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Trump in Lake Charles, Louisiana, After Texas Visit; Beaumont's Water Outage Could Soon Be Over; DOJ Says No Evidence Obama Wiretapped Trump Tower; Family Returns to Flooded Home After Viral Rescue Videos; North Korea Has More Developed Nuke?; Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 2, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Ana Cabrera in New York, you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks so much for being here.

Right now President Trump just left Louisiana. He's wrapping up a trip to the Gulf Coast area devastated by tropical storm Harvey. In Lake Charles where he was last, he and the first lady just met with some of the first responders and the civilian volunteers who went to Texas, in fact, and helped rescue stranded flood victims.

The president and Mrs. Trump spent the first part of the day in Houston. This is video from that visit where they stopped first at a local church. They helped load emergency supplies for those in need and then at NRG Stadium. He met with evacuees. He even helped served lunch.

This trip comes just four days after his first visit to the storm zone. He landed first in Corpus Christi on Tuesday. He was accused of being somewhat detached during that trip, but that certainly has not been the case today. We have seen him hug and kiss children, pause for selfies. He shook hands with people in the affected neighborhoods.

And good news from Beaumont, Texas, tonight, a city that has endured three days without drinking water, just minutes ago we learned that new water pumps have been installed and the city is in the progress of restoring water service.

So let's begin this hour with the president's visit. Our Ryan Nobles is in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Ryan, tell us about the president's meetings on the ground there.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I will, Ana. In fact, I've got someone who was actually in the room with the president a few minutes ago. And Ben Husser is a member of the Cajun Navy. We've talked about so much over the past couple of days. He probably won't describe himself as such, but I'm going to call him a hero for the work that he's done.

And you actually got a chance to meet and visit with the president of the United States just a few minutes ago. Tell me about that meeting. BEN HUSSER, CAJUN NAVY MEMBER: It's an honor to meet him, and I'm

glad to know that he cares enough to come down here and spend time with the people in this area that were devastated and were affected by the storm. That means a lot.

NOBLES: You think it does resonate with everyone that's been through so much and people that have invested as much time as you have?

HUSSER: It does. Whenever you get the attention of the president of the United States, you get the attention of the American people, you feel as though they care, and that's what's important.

NOBLES: So, Ben, you're from Hammond, Louisiana, you went through Hurricane Katrina. You told me before that after everything you've gone through in Hurricane Katrina, that's why you decided to get on board with the Cajun Navy, go and help the people in Texas because you didn't want folks in Texas to go through what happened in New Orleans and in Louisiana. Explain that to me.

HUSSER: You know, any time there's a disaster, there's anything going on, it's the American people that get together and we help each other. And that's what we're supposed to do, we're supposed to help our neighbor.

You know, Katrina was a devastating event. For me, personally, I just didn't want to see some of the things that happened during Katrina happen again. So that's why we loaded up our boats, loaded up our trucks. We didn't even question it. We don't think about it, we just do it. And that's what America is great about is that we help our neighbor. We help each other when they're down.

NOBLES: And you had a moment where you were in Port Arthur, Texas, one of the hardest hit parts of east Texas, and you came upon a nursing home where they had yet to evacuate the residents there. Tell me what happened.

HUSSER: We made entry into the nursing home, roughly 65 patients in the first nursing home. We were told that they -- we couldn't take them out and we didn't give it a chance. We didn't give them an option. We took ownership of the nursing home, restrained the nursing director, and we took those patients out. Roughly 70 boats, we got those people out, got them to safety. They've been in water for two days, some of them with their feet, diabetic patients with their feet in the water for two days.

And what I saw was devastating to me as a person and a human being. That can't happen. Then we found another nursing home owned by the same company, same thing again, where 75 patients in it.

NOBLES: Well, Ben, thank you for the effort. Glad you got to meet the president today.

HUSSER: Thank you.

NOBLES: I hope you and your family stay safe, and again thanks for talking to us. So, Ana, that's just one small example of the hundreds, really,

thousands of stories that are emerging here from the region that was hit so hard by Hurricane Harvey, and Ben got the opportunity to get a bit of thanks from the president of the United States himself, and that's the stories that we're hearing here in Louisiana and in Texas -- Ana.

CABRERA: Ryan Nobles, thank you. Huge, huge thanks to Ben, what a great guy he is, and his efforts obviously very much appreciated by so, so many.

[18:05:05] These are live images we are now looking at in Louisiana. The president has not yet boarded Air Force One. He left the armory some time ago where he had done most of the meetings with people there like Ben on the ground, but here he is getting ready to be wheeled up any moment now, and just making a few last handshakes and taking a few last pictures before he gets back on the airplane ending his trip to the storm zone as he waves good-bye.

Again, First Lady Melania Trump along his side all throughout the day. We've also seen other members of his staff, including his chief of staff, John Kelly, who was there with him. We are also told Ben Carson, the HUD secretary, as well as the secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, were supposed to be with the president on this trip.

Again, the president meeting here with a few of the officials, both the governor in the state as well as the states' senators who came out to greet the president and welcomed him into Louisiana.

Let's keep a picture up on the screen, if we can, guys, as we bring in our panel to talk more about the president's visit today.

CNN political commentator Alice Stewart is here with us, she is a Republican strategist and a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, and also here with us, CNN senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy, and CNN political commentator Keith Boykin, he is a Democratic strategist and former White House aide under President Bill Clinton.

So, Keith, as the president gets ready to head back to the White House, what's your assessment? How did the president do today?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he did a much better job today than he did during his first trip. His first trip he didn't meet with any hurricane survivors. He spoke about himself. He said what a crowd, what a turnout, and he just didn't show that he had any great deal of humility or empathy, tried to make it too much about himself.

So this is -- this was a gimme. This is something that any president normally ordinarily would do. You go -- you reach out to people. This is the worst natural disaster we've had since Hurricane Katrina. And I was surprised -- more surprised that the president did not get it right the first time, and so to say that he got it better this time is sort of -- it's, like, self-bigotry of low expectations as George W. Bush once referred to. CABRERA: Keith, there was obviously some criticism on both sides of

the aisle for him not showing enough empathy or compassion perhaps on that first visit, but we've heard from one of the reporters earlier that he has also been criticized today for coming too soon and affecting and disrupting some of the emergency response and the relief efforts that are on the ground. So is it a dammed if you do, dammed if you don't type situation?

BOYKIN: It is, unfortunately, that's the role of the president. President Obama and President Clinton, President Bush all went through the same thing. You can't really figure out the perfect time to visit a disaster site. But I think what this underscores more than anything is the need for an effective and strong government.

You know, the president has just been in office trying to erase President Obama's legacy including hurricane programs that now the administration's trying to reconsider, flood programs and hurricane programs and just trying to slash government programs that are actually helping people who are in need.

If anything, I hope that people will see this disaster and see the federal response to the disaster as an urgent call for more funding for the government necessities that will help people in the future, and not as sort of an excuse to justify more tax cuts for the wealthy and more unnecessary government cuts to programs that are desperately important.

CABRERA: So let's talk about the funding because the president has requested an initial $7.9 billion from Congress for the Harvey recovery efforts, as supposed to be the initial round of funding, the emergency response just to get the ball rolling. He -- we heard him in his remarks today as he met with storm victims, saying he hopes this is done very quickly.

Oliver Darcy, he obviously is in a hurry to get this out because he doesn't want to make the same mistakes President Bush made after Hurricane Katrina.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Right. I think that's what's key here is that he does not want to look like Bush did after Katrina, he wants to look like he's very responsive. He's on the ground today, he was on the ground on Tuesday, not the way some people wanted him to be, but he still nonetheless went down to Texas and he was there Tuesday, and he wants to get this funding through Congress as quickly as possible without problems because he just wants to take care of this and make sure that he looks responsive. Where Bush was widely criticized for -- critics saying not doing too much, he wants to make sure like he looks on top of it and he's on the ball.

CABRERA: So, Alice, your former boss, Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, is calling for the federal aid in response to Harvey, again, he's a vocal critic in the past of some of these types of spending bills. Remember, in 2013, he voted against the federal aid after Sandy, and now even Republicans are calling him out on this saying he's been a hypocrite. How do you square it? [18:10:03] ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first off,

Ted Cruz did support aid for Sandy victims. He did not support the boondoggle of funding for other pet projects for members of Congress such as fisheries in Alaska and new roofs on the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. So that needs to be cleared up, first and foremost.

And, sure, he does want aid to Texas and he wants it soon and he wants it as much as he can possibly get to help the state rebuild. And the president has committed to doing so.

Let me just say this if I can about today's visit. It seems like there's been some criticism. Look, today, President Trump checked the box and showed without a doubt he is a consoler-in-chief. And he went there with great compassion and warmth, and as you've shown, thanking the volunteers, reassuring the storm survivors, taking pictures with people, serving up food, loading up vehicles with necessary supplies, and this was exactly what they needed.

As for his trip earlier this week, that was important, too. I have a relative who was at the event he was at in Austin where it was more about the president initially going there to assess what needed to be done. What kind of resources do they need. And that wasn't the time and place for him to go and get involved with the rescue efforts that were underway at the time, so I think that going in there and initially assessing the damage and what resources were needed followed up with today, I think he -- it's been a very presidential week for him without a doubt.

CABRERA: Alice Stewart, Oliver Darcy, and Keith Boykin, we've got to leave it there for now. Thank you, all.

Residents at Beaumont, Texas, meantime, have gone three days without running water, but that's about to change. The city just announced some news the residents have been waiting to hear.

Let's get out to Kaylee Hartung in Beaumont, she's joining us from outside the city's water treatment facility.

Kaylee, tell us what you've learned.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, the waters of the Neches River are still too high to get a full assessment of the damage to the two intake facilities here at this treatment plant, but the good news, we are just learning of six pumps have been installed. Six pumps from a private company, Tiger Industries, are now pumping water into this facility to be treated and then sent out to the city of Beaumont.

Now the city is warning there will be changes in pressure. There will be interruptions to service. When you get the water you've got to boil it. But it's one step in a temporary fix to a problem that has been so big to so many.

I want to bring in Colonel Paul Owen, he is the Southwest Division commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He's just landed on the ground from Galveston. Colonel, the Army Corps of Engineers has brought six pumps here.

Those not yet installed. What do you know about where we are in that process?

COL. PAUL OWEN, COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS SOUTHWEST DIVISION: So those pumps are waiting to be moved to a site that is currently not accessible because the water is too high at this point. So it's pretty incredible what the local city and the engineers here have done to figure out a solution where our pumps can actually be used as a backup basis, so it's -- I mean, again, with local communities and local industry contributing to making this a more rapid solution from a local level, I think this is a great example of a community coming together to solve a problem.

HARTUNG: And you say, so many entities coming together, everyone's been working around the clock. What have you heard of the challenges of this particular case?

OWEN: Yes. So, for our -- you know, our pumps, we originally got assigned a mission assignment from FEMA at the request of the state a couple of days ago, so we worked very hard to find the right pumps, get them to this location, and then the time that that happened, I think, you know, the ingenuity of the local engineers came up with the solution where they could pump the water to and through and filter it in a way that they can deliver good drinking water to this area.

So, you know, it's just a little bit different process than what they are usually used to, and I think our pumps, once the water goes down, will potentially work as a backup for their original process to try to filter the water.

HARTUNG: And when you go inside here, talking to the people who have been here for the past couple of days, what questions are you going to be asking?

OWEN: Well, first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to congratulate them because I think they did an incredible job of trying to restore what is an essential service for their people, so -- and I'm going to ask them, you know, just some questions about how they came up with this idea. Frankly, I'm just curious as an engineer how they did this because it seems to be going to work pretty good for them.

HARTUNG: Well, thank you so much, Colonel. We'll let you get in there for your briefing.

OWEN: All right, thank you.

HARTUNG: Ana, good news for the people of Beaumont as that water will start to be more of a flow than a trickle.

CABRERA: That is huge, huge news. Kaylee Hartung, thank you for that reporting.

Coming up, we have breaking news we're following, the Justice Department has announced they have found no evidence to back up President Trump's claims that Trump Tower was wiretapped by President Obama. Details on this next live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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[18:18:32] CABRERA: We have some major news out of Washington to share with you. The Justice Department has revealed they found zero evidence that former President Obama ever wiretapped Trump Tower as President Trump once claimed. In the filing released, the DOJ writes, "Both FBI and NFD confirmed that they had no record related to wiretaps as described by the March 4th, 2016 tweets." By the way, that NFD refers to the national security division of the Justice Department.

But remember these tweets back in March? These were some of the accusations, he wrote, "Terrible, just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism." And then there is this one, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate, bad or sick guy."

Now the White House has never said what President Trump was basing those unfunded claims on, only that the president was confident an investigation could vindicate him.

I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen. He has served as the president's advisor to four U.S. presidents, both Democrat and Republican.

David, help us understand how significant this is.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we've known already from Comey's testimony and other sources that the FBI has found no evidence of this, but I think coming from the Justice Department and a written filing and a lawsuit, it really puts an exclamation point at the end of the sentence that the president essentially misled the country.

[18:20:11] He had no basis for saying as far as we know that there were any wiretapping, and, certainly, his own government has determined that there's no basis for it, and, you know, one has to say, would the president be better off just saying, I was wrong and I apologize to President Obama, and move on, than allowing this to extend as a direct contradiction of a series of maligning tweets?

CABRERA: Right.

GERGEN: That the president issued back in March.

CABRERA: And you'll recall, it wasn't just the tweets. He kept doubling down in other statement, and eventually, involved foreign allies.

GERGEN: Yes, he did.

CABRERA: At one point the Trump White House claimed that a British spy agency had helped Obama spy on then candidate Trump. And then later there was the press conference with the German chancellor where President Trump said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: As far as wiretapping, I guess, by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: There was laughter, but the German chancellor hardly cracked a smile. She didn't find that funny. Do you think this, again, coming back out had been, you know, kind of put to bed, but now it's been reopened? Does it have an impact on the U.S. relationship with allies?

GERGEN: What relationship with the allies?

CABRERA: Do you see this as having an impact on the U.S. relationship with our allies such as, you know, bringing up the fact that he had that moment?

GERGEN: Not particularly. You know, I do think that President Trump making light of this does not help the relationship with Chancellor Merkel, you know. They haven't exactly been buddies here, and there's a lot of distance between them, but I think it underscores, again, that President Trump, unfortunately, sadly, has on more than one occasion simply slimed Obama and gone out of his way gratuitously to slime him, and without foundation, without a basis for saying what he's saying.

And I think that's one of the reasons that is -- you know, that so many Americans don't approve of him right now. His numbers are extraordinarily low and the approval ratings, because they've seen this, and it's behavior that they can't support, so I, you know -- will all of this change? I don't know. What I do know now is that we have as serious and major a statement as you could have from the president's own administration, that directly contradicts what he was claiming in a series of tweets that were very tough on President Obama, that slimed him in a very personal way, very -- we do not see this in American politics often.

We do not see one president going after a former president with a kind of venom that we saw in those tweets, and when it turns out that they were just false, it is extremely disturbing to see that pattern.

CABRERA: So just to give a little bit more background to our viewers, we got this filing by the Justice Department because it came as part of a lawsuit by a group that is called American Oversight. They had done a Freedom of Information request to look into this and to have any documents provided. They were seeking government records of any kind of wiretap of Trump Tower, but the fact that the president, the United States Department of Justice has come out in such a direct way contradicting what the president himself has said and has never, you know, gone back on, do you think he's been -- you know, he's not hidden any of his, I guess, disapproval of some of the moves Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, has made. Do you think that this is likely to reopen a wound the president has in that regard?

GERGEN: That's a very good question, Ana. It was my first question that rose in my mind was -- is the president going to be angry with Sessions, that he -- that he had thought Sessions should have stopped this or what, you know, or changed the tone of the filing, you know, to -- yes, the Justice Department could have said, we have no evidence to date. We have not yet found evidence, but instead this is a much slighter statement, we simply have no evidence, and, you know, the president may take umbrage in a private or even public way with the attorney general.

I can't imagine the attorney general was too thrilled by having this problem either, but there it is. And you know, when you get a lawsuit like this, your Justice Department is compelled to answer honestly. And that's what the department feels it has done.

[18:25:11] I'm sure there are going to people at the White House who sort of think -- there are those people, some people at the Justice Department out to get us, and that's why they did this filing in such a flat way, but, you know, the department, you know, frankly, has a long record of people who work there, you know, being pretty darn partisan.

CABRERA: All right, David Gergen, we always appreciate your insight. Thanks so much for joining us.

GERGEN: Good to talk to you again.

CABRERA: Coming up, we have a follow up to an incredibly family rescue that went viral because of this video. It's the plight of Penny the Pig and her family. We return home with the Eicher family after more than 13 feet of flood waters went into their house.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:09] CABRERA: More now on the ongoing impacts of Hurricane Harvey. The beginning of the school year has been pushed back in a lot of areas affected by Harvey. In Houston alone, an estimated 30,000 students will have to be temporarily moved to new schools. The Houston Independent School District superintendent gave an assessment to our Fredricka Whitfield.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CARRANZA, SUPERINTENDENT, HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: We have about 300 schools in our portfolio of schools. We've completed assessments of about 250 of those campuses. The rest we're trying to get into, and in some cases, we just can't get to because of the water, so once we have the full scope of the condition of all of our schools, we'll be able to decide what we're going to do in terms of housing or co-locating students in other buildings.

This is a massive undertaking as I'm sure you're aware of, and the last thing we want to do is put students or staff in facilities that are not safe and conducive to teaching and learning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Now the district says 115 schools will need to be deep cleaned, but they will be ready for school to start on September 11th. 53 others have major damage and 22 have extensive damage. At least one Houston elementary school may not open for months.

Now one family's rescue from Harvey's rising flood water went viral when the mom posted some video of her four kids, their three-legged dog, and this beloved family pet pig who was also saved by first responders.

Today the Eicher family returned to their home in Texas after water rose some 13 feet into their home, even though it was still built on stilts.

Our Sara Sidner is joining us now.

Sara, I bet that was a little scary for those family members to go back to their house. What did they find?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, this is an incredible family. We have been with them for much of the day, and they have been -- they made our hearts full, I have to tell you. They came home to find a big mess. They had to basically rip out the guts of the bottom two floors of their home. And I want to show you kind of where they are because there's the water there, right, so they got the animals in the back here, the kids play back here. There's -- brand new house, but the water, they never thought that the water could make it all the way up here, 13 feet up, and into their home that they just purchased three months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): The Eicher family children, Archie, Sevy, Ace and Radko, are safe and happy at grandma's house.

LISA EICHER, FLOOD VICTIM: We have four kids, two of them are adopted from Bulgaria, both of them have down syndrome.

SIDNER: But the children keep asking about going home ever since the day firefighters rescued them from fast rising flood waters.

L. EICHER: They're coming to rescue us, buddy.

SIDNER: It wasn't just the four kids and two adults.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't like the lake.

L. EICHER: You don't like the lake being over here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

SIDNER: There was their three-legged dog Pip.

L. EICHER: She's never swam before. She's missing a leg, so I don't know if she --

SIDNER: And their chubby pig Penny.

L. EICHER: Good girl, Penny.

JOEY EICHER, FLOOD VICTIM: We've said, all right, this is going to be an adventure. You've got to have your happy face on for the kids.

SIDNER: It worked. But then they all came home to see what Harvey left behind.

J. EICHER: Pretty overwhelming. I -- it's really hard to describe, right? We're trying to keep happy faces, we're trying to maintain good attitudes for the kids, and we walked in for the first time, and I mean, it was the most horrific smell, most -- just all our furniture shifted, everything just displaced.

L. EICHER: I kind of couldn't catch my breath, and that's when it kind of got real for me. Walking into the house, it was definitely hard. We didn't have any time to gather things as we got out. We had to get out, like, so quickly.

ACE EICHER, FLOOD VICTIM: My toys, they all floated away.

SIDNER: The children are home schooled so they lost their school supplies, too.

L. EICHER: They are learning their biggest lessons right here doing what they are doing right now.

SIDNER: Ace and her siblings powered through their loss and got to work alongside their parents, even the youngest.

(On camera): How much work have you done?

ARCHIE EICHER, FLOOD VICTIM: Working. With a hammer, broom.

L. EICHER: All day you're cleaning up.

A. EICHER: Anything.

L. EICHER: Anything.

SIDNER: We're proud of you, Archie, you're doing a great job.

This is Eicher's backyard. Yes, there's water there, but they had no idea that that water could make it into their house because they built it 13 feet up in the sky.

(Voice-over): The Eichers just moved to this home three months ago, and now? They are forced to tear it up so they can rebuild it. Their dog Pip and pig Penny are just fine. As for the firefighters who saved them?

[18:35:02] CLAY JOHNSON, CONROE FIREFIGHTER: We don't typically prepare for pig rescues, but we are, we are ready for anything, and the fact that not only is it important to keep the kids calm and safe, but the animals can help do that, and mom's attitude, dad's attitude throughout the whole process really helped us, but more importantly we were just there to help them get to a little drier spot.

SIDNER: And now the two firefighters who rescued them are working right beside them.

(On camera): The firefighters who saved you came back to the house?

L. EICHER: Yes. Yes. Oh, my gosh, the moment I saw them pull up, the firefighters pulled up in their truck, in the fire truck, the first day, we were back here, and I mean, I, like, I ran out of the house and just, like, jumped on them, because I just couldn't believe that not only did they save our lives, save our family, get us out of here, but they came back, and not just to say hi, but to work. The firefighters are just forever our heroes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now we are still inside the family and the family and friends from all over the place have shown up. Some people they don't even know showed up. They saw their story on social media and showed up and just started working, and a ton of work has been done. The kids, including Ace here, who lost all of her toys in the flood, she's been working really, really hard, and she got a huge surprise.

Jake Paul from Team 10 showed up here, he's a social media star, a YouTube phenom, he showed up to help clean up and to come say hi to Ace, and she was over the moon, and everybody smiling today. It's incredible the amount of work they've done with smiles on the faces after all they've gone through.

And we will have much more on the coverage of the Houston floods here, and what happened after Hurricane Harvey and all the good work the people here in Houston are doing coming up in just a bit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[18:41:00] CABRERA: Breaking news just into CNN. North Korean state news now reporting that the regime has, quote, "succeeded in making a more developed nuke." Now the agency claims during a visit to the country's nuclear weapons institute, Kim Jong-un watched as a hydrogen bomb was loaded on to a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

This is the picture that was provided again by state news.

Let's bring in Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona for some insight here. Obviously you have to take all of this as a grain of salt to some degree, Colonel, because it is the state run news agency providing this. This is some propaganda from the regime, but how significant do you think this is?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, if it's true, this is a major step forward. We've been watching this for some time now. We know that they've developed an intercontinental ballistic missile because we can see that. What we've not been able to see is actually the development of a warhead. If they have been able to miniaturize a nuclear weapon down to the size that they can put it on the top of an ICBM, they've got a real capability to strike the United States.

CABRERA: What do you see in this picture?

FRANCONA: Well, you know, it's hard to determine exactly what that is. But, you know, that's a pretty good sized weapon, but that's small enough to put into an ICBM warhead. Now we don't know that this is actually real. We also don't know how survivable this would be once they launched it. So there's going to have to be a series more tests before this is really viable, but this is -- if that is a hydrogen bomb and it fits into a capsule that can fit on to an ICBM, that is a giant leap forward in their technology.

CABRERA: What would you expect the U.S. to do with this information, with this development? You say it would be significant if it is proven true. Again we don't know the authenticity of this exactly, but is this something in which the U.S. would need to act upon?

FRANCONA: Well, first of all, we've got to find out if it is, in fact, true, and it, of course, the intelligence community will be looking at this, this picture, and everything associated. I'm sure that this will drive a lot more intelligence collection, but, you know, we have to, you know, start looking at this to make sure that if he has developed this, that we're aware of it. Then the problem becomes, well, what do you do about it? You know, and that opens up a whole other series of questions that we've been talking about the last few weeks.

CABRERA: Now this, of course, comes less than a week after North Korea's last missile launch where they fired a ballistic missile that went over Japan. That happened on Tuesday and as the week has proceeded, there's been sort of a back and forth. The U.S. and South Korea conducted a joint flyover drill simulating the bomb drills that have happened. There was successful intercept of a medium range ballistic missile in a test that the U.S. conducted.

Do you think Kim Jong-un is trying to send a message by sending out this picture through state media?

FRANCONA: I think he is. And I believe this is just the continuation of this tit-for-tat, this back and forth between the United States and North Korea. You know, we do something. They do something in return. Then we do something and it just gets -- it ratchets up the temperature, and, of course, we don't need this. What we need is to figure out some way to deal with this situation rather than just threatening them.

CABRERA: All right. Colonel Rick Francona, we'll obviously continue to gather more information on exactly what this is. Again, the reporting tonight is that Kim Jong-un had visited a nuke lab. This is according to state media in North Korea. This image was attached in their broadcast, they said he watched an H-bomb to be loaded on to new ICBM.

They said the H-bomb, the explosive power which is adjustable from 10 kiloton to hundreds of kiloton is multifunctional, a thermo nuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super powerful EMP or electromagnetic pulse attack, according to Strategic Goals.

[18:45:13] Again that's the latest out of North Korea tonight. The U.S. intelligence agency obviously vetting now this new picture and this new reporting.

I want to bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who's joining us on the phone.

Barbara, we know there have been several tests this year, ballistic missiles, and in January, in fact, of 2016, there was a test that involved some components associated with a hydrogen bomb. Talk to me more about that.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, this is a test that puzzles the U.S. intelligence, and they may have never been able to come to a final conclusion, but what they did determine is that it was most likely back in January 2016, the North Korean regime did test components associated with a hydrogen bomb. That nuclear test was very deep underground, much deeper than previous tests. It's what would have been needed for a hydrogen bomb.

What they did is they conducted some air samplings after the test. It wasn't conclusive, but how the test was conducted, the seismic data that they got, they then go back and look at it. At that time the North Koreans claimed it was a hydrogen bomb. What the U.S. believed is -- has always believed since then it was components. The North Koreans may have thought they tested a full hydrogen bomb, but, U.S. again, only believed it was some components, possibly even just a detonator that exploded in that test.

But I think the really critical thing here is it's really put the mark on the wall that North Korea was going after hydrogen bomb technology. So it's going to be so important that the intelligence community looks at this image on the screen that you see of Kim Jong-un with his scientists and his other officials at this supposed hydrogen bomb device. It's going to be to look at it in trying to determine is it real.

Is this an actual working device to go back and look at any imagery, any electronic data from various plants and facilities, any air samplings, anything that they could get that would add to the overall picture of what North Korea has? Right now, you know, the intelligence community's been watching their underground nuclear test sites literally around the clock for months looking for any possibility that a six nuclear test might happen.

Officials have been saying they could do a test at any point. You know, it's underground. The U.S. won't know until it happens, but if these images are real, if this is an actual constructed hydrogen bomb that we are seeing on the screen, it would suggest they've been able to achieve something that the U.S. certainly has not publicly acknowledged at this point, so it's going to be an intelligence puzzle looking at all the clues, trying to look at the image, trying to see exactly what's real here -- Ana.

CABRERA: It was in recent weeks that I believe we learned that the development of their nuclear program was further along than had initially been predicted in terms of the rate of their ability to achieve some kind of a nuclear bomb and the ability to then put that on a -- put it on a warhead that would go on an intercontinental ballistic missile. I mean, it went from years to perhaps within months that they'd be able to achieve more of that in their developmental program. So do you think, Barbara, that this would come as a surprise to U.S. officials?

STARR: Well, you know -- you know, in all candor, I'm not sure that we know the answer to that. What we may be seeing unveiled here for all we know in the public and the media is something that the intelligence community has been keeping secret. We just -- we just don't know, but you're right, when you look at the pieces that have been emerging in the program, they have accelerated. That's been confirmed.

The North Koreans have accelerated their missile development program. They have accelerated and it's widely accepted now that they probably have miniaturized warhead technology. In other words, are closer to be able to -- than ever before to put a miniaturized nuclear warhead on the front end of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Sources that CNN talks to regularly say still to be achieved is the challenge for them of being able to launch a missile, bring it back down into the atmosphere, and reach a precise target that they're aiming at.

[18:50:12] But you know that's looking at the North Korean program, perhaps, through Western eyes. It's not even clear that Kim Jong-un cares about all the precision, cares about the targeting. He wants to have a nuclear program that he can show the world and insist that he will be and will remain a nuclear power that everyone has to respect.

He doesn't test all these things, these warheads, these missiles, these images of a hydrogen bomb, he doesn't test any of this, you know, the way the United States military would, years of development, complex test program. He is firing off missiles as fast -- by all accounts, as fast as he can. He is getting a fairly good success rate. Is it perfect? No. But that may not be what he's looking for.

He's looking for leverage and his image on the world stage. And certainly he has achieved one goal and that is the United States, the president, the United States government is paying allot lot of attention to him. And that's always been one of his goals.

CABRERA: All right. Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, thank you.

I want to bring back Colonel Rick Francona who's still with me on the line here. And, you know, the other thing that came out this week, Colonel, is that North Korea has continued to up its rhetoric against the U.S. Essentially saying recognize us as a nuclear power. There is no way out, there is no other option.

Our Will Ripley saying, you know, in some other comments that were made earlier this week that North Korea was saying if the U.S. doesn't simply recognize that they are a nuclear power, that they would continue to quickly advance their nuclear program.

It puts the international community between a rock and a hard spot because, as we've seen, there have been an increase in sanctions over and over and over again and yet we see these images.

FRANCONA: Yes. And, you know, I think all of us have -- are of the belief that no matter what kind of sanctions we put on North Korea, no matter what the international community does to North Korea, unless the Chinese are willing to -- actually make it hurt in North Korea, nothing's going to change.

This leadership in North Korea wants to develop an ICBM with a nuclear warhead and it appears that they're getting very close to doing just that. And what they want is a strategic deterrent. The North Koreans believe that if they have a nuclear weapon that they can deliver to the United States that they will have an effective deterrent against the United States.

And if you look at it from their position, they believe that the United States actually had designs on attacking North Korea. You know, we have a bad habit of always trying to analyze what they're doing to our guys not looking at it from their position. So they're going to continue to do this. And I don't think that any type of economic pressure that is being applied right now is going to change Kim Jong-un's mind. They're on a crash program.

This is reminiscent of the effort that the United States put into the Manhattan Project. Everything was focused on developing this capability, He's using untold resources to do this. And you're right, he's doing this as fast as can he. And as Barbara said, they're not really doing all the studies that the United States would do to develop this, this is not long term. This is a crash program to get a capability that the rest of the world is going to have to take into consideration and they believe this will provide that deterrent against any military action against North Korea.

CABRERA: Let's bring in CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier.

Kim, this is one of the first serious tests of this White House especially when it comes to the sanctions and the relationship with China.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Absolutely. And it comes after a number of U.S. officials, including Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has been trying to emphasize the diplomatic options. It is an on-purpose, in-your-face provocation that could put this White House in the frame of mind that it has to do some sort of controlled strike on capability. Now that's something that they have discussed, but with this, some

limited strike leading to a wider conflict is why it's always been argued as it's the last -- the last possible step they'd want to take. But the policy up to now of increasing sanctions, which they have been able to do at the U.N., increasing the economic pressure on North Korea's elite doesn't seem to have been a lever that works.

[18:55:08] So either that means they can withstand more economic pain, or that perhaps China, Beijing does not have the influence with North Korea that the White House thinks that they do and, as Colonel Francona was saying, this regime sees obtaining an ICBM with a nuclear tip of hydrogen bomb of some sort that can threaten the United States as the way that it guarantees staying in power.

CABRERA: All right. Kim Dozier and Colonel Rick Francona, thank you both for that insight.

Want to take a quick break. Much more of this breaking news straight ahead.

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