that while we certainly want to solve this peacefully, the president is not kidding. And sort of bolster up some of the president's rhetoric, that's what I think.

[12:50:03] BASH: But let me just be clear. Is this a tail wagging the dog situation or is it a real --


BASH: It is?

KIRBY: I think so. Yes. I think -- look, I don't think anybody was prepared for what he said yesterday.

And let me put it this way Dana, I think -- had the president stayed on message yesterday on opioids and not mention North Korea and the stuff? I don't you would have seen Tillerson come out on the plane like he did because he doesn't really rarely talks to press on the plane, certainly not on camera.

BASH: Yes. That's true.

KIRBY: And number two, Mattis as Barbara rightly said, Mattis has been pretty reticent, pretty quiet, keeping his cards close, that's his style, he likes to lead quietly. This is not the kind of that think that I'm -- I think he really enjoyed having to do. I think this is all playing cleanup after yesterday.

BASH: Fascinating. John Kirby, thank you so much. I want to bring in around the table now. He was mentioning the last sentence, I read the second paragraph that he was referring to as the DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.

PHILLIP: I think, I believe that was a really smart thing for them to do, to have Mattis do two things. One, put Trump's statements more in line with what you just played from Bill Clinton, in the Demilitarized Zone basically saying, if they do something, it will lead to the end of their regime. That's a different line here, its actions versus threats.

The problem with President Trump's statement yesterday, was that it was a little bit vague and it wasn't quite calibrate into where the U.S. wants to be in terms of what we want to say to North Korea and what we -- or telling them their consequences are going to be for their actions, not just their words.

DEMIRJIAN: Also that there's change irony of, in a good way, of how this all essentially going to end up, is that as Trump started off kind of speaking kind of off the cuff in a way that kind of scared everybody. The fact that Mattis has come out and said this and in a way it almost set up without really specifically saying it almost so, you know, preliminary legal justification, of course, they had to take a preemptive strike on the back of that even their resolution.

Who's the people that listen to Mattis more than anybody and taking it seriously? Beijing, like anybody if -- they would actually hear Mattis as a different kind of a voice, making this sort of step back, you know, President Trump then potentially North Korea would. And if the case is basically he is saying look, I'm backing up the president (INAUDIBLE) could compel China to take more serious actions or think about taking more serious actions to wield its influence over North Korea, short of military action because they have to deal with the mess if it actually got to that point, and there's other things they can do in the interim.

LIZZA: I guess what I don't see yet is a coherence strategy in any of this. If you take a step back and just look at the last week of events, we had this U.N. diplomatic success, 15 to nothing votes. And we got Russia and China to join with us and sanction North Korea seem to be a bit of a diplomatic break through.

And then since then you have this series of comments, first from the President, where people do not really understand what he was saying, maybe being cleaned up a little bit by the secretary of state and in a more dramatic confrontation approach reminding North Korea of the consequences of doing anything militarily.

I think North Korea knows that. They know what the reaction from the United States would be. And the public must be deeply confused by all of this. While all of the sudden North Korea has just, you know, emerged, does this issue and there's all this war like rhetoric all of a sudden. And the President has not come before the American people, explained what the issue is and what the strategy is.

SHEAR: Though there is -- so, I don't disagree that there's probably room for more clarity, right? But there is a kind of arc that goes through of that, which is a ramping up of the aggressiveness, aggressive, more aggressive diplomacy, more aggressive rhetoric, more aggressive language. And they've clearly, the clips that you showed before, they're clearly dissatisfied with where the previous administrations were on this.

And one thing that Barbara reminded us about was that, you know, there's reporting suggests that one of the main things that President Obama told President Trump right before President Obama left office was that this was the biggest problem on his plate.

And so this is not a topic I mean to say. Which you will, but this is not a topic that this administration hasn't thought about since day one.


SHEAR: And so maybe that arc is there. I'm not saying that it's been -- it's --

LIZZA: It's all -- I mean, the thing that were concerns me a little bit is that the State Department is gutted. The people who deal with Asia are not in place because Trump hasn't nominated them. You have Rex Tillerson who was the CEO of ExxonMobil does not have a diplomatic, has never had a diplomatic portfolio like this. So it was very inexperience. And then the other diplomats or the people in charge of the policy are generals, at the Pentagon, at the NSC, now is chief of staff, generals, they're not experienced in diplomacy.

BASH: Well --


BASH: But I would push back on that. I would push back on that only in that -- in the case of North Korea --


BASH: -- it's the military that has to be the -- kind of out front on the diplomacy.

SHEAR: That's the most wary. That's the most wary because they are the ones really historically that have understood better than anybody else.

DEMIRJIAN: But you have to keep in mind also when you're talking about totalitarian regime, that sometimes attacking like this just makes the people rally around the flag more. Actually, what could be happening around North Korea is this they're going to, you know, as it actually bolsters that the regime there to have the sort of thing, coming and take --

BASH: Propaganda machine. Sorry.

[12:55:08] DEMIRJIAN: Well, it's already very strong. But the point is the more you feel attacked maybe reaching Russia, reaching these other places is that they're against us.

So you know it supporting this and so it has to be coupled with the diplomacy like (INAUDIBLE) that can go. Otherwise, it's actually going to potentially be the adverse of that.

BASH: And when have you -- lady you have the final word when went in Asia with the vice president, I asked him if this was rhetoric and search of the strategy. Do you think that is? Oh course that's not true. But what do you think given the state of --

PHILLIP: I think they are definitely still in search of a strategy. I think there is something to what Ryan is saying which is that there isn't always continuity here.

You know, this -- if there were a plan, it would be executed. This is a critical time for them to execute a plan. They had a big win over the weekend at the U.N. And it doesn't seem to have been followed through seamlessly in a way that would show that they, you know, after thinking about it and working on it for eight months, that they have something on the table, that they think they want to go with even if they're not sure its more.

BASH: And in fairness, this is an issue that has vexed even the most experienced diplomats and there are no good options. Thank you so much for that great discussion. Thank you for joining us on "Inside Politics". Wolf Blitzer is up right after the break.