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President Trump Speaks Out on North Korea Nuclear Threat; Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Nuclear Brinksmanship; Trump: "Big, Big Trouble" If Anything Happens to Guam; Trump: There's a "Possible Military Option" for Venezuela. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 11, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By September 1, we will have a response. But we have reduced payroll very substantially.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. President, a lot of Americans are on edge with this -- with this rhetoric going back and forth between the United States and North Korea. What can you tell them? What you can tell them...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You know what I could say? Hopefully, it will all work out. OK?

Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump. That, I can tell you. Hopefully, it will all work out, but this has been going on for many years. Would have been a lot easier to solve this years ago before they were in the position that they're in, but we will see what happens.

We think that lots of good things could happen and we could also have a bad solution. But we think lots of good things can happen.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I think you know the answer to that.

QUESTION: When you say bad solution, are you talking about war? Is the U.S. going to go to war?

TRUMP: I think you know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Is Iran abiding by the nuclear agreement, in your view?

TRUMP: Well, we have some pretty strong opinions.

But I would say that they are certainly not abiding by the spirit of the agreement. And that goes for really a further step. But I would say that the spirit of the agreement, Iran is not abiding by, absolutely. QUESTION: Staying in that region, do you have the right generals in

place right now for the fight in Afghanistan?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to make a determination, Peter, in a very short period of time as to Afghanistan. I have been looking at it. It's our longest war in history, 17 years.

That's unacceptable. We will be making decisions, as you know very well. We're looking at that very closely. We talked about it a little bit today. We talked about Venezuela today also, by the way. Venezuela is a mess.

It is very dangerous mess and a very sad situation, but we talked about Venezuela also.

QUESTION: We're a couple weeks into General John Kelly's time as your chief of staff. What have you done differently? What has he done to change the way you act perhaps and the way that your White House acts?

TRUMP: Well, I think General Kelly has done a fantastic job. He's a respected person, respected by everybody. Things have come together very nicely. And I have to say I think probably -- and I have gone through this a lot.

But I think very, very few presidents have done what we have done in a six-month period, whether it's optimism in business, whether it's the stock market, whether it's picking up $4 trillion in value with companies and equity, whether it's all of the many things, including the Supreme Court justice, regulations being cut massively.

We have I think it's 48 bills being passed in the -- I'm talking about legislature, not just executive orders. I think few have done anywhere near what we have done. And we will work now on tax reform cuts. We will never stop working on, as you know, health care.

That's also working. And we're working on other things, including infrastructure. We're going to have a very big infrastructure bill. So, I think nobody has done -- very rarely, could I say that anybody has done -- I'm not sure anybody has done what we have done in a six- month period.

But I think that General Kelly has brought a tremendous -- he's brought something very special to the office. Chief. I call him chief. He's a respected man. He's a four-star from the Marines. And he carries himself like a four-star for the Marines, and he's my friend, which is very important.

QUESTION: Mr. President, a number of Republican senators have rushed to the defense of Senate Majority Leader McConnell in the last day or so. What do you make of that and...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I don't make anything of it. We should have had health care approved. He should have known that he had a couple of votes that turned on him, and that should have been very easy to handle, whether it's through the fact that you take away a committee chairmanship or do whatever you have to do.

But what happened, in my opinion, last week is unacceptable. People have been talking about repeal and replace for seven years, long before I ever decided to be doing what I'm doing. Seven years, they have been talking repeal and replace. And it didn't happen. And not only it didn't happen. It was a surprise, and it was a horrible surprise.

It was very unfair to the Republican Party and very unfair to the people of this country. So, I was not -- I was not impressed.

Now, can he do good? I think so. I think we can do very well on taxes, cuts, reform. I think we're going to do well on infrastructure. And things will happen with respect to health care. And I think things will happen maybe outside of necessarily needing Congress, because there are things that I can do as president that will have a huge impact on health care.

So, you watch.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to the governor of Guam, and what did you tell him?

TRUMP: No, I have not, but I feel that they will be very safe. Believe me, they will be very safe. And if anything happens to Guam, there's going to be big, big trouble in North Korea.

QUESTION: Have you ordered any change in our military readiness?

TRUMP: I don't talk to say. That, I just -- I don't talk about that. You know that. I'm not one that says, we're attacking Mosul in four months. We do it or we don't do it.

[18:05:02]

Yes.

QUESTION: You're interrupting your trip here to return to Washington on Monday. Can you tell us why you're doing that?

TRUMP: Well, this isn't really for me a trip. I stay out of Manhattan, because it's so disruptive to go to Manhattan. Now, I will be going on Sunday night. I have meetings on Monday and Tuesday going to Manhattan.

But I stay out because it's so disruptive. All of my life, I mean my adult life, because I grew up in Queens, not in Manhattan. But during the time that I lived in Manhattan, whenever a president came in, it was very disruptive. And I think I'm probably more disruptive than any of them.

So, when they have to close Fifth Avenue, when they have to close 56th Street and many other streets, so I'm here for that reason. We're doing a tremendous amount of work. We're having large numbers of meetings. And I'm on the phone a lot. But I'm here for that reason.

I just thought I would love to go to my home in Trump Tower, but it's very, very disruptive to do.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) trip to Washington on Monday...

TRUMP: Yes, we have a conference scheduled. We have a very important meeting scheduled,. And we're going to have a pretty big press conference on Monday.

QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson has spoken, emphasizing diplomacy. You have spoken increasingly emphasizing the potential for military options. Are you two on the same page?

TRUMP: Totally. I can tell you totally on the same page.

And, Secretary, maybe you would like to make a statement?

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think it takes a combined message there if we're going to get effective movement out of the regime in North Korea.

I think the president has made it clear he prefers a diplomatic solution. I think he responded to that, in effect, just a moment ago. So, I think what the president is doing is trying to support our efforts by ensuring North Korea understands what the stakes are.

QUESTION: Speaking of the State Department right now, these recent acoustic attacks we've learned about regarding diplomats, American diplomats in Cuba, who is responsible for the acoustic attacks? Is it Cuba? Is it Russia? Who is to blame for that?

TILLERSON: We have not been able to determine who is to blame. We do hold the Cubans responsible for the safety and security of all our of people, just as every host country has the responsibility for safety and security of the diplomats in their country.

So, we hope the Cuban authorities are responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks on not just on our diplomats, but, as you have seen now, there are cases with other diplomats as well.

QUESTION: What do you make of this awful situation of they're losing these hearing, these American diplomats?

TILLERSON: Yes, it's awful. You just described it exactly correctly, which is why we're bringing people out.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... considering for Venezuela, what options are on the table right now to deal with this mess?

TRUMP: We have many options for Venezuela.

And, by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option. We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor. This is -- we're all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering and they're dying.

We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) That would be a U.S.-led military operation?

TRUMP: We don't talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.

QUESTION: We heard from North Korean state TV saying, "We consider the U.S. no more than a lump which we can beat to a jelly any time."

TRUMP: Well, let me hear -- let me hear others say it because, when you say that, I don't know what you're referring to and who is making the statement.

But let me hear Kim Jong-un say it. OK? He's not saying it. He hasn't been saying much for the last three days. You let me hear him say it.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you support regime change in North Korea or in Venezuela? Do you think those regimes...

TRUMP: I don't want to comment, because I think they're very different places, so I don't want to comment. But I support peace. I support safety.

And I support having to get very tough if we have to, to protect the American people and also to protect our allies.

QUESTION: Do you think your vice president will be a candidate for president in 2020?

TRUMP: I don't think so, no. No, I don't think so at all. He's a good guy. He's just -- as you know, he has left for Colombia and various other places.

He's been terrific. He's been a great ally of mine and a great friend of mine.

QUESTION: Are you considering further economic sanctions against North Korea?

TRUMP: Yes, we are. Yes, we are, very strong ones.

QUESTION: Which ones?

TRUMP: They're already very strong. We are considering additional sanctions at a very, very high level. And probably you could say as strong as they go.

OK, thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States.

I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We just heard the president speak at length about the North Korea crisis, now the second time today, after his meeting with top national security, diplomatic leaders.

He warned of big, big trouble if the U.S. territory of Guam is attacked, this after promising that Kim Jong-un will regret it if he makes more overt threats against the United States.

[18:10:05]

And the president also tweeting that the U.S. military, U.S. military solution is now, in his words, locked and loaded if the Kim Jong-un regime were to act he says unwisely.

There's a lot to digest with our correspondents, analysts and specialists.

First, I want to go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

The president said once again the situation with North Korea very bad, very dangerous. It will not, he says, continue.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And a remarkable amount of news coming out of those questions that the president answered there in Bedminster. He just said a few moments ago that he's going to be talking with President Xi of China later on tonight. That obviously is about dealing with the escalating tensions with North Korea.

The president has said repeatedly he would like to see China more -- do more with respect to ratcheting down the tensions with North Korea. He also appeared to announce, Wolf, that there is going to be a press conference here in Washington presumably at the White House on Monday. So, so much for the president being in New York or in the New York area for these two weeks that he was supposed to be on this working vacation.

It appears he's going to be here at the White House answering reporters' questions, something he's been doing over the last couple of days.

But getting to what the president was saying, obviously, he did not ratchet down his rhetoric. He's been doubling down and tripling down all afternoon. The president at one point saying, as you said, Wolf, that North Korea will be in -- quote -- "big, big trouble" if they take any kind of action against Guam.

But, Wolf, some other comments the president made were just puzzling. When he was asked whether tensions with North Korea will work out, he said -- quote -- "Hopefully, it will all work out."

Obviously, Wolf, they have to work out. Things have to work out with North Korea, because the alternative potentially could be catastrophic. He was also asked whether the U.S. is going to go to war with North Korea. At one point he said, "I think you know the answer to that." So, some fairly -- some cryptic comments coming from the president there, not terribly reassuring, I would think, to some Americans and certainly the people in Guam who are worried that these tensions and this escalation of rhetoric is just getting out of control, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he also said there may be statements coming out of North Korea, but he pointedly said, we have not heard anything directly from the leader, Kim Jong-un, over the past few days. He said, get back to me if Kim Jong-un makes a statement. We will have some more reaction.

The pointed silence, he says, from Kim Jong-un is significant. Have you heard that from other White House officials?

ACOSTA: Well, what we're hearing from White House officials, Wolf, is, we're almost hearing from two different White houses. You hear the president going out there with this tough talk, talking about military options, military solutions being -- quote -- "locked and loaded."

And I talked to a senior administration official earlier today who said there is nothing, there really isn't anything new to that, that the president was referring to military options that are sort of always on the president's desk that are available for him to use were a national or international crisis to develop, and this administration official said that's what the president was referring to.

But, obviously, the superheated rhetoric we have been hearing from the president all week long has done a lot to rattle allies around the world. Obviously, it's escalating tensions in that region. You heard the president there say he hasn't spoken to the governor of Guam yet.

Wolf, that is very surprising. Obviously, a president would want to talk to any U.S. territory that is being threatened in this kind of way by North Korea. After all, the government of Guam earlier today was issuing guidance to its residents there for what kind of precautions they should take were there a nuclear blast somewhere near the island.

And, so, obviously, if they're handing out that kind of literature to the residents, to the citizens of Guam, people there are not reassured and one would think the president would probably get on the phone with the governor of Guam at some point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, I want you to stand by at the White House.

And quickly want to go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, you listened closely to what the president said. And even in the midst of this potential military crisis with North Korea, all of a sudden, we heard the president say he is not ruling out military options involving Venezuela, the crisis going on in Venezuela right now. Have you heard of any military options as far as the U.S. dealing with the crisis in Venezuela?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, actually, we have sort of heard the opposite. The national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, just a couple of days ago in an interview said he did not foresee military -- an outside military intervention in Venezuela.

He speaks for the U.S. so, I think he's not thinking in that direction. And if you're going to talk about military intervention in Latin America and South America, there is a long history, decades- long, of some not-very-favorable feelings by many governments there about the U.S. military. That could be pretty problematic.

[18:15:02]

Now, does the U.S. military like, on the Korean Peninsula, Iraq, Syria, do they have options for something? Of course they do. Given the unrest that they are seeing in Venezuela, given the instability, American citizens are there, there's always something to be able to get Americans out of there safely.

If the president thinks that's a military option, perhaps, if it came to that, but, really, to go into Venezuela with U.S. military force and try and change the political and security landscape in Venezuela using American troops, which is what a typical military option is, I think at the moment the Pentagon is not thinking about doing that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, because take a look at the world right now, Barbara. And you cover the military for us. The U.S. military deeply involved in Afghanistan, the longest U.S. war in Iraq in Syria.

Now the military tensions with North Korea clearly escalating. And all of a sudden, the president raises the possibility of U.S. military action in this hemisphere in Venezuela. That comes as a pretty startling, surprising statement.

STARR: I think that the constant dilemma here is when the president speaks publicly about the use of military force and uses his rhetoric, which is what he does, there's really no way around it, to discuss military options, and, as commander in chief, the use of military force, he does have the real potential of confusing the world about what he is saying vs. what he means.

A military option for Venezuela, today is the first time we're hearing that, barring, as I say, keeping Americans who are there safe or getting them out of harm's way. It goes back to what Jim Acosta was saying, all this very heated rhetoric from the president.

When you pull it apart, when you look at it to some extent, what he is saying is America will defend itself if North Korea initiates an attack, if they initiate a missile strike against Guam, which is America, that the U.S. will respond. The problem is, these other world leaders, Kim Jong-un, the government in Venezuela, other governments around the world not friendly to the United States, they hear all this and they may not understand.

It is not often very clear what the president is talking about. People have to sort of divine it, if you will, or deduce what he's really saying. So, the risk -- the problem is the risk of miscalculation. He may feel he's being very precise, and he may feel that very strongly.

The concern, I think, for the U.S. military, for the national security agencies is, leaders around the world not friendly to the U.S., they may have their own interpretation of what President Trump is saying.

BLITZER: Startling comments from the president of the United States.

Barbara, stand by.

I want to go to CNN's Will Ripley. He's joining us from Beijing right now.

Will, you have been to North Korea over the past few years more than a dozen times. Clearly, the president differentiating between hostile language coming from the North Korean military or North Korean state television, as opposed to directly from Kim Jong-un.

He says, we haven't heard anything the past three days from Kim Jong- un. That's what he says is significant.

What's your reaction, as someone who understands and appreciates the North Korean perspective?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty rare to get a direct statement from Kim Jong-un, unless he's giving some sort of a speech, as he does every new year and occasionally addresses the nation directly.

But for Kim Jong-un to actually come out and make a comment directly in response to something from President Donald Trump, it would be very surprising if that happened. A lot of these statements that have been coming out over the last 72 hours have been from generals or other government officials.

And, so, what you just heard President Trump say is that he wants to hear North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, say it himself, to make the threats that North Korea's making himself, that the United States will be annihilated in a nuclear attack, it will be the stage of nuclear war, that President Trump is pushing the Korean Peninsula toward the brink of nuclear war.

These are all coming from North Korean officials below Kim Jong-un. But these messages are signed off by a number of people and approved before they go out. So, yes, to have President Trump essentially telling Kim Jong-un that he wants to hear him make these threats, the North Koreans, again, they're listening to all of this.

How they will respond, we just don't know. There was a new round of KCNA news bulletins that went out about 20 minutes ago. And there was no mention of any of this recent rhetoric in any of them. It was a summary of a couple of different diplomatic events. There was a mention of some provincial rallies that happened opposing the U.S. sanctions.

But there was nothing in direct response to President Trump, like the warning that we saw earlier this week where North Korea laid out in detail their plans for a simultaneous missile launch, with those missiles coming within 20 miles of Guam.

[18:20:08]

We haven't seen that kind of response from North Korea today. And, also, there are no indications, no imminent indications of a North Korean missile launch, according to U.S. intelligence. So at this point, North Korea is quiet. And what does that mean?

We have to, of course, watch their words, but we also have to watch very closely what their actions are going to be. And, of course, here in Beijing in the coming hours, there's now this phone call that we are learning about between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

And, boy, do they have a lot to talk about. Obviously, they are going to be discussing President Trump's statements on North Korea, the U.S. strategy. And this is coming just hours after the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that Russia and China have proposed repeatedly a plan to the United States to defuse the tensions.

They want the U.S. to call off their joint military exercises which kick off at the end of this month, joint military exercises that are regularly scheduled, have nothing to do with the current escalation, but they always enrage North Korea.

In fact, it was last year just one week after the joint military exercises ended that North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test. And so, you have all of this rhetoric on a month, the month of August, that is always a tense time here on the Peninsula.

And you have President Trump now directly speaking out to the North Korean leader, essentially goading him to make threats himself, just like President Trump is doing. We have never seen anything like this before, rhetorically at least.

But so far at least, that is not translating into military action. Will North Korea conduct this provocative multiple missile launch or will they do something else? These are things we just don't know.

BLITZER: We will see how they react to the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises scheduled for this month. We know the Russians and the Chinese want the U.S. and South Korea to cancel those exercises. I suspect there is no such cancellation in the works. Will, stand by.

I want to quickly go to someone else right now who has firsthand knowledge of the North Korean threats.

That would be Leon Panetta, the former U.S. defense secretary, the former CIA director under President Obama.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So, you just heard President Trump say there will be big, big trouble, his words, if anything were to happen to Guam.

He also said that Kim Jong-un won't get away with this. Earlier in the week, he said there would be fire and fury if North Korea threatened the U.S.

Do you believe -- first of all, what's your reaction to these most recent comments from the president?

PANETTA: All of this raises a lot of concern, Wolf, about the situation that we're dealing with.

We're dealing with probably the most serious crisis involving a potential nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And it's a time, frankly, where we need a president to speak in a steady and calm and stable and responsible way, because the rhetoric that's going on is simply fueling this situation and creating something that concerns me, which is that at some point there is a miscalculation, there is a mistake by someone in North Korea or someone in South Korea or someone elsewhere that suddenly has us into a war on the Korean Peninsula.

I really do think that what is required now is a lessening of this rhetoric and allow our actions to speak for the United States, not our words.

BLITZER: Because the president said today that the U.S. military is locked and loaded, ready to go if the North Koreans virtually do anything that the U.S. considers unacceptable.

That kind of language, locked and loaded, fire and fury, the president is clearly doubling and tripling down. He's not backing away at all.

PANETTA: No, and I think the concern I have is that that language is backing him into a corner.

And the more he talks that way, the deeper he goes into that corner, and it begins to limit the flexibility that he needs if, in fact, we are going to find a way out of this crisis.

So, I think the important thing right now is to recognize, as we all do, that the United States of America is the most powerful country on the face of the earth. And, very frankly, that power says a lot to North Korea and to others around the world. We don't really need to have a president who challenges other countries with words like fire and fury and lock and load.

[18:25:06]

What we need now is a president who can provide some assurance to the American people and to the world that they will do everything necessary to find some kind of peaceful solution to this terrible crisis that we're confronting.

BLITZER: When the Chinese and the Russians say they want to try to ease this crisis, they have some influence, but it would be a good idea, they believe, for the U.S. and South Korea to postpone or cancel the scheduled military exercises this month, something the North Koreans obviously always hate, always respond very negatively to, do you see any possibility at all of those military exercises being postponed?

PANETTA: Well, I certainly would not recommend that we cancel those exercises, particularly when North Korea is threatening to launch missiles at Guam.

And, therefore, I think it is important -- and I assume this is happening -- that diplomatic channels are being used to try to determine whether or not there is any basis for North Korea and the United States and others to be able to sit down and resolve this peacefully.

But until that happens, I would not assume that the United States is going to back away from anything.

BLITZER: The president also differentiated between statements coming from North Korean military generals, as opposed to the leader, Kim Jong-un, himself. He pointedly said we haven't heard him say much over these past three days.

Do you think he's basically goading Kim Jong-un to speaking up? He said that would presumably be a threat. These other statements are not much threats.

PANETTA: Wolf, I think one of the things we have learned over 60 years in dealing with various North Korean dictators is that you can't out-bully a bully.

And the reality is that, rather than engaging in this kind of loose talk, which I think, very frankly, undermines the power and prestige of the United States of America -- when this kind of loose talk takes place, the rest of the world is listening and trying to figure out what is going on and what does the United States really stand for.

And then the president in the middle of a press conference talks about military options in Venezuela, for goodness' sakes, raising the prospect that somehow he's thinking about using military force in Venezuela.

You know, at some point, the president has to recognize that, as commander in chief and as a world leader, that he's going to have to speak with some degree of steadiness and responsibility as president of the United States, because when he uses that kind of loose talk, it really does send mixed signals to the world. And, very frankly, it undermines our power in the world.

BLITZER: Let me play that clip, because it really jumped out at me as well, Mr. Secretary.

With the U.S. military deeply involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, now a military crisis under way with North Korea, all of a sudden, we heard the president on his own say this. listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I'm not going to rule out a military option. We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor. This is -- we're all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering and they're dying.

We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) That would be a U.S.-led military operation?

TRUMP: We don't talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was the first time I heard anyone in the administration, in the government, the military suggest that the U.S. is considering military action in Venezuela.

You're a former defense secretary, former CIA director. Have you heard that in recent weeks?

PANETTA: I have not.

And, very frankly, considering the number of flash points we're dealing with in a very dangerous world, the last thing we need is another flash point, where we may possibly use military force.

I just think that -- and I understand, you know, this is a president who comes out of the development industry in New York City. He comes out of reality TV.

[18:30:03] I think he kind of prides himself that talking is kind of his business and talking is the way he appeals to his base. He's been able to win election because of his ability to talk.

But when you're president of the United States, and when you're commander-in-chief, you know, this is not reality TV. This is a situation where you can't just talk down to everybody in the world and expect that somehow you can bully them to do what you think is right.

These are leaders in these countries. They worry about their countries. They're worried about what's going to happen. And they take the president of the United States literal. Words count.

And I -- I just think that president needs to understand, and the people around the president need to make clear that when we are facing the kind of crisis we are facing now, this is not a time for loose talk. It's a time for serious strategizing as to what steps we have to take in order to make sure that we find a peaceful solution and not wind up in a nuclear war.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A couple more questions, Mr. Secretary. The president did say his comments made people in Japan, he said, very happy. He said Japan is very happy with what they're hearing from him, from the U.S. right now.

Do you believe that?

PANETTA: I find -- I find it hard to believe that countries throughout the world are not deeply concerned about what is happening here. They see the prospect of two countries, because of miscalculation, because of words, because of a misstep that may wind up in a nuclear war, potential for a nuclear war. Nobody in the world wants that to happen, nobody.

And for that reason, I think there are a lot of nervous world leaders in countries around the world that are trying to figure out just exactly what's going to happen here. And I would certainly include Japan and South Korea and the countries in the Pacific being worried about just exactly what's going to happen.

I think it would be far better for the president to sit down, strategize, figure out what steps need to be taken, take those steps and do it in a way that does not involve the kind of threats he's been using. But he can say to the American people, we have developed a strategy that we believe can produce a peaceful solution to this crisis. That's what he needs to say to the American people.

BLITZER: But, Mr. Secretary, he just sat down with an hour with his secretary of state, his U.S. ambassador to the U.N., his national security advisor. He had an hour-long meeting and he emerged making these statements. What does that say to you?

PANETTA: Well, what it says is that, you know, whether it's John Kelly or anybody else in the administration, they have a hard time kind of controlling what the president of the United States is going to say. This is not a president who operates by talking points. That's for sure.

But the problem is that if they are presenting to the president strategies as to what steps need to be taken, it just seems that, to me, everybody ought to be on the same sheet. Everybody ought to be working from the same talking points. Instead what you get sometimes is the president saying some of the things he said today, and then members of the national security team trying to walk those statements back.

I just think it would be much better in terms of governing the country and governing, you know, our military forces if they all kind of sat down and said the same thing. That would help.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, I've covered you and I've known you for many years, going back to when you were a member of Congress, OMB director, White House chief of staff, CIA director, secretary of defense. I don't remember ever hearing and seeing you as emotionally, and potentially as upset and outraged as you are right now. Is that a wrong impression I'm getting?

PANETTA: Well, I'm concerned, Wolf. I'm concerned because this is not a game. This is for real. You know, having dealt with issues in North Korea, having dealt with issues in other countries throughout the world, I know when there is a situation that could get out of control.

[18:35:04] And what I'm sensing here is a situation that could get out of control. And that concerns me because there aren't any good alternatives here. If we, in fact, wind up having to take action here, that action could result in some terrible consequence that could involve South Korea and the loss of literally hundreds of thousands of lives.

So, this is a serious situation. And I would appreciate it if those in responsible positions would take it seriously.

BLITZER: And you say this is the most sea serious crisis facing the U.S. right now that you've seen since the Cuban missile crisis, is that right?

PANETTA: I believe that.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, thanks very much for joining us, the former secretary of defense. Appreciate it very much.

PANETTA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's continue to cover the breaking news. Very significant breaking news.

Phil Mudd, let me go to you first, former CIA official, former FBI official. Your reaction?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Well, a couple things. I'm watching the man who led the agency I served in for so long. He was not only respected, but loved at the agency because he had seen so much. He'd been under so much pressure. He had a lot of humor under pressure.

And when you look at his response today, I think it gives you a sense of the gravity of the situation. This guy spent decades in government as chief of staff during the impeachment of President Clinton, as CIA director, as defense secretary, and you saw the emotion in his voice. Just one second, I think I can explain from a national security perspective why you see that emotion.

One quick comment, Wolf. When you see the president embarrassed himself personally in the past, whether it's claiming that Mexicans are going to build the wall, whether it's making fun of a woman's face, whether it's commenting on his genitalia, in a national debate, televised, he was destroying his own reputation via social media via public statements. Within the past week, he's using the same medium, that is social media, to damage the security of people like me because he's threatening a fourth rate national power and ensuring that Kim Jong-un now realizes that if he plays around, the president is going to elevate his profile internationally by engaging in this game every day.

People like me see a transition from a president who embarrassed himself to a president who's threatening us because he can't contain his mouth. It's that simple. BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, how do you see it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president, as has been the case on other issues, is failing to comprehend the situation he is in. He is in a very difficult -- different and difficult position both with the country and with the world compared to other presidents at moments of international crisis. I mean, if you go back for starters and look at the last 50 years since the Cuban missile crisis, only Jimmy Carter at the outset of the Iranian hostage crisis was anywhere near as low as the president in his job approval in the U.S., and he is laboring as well as we saw in the CNN poll, 60 percent of the country say he can't be trusted, 70 percent in other polls said he's not level-headed, he has denigrated the intelligence agencies that he would be relying on to justify any action against North Korea.

And when you -- and you expand the lens internationally, we saw in the Pew poll, less than a quarter people in Japan, less than a fifth of the people of South Korea say they have confidence in him to make the right decision in international affairs. So, whatever message he thinks he's sending to North Korea, I think he's failing to apprehend how much he needs to send a message to his own people and to his allies around the world, that as Leon Panetta said, that they are taking this seriously. There are serious people who are competently handling this very real crisis.

And what -- again, whatever the impact of his words are on North Korea, you have to ask the question whether he is generating over the past week more anxiety about what North Korea might do or more anxiety about what he might do, both here in the U.S. and really across all of our allies around the world.

And so, I think that calls for a very different approach than we have seen, but yet he continues to double down in this direction.

BLITZER: Even after that meeting with his top diplomats. Elise and Rebecca, we're going to continue our special coverage of the breaking news. Got to take a quick break. We'll resume all of this in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:01] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and analysts. We're following the breaking news.

Only moments ago, we once again heard from the president of the United States.

Elise, I want you to listen to this specific clip from the president speaking about the current crisis with North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hopefully, though, it will workout. But this has been going on for many years. It would have been a lot easier to solve this years ago before they were in the position that they're in. But we will see what happens. We think that lots of good things could happen and we could also have a bad solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's not backing away from his statements earlier in the day, the U.S. military is locked and loaded, fire and fury, and we just heard Leon Panetta, the former CIA director, former defense secretary, say this is the worst crisis, national security crisis the U.S. has faced since the Cuban missile crisis.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reason why it's the biggest crisis now is because North Korea actually has nuclear weapons.

And I think what's important here is, look, there's nothing wrong with the credibility threat of military force that could even sometimes back up diplomacy or the good things that could happen that President Trump is talking about.

[18:45:11] But North Korea makes these threats all the time. They know about the U.S. military capability and the whole idea that North Korea is going to launch a preemptive strike against the United States I think is pretty close to nonexistent. And, so, the danger right now here is really the kind of miscalculation. President Trump is being taunted by Kim Jong-un, and this is keeping escalating and you don't know where he's going to climb down.

I think it's pretty clear right now he doesn't have a strategy for getting out of this. There could be some kind of diplomacy. I think Secretary Tillerson, even Secretary Mattis, H.R. McMaster, they would like some kind of diplomatic option and the credibility threat of military force could have that. But this war of words is not helping President Trump, and he's falling for the kind of stuff from Kim Jong- un that at this point in time is very dangerous now that North Korea has nuclear weapons, but something that a lot of times people say, you know, that's the North Korea statement, it doesn't really have reality.

BLITZER: Rebecca, when the president was asked, president said we could also have a bad solution. When he was asked, a bad solution, do you think that could mean war? The president said, I think you know the answer to that. Obviously meaning yes.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right. I mean, he isn't taking a preemptive strike off the table. He isn't taking military intervention in North Korea off the table. He is even throwing out there for no apparent reason the idea of military intervention in Venezuela where we just imposed sanctions. But military intervention hasn't been talked about by anyone frankly.

It's interesting to note, Wolf, the contrast here between Donald Trump as president right now and Donald Trump the candidate. As recently as December, he was framing his presidency as a non-interventionist presidency. He ran as a non-interventionist candidate, ran against the Iraq war. He said in December, we will stop racing to topple foreign regimes

that we know nothing about. That we shouldn't be involved with. Our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS. This is not that. He is doing the exact opposite right now.

BLITZER: He certainly is.

You know, I want to play another clip, you know. Phil Mudd, the president seemed to make a huge distinction between threats coming from the North Korean military or the North Korean state television as opposed to the leader Kim Jong-un. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, let me hear, let me hear others say it because when you say that, I don't know what you're referring to and who is making the statement. But let me hear Kim Jong-un say it, OK? He's not saying it. He hasn't been saying much for the last three days. You let me hear him say it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What was your interpretation of that, Phil?

MUDD: I find this fascinating. A couple interpretations. Let me try for just a moment to climb inside the president's brain.

The first interpretation is people keep saying he's crossing red lines. I don't buy that at all. This is a president who says repeatedly things over time and then just changes his story. I think he's looking for a potential out. If Kim Jong-un takes a step out remotely a step back, the president says, I win.

One other point, what did the president say that I thought was extremely notable. He's talking to the Chinese leader tonight. What do you think he's going to tell that Chinese leader? I just heard one clue. Get the North Korean leader to say something vaguely conciliatory and we're done. I'm going to go to the American people and say, beating my chest in public and threatening North Korean leader works. I thought it was a fascinating statement.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, Rebecca Berg makes an important point. What he's doing now, raising all these military threats, including the possibility of not only getting involved militarily with North Korea, but with Venezuela as well, this is in marked contrast to the non- interventionist statements, almost isolationist statements he used to make as a candidate. And some are suggesting as you heard his critics, some of his critics saying, this is one of these times where he's trying to change the subject and raise these national security issues to maybe appeal to that base.

BROWNSTEIN: Here is a cross pressure here, Wolf. You know, on the one hand, he was part of the broad backlash we've seen in portions of the Republican Party after George W. Bush's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq turned out, you know, so much more difficulty than they were promised and that was the way he ran. On the other hand, he promised he was going to solve these problems,

you know, that the only reason these problems hadn't been solved, whether it was Iran or North Korea, was because we had bad deal makers and we had people who didn't understand the art of the deal and how to make a deal. You know, he in essence said he had the sword to cut through these Gordian knots all over the world and is learning in office I think, you know, why, in fact, they are so complicated.

[18:50:05] Because for all the talk about a military action, any military action, even, you know, something that's conventional weapons would involve almost certainly enormous destruction in South Korea and casualties in South Korea and part of the problem we have here is the administration finding a way to explain to the world why it was OK for North Korea -- the deterrence in effect was OK when North Korea could reach Japan and North Korea, but it's not OK if they can reach the U.S.

And you had Lindsey Graham saying this week the president said to him well if people have to die, it's better if people die in Asia in a war than in the U.S. That's not a way to hold our alliances together. So, I think, you know, the challenge of squaring the idea that these were easy problems to solve with the non-intervention has been challenging. In some ways, it's similar to what we saw in health care when he said he could square all of these circles, and in office, discovered it was a lot more difficult than it seemed on the campaign trail.

BLITZER: You know, what's interesting, Rebecca, that jumped out at me and I assume to you as well, this isn't a president who hasn't had a solo news conference since February and all of a sudden yesterday, he spends a lot of time answering reporters' questions. Today on two separate occasions spends time answering reporters' questions, announces that on Monday in Washington, he will have a full-scale news conference, big news conference. He said he's clearly anxious to have a back-and-forth with reporters right now.

BERG: Right, it's like he has this pent up energy like he's been holding his breath and now he's panting in and out. It's clear that he has been in a bunker mentality while he's been at the White House and now he feels unchanged and he gets some energy from talking to the press and he likes that exchange. But at the same time, you have to weigh, as a top White House adviser and as the president, the risk and reward of that exchange.

If the president is going to go out there and say things that are productive for him and productive for his agenda and productive for this administration, that's one thing. But we see him taking these questions which, of course, as journalists we encourage, but it doesn't seem to be doing him a lot of good strategically at the same time.

BLITZER: We're happy he's answering reporters' questions.

BERG: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. More on the breaking news right after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:00] BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're following the breaking news in the midst of this nuclear crisis with North Korea, the president is now suggesting the U.S. military may actually deploy troops to Venezuela.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not going to rule out a military option. We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor.

This is -- you know, we're all over the world and we have troops all over the world and places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they're dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.

REPORTER: That would be U.S.-led, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Say?

REPORTER: That would be a U.S.-led military operation?

TRUMP: We don't talk about it. But a military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Elise, you cover the State Department for us. You're a global affairs correspondent. Have you heard much talk of the U.S. using a military option in Venezuela?

LABOTT: No, and in fact, his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, just said in an interview within the last 24 to 48 hours or so, that there is not a U.S. military option in Venezuela and if -- you know, obviously the situation in Venezuela, the democracy, the human rights violations is awful and they're trying to get some kind of diplomacy together. The U.S. earlier this week imposed sanction sanctions on some members of the Venezuelan government. There's been talk about oil sanctions on Venezuela.

But even H.R. McMaster said, if there was a military option, it would be up to countries lower in the hemisphere like Brazil, like Colombia to be involved in. So, I think what happened is Donald Trump is kind of feeling his commander in chief oats, he was asked about Venezuela, he said, oh, yes, there's a military option, we have countries far away and near. And I think you could have asked him about a whole host of countries today and he might have said the same thing.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, the president said a military option is certainly something we could pursue. You seem to be smiling. MUDD: I'm -- I'm thinking we'll do Key West next. I've been down

there a lot and sometimes they're threatening to secede.

But I think there's a serious point here. That is this man is all about image. He's about projecting himself as the tough guy who comes from New York money and comes down to clean up Washington.

He comes out in the past few days as we just talked about, Wolf, it's in front of reporters more than he's been in months. Why is that? Simple reason, he as commander-in-chief looks tougher and bigger like any president of the United States on North Korea and now God forbid Venezuela because he's playing the role of the guy who owns the American military. By contrast, a month ago, he would have been talking about health care and Russia. It's about image.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it on that note, guys. This story is certainly not going to go away. CNN is going to have extensive live coverage throughout the night on all the late-breaking developments.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.