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Trump and North Korea Escalate War of Words; North Korea talks Brink of War; Working with China to Prevent Conflict; Trump's Rare Question and Answer Session; Manafort Hires New Lawyers. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 11, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:10] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.

First, this promise of fire and fury, and now the U.S. is apparently locked and loaded. President Trump's latest statement on North Korea, escalating this war of words that has really the world on edge, and he did it on Twitter, writing, military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong-un will find another path.

Now, earlier, Pyongyang vowed to hit the U.S. mainland with strategic nuclear weapons should the U.S. launch a preemptive strike. And in a stunning reversal of rhetoric, the North called America the heinous nuclear war fanatic.

And in Guam, the U.S. territory in North Korea's crosshairs, this was today's ominous headline, homeland security there giving a time frame of exactly how quickly a deadly missile would take to reach the island territory, just 14 minutes.

A short time from now, at his New Jersey golf resort, the president will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Securities Adviser H.R. McMaster and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

We have correspondents standing by all around the world.

Let's begin, though, with our White House correspondent Sara Murray there in New Jersey with the president.

And so what are you hearing, Sara, if Pyongyang, you know, makes good on its threat with regard to Guam and words turn to action, what's the U.S. strategy?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, you heard what the president had to say on Twitter today, that the U.S. is locked and loaded. It's pretty clear he's making no effort to tone down his rhetoric. And we also heard from him yesterday saying, look, if North Korea wants to strike near Guam, go ahead, we'll see how we respond, (INAUDIBLE) war, fire and fury. So clearly the president not backing down. But if you look at the way he's spending his afternoon, he's going to be meeting with Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. These are key people who have been pivotal in pursuing diplomatic solutions to try to move forward in this crisis with North Korea. They were both very important in this negotiation with the United Nations to get a unanimous vote to slap North Korea with sanctions. So I think it's going to be fascinating to watch if Trump's tone changes at all in the wake of that meeting.

It was originally supposed to be a closed-door meeting, to press access. Now we're expected to hear from them afterwards. Yesterday the president took a pretty dim view about whether diplomatic efforts could be successful. He said negotiations are, of course, on the table but they haven't worked for decades. We will see if that is the same tone he takes today, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Sara, thank you.

North Korea responding to President Trump's threats in a dramatic, new statement, threatening the United States with, quote, a shameful defeat and final doom.

Let's go live to Seoul, South Korea, and bring in CNN's Anna Coren.

And so what's the response been out of North Korea's state media, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, certainly the threats and the bellicose rhetoric have continued pouring out of North Korea as tensions escalate here on the Korean peninsula. A day after North Korea outlines its plans to target Guam with those four intermediate ballistic missiles, a spokesman from the military of North Korea went on state media, and I want to read some of his statement. He said, our military will turn the U.S. mainland into the stage of a nuclear war by immediately attacking it with various strategic weapons.

Now, while this is obviously alarming language, for South Koreans it really is the norm. What isn't normal is the language coming out of the mouth of President Donald Trump. Many here are just shaking their heads wondering, what is he thinking? What is his end game? Knowing that war would be catastrophic.

Obviously, the South Korean government taking this all very seriously. The defense minister met with his commanders today, telling them that they need to be combat ready for any provocation from the north and to respond powerfully. Also, the national security adviser here spoke with his U.S. counterpart, H.R. McMaster, and they talked about working closely together to protect both South Korea and the United States.

And, Brooke, the U.S. confirmed that it would not act militarily without South Korea's knowledge. It won't catch it off guard because there is just too much at stake.

BALDWIN: Anna in Seoul, thank you. Broadening all of this out, Stephen Noeper is with us, adjunct

associate professor of political science at Columbia University and senior director at The Korea Society and a former senior analyst for the U.S. State Department.

So, Stephen, off the top, listening -- or reading the president's tweet, is the U.S. locked and loaded?

STEPHEN NOEPER, ADVISES U.N. ON ISSUES RELATED TO KOREAN PENINSULA: Well, the U.S. is always locked and loaded in terms of preparedness on the Korean peninsula. It's the articulation of that. It's the verbal rhetoric that has now intensified and has intensified now between both the United States and North Korea. And clearly they're not used to a U.S. president saying this. So it has the region and the world concerned about this step up.

[14:05:11] BALDWIN: On the bellicosity of really also you could say both sides, do you think that Kim Jong-un thinks this is a war of bluster, or is this threats truly turning into action and potential war?

NOEPER: Yes, I think -- I think they're uncertain, right, as is most of the region. And so the North Koreans, despite all their bluster, tend to be pragmatists. They tend to go to the line. They tend to step back. But in this particular case, we need to be cautious because if the North Koreans anticipate that there would be a U.S. strike, they may choose to go first. And they wouldn't hit just Guam. They might hit Tokyo. They might hit Seoul. So it's very hard to contain. So we need to be cautious with those wars of words.

BALDWIN: It's interesting to hear how specific the details are coming out of Pyongyang on this missile attack, actually just off of Guam. Let me just read for you what we have. They talk about four intermediate range ballistic missiles fired that would actually go over Japan, landing 18 to 25 miles south of the coast of Guam. North Korea state media says it will create a, quote, enveloping fire. Why put this all out there? What's the strategy here?

NOEPER: Yes, it's direct nuclear brinksmanship or missile brinksmanship in this particular case. And so they would look at Guam and stop just short, but it's dangerous because what happens if there's misstep or miscalculation? What if one of those four hits Japan? What if it goes too far and there's a problem in terms of the accuracy of those missiles? And clearly it draws the United States in.

Now, they've also left a window there. They've said, mid-August. So what they're trying to signal is, is there an opportunity for negotiation before then. We need to seize on the opportunity for negotiation, not the bellicose rhetoric.

BALDWIN: I want to ask you about China in just a second. But just quickly, you were telling me that before you came on, this story is going to be with us for a while because August, typically in North Korea, and you tell me why --

NOEPER: Yes. BALDWIN: You know, that their provocations heat up.

NOEPER: Well, North Korea ramps up in August for a few reasons. One is, they see Congress is off and they think that the U.S. can respond less effectively in a crisis. That's their calculation. And secondly, they're, in ten days' time, will be United States/South Korean military exercises. And so whereas the spring ones were objected to, the U.S. didn't put a lot of fanfare around them. However, in the August one, certainly it will be cushioned as a response to the latest provocations, and so it will take on some steam and the North Koreans may respond with a lot more than rhetoric.

BALDWIN: Timing is important in August. It's significant. I hadn't realized that.

With regard to China, what's China's play? Because we're hearing right now if -- and this is, again, this is this whole "what if" game. If North Korea acts first, then China stays neutral and they don't do anything. But if it's the U.S. or South Korea that acts first, they will not remain neutral. How do you think they will react?

NOEPER: Well, if China --

BALDWIN: Do you -- do you buy that?

NOEPER: Yes. China right -- well, I'm not certain because China right now is focused on its party congress in the fall. That's major domestic transition. It's consolidation for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

What he doesn't want is a foreign policy crisis. And the Chinese are concerned. They don't like North Korea's missile and nuclear development and they're concerned that the United States has been drawn in by North Korea. So there's a bit of a contrast there.

So they're proposing a tradeoff, the exercises in exchange for some sort of moratorium or freeze on North Korea's development. Moscow too has come on board with that.

But what we need to look at are areas and opportunities for negotiation. Can the United Nations, could Moscow, Beijing, perhaps Germany or Sweden, other types of interlocketters (ph), could draw the United States and North Korea together to have some sort of dialogue, a muscular diplomacy. And that seems to be what Secretary of State Tillerson is pushing for.

BALDWIN: That's exactly what he's saying. That's exactly what he's saying to get them to the table and do the diplomacy thing.

Stephen Noeper, thank you so much.

NOEPER: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Come back through August and beyond. Thank you.

NOEPER: We'll do. Thank you. BALDWIN: Also ahead here on CNN, how wild was the president's impromptu Q&A session with reporters from suggesting Mitch McConnell should resign to thanking Vladimir Putin for an anti-American move. We're going to talk all about that coming up.

And as Paul Manafort suddenly hires a new legal team, hear why his son-in-law is now involved in the Russia investigation.

And the president says he just did the military a great favor by banning all transgender people. We'll speak live with a transgender veteran to respond to the president.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:13:52] BALDWIN: As President Trump bears down on the North Korean threat, he's opening up in a new way we haven't seen in six months. He answered more than 30 questions in two different sessions with reporters, off mike, no podium, but all kinds of topics ranging from Russia, to North Korea, to leaks, to his transgender ban in the military.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ON SCREEN TEXT: On North Korea's threats.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's see what he does with Guam. He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody's seen before.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On Senator McConnell's fate.

TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you what, if he doesn't get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn't get taxes done, then you can ask me that question.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On Putin expelling U.S. diplomats.

TRUMP: I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On the Manafort raid.

TRUMP: I thought it was a very, very strong signal or whatever.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On the Mueller probe.

TRUMP: I haven't given it any thought. I mean I've been reading about it from you people. You say, oh, I'm going to dismiss him. No, I'm not dismissing anybody.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On H.R. McMaster.

[14:15:01] TRUMP: He's our friend. He's my friend. And he's a very talented man. I like him. And I respect him. ON SCREEN TEXT: On Attorney General Sessions.

TRUMP: It's fine. It is what it is. It's fine. He's working hard on the border. I'm very proud of what we've done on the border.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On the opioid crisis.

TRUMP: The opioid crisis is an emergency. And I'm saying officially right now, it is an emergency. You know, when I was growing up, they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There's never been anything like what's happened to this country over the last four or five years.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On the transgender ban.

TRUMP: I have great respect for the community. I think I have great support -- or I've had great support from that community. I got a lot of votes. But the transgender, the military is working on it now. It's been a very confusing issue for the military.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On a new Afghanistan strategy.

TRUMP: It's a very big decision for me. I took over a mess. And we're going to make it a lot less messy.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On leaks.

TRUMP: You have the leaks where people want to love me, and they're all fighting for love. But, actually, I'm somewhat honored by them.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On the election (which was 276 days ago).

TRUMP: Look, I won because I suppose I was a much better candidate than her. I won because I went to Wisconsin. I went to Michigan. I won Pennsylvania. I fought a smart battle. That's why I win. I didn't win because of Russia.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On the intelligence community.

TRUMP: Look, I have -- nobody has greater respect for intelligence than Donald Trump. But you have to have the right leaders. I think we have great leaders right now.

ON SCREEN TEXT: On nuclear weapons.

TRUMP: Yes, nuclear, to me, number one, I would like to de-nuke the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's talk about all of that with CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston and David Catanese, senior politics writer for "U.S. News and World Report."

All right. Well, first of all, before we get into the substance, David, just, you know, apparently when that whole thing was going on, at one point Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked out with a sign that said, one more question, and, you know, the president totally ignored it, talked for, you know, 20 more minutes to the thrill of members of the media. But I understand you think he's been a little cooped up in the White House.

DAVID CATANESE, SENIOR POLITICS WRITER, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Yes, well, I mean, look, he's been away on sort of a half vacation holiday in New Jersey, and I think he got cooped up and this is what happens when you coop up President Trump. I mean the guy wants to talk. I mean, really, it was abnormal for him not to interact with the media over these first six months. The campaign, he loved it. He would talk to reporters all the time. He'd do interviews all day, radio, TV, print interviews. They pulled him back a little bit in the White House, but I think this was a little bit of, you know, summer restlessness here in August. He wanted to get out and talk, and he -- he was great. I think we should encourage it.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, and he also -- he also doesn't love those headlines, Brooke, about, you know, how many days he's on vacation after all the statements that he made when he was on the campaign trail about President Obama spending too much time on the golf course. So I do think that he's eager to show us that he's working hard and bringing in his advisers and he's, you know, trying to get on top of all of these different issues as --

BALDWIN: By making other headlines like thanking Vladimir Putin?

RESTON: Yes. Well, that was a really --

BALDWIN: Seriously?

RESTON: That was a really interesting one. And, of course, today we saw his usual pattern where they walked that back and said that it was, you know, that he was just joking when he said that. But the joke, I guess, was about Putin, you know, dismissing lots of American personnel and Trump saying that it helped cut down his payroll.

BALDWIN: How do you see it, David? I mean he has not -- he's criticized so many members of his own party in Washington. The man has never criticized -- correct me, but, you know, you really don't see him criticizing Vladimir Putin. And now in the case of these 755, you know, U.S. diplomats, who, by the way, will still be, from my understanding, on payroll, just expelled from Russia --

CATANESE: Right.

BALDWIN: Minor detail, you know, he thanks him. How is that going to sit with just even staffers at the State Department?

CATANESE: Well, it leaves you scratching your head. But you can go through a lot of those answers that you put out there and it sort of makes you go, what, really? But I mean Donald Trump is always inconsistent. You know, he's consistently inconsistent. I think that that's the first thing we should say.

He was factually wrong about the Russian thing, saying, oh, we're going to eliminate them from payroll, even though that wasn't true. And the White House's response -- and any time that Trump goes too off the reservation, they always describe it as, oh, well, there he was just joking. Which in a lot of times President Trump can be joking. It's sometimes hard to decipher.

I would say that just watching his demeanor yesterday, he seemed to be having fun with it.

BALDWIN: Right (ph).

CATANESE: He's usually combative with the press.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CATANESE: He was smiling at times. He was saying sort of, give me another question. I'm ready for this. And I think that's why you got Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on here. Let's rein this in.

BALDWIN: One more question. One more question. Right.

Well, someone who may not be smiling is the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Maeve, because, you know, you had the president saying again, he's put this out on Twitter, talked about him yesterday, saying he's disappointed in Leader McConnell because, he, McConnell, you know, didn't get health care done, promises, promises, years in the making. Do you think this is the president sort of washing his hands from responsibilities as president, or underestimating the power of his office to push his party's agenda?

[14:20:22] RESTON: Well, i think it's a little bit of both. I mean he certainly needs someone to blame after the spectacular collapse of the health care bill. But it's interesting that he would pick this fight because Mitch McConnell, of course, will be so integral and important in his fight to -- in Trump's fight to get tax cuts through later this year. So clearly it was a warning shot.

And we have seen all of these feuds, you know, back and forth with Sessions and other members of his administration, but this one seems real in the sense that, you know, he's certainly questioning McConnell's effectiveness. He's not in any way explaining the difficulties that McConnell faced with having a Republican Party which has so many different views on health care. And that was a huge challenge for McConnell and one that he ultimately couldn't succeed in.

BALDWIN: Sort of just wondering what the fallout will be, legislatively, once everyone comes back to try to, you know, tackle tax reform and debt ceiling and that kind of thing in September.

David, final question, just on a much lighter note. This is the White House HGTV style. You know, this is the whole makeover of the White House, you know, I guess little bits on the floor, the walls, restoration processes. You know, it's been around a while. So I suppose one can understand it needs a little makeover. What do you think? What do you know? CATANESE: I think -- I think that Donald Trump will come back in about a week and a half, when he's finished with his Jersey vacation, and because he was caught before or reportedly caught calling it a dump, he will say it is the most beautiful White House in the history, obviously, and because he's occupying it.

BALDWIN: And everybody knows it.

RESTON: And he does -- sources clearly say that he felt that, you know, that the White House was dingy and that it needed a lot of work and that he's used to living in all of these gilded palaces. So I'm sure he'll be happy to see those touch-ups when he gets back.

BALDWIN: It looks mighty nice. Maeve and David, thank you so much.

CATANESE: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hiring a new legal team. What change could reveal about the whole investigation.

And he is, we think, 33 with a nuclear arsenal. What we know about Kim Jong-un's upbringing and how the rogue leader is likely to proceed in the war of words with President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:26:47] BALDWIN: President Trump says he is, quote, very, very surprised by the FBI's early morning raid last month on the home of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought it was a very, very strong signal or whatever. I know Mr. Manafort. I haven't spoken to him in a long time, but I know him. He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time. A relatively short period of time.

I've always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man. And he's like a lot of other people, probably makes consultant fees from all over the place. Who knows? I don't know. But I thought that was very -- that was pretty tough stuff --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President --

TRUMP: To wake him up, perhaps his family was there. I think that's pretty tough stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: This as sources tell CNN that Paul Manafort is dropping his old legal team and hiring new lawyers with expertise in tax investigations, a sign that this special counsel's probe could be focusing more on possible tax crimes. Manafort has denied any wrongdoing, but we are also learned that before the raid, investigators met with Manafort's son-in-law, who also handed over some documents.

So let's talk about the legality of all of this. CNN legal analyst Mark O'Mara is with me.

And so, Mark, you know, the fact that Manafort has fired his old team, bringing in these lawyers with this, you know, tax law expertise. We know that Bob Mueller, the special counsel, is following the money trail. But what does this signify for you?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Downing (ph), his new lawyer, is very qualified. He's got an LLM, a masters in tax, but he also was working for the Department of Justice in their tax department. So he does tax crimes. He used to do them as a prosecutor. Now he's doing them as a criminal defense attorney. So this is a major shift, a smart shift by Manafort, to bring in somebody who knows what they're doing in a criminal courtroom and in dealing with potential criminal events. And that's what Downing was brought in to do.

BALDWIN: All right. So he's now got that -- the guy. If, though, within this raid, Mark, these investigators uncovered any documents related to current members of the Trump administration, do you know, is there any required disclosure to the White House?

O'MARA: Mueller's in the middle of his own investigation with a very specific focus, and that is looking into collusion or cooperation, whatnot. However, he is not required to turn over information that they get to President Trump or anybody else. He is independent. He's supposed to do this himself. And unless it's some area of national security or some real requirement or urgency, this is going to stay within the purview of his investigation until he's ready to present it.

BALDWIN: OK. OK. We know that the president's own attorney actually spoke about this pre-dawn raid at Manafort's home. John Dowd (ph) e- mailed "The Wall Street Journal" and this is what he said. He said the quote was -- the raid was an extraordinary invasion of privacy and a gross abuse of judicial process and these methods are normally found and employed in Russia, not America.

Comment on that, Mark. And also, you know, if this investigation doesn't involve the president personally, which his attorneys maintain, lawyers care about the Manafort raid, why?

[14:30:02] O'MARA: Well, I'm not sure why they decided to comment. I'm not even sure why the president decided to comment. This is an ongoing potential investigation, now maybe criminal.

But, look, a warrant comes from an impartial magistrate based upon --