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Hurricane Aftermath; Interview With Arizona Senator Jeff Flake; Interview With Texas Governor Greg Abbott; North Korea Claims Successful Nuclear Test; Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff; Obama's Letter To Trump. Aired 9-11p ET

Aired September 3, 2017 - 09:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is threatened.

Breaking news this morning: North Korea claiming it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. It's the sixth test of a nuclear weapon by the rogue nation and the first since President Trump took office.

And North Korea state media is calling the test a -- quote -- "perfect success."

This comes just hours after North Korea released photos of Kim Jong-un observing what it says is hydrogen bomb being loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile.

President Trump has responded now, saying -- quote -- "North Korea has conducted a major nuclear test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States. North Korea is a rogue nation, which has become a great threat, an embarrassment to China, which is trying to help, but with little success. South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work. They only understand one thing."

Let's get right to CNN's Will Ripley in Tokyo. He's one of the only Western journalists to spend significant time inside North Korea.

And, Will, you just returned yesterday from Pyongyang, your 14th trip.

What does this test mean?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a number of different things that it means.

Number one, North Korea has advanced technologically. They have proven, they say, that they can put a miniaturized nuclear warhead, a hydrogen bomb, on an ICBM and launch it towards the mainland U.S., because, remember, in July, they tested ICBM, and they launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile just last week, flying it over Hokkaido, the northern island here in Japan. They're also sending a strong message to the United States of continued defiance, despite multiple shows of force by the U.S. and South Korea, bombing drills, bomber and fighter jet flyovers.

Of course, the joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea ended just last week. And a few weeks ago, it was that provocative rhetoric from President Trump, threatening to rain down fire and fury like the world has never seen on North Korea if they continued with acts that pose a threat to the United States.

But the sense I got from officials in Pyongyang all of last week during a number of different meetings and of course also from North Korean state media is that they will not back down here. In fact, they say if the U.S. decides to put more pressure on the regime, they will only accelerate and push forward even faster with developing these weapons of mass destruction.

BASH: The question also is, why now? Is it because they were just ready with the technology or to send a signal?

I know it's very hard to look inside the reasons inside this regime, but you, if anybody, can do it, for lots of reasons, especially since you just came back.

RIPLEY: Well, we have been saying since April, and so has the United States and South Korean officials, that they believe North Korea has been ready to conduct this sixth nuclear text really at any moment with little or no notice.

A lot of people thought it would happen back on April 15, the Day of the Sun celebration. It did not happen then. But just last week, South Korea's national intelligence service briefed lawmakers and said that they have observed this new activity in the Punggye-ri nuclear test in the mountains in Northeastern North Korea, very close to the border with China.

Why now? Clearly, North Korea upping the ante here as far as the escalation of tension, and indicating that even though the seventh round of sanctions has been passed and has yet to kick in, that this will not stop them.

And they're trying to send this message maybe even perhaps before the true economic bite of those sanctions takes effect, because what North Korea ultimately wants is leverage when they talk with the United States. Even though the U.S. is far more powerful, more wealthy, more influential, North Korea has in its arsenal now a weapon that the U.S. doesn't seem to have a strong -- a strong response to.

Pretty much military analyst would tell you that a war on the Korean Peninsula would be more horrible than we can even put into words. And so North Korea -- and, in fact, they put out a statement just about 48 hours ago saying that the U.S. needs to change its long-held position of refusing to acknowledge North Korea's changed geopolitical influence, as they put it.

In other words, North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear weapon state. They want a seat at the table not from a position of desperation, but a position of strength. And then perhaps they think, as long as the United States stops telling them their precondition is they have to denuclearize, because they say that won't happen, that maybe they would be willing to have discussions with the U.S., because what North Korea ultimately wants is something that the U.S. really only can give them, which is international recognition, legitimacy, and increased opportunities to engage with the outside world.

But the real question for the U.S., would they reward North Korea for continued acts that are in flagrant violation of international law? Right now, no easy answers here, but their weapons program continues to advance.

BASH: No easy answers is the most important thing this morning that we should remember.

Will Ripley, thank you so much for that report.

I want to bring in Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.


Senator Flake, thank you for joining me this morning.

North Korea, as we have just been talking about, announced that it's detonated a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted on top of an ICBM.

Now, President Trump condemned North Korea's latest nuclear test, but he also criticized South Korea and he accused America's ally, which is what South Korea is, of appeasement.

And let me just read you part of his tweet. He said: "South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work. They only understand one thing."

What do you make of that criticism this morning of South Korea?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, let me just say that obviously the test yesterday shows that they are further along than I think everyone figured.

And we've got to have a consistent response, I think, with our allies. I think South Korea certainly will be with us in whatever we decide, but I -- I don't know about that criticism directly.

South Korea knows the situation they're in. The proximity of Seoul to the DMZ and North Korea is obviously of big, big concern to everyone in South Korea. So -- so, I -- I -- I don't know. I don't want to characterize the president's remarks.

BASH: Well, North Korea's nuclear test, there's no doubt about, this was an extraordinary show of defiance against the United States and President Trump specifically, who threatened last month to bring fire and fury to North Korea if it continued to threaten the U.S.

Do you think that the president has backed himself into a corner here?

FLAKE: Well, what we have been doing over the years has certainly not slowed the advance of their nuclear program, but I don't think that harsh rhetoric does either.

I think that they're moving. Certainly, sanctions are -- are not, you know, arresting that development either. So just about nothing we have done so far has helped slow it down. They seem intent on moving forward.

Obviously, we hope that China exercises its leverage. They have considerably more leverage than we do. But I think, given where they are, we see the limits of economic sanctions obviously on North Korea.

BASH: The president's now former chief strategist Steve Bannon, he gave a really blunt assessment of the state of play vis-a-vis North Korea last month. Here's what he said.

He said: "There's no military solution to North Korea's nuclear threats. Forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about. There's no military solution here. They got us."

Do you agree with that?

FLAKE: Well, I have a lot of confidence in our national security team, General Mattis and others.

But, obviously, that's something that they have to consider and everyone dealing with this situation has to consider. This -- there -- there -- you know, it becomes cliche to say there are no good options here, but there really aren't.

So, I think that everyone recognizes the problems you have with a war on the Korean Peninsula. For those who believe that we can simply strike and knock out their capability somehow, they don't understand the situation very well there.

BASH: So, you agree that there is really not a military solution at this point?

FLAKE: Well, obviously, you cannot rule anything out. All options have to be on the table.

Obviously, having North Korea with the means and the ability to have a nuclear weapon, a hydrogen bomb, and to deliver it to our shores is not an option that we can tolerate either. So, we simply can't take any option off the table at this point.

BASH: Senator, James Clapper, who was the director of national intelligence under President Obama, he recently questioned President Trump's fitness for office and capacity to handle the nation's nuclear arsenal.

Listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to the nuclear codes. If in a fit of pique, he decides to do something about Kim Jong-un, there's actually very little to stop him.


BASH: Senator, there are a lot of people waking up this morning in this country very concerned about what they're hearing from North Korea.

Do you share Clapper's concern, not just about North Korea, but with the president's ability to respond?

FLAKE: Well, I -- I do have good confidence in our national security team and those who are advising the president.

And the president does not have experience in this -- in this kind of situation, but few presidents do when they come into office.


And I'm confident that the people around the president are giving him good advice, and I believe that he will follow it. I sure hope he does. Obviously, you like a leader that's measured and sober and consistent. Our allies want to hear that.

I think our adversaries need to hear that. But we have got a good team around the president.

BASH: Senator, you talked there about the president's team, but not about the president himself. Are you concerned about the president himself, as James Clapper is?

FLAKE: Well, like I said, no president comes in prepared with regard to foreign policy experience. That's why you have a good team around them.

I have had my concerns, I think everyone has, at some of the statements that have been made by the president with regard to NATO and other areas in foreign policy.

Like I said, I think we -- we want somebody who is -- who is measured and sober and consistent and conservative in this regard. But he has a good team around him, and I have confidence in them.

BASH: All right, Senator, stay with us. We have a lot more to talk about with this breaking news.

Plus, later: President Trump on the attack against the man you're just talking with, we're talking with, Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Listen to what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Weak on borders, weak on crime. Nobody knows who the hell he is.


BASH: And, also, President Obama left a secret letter to President Trump in the Oval Office. We now know what that letter said, and we're going to tell you ahead.



BASH: We're back with Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona.

And, Senator, amid these tensions we've been talking about with North Korea this morning, "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump has instructed advisers to prepare to withdraw from a free trade agreement with South Korea.

Do you think that's the right thing to do now?

FLAKE: No, not at all.

I -- I don't think that that would be good in any circumstances. Now, it's particularly troubling, given what South Korea is faced with. I think that we need to do more trade, not less. And withdrawing from trade agreements is a very trouble sign.

BASH: I want to ask you about what is known as DACA, the Obama era program that shields young documented immigrants who were brought by the U.S. -- brought to the U.S., rather, by their parents, shields them from deportation.

You tweeted the following on Friday: "Congress needs to take immediate action to protect -- protect DACA kids."

But let me show you what President Trump promised during the campaign in your home state of Arizona.


TRUMP: We will immediately terminate President Obama's two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately five million illegal immigrants. Five million."



BASH: Senator, the president said he is going to make a decision soon.

Why should he go back on this promise, which was very popular among Republicans in places like your state?

FLAKE: Because it would be the right thing to do to go back on a promise.

Obviously, you hope that presidents keep some of their campaign promises and you hope that they ignore others. This is one that he ought to ignore.

There are 800,000 DACA kids, kids who were brought across the border. The median age, I think, is 6 years old for those 800,000 when they came across the border. They should not be punished for the sins of their parents. That's just the basic principle that we ought to follow here.

They are in -- either in school or have graduated and are working. Almost all of them, I think 90-some percent of them, are in the work force. To remove them from the country, to split up families like this, is just not the way we ought to go.

BASH: And, Senator, if the president says that he will extend the protections for dreamers, but do it in exchange for funding from Congress, from you for his border wall, would you go along with that compromise?

FLAKE: Obviously, all of us believe in border security. It depends on what he means by the wall. And we still really haven't seen what he means by the wall.

If that's a metaphor for border security, we can certainly support that. But if he's talking about a solitary brick-and-mortar 2,000- mile edifice on the border, then, no, nobody ought to support that.

So, we really haven't seen what the president is really talking about when he talks about the wall.

BASH: Let's talk about you and President Trump.

He really is on a mission to defeat your reelection as a fellow Republican. He's called you a flake. He says you're toxic. And he has promoted your primary opponent Kelli Ward.

I want you to listen to more of what the president said about you on your home turf just this past week.


TRUMP: Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who's weak on borders, weak on crime.


TRUMP: So, I won't talk about him.


TRUMP: Nobody knows who the hell he is. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Senator, what makes you think that you can win your Republican primary in your state with the president attacking you and you going after him?

FLAKE: The people in Arizona tend to elect independent-minded, principled senators, Barry Goldwater, John McCain.

I think the voters here expect me to have my own franchise, to represent them, not to be a rubber stamp for the president. So, I'm -- I'm quite comfortable where I am. I would hate to be tethered to any president, Republican or Democrat, on every position they take.

That's not what a senator is supposed to do.

BASH: But, Senator, 88 percent of Republicans in your home state of Arizona voted for Donald Trump in November. You might be right about the general voters in Arizona, but we're talking about an intra- Republican war, that one of the battlefields is right there, and you're leading the charge against the Trump -- the Trump voters.


FLAKE: No, that's not -- that's not the case.

What I'm doing is voting on a conservative basis. That's my philosophy. I will support the president when I believe he's right. I have supported many of the agenda items that he's put forward.

I'll oppose those that I think he's wrong on, things like NAFTA, for example. I think NAFTA has been good for Arizona. It's been good for Mexico. It's been good for Canada. It's been good for the entire country.

Those kind of things that will damage Arizona, I won't support the position on. But, on most things, I do. That's what I do with every president. That's what the voters in Arizona expect me to do.

BASH: Senator, I want to turn, before I let you go, to Russia and escalating tensions with Russia.

Officials there are protesting American intentions to search Russian diplomatic facilities, one here in Washington in particular. And they call it a hostile act.

But do you think that Russia's interference in America's election, wasn't that just that, a hostile act?

FLAKE: Well, obviously, Russia did try to intervene and did try to meddle in our elections. That's a settled matter.

What we do with regard to diplomatic facilities is governed by conventions and protocols that are in place. Obviously, we don't fun afoul of those, and Russia shouldn't either. But Russia is an adversary. I think that we ought to -- if we don't, we ought to continue to recognize that. So I'm certainly supportive of us recognizing them as an adversary.

BASH: And, lastly, Senator, the leaders here in Washington, your Republican leaders, the White House, they're preparing to attach -- potentially attach this popular bill to help victims of Hurricane Harvey to a controversial measure to increase the nation's debt limit.

Do you support this move?

FLAKE: Well, we -- we don't know how it's going to come forward.

I know that we desperately need to help those who have been through this horrific situation in Texas and Louisiana. We will do so.

We will also raise the debt ceiling. Raising the debt ceiling is simply paying for bills that you have already accrued. We obviously need to be concerned about our growing deficit and our massive debt. But the debt limit is not the place to do that on. And, obviously, we have got to provide assistance to those in Texas and Louisiana.

BASH: OK. Just to be clear, you are OK with -- you will support financial assistance, federal assistance for Harvey?

FLAKE: Oh, obviously, what we're talking about this coming week is immediate emergency assistance.

BASH: Right.

FLAKE: Kind of the down payment.

BASH: Got it.

FLAKE: So, I don't think you will have much argument there.


Senator, thank you so much. Appreciate your time this morning.

And we have much more on the breaking news ahead, North Korea claiming it has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. It's the country's sixth ever nuclear test.

So, what is Kim Jong-un planning? That's next.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

This just in: President Trump will meet later today with his national security team in response to North Korea claiming that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. Joining me now is Gordon Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown: North

Korea Takes on the World," and David Sanger, national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

And, David, you are the expert on all things North Korea. Why -- why do you think he did this now?

DAVID SANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think he's doing it for two big reasons, Dana.

First, he's had a summer in which he has just wanted to establish himself as a major nuclear power, akin to, say, Pakistan or India, one whose nuclear capability is such that we're not going to get to unwind it.

And, secondly, I think hoe wants to divide the American alliance with South Korea and Japan by making it clear that, for all of his talk, President Trump is no more willing than his predecessors to go in and actually try to disarm him.

And that could create a breach of some kind with South Koreans and Japanese who doubted from the beginning of the campaign whether the president would really come to their aid.

BASH: Fascinating.

Gordon, you said recently that North Korea is giving President Trump the middle finger.

Is this about getting under Trump's skin?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": Well, I think it probably is, because Kim Jong-un continues to do this stuff, and President Trump says all sorts of things, like locked and loaded and fire and fury. Doesn't seem to have very much effect.

I actually think that the reason why Kim tested it right now is because he sees chaos in Washington. He thinks he can get away with it. Also, China, the other major country, they're in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress.

It's a very sensitive time for Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler. So, I think that he believes that both Washington and Beijing, neither of them are in a position to oppose him.

BASH: And, Gordon, how much should we really believe the North Koreans when they say that the hydrogen bomb that they've tested can actually be put on an ICBM?

CHANG: Well, I think they're pretty close to being able to do something like that.

I don't know if this was a thermonuclear device, but we have got to remember, though, that it was probably 120 kilotons, which means it possibly was an H-bomb. And so whatever these guys say, sometimes, they exaggerate, but if

they're exaggerating, it just means that they're going to accomplish this two, three, four, five months down the road. You know, within nine months, maybe a year, they will be able to do everything that they have promised, and then we're really at risk.

BASH: David, I talked to Senator Lindsey Graham this morning.

And here's what he told me about this. He said: "The diplomatic options are diminishing. The length of the diplomatic road is defined by the pace of the North Korean military buildup. The military buildup is exceeding the diplomacy. Time is running out for diplomacy."


SANGER: He's basically got that right. One of the big diplomatic options that people have been talking about is getting a nuclear freeze, getting them to stop doing missile and nuclear tests in return for the United States. If they stopped now they would stop as a pretty established nuclear power, whether or not as Gordon said, they are ready to get this bomb on to a missile.

The second thing I think you have to remember out of this is that when President Trump tweeted this morning that the South Koreans should stop appeasement, well, it's hard to imagine President Trump giving the North Koreans something, whether it is an end to U.S. military exercises or greater aid. It just doesn't seem like the President Trump we know. And that is what I'm afraid is the dynamic that could get us to something a lot more confrontational.

BASH: David Sanger, Gordon Chang, thank you so much for your incredible insights this morning on this very scary news.

And stay with us because President Trump, he has visited with victims of Hurricane Harvey, and next we will take to the state's governor about new challenges, including flooded toxics waste sites in Texas.

Plus, an exclusive from one president to another.


TRUMP: I just went to the Oval Office and found this beautiful letter from President Obama.




BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

President Trump and the first lady spent Saturday visited victims in areas hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey. Trump tweeting late Saturday night, "Just got back to the White House from the great state of Texas and Louisiana where things are going well. Such cooperation and coordination."

Joining me now is the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. Governor, thank you so much for joining me.

I want to ask by looking back in time to Hurricane Sandy. After that hit in the northeast in 2012, the federal government spent $56 billion on relief efforts. And on Friday, the Trump administration asked Congress for 7.85 billion, an initial hurricane funding relief.

Given the devastation caused by this storm will $7 billion be even close to enough money from the federal government?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Dana, it will not be. However it's very clear that the president has made it clear, Congress is making it clear, this is just a down payment.

But let's not compare it to Sandy. Let's compare it to Katrina. Listen, the population size and the geographic size is far larger than Katrina and I think Sandy combined.

We have over 5 million people who are affected by this. It's not just the flood (ph) in Houston it is the hurricane swath all the way from Corpus Christi over to Beaumont. And so it's going to require even more that what was funded for Katrina, which was about $120 billion.

But in addition to that -- listen, we are trying to work to rebuild the state of Texas ourselves and that is why we have created this new fund, the state of Texas runs, called It's if people want to help doing (ph) this effort.

BASH: Let me make sure I understand you. I know it's very early and it's hard to know dollar figures down the road but you're saying that you believe the federal government will need to give north of $100 billion?

ABBOTT: Yes. In the overall equation, the cost of this, if I understand it correctly, to rebuild Katrina was over $120 billion. And when you consider the magnitude of the size of this storm, it's far larger than could Katrina. Both geographically and population- wise.

And when you look at the number of homes that have been mowed down and destroyed, and damaged, this is going to be a huge catastrophe that people need to come to grips with is going to take years for us to be able to overcome this challenge.

BASH: Let's talk about what's going on in the ground right now. The waters are receding in Texas, people are returning to their homes that have been devastated. Only 15 percent of houses in Harris County, which include Houston, have flood insurance.

What's going to happen to those people, Governor?

ABBOTT: Well, let me first say one thing -- I'll answer that, but remember this the waters are receding and drying up in Houston, Harris county, but remember there are so many other parts of the state of Texas that are impacted by this such as the Beaumont regions and some other regions in the lower Brazos River.

We are still doing search-and-rescue missions as water have not yet receded -- I mean, come close to receding. So we are still in phase one of responding to the emergencies.

But as it comes to the homeowners in Harris county and Houston, Texas, where the most dramatic and widespread flooding took place, we're working on multiple levels to make sure that these homeowners are going to be taken care of. One thing -- and one way in which the Trump administration has been very, very responsive is by having all their cabinet members as well as the FEMA administrator in Texas constantly including yesterday. And so we are working on strategies to help these homeowners be able to have an effective response for them.

BASH: The Associated Press reported this weekend that 13 of the 41 contaminated superfund sites in Texas were flooded, and are now experiencing possible damage as a result of the hurricane.

When will the EPA inspect all 13 of these sites?

ABBOTT: Well, the EPA has been very aggressive about being involved in this and they are working on some of them already.


As you probably have noted they have restraints on their ability to check out some of them just simply because of the water. But they are prepared to go in as quickly as possible.

BASH: And what threat do you think this poses, in all honesty to public health and of your constituents?

ABBOTT: Well, this is just one of a multitude of dangers to public health because of flooding water.

Listen, people, as they begin the cleanup process, they need to realize as these waters have flown through their homes and other parts of the county it's not just what you're talking about there but these waters are filled both with chemicals, with waste and things like that that can pose real health hazards. And so we caution everybody, as you begin the rebuild and cleanout process understand that your homes, your buildings, and areas -- any area where the flooding waters have come across your property, there is potential of very dangerous dirt and grime left behind.

BASH: So should people wait to know the answers to what really is left behind before they go back?

ABBOTT: No. As we toured around Houston yesterdays and went through neighborhoods we saw in typical Texas fashion, people are already getting back to work and they are cleaning up their houses.

What people need to do is they just need to be very cautious in the way they respond. Do things like wear gloves, wear masks, wear clothing so that your skin is not going to be brushing up against what you're cleaning.

People can go back to their homes and begin the rebuilding process like what we have seen across the state of Texas and already, and we are so impressed with the work ethic of our fellow Texans about getting back and going to the rebuilding the process.

BASH: Governor Abbott, thank you so much.

ABBOTT: Thank you.

BASH: Congratulations and some advice. In his final moments in the Oval Office President Obama left a private letter to President Trump.

We now know what it said word for word. And you'll only see it first and hear on CNN.

That's next.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

It was an iconic moment during the final minutes of President Obama's time in office. Looking through an Oval Office window, as he slipped a handwritten letter for Donald Trump into the resolute desk, addressed to Mr. President. Two days later President Trump spoke about that letter.


TRUMP: I just went to the Oval Office and found this beautiful letter from President Obama. It was really very nice of him to do that, and we will cherish that, and we will keep that, and we won't even tell the press what's in that letter.


BASH: President Trump has since shown that letter to his White House visitors.

And now for the first time CNN has an exclusive look at the contents of that special letter, and it reads in full as following -- "Dear Mr. President -- Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you and all of us regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.

This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don't know that any advice from me will particular helpful. Still let me offer a few reflection reflections from the past eight years.

First we've both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It is up to us to do everything we can to build more ladders of success for every child and family that's willing to work hard. Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It's up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that's expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.

Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions -- like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it's up to us to leave those instruments of democracy at least as strong as we found them.

And finally, take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family. They'll get you through the inevitable rough patches. Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.

Good luck and Godspeed, BO, Barack Obama."

We have our panel with us to discuss this.

Senator, let me start with you because you've been around and you have interacted with many a president. What's your reaction to this?


I mean, I understand why President Trump shows it to the people that who come and visit the White House. I mean, I think he hit on all the key themes, was gracious about it.

I thought (ph) one of the nitpick, which of course I hate to do, but I will. You know, the introduction was a little -- was politically correct, he didn't congratulate him on his victory, he congratulated him on his run. He also didn't say American supports you, he said millions support you, so there is -- that caveat, there's a little caveat at the beginning but after that moment I thought the letter was actually very graciously and well written.

BASH: Congresswoman?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: I think this really speaks volumes to the character of President Obama. These beautiful words of wisdom were presented in a very beautiful way in spite of the fact that President Trump led the effort to delegitimize the first African- American president.


President Obama rose above that. He also talked about ladders of success in the letter.

Well, what we see we see President Trump trying to take away health care for millions of Americans. We don't see him working to create better jobs with good paying wages and lowering the cost of living. And so I hope that President Trump really rereads this letter and understands its wisdom and uses it as a road map to the rest of his presidency.

BASH: Carlos Gutierrez, you worked for the last Republican president, President Bush and his cabinet, reading this and knowing the history of the presidency and this tradition of leaving notes, what is your take?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, FORMER SECRETARY OF COMMERCE UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it was a nice letter. If there's a message in there, when he talked about keeping the international order, that's probably a suggestion that is juxtaposed to President Trump's America first, but you know that when you get into recommending to spend more time with family, it becomes a formality, there's no question that this is diplomacy at work, but these two men are archrivals, they have been and they always will be, and that's something to keep in mind when we see these wonderful statements of friendship.

These are two rivals, these are two competitors.

BASH: They are.

And, Neera, you know this president and you know the woman who thought she was going to be president, Hillary Clinton. This was not, to your point, Senator, an easy letter to write. It was carefully written, tried to obviously do it respectfully, but this is not the letter, this is not the person he wanted to write it to.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Right. And I think that goes to the graciousness of the latter. I mean, he was not only writing to somebody who defeated the person he was actually in favor of, but more than that Donald Trump started his political campaigning essentially made his name as a birther.

So I do think it speaks to that. I think what's extraordinary about this letter and I've seen other letters that have been in the public, I mean, usually you do not have to remind the president, a person who has become president, of essential democratic norms like civil liberties and democratic respects for the press et cetera, that's an unusual thing to have to do, I think. And I think its spoke to some concerns the majority of Americans had in the election.

BASH: And, Senator, one of the quotes in here that really struck me, that speaks to actually the differences within the Republican Party big-time right now, is the following, this is on American leadership.

" American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It's up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order."

If this was President Bush coming in, this was not a -- this would not be a sentence that Barack Obama would have to write in his letter.

SANTORUM: Yes. Look, that's true. I mean, President Trump was very clear during the campaign putting America first and making American great again in his centrality of focus on this country, and at least during the campaign, he has talked about disconnection a little bit from international order. That obviously has not happened.

BASH: Given the world events.

SANTORUM: Yes. I mean, if there's anything, I mean, I would make the argument that President Trump has actually connected more and has been more involved in setting the international order than President Obama ever was. President Obama deferred to international organizations on a regular basis and actually tried to -- quote -- "lead from behind."

So I actually found that piece of -- that remark in there saying that we need to provide international leadership and in fact he wasn't providing international leadership but a whole host of things and Donald Trump actually is. I mean, North Korea is a good example of that.

I mean, the United States is leading on North Korea whether you like necessarily what the president is saying or how he's doing it is another matter. But there's no question that he's stepping forward and trying to chart a different path that previous administrations have and in my opinion, that's a good thing.

TANDEN: I think North Korea is an example of how his bluster may well be accelerating this situation, so I think there's a difference between international leadership --

SANTORUM: From where?

TANDEN: -- and false (ph) -- and just --

SANTORUM: From where? I mean, we've seen nuclear tests before, so now we're seeing more nuclear tests. Where's the acceleration?

TANDEN: If you actually look at what has happened over the last say 10 years, we are on a much faster path over the last six months -- seven months than we were over the past eight years. Obviously they were moving forward.

The fact that they are testing and testing as quickly I just have to say perhaps you think it makings sense for a president to tweet that he's going to threaten fire and fury, at North Korea, but it does not seem to have stopped them from detonating a massive nuclear run. Now I'm not saying this is all on Trump, just as I'm not saying I think you were wrong to say this is all on Barack Obama. But I think there are deep anxieties about the president's ability to handle international crisis like this because he tweets out, you know, basically threats at other countries.

Right now he's basically more critical of South Korea in his tweets today, than of China, which strikes people given that South Korea is likely to face the most fire and fury in this situation.



GUTIERREZ: I agree to your point about his personality is stronger than policy.

So his policy maybe, stay away, we're not going to be nation builders, but the moment that he sees a situation where he needs to come back and tweet and get into a tweet fight with someone, he gets involved. I agree he's probably more involved than we have seen in the past, but there doesn't seem to be a pattern or a formula or a strategy that puts all these things together.

As you say, why would we cancel a trade deal with South Korea? They're not our enemy. We're supposed to be looking north.

LEE: Dana, when we look at international leadership, you know, we're looking at -- first of all, this President Trump has withdrawn from the climate change accord, we were leaders in that effort and this is a major, major problem, withdrawing in terms of U.S. leadership.

Secondly, when you look at the State Department budget, I serve on the funding committee for the State Department. This administration has proposed a 30 percent cut, this is our diplomatic budget, which requires us to look at diplomatic initiatives, global health, education.

That's what leadership is. This is how you reduce tensions. This is how you prevent wars.

I just recently returned from a visit to West Africa and we reassured the people of West Africa that the Congress is not going to withdraw from our role in -- our initiatives on the continent. But when you look at this administration, we don't hear much. And when you look at the budget we see all this huge budget cuts to our State Department initiatives and yet you see more -- and put in defense the expense of diplomatic initiatives.

GUTIERREZ: Tremendous contradictions -- tremendous contradictions.

As you know we just -- you know, we're going back to the sanctions of Cuba, going back to the era of the embargo, the most sanctioned country in the world. Why? Because there was political pressure to do so.

So there is a lot of mingling in other countries, activities but on the other hand the official policy is we're not going to do that.

LEE: Yes. And in our nuclear deal with Iran, this administration continues to send signals that it wants to withdraw. Here we're trying to reduce nuclear tensions in the world this administration wants to take us back.

SANTORUM: I don't think the nuclear deal with Iran that puts Iran with a nuclear weapon in 10 years is reducing tensions, number one.

Number two, with respect to Cuba --


TANDEN: Look at North Korea right now.

SANTORUM: -- the Cuban hostility to its own people and what's going on in that country has increased since we've (ph) opened (ph) up (ph).


SANTORUM: Number three, the president has -- President Obama did nothing with respect to Venezuela. He sat quietly while Chavez and Maduro destroyed that country. Finally, President Trump --


SANTORUM: There's a lot of --


GUTIERREZ: We haven't done much either. The only thing the president has done is say that we have a military option for Venezuela. What that does is give Maduro the justification to clamp down.

SANTORUM: So the answer is of course, do not (ph).



SANTORUM: This is the problem with idea that we can't step forward and exert American influence and actually threat --


GUTIERREZ: But I think --


SANTORUM: If we follow it up. Venezuela a chance to double down.

GUTIERREZ: The stated policy is that we're not going to do that. So the problem here is what is the policy?

BASH: I think -- I think the fact that we're having this discussion and it's not just Democrats and Republicans having a healthy debate but it's among Republicans, tells us a lot about the state of affairs.

Go ahead, Neera.

TANDEN: I was just going to say, it's fascinating to me that we're all critical about President Obama on North Korea -- right -- because of the acceleration of the program.

But essentially president --

SANTORUM (ph): And President Bush I would say before that.

TANDEN: I agree, but President Obama actually put in place a regime to stop Iran from becoming North Korea.

Iran is not testing nuclear weapons. They are not threatening their neighbors with nuclear bombs. And you are opposed to that action.

You are just talking about the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear bomb is 10 years. They have -- North Korea has a bomb now, the international order is to stop that, instead of applauding that you want essentially a world in which north -- there is nothing else. Iran gets the bomb --

SANTORUM: The difference is that North Korea is considered a rogue nation and there are multiple U.S. sanctions and -- against North Korea.

TANDEN: That aren't successful.

SANTORUM: What President Obama has done is put Iran on a path to legitimate nuclear weapons --

TANDEN: No. No. No.

SANTORUM: -- and that's the problem.

GUTIERREZ: But President Obama is gone, right? President Trump is president and it is what he is doing today that really counts. And I can't tell you what his policy is.

We're talking about Cuba -- yes, Cuba -- human rights. Well, how many other countries around the world, where we have these wonderful relationships also have human rights problems? We have this selective policy, that seems to work on the whim of how the president feels on a given day.

BASH: Congresswoman?

LEE: You have a policy that really says to me that the military option is always the first option, the military option should be the last option. When you look at increasing the military budget 64 to $74 billion.


When you look at cutting the State Department's budget, when you look at rolling back the gains we've made in terms of just normal relations with Cuba, when you look at the president talking about really pulling back on the Iran nuclear deal, you're talking about an administration that really sees the world in a very militaristic -

BASH: Everybody, standby. We have a lot more to discuss. And luckily, we are in the middle of a special extended edition of STATE OF THE UNION.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. BASH: And we are following breaking news this morning. North Korea claiming it has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. Observers say, today's blast is the most powerful bomb North Korea has exploded.

The North Koreans also released pictures of leader Kim Jong-un inspecting what they call a super explosive hydrogen bomb that could fit on their intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The US, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan are among the countries condemning North Korea's actions.

As for President Trump, he's going to meet with his national security team later today and the president also sent a series of Sunday morning tweets.

"North Korea has conducted a major nuclear test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States."

"North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat, an embarrassment to China, which is trying to help, but with little success."

"South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work. They only understand one thing."

CNN's Will Ripley is in Tokyo. He is one of the only Western journalists who spent significant time inside North Korea. And, Will, you just returned from Pyongyang yesterday, your 14th trip. What do you think this test means?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this test is sending a very strong message to the United States and the Trump administration, Dana.

It's a message of defiance and it's a message that North Korea will not back down. And that was the message that was reiterated to us repeatedly when we were meeting with government officials in Pyongyang all last week.

The North Koreans continue to be furious over a number of things. They are furious about the joint military drills, regularly scheduled, that wrapped up last week, two-week drills that the United States and South Korea engage in every year. And every year, the regime is infuriated by that.

They launched their intermediate range missile over Japan's northern island Hokkaido in direct response.

And then, when the US conducted a missile intercept test, when there were bombing drills in South Korea and then that joint US-South Korean show of force, the flyover with B2B bombers and fighter jets over the Korean Peninsula, North Korea decided to act, initially putting out statements, calling on the United States to reverse its long-standing position of refusing to recognize that North Korea's geopolitical influence has shifted, North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear power.

The United States has said that North Korea must denuclearize or they won't sit down for talks. At least, that was the long-held position, and North Korea just refuses to accept that.

And then, of course, they're still furious, and have been for several weeks, over President Trump's rhetoric, his fire and fiery remarks, the threats of raining down destruction on their country, saying that the US nuclear arsenal was locked and loaded.

Even when the news cycle in the US moved on, North Korea was strategizing and seething. And what we saw with this - their largest nuclear test to date was their physical response to that, their most provocative act ever.

BASH: Will Ripley, thank you so much for joining us this morning from Tokyo.

And joining me now here in Washington is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Thank you so much for coming.


BASH: First question is about what North Korea announced, that they detonated a hydrogen bomb and that it is - that they have the capability to place it on top of an ICBM. Do you think that claim is legit based on what we know from our intelligence sources?

SCHIFF: Well, I think we can tell from the USGS information already that this was a much more powerful weapon. It will take some days or weeks to determine whether this was a boosted fission device or indeed a fusion or thermonuclear device.

We also I think have some skepticism about the claim that they can already mount this on an ICBM.

But the reality is, even if that's not true today, left unchecked, it will be true at some point and at some point during this president's term of office. So, it is a grave threat to United States and one that we're going to have to respond to.

BASH: But you do believe that the North Korean claim that they tested a hydrogen bomb is accurate?

SCHIFF: Well, we don't know yet. It's certainly a much more powerful weapon than they tested before. I think that is very clear at this point, 6 to 10 times more than what they have tested in the past.

So, it certainly could be a fusion device or it could be boosted fission device. There will be a variety of sources of information that the IC can assimilate in the days to come to help us make that determination.

But it certainly underscores the heightened importance of our getting China to work with us much more aggressively the cut off trade to North Korea. It does mean, I think, we're going to have to start imposing secondary sanctions - that is, sanctions on other countries doing business with North Korea.

We ought to be aiming for a cessation of these programs, in the first instance, and then hope that will lead to a negotiation where we can actually rollback these programs. But, certainly, another very disturbing sign.

BASH: Let's talk about South Korea. While all this is happening, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the president has instructed advisors to prepare to withdraw from a free-trade agreement with South Korea.

In addition to that, the president is accusing South Korea of pursuing a policy of appeasement. This is what the president tweeted this morning.

"South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work. They only understand one thing."

Is that the right approach?

SCHIFF: No. I mean, I'm sure that Pyongyang enjoys seeing us fight with our own ally in the region. I'm not sure what the president's point is, particularly today, at a time when South Korea is feeling very threatened, as indeed we are to be lashing out at South Korea and saying that they're making a mistake or they're doing things wrong.

We need to be working hand in hand with South Korea and with Japan and will our other allies. We need to be working cohesively to put pressure on China to really choke off fuel and other supplies to North Korea. That's the only prospect for a peaceful path to this. So, why we would want to show divisions with South Korea right now, it makes no sense at all.

BASH: The president will be meeting later today with his national security team. He is not the first president to deal with these very tough choices. And that is, the nuclear process that is going on in North Korea, trying to deal with it diplomatically, having the threat of military force behind it.

when he talks about fire and fury, though, or when he did in the past several weeks, do you think that that is the right approach?

SCHIFF: I think these erratic and often bellicose tweets are not productive. It could be counterproductive with a regime like North Korea that's already fears that we're going to invade North Korea and have imperialist ambitions in North Korea.

So, I don't think that makes much sense and it also could cause them to miscalculate in a way that could really escalate things.

I think a far better approach frankly is to look at the lessons that we learned and how we dealt with Iran and how we dealt with the Soviet Union in terms of either getting a cessation or a rollback of their nuclear programs.

There are some good templates for us to use, but none of them involve the fiery kind of rhetoric that's more appropriate for Pyongyang than Washington.

So, let's strategize with our allies about how we can maximize pressure. At the end of the day, it all starts with China. And China, this attack - the timing of it, not attack, but the test is as much aimed at China as it is the United States.

So, China is hosting - President Xi is hosting this big summit. So, it's a direct affront to China. They ought to be heavily motivated to do something.

China, obviously, doesn't want to see a collapse of the North regime and a unified peninsula under Western Allied control, but nonetheless there's a lot more China can do if we give China the right incentives.

BASH: The Trump administration has been trying with China, just like again his predecessors. He hasn't been that successful, but we'll see if that changes.

Congressman, we have a lot more to talk about and a whole host of topics. So, stick around.

And we're also going to talk about reports saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a copy of a Trump letter setting real reasons why he fired James Comey. We'll talk about that next.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash. And we're back with the breaking news on North Korea. I'm joined by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

I want to turn, though, to what you've been spending most of your time on, and that is the Russia investigation.

We learned this week that President Trump's attorney, longtime attorney at the Trump organization, Michael Cohen during the beginning of the campaign, during the primary season reached out to the Kremlin for assistance in building a Trump Tower in Moscow. Again, this was while President Trump's campaign was underway.

How does that factor into your investigation?

SCHIFF: I think it's very significant. And we had requested documents from Mr. Cohen. And not being satisfied, we subpoenaed Mr. Cohen for whatever records were relevant to our investigation.

It means, among other things, the president was dishonest when he said during the campaign that he had no business in Russia, wasn't pursuing no business in Russia. So, yet another, I think, misleading statement by the administration about their relationship with Russia. It's also significant because if they were pursuing business in Russia during the campaign, that might've influenced the positions that the candidate took in a more pro-Russian direction.

After all, if they were going to be criticizing Putin, criticizing Russia, that would diminish the chances that this deal would go through.

So, I think it's very significant. We, obviously, want to get to the bottom of it. And we expect, at some point, we'll have Mr. Cohen come in and testify. We'll also expect, I think, Mr. Sater to come in and testify, so we can understand this more fully.

BASH: Felix Sater, who is the man who was born in Russia, was a Russian immigrant, but also had been trying to coordinate this for the Trump organization, just quickly on this, how significant will it also be to find out in those deal talks who the financing and where the financing was going to come from?

SCHIFF: Well, this is, I think, part of a broader concern, and that is the whole range of allegations about potential money laundering or financial entanglement. This is a tactic that the Russians have used elsewhere.

And if there was any kind of financial transactions, either elicit or legal, that nonetheless Russians could hold over the president's head because he's denied having any financial interests in Russia or with the Russians, that could be leverage on the president's future actions.

BASH: And, congressman, you started to get a lot of documents that you have subpoenaed. Is there an answer - an early answer to that question? Was there an attempt to money-launder?

SCHIFF: I can't comment on any of the evidence. But that is, I think, one of the more serious allegations that we need to look at, that I think Bob Mueller needs to look at because anything that could exert a continuing influence, could shape US policy is among the most serious of allegations.

BASH: Another bit of news this week, "The New York Times" reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a letter, a document that appears to show the real reason why President Trump fired James Comey.

It was a document that President Trump worked on, allegedly with Stephen Miller, one of his top aides. Have you seen that document?

SCHIFF: I have not seen the document. And we wrote to the White House, after the claim was made, that the president had tapes of his discussions with Comey to ask about anything memorializing any conversations with Comey.

They first responded by tweet and then by letter saying they didn't have any such thing. If this is responsive to our letter, they need to produce it and it's probably past time for our committee to subpoena the White House to make sure we get all relevant documents. BASH: So, that means what you know you've read in the newspaper. Having said that, you are an experienced prosecutor and you've been investigating this.

If the president and Stephen Miller said explicitly that they were - that he was firing James Comey because of the Russia investigation, is that obstruction of justice?

SCHIFF: It's certainly further evidence of a potential obstruction of justice, and something that Mr. Mueller would have to consider. It's something, I think, our committee also needs to get to the bottom of.

But, certainly, it's consistent or would be consistent with what the president himself admitted. And the fact that it's in such sharp contrast to what they initially said that this was about his handling of the Clinton email investigation is further evidence of an attempt to conceal the real motives.

So, yes, it is potential evidence of obstruction of justice.

BASH: Congressman Adam Schiff, it's going to be a busy fall. Thank you for coming in on this, and especially on the North Korea news this morning. Appreciate it.

And our breaking news is North Korea, claiming it tested what appears to be the most powerful nuclear bomb so far.

In a moment, we're going to speak with the former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden. Stay with us.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash. And we are following the breaking news. North Korea claiming it has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. This, just hours after the country released photos of leader Kim Jong-un observing what the North Koreans called a super explosive hydrogen bomb being loaded on to an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Joining us now is our national security analyst, retired Gen. Michael Hayden. He is the former director of the CIA and the NSA and he is also a consultant on national security for private companies, including those who do business with the US government.

Thank you so much, Gen. Hayden, for coming in.


BASH: First question is, what every American waking up wants to know. How much danger is the United States in right now?

HAYDEN: Well, we're still along that predictable arc that I think most people who have been watching this problem expected. The timing may have been a bit of a surprise, but the North, I believe, was going to do this. This is their plan. This is where they were going. They're doing it for their own purposes. I don't mean to criticize the current administration. I think some of the things they've done to amp up the pressure on the North Koreans have been absolutely appropriate.

But you realize, the sum total, after seven months of the Trump administration, is that North Korea is much further along in its missile and its nuclear program, just the way it performed when President Obama was president and President Bush was president.

There's a real consistency here.

BASH: A scary consistency.

HAYDEN: Indeed.

BASH: And you did tell my colleague Jake Tapper what you just alluded to there that you believe - you said this on August 9 - that Trump has a coherent plan on North Korea and it was unartfully executed.

A lot has changed since then as you just mentioned. Do you still believe the White House has a reasonable plan to deal with North Korea?

HAYDEN: I do. Still unartfully executed. He's got to watch the tweets. And I think we had an unforced error over the weekend when we brought up our free trade agreement with our South Korean friends on whom we rely on and with whom we will have to cooperate for this problem.

Just out of the blue, the president indicated he may want to renegotiate that agreement. I think that's probably wrong on the merits and it's certainly not integrated into a broader approach to Northeast Asia. So, I think that hurts. So, still unartfully executed.

But, again, I think our policy is to impress upon the Chinese how seriously we view this.

North Korea has been along this predictable arc. The unpredictable actor has been us. We've actually acted with more sound and fury than, I think, the Chinese are accustomed to.

I think we've done that with purpose, which is, in essence, to discomfort the Chinese with the current situation.

BASH: Exactly. And in all fairness, and I think this is what you're pointing out with the part of the Trump policy on North Korea that you like, that everything that has been tried for the past two decades has not worked. So, why not rattle the cages, particularly of the Chinese? But it hasn't worked.

HAYDEN: Not so far. And it's not cost free, Dana. I mean, 18, 24 months ago, I pointed out that we'd probably be where we are now on this arc with the North Koreans getting more capable and more dangerous, we would be there almost certainly within our current definition of acceptable risk.

And clearly, what the Trump administration has decided to do was to embrace a bit more risk, to be a bit more activist, to be a bit more destabilizing of the peace, of the stability of the peninsula, not to influence the North Koreans, they are not influenceable, but to influence the Chinese, to amp up the pressure.

I do think there is an absolute marked difference between the Chinese response to intercontinental ballistic missile tests and a nuclear test. I actually do think that's a bit of political redline for the Chinese.

So, that gives us an opportunity here to try to cooperate with the Chinese, to get the region to do more.

BASH: OK. So, President Trump is going to meet with his national security team later today. If you were in that meeting, on that note on China or maybe anything else you want to share, what would you be arguing for on how to act right now?

HAYDEN: So, first of all, the military options are all bad. They're not zero and the chairman of the joint chiefs has pointed out that there are no military options. So, we've got them, but none of them are good. I think diplomatic isolation, check. We've got that.

This may be the time now to really hammer home we're deathly serious about your performance, China, on sanctions, not just the ones that were recently passed by the Security Council, but maybe even amping up the sanctions between China and North Korea.

North Korea is dependent on the Chinese for their energy. They can actually pull the string there.

And what do you think is the difference - what makes you think that trying to do that now with China is going to be any more successful than it was yesterday?

HAYDEN: As bad as you and I and the president view what Kim Jong-un did yesterday with the nuclear test, on balance, I don't think that was aimed at us.

I think that was aimed at the Chinese. I think that was little Kim saying to Xi Jinping, you can't make me stop. And there, I think, is a proposition that Mr. Xi might not be able to accept.

BASH: You talked about sort of the erratic policy and some of the tweets. Do you have confidence that President Trump can handle this?

HAYDEN: I have confidence that he has a very good team that will lay out very good options.

I fear two things. Number one, the stray electron, all right? The tweet that just goes out at 5 AM and unintentionally creates effects that make this go to a place we don't want it to go.

The other one is this, all right? We just got into a duel with the North Korean chairman, with Kim Jong-un. If we had a choice of weapons, I think it was a bad choice to get into a hyperbole contest with that kind of guy.

The only thing I fear, Mr. President, this is not a manhood issue. This is a national security issue. Don't let your pride get ahead of wise policy here.

BASH: That is very sound advice. Thank you so much. We hope people are watching in the White House. Gen. Hayden, thank you especially for coming in -

HAYDEN: Thank you.

BASH: - on a short notice with this breaking news. Appreciate it. And we are going to continue to watch developments on North Korea.

But also ahead, some Republicans are warning President Trump against ending Obama-era programs, especially those for thousands of young immigrants. Stay with us.



DANA BASH, HOST: What about the Dreamers?

What about people who came here when they were children?

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Dreamers, it's a tough situation.

BASH: Should they have to leave, too?

TRUMP: But they have to be legally -- they're with their parents, it depends. It sounds cold and it sounds hard. We have a country. Our country is going to hell. We have to have a system where people are legally in our country.


BASH: It was more than two years ago when Donald Trump was beginning his presidential run. You heard him vowing to both end the program known as DACA, but also saying he wants to treat Dreamers, young people who came to this country illegally with their parents, with great heart.

Now, the White House is admitting the decision, which is supposed to be announced by Tuesday, has been weighing on him.

And let's discuss that.

Our panel is back with us.

Thanks for coming back and and sticking with us.

Senator, you were involved in a lot of inter-Republican fights in your time in Congress about immigration.

How do you see this playing out?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I hope the president abides by the rule of law, which is that the law does not allow him, or any president, to uniformly just to stop enforcing the law.

And so I think he hoped -- hopefully, he will enforce the law and say that there's an opportunity here for some sort of deal to be worked out where the president gets something that he wants and I think the American public wants, which is better border enforcement, whether that means a wall or increased funding for border security, maybe in exchange for some sort of program on these, quote, "Dreamers."

But for the president to just act unilaterally is wrong, number one.

Number two, you've heard members of Congress, both parties, saying we need to do something about this. Fine. I think the president should work with them to do something, but should get something that the American public wants, which is no changes in our immigration policy until we secure the border.


BASH: Senator, I want...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have an immigration policy.

BASH: Excuse me.

Secretary, I want you to respond, but as you do, I want our viewers to have the context that you worked for George W. Bush...


BASH: -- the last Republican president, to try to get comprehensive immigration reform.

GUTIERREZ that's right. That's right.

So the idea of DACA being unconstitutional, a lot of presidents have used the idea of deferred action. So if you think it's unconstitutional, let's make it a law. Let's fix it. And that would be as some people who are working today, passing a dream act or passing a bridge act that will get you to a dream act.

But I -- look, we've had a love-hate relationship with immigration. We had our 1924 immigration quotas. We had the Chinese Exclusion Act.

I think this decision, if the decision is, let's deport these kids, I think this would be one of the most notorious immigration decisions in our history and I think it would be a permanent stain -- a permanent blemish on the U.S. forever.

BASH: Congresswoman, you are currently serving in the House of Representatives and the House speaker, the Republican House speaker is trying to get the president not to act unilaterally and instead let Congress handle it.

Let's listen.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I mean I actually don't think he should do that. And I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.


BASH: OK, let's get real. The reason why this program is in place in the first place, done by executive decision, by President Obama, is because Congress can't get its act together on immigration.


BASH: How realistic do you think that is?

LEE: (INAUDIBLE) for years and to present and pass legislation for comprehensive immigration reform, actually, in 2010, I believe, we passed the Dream Act for our young people and it got stalled in the Senate.

Well, let me just say, first of all, this decision should be weighing on the president very, very heavily. It is wrong to create this kind of anxiety. These mixed messages, first of all, are creating -- it's creating fear, anxiety.

Our young people here, 800,000 of them, are worried to death about what's going to happen to them. They played by the rules. They've gone to school. They've contributed to the economy. They're Americans.

And we have legislation. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have presented legislation. We know we can get this passed...


LEE: -- in a bipartisan way.

And so we should do that.

But in the meantime, we should not allow the anxiety and the fears of these children to continue and the president should do the right thing and not do it.

First, just a few things here.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT & CEO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: First of all, there are 124,000 Dreamers in Texas right now who are living with the anxiety that they are going to have to -- they could be uprooted from their families. They are the average age of Dreamers was six years old when they came over. They are here because of the decisions of their parents, not because of their own decisions.

For most of them, this is the only country that they know.

So as -- it would be heartless, in fact, to take them away.

Just to respond to Senator Santorum, the issue here is every president has made decisions about the prioritization of what they're going to do on immigration. If you listen to Donald Trump, he says he wants to get rid of criminals.

These are not criminals. These are people who are in school. They are working. Ninety percent of them have jobs. These are people who are contributing.

So the idea that the president can't say, you know, I'm going to prioritize other people in this process is wrong.

And that's why courts have upheld this. We are dealing with an artificial deadline. It is only that a bunch of AGs who are threatening to sue. He could say let's see how it goes in the courts.

But in the meantime, Congress should act. And he should get behind that action.


SANTORUM: With all due respect, prioritization is not saying you can't remove somebody. That's -- that is -- there's a big difference. And to conflate the two is completely wrong.

TANDEN: It is...


SANTORUM: Don't -- you're -- you're not telling the...


SANTORUM: -- truth.

TANDEN: I am telling the truth.


SANTORUM: You're just really not.


TANDEN: The courts...


SANTORUM: I mean the reality is...


SANTORUM: -- the president can, in fact, prioritize who he's going to remove.


SANTORUM: -- but that's not what we're talking about.

TANDEN: And he's putting a policy...


GUTIERREZ: Let's just say...


GUTIERREZ: -- let's just say that you have this argument that it is not constitutional. But we agree that we need to save these kids. These kids are Americans. They don't know how to speak Spanish. They have American values. They played Little League. They are as American as anyone else.

And to kick them out. So let's change the law.

But is it a matter of we don't think it's constitutional or are there people in this country who feel threatened by immigration, who feel threatened that people who look different than we do are coming in...


SANTORUM: With all due respect...


SANTORUM: -- with all due respect...


SANTORUM: Wait a minute.


SANTORUM: With all due respect...

GUTIERREZ: Because that's what's happening.

SANTORUM: With all due respect, to suggest that people who want to limit immigration in this country, when we have record levels of legal immigration...

GUTIERREZ: And it's going up.

SANTORUM: -- but wait a minute. But we have over a million people a year, more than at any time in the history of this country. We have the largest percentage of immigrants, almost tied now with the historical high as a percentage of immigrants living in this country.

We have, in absolute numbers, by far, the most immigrants in this country, to suggest that anyone who wants to have a policy we need to examine this to see the impact on working men and women in this country...

GUTIERREZ: Absolutely.

SANTORUM: -- whose wages have been depressed for 20 years.

GUTIERREZ: But that's not...


SANTORUM: But that is the issue.

GUTIERREZ: -- immigrants' fault.


GUTIERREZ: You're blaming it on immigrants because...

SANTORUM: I'm not blaming it on immigrants.

GUTIERREZ: -- it's so easy.

SANTORUM: Excuse me.

I'm not blaming it on immigrants.


SANTORUM: But what I am saying is that it is as rational for us to have a discussion. And for anyone to suggest that we can't have a discussion than you are -- and somehow, you're a bigot when you do so, is offensive to a whole bunch of...


GUTIERREZ: What I am saying is that there are...

SANTORUM: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.

GUTIERREZ: -- people who feel threatened by immigrants.


SANTORUM: And there are people who...

GUTIERREZ: And they're using this concept of unconstitutional as...


GUTIERREZ: Let me tell you something here.


GUTIERREZ: If I can just say one thing.

An economy grows with the number of workers in the economy and the productivity of those economy. Our native-born workforce is not growing fast enough to grow the economy.

SANTORUM: Well, let's (INAUDIBLE)...

GUTIERREZ: And without immigration...

SANTORUM: -- we have to talk about that, too.

GUTIERREZ: -- without immigration, we cannot grow...


LEE: You're forgetting, Rick...


LEE: -- Rick, you're forgetting about the moral...


LEE: -- you're...

SANTORUM: But to suggest that the immigration patterns that we have today is beneficial to America is a legitimate discussion.


GUTIERREZ: The reason legal...


BASH: Mr. Secretary...

LEE: Wait a minute.


BASH: Go ahead, Congresswoman.

LEE: We have a moral and ethical responsibility to try to keep families together, not tear them apart.

Secondly, you know, I'm thinking of do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

What about my children, my grandchildren hanging in limbo like this, given all of the dynamics that this administration has been -- and the anxiety they've created?

And so minimally, we should say no, we're not going to...



BASH: -- what if there is a deal in the works to say let the Dreamers stay and in return, the president gets his money for his wall? LEE: Hell, no.

First of all, young people should not be held hostage to...


GUTIERREZ: That's right. This is like a ransom.


LEE: -- racist backwards politics.


TANDEN: It's not a bargaining chip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not opposing the deal, I'm just saying...


SANTORUM: -- do a deal with someone...

TANDEN: I appreciate...

SANTORUM: He has to make a (INAUDIBLE)...

TANDEN: I appreciate that Rick Santorum and Donald Trump want to use 800,000 people's lives as a bargaining chip for a unnecessary wall or other things.

But that's not what leadership is.

Leadership is actually saying what's right or wrong to do. And the fact that if you think it's wrong, don't use them as a bargaining chip. If you think it's right, don't use them as a bargaining chip.

GUTIERREZ: You know, I just wanted to add something to that. Because I -- you know, a lot of people will be saying this is a leadership moment for the president. And if he makes a tough decision, to get rid of DACA, then he's showing leadership.

Real leadership for the president would be to go up against his base and say my wisdom, my sense of American values tells me that this is wrong. That would be leadership.

SANTORUM: What would be leadership is the president enforcing the law instead of the president seeing himself above the law. We had a president in the past, the last president, to do that on a routine basis.

This president hopefully will obey the law. If the president wants to put forward an option to go to the Congress to fix this, as I will remind my Democratic colleagues here, President Obama had a Democratic Congress... GUTIERREZ: One Republican.

SANTORUM: -- and -- well, I'm talking to these two.

And my Democratic colleagues that the president had -- President Obama had two years. We had complete control of the House and Senate and didn't move any DACA -- he didn't move anything.

So the idea that there is now this outrage that Republicans are not cooperating, you know what the deal has always been.

Border security first. Republicans have said that from the very beginning. We have not...


SANTORUM: We need to get...


BASH: In fairness...


BASH: -- in fairness, Democrats and Republicans tried to get the Dream Act through...


BASH: -- and it didn't work.

GUTIERREZ: That's right.

BASH: But that's...


SANTORUM: Not when it doesn't (INAUDIBLE)...


SANTORUM: When the president had control...


SANTORUM: -- and when Democrats controlled it in 2009 and 2010, the president did nothing on this issue.

GUTIERREZ: But there's one simple -- but -- neither did other presidents.

There's one simple...

SANTORUM: It doesn't matter. We didn't have control. They had control.

GUTIERREZ: There's one simple...

SANTORUM: President Bush never had control.

GUTIERREZ: -- there's one simple insight here.

SANTORUM: President Obama had control...

TANDEN: He was trying to get...


GUTIERREZ: There's one simple insight here.

SANTORUM: -- did nothing.

GUTIERREZ: The reason we have undocumented workers is because our laws do not serve our economy. And that is the problem. And unless Congress acts and the executive branch acts, our laws don't work.

We need a million people in farming...

SANTORUM: We don't enforce our laws.

TANDEN: This is -- OK. But we're...


GUTIERREZ: Our laws don't work. We don't have enough immigrants coming in.

TANDEN: DACA is essentially...


LEE: -- undocumented immigrants.


TANDEN: DACA is actually about people who were brought here, kids who have been brought here. They have actually gone through the system. They've given their addresses. They're not living in the shadows. They're people who have actually said I'm going to register, essentially, with the federal government and now the -- President Trump is threatening to use the information that they have voluntarily given to the administration, to the executive branch, to police them out of the country.


TANDEN: It is heartless.

SANTORUM: And what...

TANDEN: It is heartless.

SANTORUM: -- so what possible reason for someone -- look, I'm -- I think...

TANDEN: Because...

SANTORUM: -- I'm a compassionate man. I have seven children. I'm concerned about kids.

So why would I be opposed to something like this?

And the reason is very simple. The reason I'm opposed to DACA is because of the unintended consequences of doing this very compassionate act that we've seen over and over again.

And that is, when we give amnesty to a group of people, what do you do?

You encourage more people to come over, because then you will say...


SANTORUM: -- look, if you get...


GUTIERREZ: If you change the laws...


GUTIERREZ: -- for that, they don't need to come over.

LEE: This is not giving amnesty.


LEE: What we're saying is they deserve a path to citizenship. And we're giving them...

GUTIERREZ: You're using all the buzzwords...


SANTORUM: And three on one. I have seven kids. So I know all about this. So the bottom line is...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's not as much.

SANTORUM: -- there are unintended consequences to this very -- what sounds to be very humane act, which is to encourage more parents and more children to come over here...

GUTIERREZ: No, no, no.

SANTORUM: -- and illegally get into...



SANTORUM: -- because they know that once they get here...

GUTIERREZ: Rick, Rick...

SANTORUM: -- that we'll be compassionate and let them stay.

GUTIERREZ: All right. We've got your your message. The only way to discourage illegal immigrant is by changing our laws so that (INAUDIBLE)...

SANTORUM: To just open our borders.


GUTIERREZ: No. No. No. Not -- let me give you an example.


GUTIERREZ: Let me give you an example.


GUTIERREZ: Let me give you an...

SANTORUM: Mr. Secretary, how many more do we need?

GUTIERREZ: We need...

SANTORUM: Two million?

GUTIERREZ: -- we need...

SANTORUM: Three million?

GUTIERREZ: I don't know.

SANTORUM: Five million.

GUTIERREZ: The marketplace will tell us that.

SANTORUM: Ten million?

GUTIERREZ: Hold on a second. We need...

SANTORUM: So open the border (INAUDIBLE)...

GUTIERREZ: Hold on. We need one million farmers...

TANDEN: No one is...


GUTIERREZ: We need one million...


GUTIERREZ: We need one million farmworkers in the country.

SANTORUM: Give me a number.

GUTIERREZ: One million.


GUTIERREZ: Oh, stop it. We need one million farmworkers in the country.

SANTORUM: This is -- you want to...


GUTIERREZ: Ten thousand come in legally...


SANTORUM: -- show up.

Don't use platitudes.

GUTIERREZ: How do -- no, I'm...


GUTIERREZ: I'm talking about numbers.

BASH: Wait a minute.

What about...


BASH: -- family values...

GUTIERREZ: You don't understand how the economy works.


GUTIERREZ: You know, this whole idea of...

BASH: Guys...


BASH: -- I think that the audience can hear you better if you...


BASH: -- your various arguments...


BASH: -- if you speak one at a time.


GUTIERREZ: But there's no...


GUTIERREZ: -- how many more.

Let me just tell you one example, OK?

We need about one million farmworkers, people to pick lettuce, people to go out and pick tomatoes...

SANTORUM: And we should have a program that allows temporary workers to come in and do that.

GUTIERREZ: That's what I'm saying.

SANTORUM: I agree with that.

GUTIERREZ: We should have a program, but we don't. And because we don't...

SANTORUM: I have no problem with that.

GUTIERREZ: -- have a program...

SANTORUM: I agree.

GUTIERREZ: -- hundreds of thousands come in illegally.

SANTORUM: I couldn't agree more.


LEE: What about family values?

TANDEN: But why are we talking about...

LEE: What about keeping families together?

We're talking about a policy that destroys families, that keeps families apart. We need to make sure that whatever decision the president makes, hopefully, he'll do the right thing, is a way to keep families together, keep our young people here, who have played by the rules and support -- and I think we do have bipartisan support for an effort to pass a bill that would allow --


GUTIERREZ: -- agrees with a comprehensive immigration...

BASH: I want to ask -- OK.

I want to ask to send this -- just to go into raw politics. We talk a lot about the policy.

If President Trump doesn't keep his promise, what will your base, the conservative base, do?

Will they retaliate against him?

SANTORUM: Oh, I mean I can't predict that. I think there's a lot of folks who would be very disappointed, because the president has made the focus on immigration to be about making sure that American workers have the opportunity to get the good-paying jobs and to see their wages increase.

We've seen an increase in employment. We've seen an increase in wages. It's not been as robust as the president likes. Like it or not, about several hundred thousand of these Dreamers are actually working in the workplace right now. They're -- you can make the argument they're talking jobs away from other folks who would be working...

GUTIERREZ: Oh, come on.

SANTORUM: You can say no, that's not the case. But the bottom line is there are a lot of people in this country who believe that that is the case. And the president has to account for that.

BASH: OK. If anybody had any doubt why this is tough, they don't now after watching this discussion.


BASH: We have a lot more to talk about.

Stand by.

Up next, we are going to see some advice from one president to another.

CNN has obtained a copy of the later President Obama left for his successor, President Trump.



TRUMP: I just went through the Oval Office and found this beautiful letter from President Obama.

It was really very nice of him to do that. And we will cherish that and we will keep that. And we won't even tell the press what's in that letter.


BASH: That was President Trump talking about the parting letter President Obama left for him on the day of his inauguration.

President Obama seen here through the window of the Oval Office slipping letter into the resolute desk.

It was addressed to "Mr. President."

President Trump has shown the letter to White House visitors. And now, for the first time, CNN has an exclusive look at the contents of that special letter in which President Obama offered congratulations and some words about the office.

I will read it for you now in full.

"Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.

This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success so I don't know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful.

Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past eight years.

First, we've both been blessed in different ways with great, good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It's up to us to do everything we can to build more ladders of success for every child and family that's willing to work hard.

Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It's up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that's expanded steadily since the end of the cold war and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.

Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties that our forbearers fought and bled for.

Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it's up to us to lead those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.

And finally, take time in the rush of events and responsibilities for friends and family. They'll get you through the inevitable rough patches.

Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure. And know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.

Good luck and Godspeed, BO, Barrack Obama."

Back again with our panel.

What did you make of that letter?

LEE: Well, I think that the letter was very gracious. It was a clear road map for a new administration coming in. And also, I think it was especially magnanimous of President Obama given the fact that Donald Trump led the birther movement in an effort to delegitimize our first African-American president.

He rose above that and he moved forward to give some ideas with words of wisdom that I think should be listened to.

BASH: There are a lot of now seven, eight months in, I guess, some of these sentences are kind of looked at with a different context now. And one of them, and Mr. Secretary, I want you to respond to this. I want to highlight.

"We are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties that our forbearers fought and bled for."

GUTIERREZ: And I think there's a kind of a hidden message there. I think it was also the concern that because President Trump comes from the private sector, you know, you go in and you make decisions and you -- what you say becomes a mandate.

All of a sudden he's got Congress, he's got all these institutions.

So I think there's a wise message there, as well, that, you know, this is a job that starts and it ends. It's (INAUDIBLE) four years or eight years. But don't settle in so much.

I thought it was a very good message, actually.

BASH: Senator, you have -- I mean...


SANTORUM: I thought you were going there.

BASH: Oh, no. I was just -- I was just going to ask, actually, because looking at you, knowing that you were originally one of his opponents for the Republican nomination for president. And you ran, as many others did, as somebody who knows the ways of Washington.

Here you have President Obama, now we know again, for the first time, kind of tried to explain, in this private letter, to Donald Trump, who had never been in Washington, worked in Washington at all, the ways.

Do you think that he, President Trump, is heeding this advice?

SANTORUM: Well, I think what President Obama did was -- you're probably right. I mean just sort of to give more of a rudimentary understanding of here's what the White House is, with maybe the expectation the president, now President Trump, needed something like that. He probably wouldn't have given a similar letter to someone who had had a lot of experience in Washington, DC.

I don't think President Trump has necessarily heeded a lot of that advice. And I think that's pretty obvious, that he has decided to do things differently.

And that's shaken up a lot of people in this town and, you know, for good or evil.

I still believe that we're too early in this process to really make a decision on how Donald Trump is doing. I think there's a lot of things he's done through his administrative actions that has gotten this economy going. There's a lot of positive things that he's been able to do.

He's still very, very much short on the legislative front. And hopefully in the next month, we'll see some of those fortunes change.

BASH: Let's talk about the human and personal part of this, Neera, that you just saw, that it was about eight months ago that President Trump genuinely was touched by the -- by Barrack Obama reaching out and saying the things that he did and they did at least, I don't know, for a week, have kind of a good -- it seems to be a good working relationship as president and former president.

That didn't last long.

TANDEN: No, I mean it was, I think, within a few weeks that President Trump accused President Obama of spying on him or using the deep state against him.

And I think more importantly, I think the rule of law issues were -- are incredibly vital. And, actually, I've been listening for years to conservatives argue how the presidency is a presidency of limited powers, that there is no king.

In fact, you were just talking about that a little while ago and DACA.

But here we have a president who attacks judges, who attacks the press those are all ways in which limit the power of officeholders.

And I think he has done everything to ignore the advice that a president actually is not a king. A president has limited powers. Congress is a co-equal branch.

Even his attacks over August, over -- against Republicans, as well as Democrats, show that he thinks that he's their boss.

So I hope he sees the letter on CNN and remembers that he is a person -- the president is a very strong president in the United States, but not of unlimited power. And that everything he does to attack judges, attack the press, are basically saying no accountability on me.


BASH: We're going to have to leave it there.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning for this extended STATE OF THE UNION.

I am Dana Bash in Washington.

Thank you so much for watching.

"RELIABLE SOURCES" starts right now.