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Trump Thanks Putin for Expelling U.S. Diplomats; Trump and North Korea Engaged in Nuclear Brinksmanship?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 11, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for watching CNN here on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump and North Korea escalating this war of words with new threats, new tweets, the president taking to Twitter to warn Kim Jong- un that: "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded should North Korea act unwisely. He writes, "Hopefully, Kim Jong-un will find another path."

North Korea now accusing the president of pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, a top North Korean general saying, if, if the U.S. tries anything with Pyongyang, it will -- quote -- "turn the U.S. mainland into the stage of a nuclear war by immediately attacking it with various strategic nuclear weapons."

So, there's that.

Then, in this stunning reversal of rhetoric, the North called America the heinous nuclear war fanatic.

Jim Sciutto, I'm beginning with you, our CNN chief national correspondent there.

And to use the president's words locked and loaded, isn't the U.S. always locked and loaded?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and certainly in a threat zone like North Korea.

That's right. You have Pacific Command out there essentially built around, I mean, in addition to China, neutralizing or reducing the North Korean threat. That's underwater. That's on the surface. That's in the air. And that's from space, satellites trained down on North Korea to keep track of exactly what it's doing.

I mean, I suppose you could say, if the president doubled down on his fire and fury comments yesterday, he's tripling down this morning with -- and even injecting some Hollywood language in there, locked and loaded.

And, listen, presidential tweets are, in effect, presidential statements. The question is, was this OK? Was this discussed, for instance, with his new chief of staff? Remember, you and I have talked about this, Brooke, the idea that John Kelly was going to institute some messaging discipline out of the White House.

BALDWIN: Discipline.

SCIUTTO: But this has been a consistent message from the president this week, and that is very forward-leaning and putting military options front and center.

BALDWIN: Jim, I'm going to fold you into this conversation.

Let me bring in one more voice here, Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

So, Anthony, the Chinese-controlled state newspaper, "The Global Times," published an article that said, if North Korea launches missiles at the U.S., then China will remain neutral, but if the roles are reversed, if it's the U.S. and South Korea who take that first hit on North Korea, that China will not sit still, will take action.

What's your -- first of all, do you believe them, and, secondly, you know, what's at stake for China here?

ANTHONY RUGGIERO, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, it's a state newspaper that leadership could use to put out a message, both to Washington and Pyongyang, trying to, I think, tamp down the situation.

I think the North Koreans probably are expecting that the Chinese would have their back in a military situation, but the Chinese are drawing a clear line. If the North Koreans initiate a military strike, I think that was the purpose of the president's tweet as well, to deter North Korea from attacking.

BALDWIN: You know that the U.S., though, has been negotiating for more than 25 years, and still dealing with very similar threats, but this is what Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland told me here just a couple days ago.


SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: You can pass sanctions at the United Nations. You can pass sanctions at the United States. That's just words on a piece of paper, unless they're actually enforced, which is why Senator Toomey and I have introduced bipartisan legislation modeled after the Iran sanctions, so that we really put teeth in these sanctions.

Right now, Chinese banks, Chinese firms and others are saying that they're complying with the sanctions, but they're not. They're violating the sanctions right and left, which continues to provide aid and comfort for the North Korean regime.


BALDWIN: So, Anthony, my question is, is there a lot more, you know, wiggle room here on the sanctions to really crack down on North Korea, or not? And what needs to happen to make sure the Chinese banks comply?

RUGGIERO: There's absolutely a lot more room.

We are nowhere near where we were on Iran. In 2010 on Iran, we passed a U.N. resolution and Congress passed new sanctions law, and then we had a ramp-up, a U.S.-led sanctions campaign.

We don't have that right now. That's what this new resolution -- is this where we move to a sanctions campaign? It's China, it's Chinese banks and companies and individuals that are facilitating North Korea's sanctions evasion, companies in Singapore that are allowing North Korea to buy luxury goods.

Yesterday, we learned that Kuwait said that they're not going to reduce the number of overseas laborers in Europe. I mean, I can go on and on, unfortunately, of the number of countries that are working with North Korea and violating sanctions.




SCIUTTO: Brooke, he makes a great point, yes, because the real teeth of the Iran sanctions were not just sanctioning Iran itself, but sanctioning trading partners who were dealing with Iran, pressuring, for instance, China in that case to not buy Iranian oil.

Those are the things that really squeezed the Iranian economy in the end. And that's the one on this. And, really, the only target is China, because China's the one that really does business there.


SCIUTTO: And a lot of it's illicit, and if you don't address that trade, then North Korea still gets the money it needs, right, for its leaders and for its weapons program, which is really all it cares about.


All right, Jim and Anthony, thank you both so much. We're going have a whole other conversation about the possible military options from the U.S. standpoint here in just a moment.

But, first, one week now into his official working vacation, President Trump indulged in some rare Q&A. We haven't seen him in open to the media, really, since mid-February. He sat there and answered more than 30 questions in two separate Sessions with reporters, off-mike, no podium, and talked a lot.


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

Well, I will 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.

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

I thought it was a very, very strong signal or whatever. To wake him up. Perhaps his family was there.

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

He's our friend. He's my friend, and he's a very talented man. I like him, and I respect him.

It's fine. It is what it is. It's fine.

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.

It's been a very confusing issue for the military. I think I'm doing the military a great favor.

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

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.

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.

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.

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


BALDWIN: Let me bring in CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of "SMERCONISH" on CNN Saturday mornings.

Michael Smerconish, let me add, we just got this urgent in, and basically in one of those comments, the White House is already playing cleanup, when the president was saying now that -- the White House is saying that the president was being sarcastic in his response to Putin, the whole thanking Putin, right, for the expulsion of the 755 U.S. diplomats. But here's my question to you, is, like, there are these explosive

comments, and there are these defenders saying it's a joke or he was being sarcastic. But, to me, that's -- in this case, it's kind of b.s.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I never took him literally.

I don't think that anybody believed he was truly expressing gratitude for Russia in their behavior in that instance. What I found more interesting is that, while Sarah Huckabee Sanders is saying he was being sarcastic, you have got the NSC spokesperson saying, he was being sarcastic, and let's not forget that the downward spiral of our relationship with Russia began with their meddling in the election.

I'm paraphrasing that which was just said, and when I saw those two statements, the similarity is that they both say he was being sarcastic, but you don't hear the White House saying, and, remember, this was all because of the Russian meddling in the election.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

But, all right, so let's take the White House at their word that he was being sarcastic. Why is the president being sarcastic when he's talking about something that he hadn't even touched? He hadn't even responded to, you know, the news from Putin from a couple weeks ago on the 755 U.S. diplomats. And the one and only time we have it, it's sarcasm?


SMERCONISH: Brooke, his inconsistency is his great consistency.

I know that sounds a bit ridiculous, but the unpredictable nature of what he might say...

BALDWIN: Make that a bumper sticker, SMERCONISH.


SMERCONISH: You think so? I think it's a little too long.

But, as I was watching your highlight reel, I was reflecting on the many conversations that you and I had in the lead-up to the 2016 election, where we wondered aloud -- and I was often mistaken -- in thinking that there would be some pivot.

BALDWIN: Memories.

SMERCONISH: This is just -- it's vintage Donald Trump. What you see is what you get. He's the same person who was elected. It's the way he's comported himself, and, frankly, it's what makes, you know, some of these press availabilities, rare as they have become, so interesting to watch and see him as he just sort of spitballs on all these different issues. BALDWIN: No, I loved it. Apparently, at one point, Sarah Huckabee

Sanders came out with some big cue card saying, piece of paper saying, one more question, and he's like, forget about that, and he kept talking for 20 minutes.

We appreciate that, Mr. President.

Let me ask you on North Korea. What are you hearing from your listeners, people you're talking to about what they think is the U.S.' best option moving forward?

SMERCONISH: Mark Bowden wrote a very lengthy piece for "The Atlantic."

BALDWIN: I just printed all 27 pages to read on my way to the beach today, all the options.

SMERCONISH: It's a great read.

And you know Mark Bowden of "Black Hawk Down" fame. He's a real serious journalist.


SMERCONISH: He interviewed all sorts of military leaders, and essentially says, look, when all is said and done, there are four options, three of them are military, ranging from an all-out assault on North Korea to decapitating or assassinating Kim Jong-un.

He goes through the pluses and minuses of each of the four, but it's option number four that people are going to find hard to stomach, but this is where he says we're headed. And that is acceptance of a nuclear North Korea.

And, amazingly, when we polled our audience on this, and thousands of people have voted, they say, yes, that's probably where it ends up. Now, that sounds like capitulation, but it's the least bad of four bad options.

BALDWIN: The least bad of four bad options. OK.


BALDWIN: OK. I will report back after I have read this thing.

Michael Smerconish, as always, a pleasure. We will see you on TV tomorrow morning.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Fourteen minutes, that is how long the U.S. says a North Korean missile will take to reach Guam. We will talk about what the president would do if the North fired one.

Also, after weeks of silence, the president finally responds to Vladimir Putin's retaliation by, as we were just discussing, thanking him for kicking out diplomats. Again, though, the White House saying he was totally being sarcastic. But let's talk with a former State Department official who Trump fired.

And after we learned of an FBI raid targeting President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, he's now hiring a new legal team. Hear why Manafort's son-in-law is now involved.

We will be right back.



BALDWIN: Fourteen minutes, that is the ominous headline of Guam's "Pacific Daily News," see for yourself there, and the stunningly short amount of time it would take a North Korean missile to reach the U.S. territory, 14 minutes.

It is also a razor-thin window for the U.S. military to intercept it or for citizens to race and take shelter.

Here is how some of the people living in Guam feel about this current threat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, obviously, for me, because I'm a father, so it's really concerning, you know? I wish, you know, that it didn't have to come to that. I wish that the superpowers of the world would be able to come up with a different way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they threaten us, bring it. The U.S. is strong. I'm pretty sure we got them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have lived under the shadow of this North Korean threat for a long time. On the eve of World War II, the United States used a lot of the same rhetoric. They said, you're totally safe, the Japanese will never attack you, you will be totally defended by us.

And what we learned, and what my grandparents, for example, learned, was that was not true at all.


BALDWIN: Joining me now, retired Navy Commander Kirk Lippold. He was the commanding officer of the USS Cole when it came under attack.

Commander, always a pleasure to have you on, and thank you, as always, for your service to this great country.

KIRK LIPPOLD, FORMER COMMANDER, USS COLE: Thank you, Brooke. Glad to be on.

BALDWIN: All right, so here's the what-if. What happens if North Korea launches a missile that comes really close to Guam, but doesn't actually hit it? What would conversations look like between the commander in chief and top military brass?

LIPPOLD: I think the first thing you have to look at, Brooke, is even before that missile were to launch, we're going to try and get what's called intelligence and warning, I&W, to determine, OK, are they getting the missiles ready, are they fuelling them up, where do we think they're going to be shooting them, where do we think the target or landing point is going to be?

From that, we make an assessment. At this point in time, I think the response should be, if they're going to aim and target Guam, and they have as much as said so, that we need to prepare to shoot that missile down, regardless of where it goes.

Any missile leaving the North Korean Peninsula at this point has to be considered a threat to the U.S. or our allies, and we should respond accordingly and shoot them down.

BALDWIN: On the shooting the missile down, I have read a lot about, you know, the THAAD systems, or I have read just people debating about the readiness of that. Where does that stand right now?

LIPPOLD: Well, right now, we have only one of four batteries in South Korea that are there. Japan obviously has batteries.

The issue that you're hearing a lot in some corners of the Pentagon, unfortunately, is, we don't want to shoot it because we have nothing to gain. If we shoot it and it fails, North Korea is going to gain a huge propaganda advantage by demonstrating that the U.S. has systems that don't work.

I don't want to see the senior leadership of the Pentagon put in a position where they appear to be risk-averse, at the expense of safeguarding U.S. national security interests.


If we take a shot and miss, then guess what? We learn where the system's shortfalls might be and we fix them. To do it only in test environment is not good for our national security.

BALDWIN: What about just even, Commander, the possibility of, you know, an invisible weapon, like the -- preemptively neutralizing North Korea's ability of attacking anyone?

I was reading back on the U.S. stalled Iran's nuclear technology with a computer virus. Is that a possibility here?

LIPPOLD: It is a possibility.

I don't want to delve too much into that, Brooke, because of the obviously highly sensitive nature and classification of that material. But the bottom line remains that, while that capability may exist, that is one capability that we do want to harbor until it comes a point where we are actually feeling that they are threatening us, that they are targeting the island, targeting Japan. And then we would be able to use that to disrupt it, only to use it for follow-on action that would come where we would actually destroy those facilities and missile-launching capability.

BALDWIN: OK, Commander Kirk Lippold, as always, thank you so much. We will speak again. Thank you.

Coming up next here: President Trump thanks Vladimir Putin for kicking hundreds of U.S. diplomats out of Russia, saying he wanted to cut payroll anyway. The White House now saying he was being sarcastic. We will talk to former State Department official who the president actually fired. What does he think about this sarcasm?




BALDWIN: Well, it took a couple weeks, but President Trump responded to Vladimir Putin's news of expelling more than 700 U.S. diplomatic staff out of Russia, and President Trump, in his Q&A session with members of the media yesterday, thanked him.

And here's another layer to this. Moments ago, the White House said the president was being sarcastic. Here's the clip.



I want to thank his, because we're trying to cut down on payroll. And, as far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll. There's no real reason for them to go back.

So, I greatly appreciate the fact that they've been able to cut our payroll for the United States. Save -- we'll save a lot of money.


BALDWIN: Tom Countryman joins me live from Washington. He is a former State Department official who was fired by President Trump.

Tom, welcome back.


BALDWIN: So, the White House says this is sarcasm. You heard it for yourself. Do you take the White House at its word?

COUNTRYMAN: I take the White House spokesperson at their word.

When I first heard the president's thank you message to President Putin yesterday, I thought this is not the most outrageous thing this president has said, but it is one of the most shameful things any American president has said.

BALDWIN: Tell me why.

COUNTRYMAN: To stand with someone taking hostile action against your government employees, the people that you should be relying on to serve your agenda, is simply backwards.

It reflects this White House's tendency to demean the service, not just of the State Department, but of a dozen other federal agencies that work in embassy Moscow and that will be forced to cut back.

BALDWIN: Tom, have you had conversations -- I mean, without divulging specifics, have you had conversations with current staffers at State? And how is this thanking Putin, sarcasm or not, sitting with them?

COUNTRYMAN: Well, I haven't had any conversations with people currently employed at State in the last 24 hours.

I think the important point is that, whether a president speaks with anger, as in the case of North Korea, or speaks with sarcasm, as in this case, those tones of voice have real-world consequences.

And, in this case, the real-world consequence is to send a message, not just to Moscow, but to the rest of the world, that he does not trust either the State Department or all the other agencies where patriotic public servants are doing their best to serve the United States.

And I think, as a consequence, to use a famous phrase from Donald Trump, they're laughing at us in Moscow and in other capitals around the world. And they're laughing specifically at this president.

BALDWIN: Why do you think, then, that President Trump will never, ever criticize Vladimir Putin?

COUNTRYMAN: I think it's apparent that he believes Rosie O'Donnell to be a bigger threat to the security of the United States than Vladimir Putin, just based on the amount of time that he devotes to criticism.

It's a very difficult question to answer. I want to see a better relationship with the Russian Federation, and I believe we can work on that. But you can't work on it if you are determined to turn a blind eye to every outrageous action undertaken by the Kremlin. And that's what our president is doing.

BALDWIN: I have a feeling Rosie O'Donnell would like it the other way around.

Tom Countryman, stand by, please, sir.

I want to bring in Elise Labott with some new reporting here specifically on North Korea.

Elise, what are you learning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I think, even though there's all this fiery rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea, I think it's important for our viewers to know that there are talks going on between Washington and Pyongyang, and they have been for some time.

Now, we're talking about discussions between the U.S. envoy to North Korea -- his name is Joseph Yun -- and several of his counterparts, both the U. -- the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations and also some top officials in the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

Now, originally, these --