Return to Transcripts main page


White House: Trump's Thinking Hasn't Changed After New Threat; Trump To Get Security Briefing At Resort Amid North Korea Threat; Source: Trump Was Golfing During Animated McConnell Call. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired August 10, 2017 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are looking at breaking news right now, a war of words on two fronts for President Trump, one with the man whose help he needs to get anything done in Congress, the other with an upstart nuclear power, crossing his red line, and threatening to fire missiles near U.S. territory.

Let's start with the latter right now. One of Kim Jong-un's generals throwing this at the president today saying he's, quote, "bereft of reason" and calling his fire and fury warning nonsense.

Well, Pyongyang state media says the regime is finalizing a plan to fire ballistic missiles within miles of Guam. That threat has 160,000 people on that American territory right now in the Pacific on edge.

CNN's Ivan Watson is there, but I want to get over to Joe Johns right now, who is traveling with the president on his working vacation in Bedminster. We are getting word of a new statement coming out from the White House in response to this back and forth with North Korea. Joe, what are you hearing?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We just heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary. She said this afternoon the president will be attending a meeting with some of the high-level members of his national security team, including the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

The vice president will be coming up for the meeting with the president, as well as the chief of staff, John Kelly. It's not clear right now as to whether the president will make a statement, however, that opportunity will be presented to us.

We also heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders today that, from her position, nothing has changed since that dramatic and detailed threat made by North Korea just last night. So, I think those are the details.

Nothing has changed from the perspective of the White House press secretary hoping to see the president this afternoon between 3:00 and 4:00 Eastern Time -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, much more to come, but a new statement, nonetheless, coming from the White House. Thank you, Joe. We'll keep a close eye there.

Joining me right now to discuss this development, CNN military analyst, Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, and Laura Rosenberger, was a foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton's campaign and also a former National Security Council official under Obama and also served on the six-party talks delegation with North Korea under George W. Bush.

Thank you so much both of you for being here. Laura, I don't want to call it a tit for tat because I don't want to diminish it, but what do you make of this response to the North Korean's new threat that we are getting from the White House?

I'll just read you exactly what the statement that we got from the White House was essentially certainly nothing has changed in the president's thinking. I think he made very clear where he stands on this front, that coming from the press secretary.

LAURA ROSENBERGER, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR CHINA AND NORTH KOREA, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Yes, I think it's really important that we get out of what appears to be a war of words here. North Korea makes threats all the time. The North Korean threats that they are making are certainly serious, but nothing in their language actually indicates there's anything in the way of an imminent attack.

But I worry that the words that the president has been choosing are uncoordinated from a strategy and words others in his administration are using. I think that that leaves a lot of room for potential miscalculation, which is my biggest concern in this entire scenario.

Our credibility is on the line, deterrence and reassurance are critical to how we deal with this threat, and when our allies and our adversaries don't know what to make of the words that we are choosing, it really leaves a lot of room for error and on this issue, there is no room for error.

BOLDUAN: General, on the issue of words, what do you make -- was this adlib? We've learned it was adlibbed. That's not (inaudible) for President Trump. He speaks for himself, they always say that. It is unusual in such a sense of topic for any president.

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely. I think what this -- well, I could probably jump back and with confidence to say none of his national security advisers gave him a 3 x 5 card that says, Mr. President, here are the things, start with fire, follow with fury.

Nobody did that. So, I think the president, without getting too psychological, took this very, very personal, which I think he does. He made it super crystal clear to North Korea what he intends to do.

But, as we have discussed over the last couple days, the intended audience was North Korea. The audience that really heard the message crystal clear were Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing. That's the thing that is a bit unnerving. Let's be frank and Laura knows this, over the course of many, many years, inarguably, nobody has been able to alter the behavior of the North. So, it doesn't matter what we say. They are on a path. North Korea is going to be North Korea.

They are going to act what we think is irrational. Let me tell you it's rational in their mind. They are homicidal not suicidal. Kim doesn't want to lose it. He's about to lose it. He's at the table with a nuclear weapon.

[11:05:07] He has ICBMs or we think he's got ICBM so we think he can marry those together. We as a nation should probably acknowledge that he has that capability, let's embrace that. Now, let's say, as a global community, you have to follow the rules.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the immediate threat, if it is immediate, Laura, right now. This threat that Kim Kong-un, they say that they are leveling against Guam at the moment. What if North Korea follows through with the threat, fires off missiles, what does the U.S. do then?

ROSENBERG: You know, this is why the missile defense architecture that we have been working on in the region in cooperation with our allies, Japan and South Korea, the capabilities that we have been building up along our Pacific coast are incredibly important to ensure that we can in fact deal with this threat if we need to.

I also think that's why, you know, deterrent words are really, really important. I mean, deterrent relies on the credibility of our communications and on the capability that we possess to follow through on that.

We certainly don't have to want to get to the point where we are dealing with this threat becoming a reality. That's why I think the deterrence piece of this is critical. But we certainly have been working with our allies and partners over the years to build up these capabilities.

I think a lot more emphasis needs to be put into that going forward. Trilateral cooperation with South Korea and Japan is essential to being able to ensure that our missile defense systems can act if we need them to.

BOLDUAN: General, what then on the flip side, what if North Korea does not follow through? Has President Trump successful called Kim Jong-un's bluff?

MARKS: If North Korea doesn't follow through, if in fact they launch the missiles in any direction, again, let's be frank, it's a guess where those babies are going. We will take them out and it will be the end of the regime in the North. No discussion. That's the answer to the question.

Put a period at the end of that sentence. The challenge is we have South Korea that is going to pay an incredible price for this. Seoul will be buried in artillery. Artillery is in the mountains just -- that dominate the terrain across the demilitarized zone.

Seoul will lose tens of thousands of civilians and they know that. That's why this is such a high level. Let there be no doubt, North Korea is going to end as a regime, disappear, adios if they launch those missiles.

BOLDUAN: On the question of words, Laura, being part of the six-party talks, when the word from the State Department yesterday was, we are all singing from the same hymn book. We are all, there is one message coming from the administration toward North Korea, is that what you hear?

ROSENBERG: You know, unfortunately, it's not. That's a really big concern. We do want everybody singing from the same hymn book. We need everybody singing from the same hymn book. This kind of coordination is essential.

North Korea is a really complicated problem. As Major General Marks noted, it's hit numerous administrations across (inaudible). We absolutely need to have coordination among ourselves and we need to have coordination with our allies.

What concerns me is I think we have mixed messaging happening right now. I think especially with the new government in South Korea, with our allies in Japan, who are very freaked out by these missile capabilities.

You know, to be totally candid, I think obviously we are all very focused on the threat against Guam that the North Koreans have levied. But I think the most likely scenario that we may see play out here is something along the lines of what the North Koreans did several years ago, launching a conventional asymmetric strike on the South.

That I think is an area where we could see a lot of room for miscalculation and unintended escalation, and those are the kinds of scenarios that I also hope this administration is preparing for.

BOLDUAN: The role of the president's closest advisers is key here, and that's where a lot of the discussion has been. General John Kelly, the new chief of staff, he is now on the cover of "Time" this week.

The headline being, "Why General Kelly is Trump's last hope." We do know in recent history that being on the cover of a magazine like this has not been a good thing for those close to President Trump. Do you think, though, General Kelly is Trump's last best hope?

MARKS: No, John -- no, I don't. John Kelly is a wonderful man, incredibly focused and humble, and he's probably embarrassed by this "Time" magazine cover. It's not about him. It's about getting the job done. Embracing this mission and trying to put some order into a White House that again probably needs some structure and a little bit of discipline in terms of how they do business.

John is bringing that to the table. The president has, and the secretary of defense, an incredibly gifted guy. The secretary of state, I think he's stepping up, albeit one arm tied behind his back.

H.R McMaster, in spite of what the focus is with this faith that he might have, absolutely, which I think is silliness. So, let's rise above all this, and let's look at these folks.

[11:10:02] There really is a collection of real talent. These guys know how to breathe through their nose. They don't hyper ventilate. They are giving sound counsel. The president will be the president, and he will tweet.

They will have to kind of pick up from that. But again, in this particular case, we need to look at the regime up north and say, look, the narrative is all about you. You have gotten to this point. You wanted to have a nuke, guess what, you have a nuke. You better come to the table and follow the rules.

You know, they left the nonproliferation treaty years ago. You're going to have to sign back up. If not, the world is going to come crushing. You have to play by the rules.

BOLDUAN: We will see. Great to see you. Thank you so much, General. Laura, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

ROSENBERG: Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, the feud escalates between -- a different feud than the one between that the general and I were just talking about between the president now and the Republican leader of the Senate. Why President Trump is once again insulting the man he needs to get anything done legislatively.

Plus, sources tell CNN that the news of an FBI raid on Paul Manafort's home has, quote, "rattled the cages of the president's inner circle." We will discuss.

And the president retweets a pretty sketchy online poll asking who is a better president. I'm going to speak with a former member of the Obama administration about Trump's, I don't know, do we call it an obsession or just call it he just can't get over it with his predecessor? We'll discuss that.



BOLDUAN: In Washington this morning, the blame game heats up and the president lashes out. For the second day now, President Trump is attacking a key ally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, over the party's failure to pass an Obamacare overhaul.

Here is today's version, a tweet, "Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed repeal and replace for seven years couldn't get it done? Must repeal and replace Obamacare." This comes after McConnell had this to say back home in Kentucky on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Our new president, of course, had not been in this line of work before and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.

And so, part of the reason I think people feel like we are underperforming is because too many kind of artificial deadlines, unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating.


BOLDUAN: So, have new battle lines now been drawn between two people that need each other more than probably anybody right now?

Joining me to discuss, Amanda Carpenter, CNN political commentator, a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Ned Ryan, a former speech writer for President George W. Bush and CEO of American Majority, and Scott Jennings is CNN political commentator and formal special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Hello, everyone. Let's get to it. Amanda, who is right and who is wrong here?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Trump is in the right on this one. Listen, Mitch McConnell has been talking about doing this for so long. There is this myth surrounding McConnell like he is some sort of master technician, legislative genius. Well, where is it?

If this were (inaudible), he'd be playing Washington on the easiest setting. You have the Senate. You have the House. You have the White House. You even have a process that would allow you to repeal Obamacare with only 51 votes. So, where is the repeal?

Throughout this process, I think Trump has been wrong to put blame on Paul Ryan. No. Mitch McConnell is the person that is -- the obstacle in this process. The House has passed all kinds of bills.

They need to pressure McConnell to get it done. He keeps getting rolled by the moderates in the party. You have a Trump White House, a lot of conservatives who are ready to support that agenda. So, let's get it done. Mitch McConnell is the blockade.

BOLDUAN: Scott Jennings, it's all Mitch McConnell's fault, go.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Spoken like a true Ted Cruz former staffer. Look, here's the reality --


JENNINGS: -- it is a miracle the Obamacare repeal got to the floor in the first place and it is a bloody miracle they got 49 votes. Mitch McConnell and the conservatives in the Senate voted all the same way.

The three people who voted against it, two of them, the president had either personally insulted or threatened in the weeks and months leading up to the vote, and the third one is admittedly far more liberal than the rest of her conference.

This is not Mitch McConnell's fault. There's time to come back and do it. Right now, the Trump mission is to, A, get North Korea right and, B, get on to tax reform and get that right.

If you are not doing things on a daily basis that are germane to that mission, you probably ought not be doing it.

BOLDUAN: And C, Amanda, response.

CARPENTER: Well, here's the thing, I was really intrigued with how McConnell is talking about having deadlines to do things. He will always jam things up against a legislative deadline. He wants to put a figurative gun to people's head and to make them do what they want.

But he's had all this time. Look at McConnell's career on Capitol Hill, yes, as a Ted Cruz staffer, as a Jim DeMint staff, I have seen how Mitch Connell has gone after conservatives to appease moderates in the party again and again and again.

So, for once, I am glad that Donald Trump is recognizing where his allies may be on Capitol Hill, and Mitch McConnell is not one --



BOLDUAN: Ned, I know you are going to calm it down too. Go on, Ned.

RYAN: I'm totally going to calm this down. Let's be serious, sorry for the excessive expectations, seven years, raising tens of millions of dollars on repeal and, by the way, let's not forget, Kate, that press conference at the first of the year with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell laying out saying we are going to accomplish these things in the first 200 days.

And then Mitch McConnell lectures the president and his supporters on excessive expectations. This is absurd and ridiculous. I think Donald Trump has actually given them the carrot to start with and now out comes the stick.

They have a very short run up to the end of the year to actually get any agenda items done. Let's face it. Guess who is on the ballot in 2018, it's not Donald Trump. The other thing, Kate, that we have to remember is, Quinnipiac came out with a poll last week that showed the Congress had a 10 percent approval rating.


[11:20:08] Of that, only 14 percent of Republicans approved of the Republican-led Congress. There are some serious implications. Quite frankly, I called on Twitter last night, there are eight Republican senators on the ballot next year.

They should be asked the question, if you win, which is a big question mark, if Republicans will keep the majority, which I think it's a question mark.

BOLDUAN: Do you think it's a big question mark if Republicans will keep the majority in the Senate?

RYAN: If you keep the majority, will you vote for a new majority leader? If the answer is no, every last one of them deserves a primary opponent.

BOLDUAN: Scott, you can get in on this in a second. Here is one element to consider on the whose fault is it anyway campaign. Ned, we have a Republican source and it has been discussed elsewhere.

Scott even brought it up, this wasn't just all McConnell's fault. The Republican sources say it was the president's testy phone call with one, Lisa Murkowski that ended up losing her vote when it came down to it. Is there not blame for the president on this one? When he was involved, he didn't help.

RYAN: Well, I will say this, Mitch McConnell would never have brought that bill to the floor if he didn't think he had the votes. He was banking on Murkowski and Collins not voting. He was actually banking on McCain voting yes.

So, I'm sorry if you can't count your votes correctly and somebody switches their vote on the floor. So much for a supposed brilliant tactician in being able to pass a vote.

CARPENTER: Can I interject here? Trump wasn't nice enough to these senators, he might have offended them. Trump shouldn't even be in the equation, how we treated him once they take a vote on health care. If they ran on repeal, this has nothing to do with --

BOLDUAN: We don't know exactly -- we don't know exactly what happened in that conversation.

CARPENTER: It shouldn't matter.

BOLDUAN: OK. Go ahead, Scott. Go ahead, Scott.

JENNINGS: There is no scenario under which the Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump rise and fall separately. They will rise together or fall together. They had to be locked together on an agenda. Trump and McConnell had been aligned on the Trump-McConnell- Republican-Ryan agenda, whatever you want to call it for the last six months.

This first attempt at Obamacare did not work out. That does not mean a tax reform would not work out, and it doesn't mean that other things won't work out. It did work out on Gorsuch.

If the Republicans fail to keep their promises, they will all fall together. It won't happen separately. If Donald Trump is upset with Washington, wait until we don't have one or both houses in Congress.

BOLDUAN: A lot easier then, Scott. But Amanda, to Scott's point, regardless of who is to blame, going forward, they need each other. CARPENTER: They definitely need each other.

BOLDUAN: How does this help -- calling each other out -- I mean, I'd barely even think that -- I have to say, McConnell calling him out, that might be calling Trump out McConnell style, but Trump has been a lot rougher. How does this help make tax reform go any easier when this is happening?

CARPENTER: Well, here is the thing. The fact that we are in the stage of blaming each other is not good. It does not tend well. But, you know, I am with Trump on this particular issue because --


CARPENTER: I know that's saying a lot. Mitch McConnell has been allowed to hide on the sidelines, not say anything, zip his lip, let Paul Ryan take all of the heat. I'm sorry, Mitch McConnell, you have been leader for a long time.

You didn't have this ready to go like Harry Reid did when President Obama became president and the stimulus was taken off the shelf and passed (inaudible) split. McConnell has not gone to that level by any means.

He is not nearly the effective majority leader that Harry Reid was, and so for that reason, you know, I'm ready for some new leadership.

BOLDUAN: I want to continue this conversation, but one thing that Ned did say -- many things that were earth shattering, but one thing was where the president is right now is, no matter what, unsafe political ground. Slamming a do-nothing Congress --

RYAN: It is.

BOLDUAN: -- for many folks for a long, long time no matter what --


JENNINGS: It's a miracle that we have Amanda Carpenter comparing Harry Reid to Mitch McConnell.


CARPENTER: It's more effective. I will take that any day of the week.

BOLDUAN: That is the state of the Republican Party today.

RYAN: Nobody is afraid of Mitch McConnell. He is not the leader that can really bring it out. Here is the thing --

BOLDUAN: Look at what's happened in the Senate. Is anyone afraid of President Trump?

RYAN: Here is the thing, the basis with Trump, I would love to see him call Ryan and McConnell down and say listen, midterms are about base elections. Even more so primaries in off years are about base elections. Let me help you help yourselves.

Just pass a couple of these agenda items. Listen, I think most of us can find some common ground on tax reform. I would actually argue, don't go big, don't go comprehensive. Get something done before the end of the year because you know what, the base is frustrated. If they don't get something done, 2018 could be an unpleasant year for Republicans on the ballot.

[11:25:05] BOLDUAN: I think that's a kind way of saying it. Don't go big, don't go comprehensive. Send that message to the White House, though, because that is not the way the president has been talking about it so far. Great to see you guys. Let's continue a little later.

Coming up for us, a surprise raid in the middle of the night targeting the president's former campaign chairman. Why the FBI's sudden move is, quote, "rattling the cages of the president's inner circle."

Plus, a bizarre mystery just got more serious after U.S. diplomats fell victim to a so-called acoustic attack in Cuba. New concerns a third country maybe involved. New details on that ahead.


BOLDUAN: Two of President Trump's least favorite things, negative polls and the Russian investigation back in the headlines. A brand- new CNN survey shows 60 percent of those polled believe the Russian investigation is a serious matter that should be fully investigated.