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THE SITUATION ROOM
North Korea Launches Missile; Trump Reignites Neo-Nazi Controversy; Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Yoho; Interview With Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley; Reports: Apparent North Korean Missile Launched. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 14, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: replaying the blame game. President Trump once again blames both sides for the violence surrounding a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Why is throwing fuel on the smoldering controversy?
Ashen and emotional. New details of a very heated exchange between President Trump and Jeff Sessions, an encounter that reportedly left the attorney general of the United States shaken. Did the president humiliate Sessions and demand his resignation?
Done deal? The president sparks conservative outrage by eying a deal with Democrats on the fate of hundreds of thousands young immigrants covered under DACA. Is he being bipartisan or an opportunist?
And ash and darkness. North Korea vows retaliation for new sanctions, threatening to strike the U.S. with apocalyptic force and to sink Japanese islands with a nuclear bomb. Will the Kim Jong-un regime back up its tough talk with another nuclear test or a missile launch?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump is repeating remarks that drew sharp bipartisan rebukes and sent his White House into crisis mode.
The president visited hurricane disaster zone today and on the flight home, spoke to reporters. Asked about his meeting with the Senate's lone African-American Republican, Mr. Trump repeated his claims that both white supremacists and the people protesting them were responsible for the deadly violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.
Also breaking, new details of a very contentious meeting between the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in the Russia investigation.
"The New York Times" is reporting that Mr. Trump humiliated Sessions and called him an idiot and disloyal for recusing himself from the Russia probe. The report says the president told Sessions he should step down, but later rejected his resignation.
Some conservatives, meanwhile, are upset tonight over the president's overture to Democratic leaders seeking a deal on DACA, the president -- the program, I should say, that protects hundreds of thousands of child immigrants from deportation.
Mr. Trump says he's not worried about the Republican reaction and says many in the GOP actually like the idea of a possible deal with Democrats. Congressional Republican leaders say there's no agreement yet, only a discussion.
And tonight, CNN has learned that the Kremlin's propaganda machine may still be up and running on Facebook, spreading the same kind of false stories it used to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. Sources tell CNN that Facebook isn't even sure of the extent of Russian political interference on its site.
We're covering all of that and much more at this hour with our guests, including Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the Intelligence Committee, and Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
Let's begin with the president's controversial new remarks about the violence in Charlottesville.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us.
Jeff, the president is back to comparing the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists to the people who were actually protesting them.
Update us on the latest.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He is, indeed, Wolf.
Good evening. The White House and the president thought they had moved beyond the controversial comments from last month in Charlottesville that drew a wide rebuke from business leaders and from the military and indeed from the president's own inner circle.
But as the president flew back here to Washington from a visit in Florida, he reopened those comments by again saying both sides were to blame for the deadly attack.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump is reviving one of his most controversial moments tonight, repeating his claim that both sides are to blame for the deadly attack last month in Charlottesville.
Flying back to Washington from Florida, the president speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One about his meeting on Wednesday with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a great talk
yesterday. I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what is going on there, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that's what I said.
ZELENY: And then the president doubled down on a remark that was widely rebuked last month.
TRUMP: Now, because of what's happened since then with Antifa, you look at really what's happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying, in fact a lot of people have actually written, gee, Trump might have a point. I said you have got very some bad people on the other side also, which is true.
ZELENY: The comments today brought to mind this comment from Trump Tower when he was sharply criticized by business leaders, business executives and members of his own White House team.
TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.
ZELENY: On Capitol Hill, Senator Scott responded: "That's who he is. It's who he has been. And I didn't go in there to change who he was. I wanted to inform and educate a different perspective. I think we accomplished that. And to assume that immediately thereafter he's going to have an epiphany is just unrealistic."
All this as the president sparked new outrage from conservatives after eying a deal with Democrats to allow dreamers to stay in the U.S. The president defended the move earlier today in Florida while inspecting Hurricane Irma's devastation.
TRUMP: We're not looking at citizenship, we're not looking at amnesty. We're looking at allowing people to stay here.
We're working with everybody, Republican. We're working with Democrat. I just spoke with Paul Ryan. He's on board. Everybody's on board.
ZELENY: Not everybody. Back at the Capitol, this is how Speaker Ryan described it.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: First off, there is no agreement. The president and the chief of staff called me from Air Force One today to discuss what was discussed. And it was a discussion, not an agreement or a negotiation. You cannot fix DACA without fixing the root cause of our problem.
ZELENY: For the second straight week, the president reaching out to Democrats, leaving Republican leaders trying to catch up. The framework of a deal to fix DACA coming after a White House dinner the president hosted for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. TRUMP: We're working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that
happen. You have 800,000 young people brought here, no fault of their own. So we're working on a plan. We will see how it works out, but we're going to get massive border security as part of that.
ZELENY: Later, the president sought to alleviate concern among conservatives.
TRUMP: We have to have the wall. If we don't have the wall, we're doing nothing.
ZELENY: The president's words on DACA placed him at odds with his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who suggested it was a form of amnesty. It's the latest rift with Sessions, who "The New York Times" reported today was bluntly accused by Trump of being disloyal after recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
Sessions described being dressed down in office as the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.
ZELENY: And, Wolf, that story went on to describe the president saying that his decision to appoint Jeff Sessions attorney general was one of the worst decisions he made.
He also called him an idiot, according to this report, as other people were in the room. Wolf, I can tell you this rift has healed over the last several weeks or so, but it's now reopened once again over this dreamer situation. It was only two weeks ago that Jeff Sessions stood up and represented the view of the government here saying that the dreamers had to go.
Now the president, of course, close to reaching a deal with Democrats, saying he believes they take priority over his other immigration promises. Wolf, just one more example of a very busy day here at the White House. The president doing at least five separate appearances and answering questions above on all topics, trying to flood the zone and take away the attraction from conservatives, who are still so furious about his decision to reach this agreement with Democrats.
This, Wolf, is still all to be continued.
BLITZER: Yes, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you very much.
The president reignited the Charlottesville controversy on his way home from a trip to Florida, where he saw the destruction from Hurricane Irma firsthand.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in Naples for us tonight.
Jim, the president stepped on what the White House hoped would be today's headline.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. With the president's comments on Charlottesville and DACA, it's hard
to remember that the president was supposed to really focus his day on easing the concerns of storm victims here in Florida after Hurricane Irma. He tried to do that earlier today during a 30-minute visit to this mobile home community here in Naples, Florida.
You can see some of the debris behind from some of the mobile homes that were ripped apart in this community down here. The president was handing out food and pledging to the residents earlier today that he's not going to forget them in the months ahead. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We love the people of Florida and they went through something that I guess the likes of which we could really say nobody's ever seen before. They have never seen a category like this coming, because you came in really at a 5.
All you have to do is look at what happened in the Keys. But we love these people. And we're going to be back and we're going to help them. And the job that everybody has done in terms of first- responders, everybody, has been incredible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And despite seeing that devastation firsthand down here in Florida, the president told reporters on Air Force One in that news- filled gaggle on Air Force One earlier today that he's not changed his view on climate change and the connection to stronger, more powerful storms. Here's what he had to say about that.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, we have had bigger storms than this. And if you go back into the 1930s and 1940s, if you take a look, we have had storms over the years that have been bigger than this.
If you go back into the teens, you will see storms that were as big or bigger. So we did have two horrific storms, epic storms. But if you go back into the '30s and '40 and you go back into the teens, you will see storms that were very similar and even bigger.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And so you heard the president earlier today equivocating on the issue of Charlottesville. He was equivocating obviously on the issue of climate change.
You heard earlier today when the president was talking to those residents here that they have never seen a storm the likes of which that Irma brought to these shores of Florida earlier this week, and then later in the day, Wolf, telling reporters on Air Force One that there were bigger, more powerful storms back in the '30s and '40s and the teens, as you heard him describe it just there, Wolf.
But we should point out scientists have established that not only is climate change happening, but they are very concerned that climate change is fueling more powerful hurricanes like the ones we saw from Harvey and Irma and that governments around the world have to do something about it. Of course, we know the president was advised by his own family, his daughter Ivanka, not to get out of the Paris climate agreement earlier this year.
But he did that. The president reemphasizing he's not changed his view on this issue of climate change. He remains skeptic of climate change as a problem for this country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta in Naples, Florida, for us, Jim, thank you.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Republican Congressman Ted Yoho for Florida is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
Let me get right to your district in Northern Florida around Jacksonville. How is your district recovering in the aftermath of the storm?
REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: We have toured the district all day today. And it's recovering.
There's a stellar effort by everybody on the ground. And I'm happy to report that all six of the counties in District 3 of North-Central Florida got individual assistance where people can qualify for $33,000 of assistance, public assistance and hazard assistance.
And it was a team effort. Yesterday, the county of Alachua, where Gainesville is, my hometown, was out of fuel; 13 percent of the gas stations had fuel. The others didn't. Our team went to work, working with FEMA, working with the government.
And what happened is, they got these tankers in yesterday. So the fuel shortage has been alleviated. We have got 21,000 MREs coming in later on today and 10,000 gallons of water. Power is being put up.
And the important thing is that the FEMA money is here to help alleviate hazard release, picking up trash and debris. We're happy with the progression. And I think the greatest thing I saw, Wolf, was people coming together as Americans, as we always do in tough times like this to make a tough situation better.
BLITZER: It's an awful situation.
YOHO: Yes, it is.
BLITZER: But do you worry, for example, Congressman, that nursing homes in your district might be vulnerable to the horrific situation we all saw unfold in Hollywood, Florida, yesterday, eight people dying after their air conditioning units went out?
Others are in critical condition. About 150 elderly had to be evacuated. Could that happen elsewhere in Jacksonville, in your district, for example?
YOHO: I don't represent Jacksonville, but I'm right there at the southern border of that. That can happen anywhere.
And that's the things that we all have to work to prevent. And by bringing everybody together, everybody on the same page, we can prevent that. What happened in Hollywood was a very tragic situation. And we hope that's not repeated and our hearts and prayers go out to those people and those families.
A very tragic thing. And, you know, let's not repeat that.
BLITZER: Yes, let's learn the lessons from that and make sure it doesn't happen again.
BLITZER: Let me quickly turn, Congressman, to some other news.
The president, as you know, he dined last night with Democratic leaders at the White House and they may have come up with a legislative deal on immigration that would allow the 800,000 or so dreamers here in the United States to stay, while adding money for tougher border enforcement, without money for a new wall along the border with Mexico.
Were you surprised to see those reports today?
YOHO: Well, I heard it as a report, but I don't think there's any language. I don't think any deal's been cut.
I think there was talks. You can't fix a problem if we don't talk about it. But I can tell you one thing, is border security has to happen. Enforcement of laws has to happen before you will see this go anywhere.
But to talk about it and bring it out on the table I think is a winner for all of America. It's how we put the pieces together to make sure this happens. You know, face it, we have had a broken immigration, as you and I have talked about in the past. A broken immigration system for over 35 years that has led us here.
There's not going to be a quick fix. Not everybody is going to be happy, but we are going to have to do some things that are necessary. Border security, enforcement of the laws. The DACA, the illegal DACA program of the past administration needs to go away and then let's deal with the situation here.
And there's some good legislation that has been proposed by Bob Goodlatte for a great guest-worker program and there's other things that are on the table. We're introducing things to help work through this, and I truly believe that we can get this done.
BLITZER: Do you agree with the president what he tweeted this morning? "Does anybody want to throw out good, educated, accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really?"
He's strongly defending keeping, allowing those 800,000 dreamers or so to stay in the United States. Are you with the president on that?
YOHO: Well, again, I mean, this is a symptom of a failed system.
We have got to be able to work through this. How we do that is the things that will be at the negotiating table. We have got some proposals on that. The important thing is we don't want to add to this. And that's why the DACA program goes away and the border security and enforcement of the laws.
And I'm sure we can come to terms on this, but blanket amnesty, as we did or President Reagan did in 1986 with approximately four million people, they failed to follow through with the enforcement of the border.
BLITZER: Congressman Yoho, let me press you on this, because he then tweeted, referring to these 800,000 dreamers, "They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own, brought in by parents at young age, plus big border security."
So he wants border security, but he also clearly wants these 800,000 young adults now to stay in the United States.
BLITZER: Are you with the president on this?
YOHO: Well, it depends on which tweet you look at, because his later tweet said no amnesty, not permanent residency.
So, again, I think his message is not clear. I think his message on wanting to fix the situation, I'm happy to engage in that and I look forward to bringing that to a solution, so that when we leave this Congress, we can say we finally fixed immigration for America.
BLITZER: One quick question before I let you go. Would you kick out these 800,000?
YOHO: You know, that's a tough -- no. I don't want to kick anybody out.
I want everybody to have the liberties and freedoms that we enjoy in this country every day, but we can't reward people that have broken the law. And I know these young people came over. I have sat with them in my office. I have seen them. They have been valedictorians in their schools. They are in a tough situation.
Our goal is to find a way that is suitable, that we can keep the people that we can here. And I'm willing to be open to find a solution to this. But there's some caveats that we have that must be agreed to, and you will hear about those in the future.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida, thanks very much.
YOHO: Thanks, Wolf. Yes, sir.
BLITZER: Good luck to all of the folks in Florida. I know you're trying your best to help them recover from Irma. Thanks so much.
YOHO: Yes, sir. Have a great day.
BLITZER: Much more on the breaking news coming in.
We're getting some new information, very disturbing information coming in right now from the Korean Peninsula. We will have details in just a moment.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following major breaking news right now.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
A new missile launch by North Korea.
Let's quickly go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who is working this story for us.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the South Korean military a short time ago announced that North Korea -- it is now morning there -- a short time ago fired a projectile east out of North Korea.
The early indications are that this eastward trajectory may have taken this projectile -- and make no mistake, everybody does believe it's a ballistic missile at this point -- over Japan. That would be a serious provocation by the North Koreans, not the first time they have done that to overfly Japan.
That is going to be very concerning in the region. One piece of news, if it did in fact go east, as the South Koreans say, at least it didn't go south over Guam. That would have been a direct provocation to the United States, something President Trump has said he would respond to if the North Koreans were to threaten Guam.
So it looks at this point like this missile, this projectile, went east over Japan. We are waiting for word on how long this flight of this projectile lasted, and that will help everyone understand what it might have been and, in fact, if it was an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
Guam -- pardon me -- Japan, the sea out there would be within range of an intermediate missile. I have to tell you that over the last 12 hours, the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community has been looking very closely, minute by minute, about the signals coming out of North Korea.
They were beginning to get some indications earlier today that North Korea was moving missiles, moving launchers and preparing for some kind of test. They were beginning to get those key electronic signals that they can pick up that a test may be imminent.
Not a big surprise here. It was something over the last several hours they were watching for minute by minute. Now we will see what the response is from Japan, from South Korea and, of course, from the Trump administration -- Wolf.
BLITZER: No letup from the North Koreans. Barbara, stand by.
I want to bring in our own Brian Todd and our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who have done a lot of reporting on North Korea and this nuclear threat.
Not a surprise but, once again, the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un poking their fingers in Japan's eyes, U.S.' eyes and others.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We're in the midst of continued escalation of the North Korean crisis. You have had 22 missile launches this year alone, which is more -- the pace of that much greater than Kim Jong-un's predecessors, his father and his grandfather.
That -- you have in the midst of that of course rhetoric coming from the U.S. about the possibility of a military reaction. Just in the last 24 hours, you had reports coming out of South Korea acknowledging the formation of a decapitation unit in South Korea to go after North Korean leadership.
That was followed by something that more conciliatory, you might say, with South Korea saying they'd never have nuclear weapons on the peninsula. Regardless, though, you have North Korea increasing the frequency of its missile tests, showing the world that it is advancing in technology, both in terms of missile technology -- it was only a couple weeks ago they had their sixth nuclear test underground, by far, perhaps by a factor of six, their larger nuclear test so far.
Each time, a greater demonstration of their advancement, but also, as you say, Wolf, poking their finger in the eye of the West. More seriously it's a threat of what they could do. And you have the U.S., South Korea as partners not reacting militarily, but certainly in their public comments, the president's public comments, Japanese, South Korean leaders showing their strength, in effect, what the cost would be of a military confrontation.
We're in the midst of an escalation here and the danger of an escalation is very, very serious.
BLITZER: Comes on the heels of another United Nations resolution imposing some more sanctions. Clearly, not having a major impact on the North Korean regime.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, look, the bottom line is sanctions really don't have an impact on him in the way in which he behaves and the pace with which he advances his missile program.
You look at the advancement and the pace of the advancement, that's the astounding thing. As Jim mentioned, 22 missile launches this year. They did two long-range ICBM launches just in July. They are perfecting their missile engines. They have tested those constantly.
They have worked on heat shields, fuel systems. They're working on their mobile launch capability with these solid fuel systems. They are really advancing at a pace that we really haven't seen, even for them, in recent years. And that's the frightening thing.
These ICBMs, he's probably got one that can hit the United States. The only thing that they have not quite perfected yet, according to every expert you talk to, is that reentry capability. Can it withstand the heat of reentry and hit its target accurately?
But, Wolf, the pace with which they are testing means that even if they are failing at it right now, they are going to get better. They're going to learn from these mistakes.
SCIUTTO: And each of these capabilities is directly directed at the U.S. mainland. That's what an ICBM is about, and these intermediate- range missiles directed at U.S. allies, treaty allies in the region.
BLITZER: We're getting some new reporting.
I want to go live to Seoul, South Korea.
Our international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is getting more information from South Korean authorities.
What are they saying, Ivan?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, we know that the National Security Council here will be meeting, of course, trying to make sense of this latest potential move by the North Koreans.
This suspected missile launch coming just essentially hours after the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, told our own Paula Hancocks that South Korea does not plan, in response to North Korean provocations and its most recent nuclear test and, of course, all of these missile launches, it does not plan to seek the deployment of nuclear weapons here in South Korea. Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, saying that there would be
pointless and that would lead to a further arms race, so no need for that. And, of course, this is a president who was elected within the last year promising to try to reach out diplomatically to North Korea.
And in an interview with CNN, he lamented and said he was very saddened by this very aggressive approach that the North Koreans have taken.
So, essentially, the South Koreans here stuck wringing their hands in the face of this relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and a ballistic missile arsenal by their neighbors to the north here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ivan, stand by.
I want to go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, what's -- what's the reaction, if any, coming in from White House officials?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is monitoring this and getting developments. They are referring questions at this point to the Pentagon. They said they will have the first official statement.
But Wolf, this comes as this is the biggest foreign policy challenge on the president's desk. Make no mistake about it. The rising nuclear threat is something that occupies a considerable amount of the president's time.
Of course, it was only a month ago when he was spending his vacation in New Jersey in August, saying that North Korea would endure fire and fury like the world has never seen before, of course, threatening military action. He's since then, of course, dialed that back.
He actually was asked about North Korea as he flew back to the White House late this afternoon from his trip to Florida. Wolf, this is what he said. He said, "We have very good relationships there in the region. I obviously can't tell you what we're working on" but suggested they were working on something. He said, "The people of this country will be safe."
But Wolf, despite all of these missile tests -- as Barbara and others have reported, there have been so many of them -- the administration still does not have a good singular strategy of what to do on the peninsula there.
Military options are still not viewed as favorable ones at all, because all the death and destruction those would have caused. The president has been, indeed -- been all over the map in terms of diplomacy here.
But look for a reaction later tonight, potentially from this president. And of course, the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York City. This, of course, will be first and foremost on the agenda there, especially his meeting with the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe.
BLITZER: Yes, and the president, President Trump, will address the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday morning in New York.
I want to bring in CNN's Will Ripley. He's just back from his 15th trip to North Korea. He's joining us on the phone from Tokyo right now.
Will, we've spoken over the past few days. Certainly, you were waiting for this kind of a missile test to unfold.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): We were, Wolf. And we just flew out yesterday morning from the Pyongyang Sunan Airport, which is believed to be the launch site yet again for this missile that flew over Japan.
Remember that North Korea launched their missile that flew over Hokkaido also from the airport area. This is where all of the commercial flights come in to North Korea but we also saw that it was for military purposes, which is significant, that they're launching from their capital. This is a new development for North Korea. Launching from their capital shows that they can launch missiles with these mobile missile launchers from pretty much anywhere, including high-population areas. It also adds a level of significance to the launch when they launch it from their capital.
And in fact, once again, this is almost like de ja vu. People here in Japan were woken up today by receiving alert messages called J-alerts on their phone. A government warning that the missile had passed and the missile likely passed over Hokkaido, landing in the Pacific. And telling people if they found any, in their words, dubious objects, don't go near and report to the police.
So you have people here in Japan frightened once again, possibly with air-raid sirens and messages on their phone that a North Korean missile is flying overhead.
This is the first time since World War II that Japanese children are living with the reality of potentially having bombs fall on them. In fact, there have been missile drills happening here in Japan. I mean, this is a really frightening situation for people in this country.
And having just left North Korea, this is not a surprise at all. We knew that this launch was coming. We were there a week ago on a morning that indications were that they were going to launch a missile. But I can tell you in Pyongyang, the fog was so thick, Wolf, you couldn't see anything.
But we've had crystal clear mornings in North Korea the past couple of days, and these missile launches, yes, they're for technical mileage and to send a political statement, but they also need clear weather so the 12 or 15 cameras that are there can get the perfect shot. And I'm sure we'll see lots of video footage released on North Korean TV in the coming hours.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure we will, based on past experience. Will, stand by.
Barbara Starr is over at the Pentagon. What are you hearing about Kim Jong-un's motivation in launching these kinds of missile -- missile -- launching these kinds of missiles?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the absolute key question for the U.S. intelligence community so U.S. military commanders can make their recommendations to the president. What is Kim really up to?
As Will was just pointing out, even if he is not attempting to attack the U.S. or an ally and just conduct a test, it's so dangerous, because it flies over Japan, and it puts people there at risk.
I can tell you, the current assessment is that he's not yet really looking to start war. He is not looking for conflict. What Kim is about, intelligence analysts on a very senior level will tell you, is his own self-preservation. Preservation of himself and to keep himself and his family in power in North Korea. And he feels that having nuclear weapons is his absolute best bet of doing that, that he can hold the rest of the world, especially the United States, at bay. That he will have to -- he believes have to be treated with respect, that he believes he will have to have a seat at the international table, that he can engage in negotiations with the west and continue to play that nuclear card that he has.
[18:35:42] U.S. commanders believe that, really, you have to assume at this point he does have an ICBM. He's got a nuclear warhead capability. Whether it all works perfectly or not is not really any longer the question. It's the question of his capability and what he can threaten.
And right now he is a threat, because he has all of this capability, and he is determined to keep himself in power. He knows -- U.S. commanders have looked at this very carefully. He knows that the U.S. is not likely to launch an attack against North Korea, because they have those thousands of artillery tubes right on the DMZ. Tens of thousands of people in South Korea would be killed. A war would have casualties like the world has not seen since World War II. U.S. commanders very much are trying to make sure that it doesn't get to that point.
So the question is, what do you do? What kind of deterrent would actually convince Kim to back off? And right now that deterrence does not seem to be there. Kim is betting the U.S. won't attack, and the U.S. knows he's going to do everything he can to stay in power -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, indeed. Very important. Barbara, stand by.
Jim Sciutto, you're doing some more reporting?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I was briefed by a senior administration official last week on North Korea policy, and speaking to Barbara's point about deterrence, he made the point, he raised the question, really, can North Korea be deterred? And to raise that -- it's an alarming thing to say, because U.S. defense of its allies and of itself is based on deterrence, an overwhelming response.
But there is genuine worry in the Trump White House, not only as to what works to, if there is anything, to draw North Korea back from a nuclear weapon, but what truly works to ensure security? And that stuck in my mind. That question: can they truly be deterred?
I had a conversation just yesterday or the day before with former director of national intelligence James Clapper on this, as well. And he said that when you look at it from North Korea's perspective, there's always this debate about, is Kim Jong-un crazy? You know, his policy rational or whatever? And he said his policy is very rational from his point of view.
Because from Kim's point of view, North Korea, they are surrounded. They've got a very armed South Korea to the south with U.S. troops there. They have the U.S. with overwhelming military power that, from their perspective, this is the only thing ensuring their survival. That's their point of view, and that's why you do have a point of view in the intelligence world and elsewhere that the only thing you can do with North Korea is talk to them.
Now, the trouble is this. Donald Trump, the administration find themselves in the same quandary that Bush and Obama before them found, which is you try economic pressure. You push China to push them, you know. All these things have been getting raised, and yet North Korea keeps up the same thing.
Can you change North Korea's fundamental calculus that their only means of survival is nuclear weapons? It doesn't appear that it can.
BLITZER: Yes. Everybody stand by. I want to get some more on the breaking news. Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois is joining us. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, you follow the North Korean threat very closely. This comes just days after the North Koreans tested their largest nuclear bomb yet. How concerning is it that this rapid progress, apparently that North Korea is undertaking, seems to be making -- how concerned are you about this weapons program, the progress they're making?
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Yes, it's extraordinary alarming. It was mentioned that this is the administration's No. 1 international issue. It is absolutely the case. It is a calculus that is going to take a lot of work and effort on our behalf to try to resolve. There's no other foreign policy issue right now that is nearly this concerning.
BLITZER: I want you to listen, Congressman, to the president. This is President Trump answering questions speaking about the North Korean threat today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a very good relationship with China and with the president of China. We are working on different things. I can't tell you, obviously, what I'm working on, but believe me, the people of this country will be very, very safe.
I think that a lot of effort is going to be put into this. We're looking at what's going on. I mean, as we speak, we are literally looking at it right now, and you will be seeing what we'll be doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what's your reaction to the president's strategy right now, as you understand it?
[18:40:26] QUIGLEY: Yes. Well, if he's talking about China, it has to be reminding China that they don't want us to further enhance the theater missile defense system and that China doesn't want an enhanced naval presence by the U.S. in the region. Well, if they don't want those things, they're going to have to be even more dramatic on the economic pressures, including the energy sector, involving North Korea.
And if the president is talking about this, he might want to include Russia's involvement, because even if -- and as China ticks down its economic involvement with North Korea, you saw in the first quarter of this year, Russia picked up its trade activity. So this has to be a universal effort. Everyone must be on board.
BLITZER: The president, as president-elect, back on January 2, he tweeted this. And I'll read it for you, Congressman. "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the United States. It won't happen."
Has North Korea already developed, Congressman, a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the United States?
QUIGLEY: You know, I think what you're seeing is an increased improvement in their system, and it's accelerating at a growing rate. So they're getting better at this faster. So whether or not anyone -- any expert believes that they've solved all of their problems with ICBMs, it really doesn't matter at this point. We have to assume that they do.
And if they don't have it right now, they will shortly. We have to work under that assumption. And besides the efforts that we're already doing toward diplomatic solutions towards this, the local theater defense system and our defense systems involving ICBMs have to be dramatically improved.
BLITZER: Do you believe, Congressman, the U.S. should try to shoot down these -- these intermediate-range or even intercontinental-range ballistic missiles that the North Koreans are launching right now?
QUIGLEY: Well, it really depends on some of the capabilities and the work that we have with our allies, and I'm not exactly sure we know exactly when they're going to take off. I think we need the ability to be able to shoot them down at a moment's notice. It's yet to be determined exactly if all our allies have that capability.
BLITZER: The missile, this one apparently, was launched and it went over Japan, causing a lot of fear in Japan, as we just heard. If the North Koreans were to launch a missile and aim it towards Guam, the U.S. territory of Guam -- 162,000 U.S. citizens live there -- how should the U.S. respond to that?
QUIGLEY: Yes. That would be, obviously, Kim deciding that he was taking us on. At this point in time, as was suggested, he's thumbing his nose at the world. This is a whole another thing. If he's pointing a weapon that may or may not be able to hit Guam.
At that point in time, the only thing we can do right now is to try to shoot that down. As we discussed before, the military options are a whole other level. So these are the discussions that the White House is having, that we're having in the House and the Senate; and the efforts have to continue.
BLITZER: But do you believe there really is a military option, Congressman? You know how many thousands of artillery pieces, conventional weapons, a million North Korean troops just north of the Demilitarized Zone, only 20 or 25 miles from Seoul, the capital of South Korea, where there are 15, 20 or 25 million people. And there are 28,000 U.S. troops along the DMZ, as well.
You know what the North Koreans would do if there were a preemptive U.S. military strike. Would that be worth it? Is there a real, realistic military option?
QUIGLEY: I don't -- I haven't heard of one that doesn't involve catastrophic losses among U.S. citizens, our troops that are there and, obviously, the citizens of all those countries nearby that are allies. I don't see one that doesn't have that kind of devastation, which is why obviously, we lead and even the president has ratcheted down some of his statements to talk more about enhanced diplomacy, working with China. And, again, it's going to have to be with Russia, as well, South Korea and Japan.
So there is no good solution right now other than to amp up the diplomatic efforts to enhance our local missile defense system and long-range system, missile defense system and get ready for the worst, if that's the case.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the Intelligence Committee, thanks for joining us.
We're continuing to follow the breaking news.
And, Brian Todd, you've done a lot of reporting on this. The North Korean tests, these missile tests, they seem to be increasingly more accurate.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are more accurate, Wolf. And they're -- you know, they've made mistakes. They've made a lot of mistakes in these things. Some of them have fallen into the sea kind of ignominiously, but the last few have been pretty successful, especially those ICBM launches on July 4th and July 28th. Very, very alarming because that's really what catapulted them into this status of having probably a missile that could hit the United States.
You know, we talked about the -- the congressman talked about the idea of shooting these missiles down. I think a lot of military officials would tell you that's kind of a dicey proposition. What they don't say publicly is that U.S. missile defense systems are not that great. They work about half the time. They work well about half the time.
If you're going to get to the business of trying to shoot down these missiles that North Korea test fires, there could be a miscalculation, there could be a mistake, there could be a misfire, and then this whole thing escalates again and you're in trouble.
BLITZER: You know, Jim Sciutto, we keep hearing, all options are on the table including the military option. But is there really a realistic military option, a pre-emptive strike to try to destroy the nuclear capabilities of North Korea which wouldn't result in hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people getting killed in South Korea?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know there are military options. That's something that the president and administration officials repeat constantly and in public and the same was true with previous administrations. The trouble is the cost.
And are you, as a country, as a president, willing to bear those potential costs? And we know the president has been briefed on those and those are a risk in numbers that we just don't talk about anymore in terms of conflict today.
SCIUTTO: Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands dead in Seoul, South Korea, among them Americans, whether expatriates living there or the many, because you've got 30,000 troops based very close to the border and these are conventional weapons.
It's interesting. I was speaking to a military official who said that the warning time on a North Korean artillery and rocket strike on Seoul, South Korea, would be 45 seconds.
SCIUTTO: There is no reaction time.
So, there are military options, but the costs are tremendous. Now, Can a president decide that the risk from North Korea is so great that those costs are worthwhile? Very -- possibly yes. And that -- and President Trump is being faced with the same difficult, grave decision that his predecessors were who decided that the military option, in effect, was too great.
BLITZER: I'm told that the president has been briefed not only on the millions of South Koreans who are within 20, or 30 miles of the DMZ, not only the 28,000 U.S. military personnel who are there, but another 200,000 U.S. citizens who are living in and around Seoul right now. TODD: And then it escalates further. You talk 45 seconds to hit
Seoul. We've calculated that their missiles can take 15 to maybe 20 minutes to hit Hawaii. So, if it escalates from there and they fire against Hawaii, I mean, look at what you're talking about. Fifteen to 20 minutes max for some of these missiles in 45 seconds to Seoul, I mean, this is -- it's beyond frightening.
BLITZER: Fourteen to 18 minutes to hit the U.S. territory of Guam.
We're also told the U.S. intelligence community has basically concluded that the North Koreans already may have 30 or 40, maybe as many as 60 nuclear bombs already and that they have the capability of miniaturizing those nuclear bombs to put them on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
SCIUTTO: Right, these are estimates. It's not perfect. You even had the CIA director, Mike Pompeo, say yesterday that North Korea, if not quite a black box, it is a difficult to penetrate box for U.S. intelligence.
So, they make estimates in terms of numbers and in terms capability. So they do believe they can miniaturize. Can they reliably miniaturize a nuclear device, reliably put it on a missile that can, as Brian was saying earlier, go up into space and come down again, which is what is required for a intercontinental ballistic missile, they haven't shown that in tests, but even going back months, the U.S. intelligence position was, we have to assume that they have an untested capability to do that, which means that in terms of military planners, you have to plan for that possibility.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr is getting more information over at the Pentagon.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, some very practical details emerging about what has happened here, morning in Japan, morning in the Pacific.
The Japanese broadcaster NHK reported a short time ago that the Japanese government is saying that the missile launch by North Korea landed off Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. This is the island that the previous North Korean missile flew over and believe that they that is what has happened again for a second time because the Japanese press going on to report that it landed off Hokkaido, in the Pacific Ocean.
[18:50:07] This could be our first indicator that this is an intermediate range ballistic missile potentially. This will be something that they will have to analyze, because the distance from North Korea to the Pacific Ocean off Japan would indicate an intermediate range missile. But the North Koreans in their ICBM, their intercontinental launches, have done something very unusual. They have fired them very high, into -- out of the atmosphere, brought them back down and had them land in Japan which is not intercontinental.
So, it's a technical point but it's going to be perhaps one of the most crucial points as they analyze what has happened here, whether it's an intermediate range or, in fact, a third test of an intercontinental ballistic range missile, the kind of missile that could eventually strike the United States. It will give us an indication of just how far Kim is willing to go in his test program, just how far he is willing to poke at Donald Trump -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We've got a lot more on the breaking news.
North Korea apparently has launched yet another missile, this one flying over Japan. We have more information coming in. We'll resume our coverage right after this.
[18:56:06] BLITZER: Our breaking news: South Korea's joint chiefs of staff just putting out a statement that North Korea has launched yet another ballistic missile that flew over Japan and toward the northern Pacific Ocean.
I want to go to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
I know they are watching this closely over there and I anticipate we might be hearing from the president at some point? Is that right?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House is watching this very carefully. And the president actually has an event coming up just in a couple of moments or so, so reporters are going to try and ask him about this. So, we'll see if he responds to this.
But, of course, this is something that is occupying the significant share of his time in terms of foreign policy challenges. And, Wolf, it's important to note at this point, all of these discussions are being led by his chief of staff, retired General John Kelly. Of course, for 45 years or so is in the marines. So, this is being led by General Kelly, his new chief of staff who is sort of deciding all of these options here.
People inside the White House believe that they do have a military option, but would not like to use that military option. The president, as you know, is speaking at the U.N. next week, Wolf. This will certainly be front and center in his speech, his first speech to the general assembly on Tuesday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Tuesday morning. We have, of course, live coverage of that.
I want to bring in our CNN contributor Bianna Golodryga.
Bianna, you've studied this region. This new launch is certainly among other things is going to put a lot more pressure on both China and Russia? BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Typically after these
launches, Wolf, the president tweets about China, speaks out about extra pressure that China should be putting on North Korea. Obviously, Russia should be facing a lot more pressure as well. The U.N. Security Council imposed tougher sanctions last week, but not as tough as Russia had wanted or against Russia and Russia actually came out the victor because Russia, out of all countries in the world, employs more North Korean workers.
Russia also is considered to be the source, many speculate, of the advancement in technology. All of a sudden, we're seeing more and more advancement as far as these nuclear weapons or missiles are concerned and even the hydrogen potential tests that we saw a couple of weeks ago. So, much more pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin who claims that he wants to be a power broker in this region as well. He and China together proposed an option that North Korea would freeze their nuclear program in exchange for U.S. troops leaving the region. That's not expected to be taken very seriously.
Also, Vladimir Putin, of course, today launched his Zapad war games in Belarus. This is not the attention that he wanted to be focused away now from North Korea launching over Japan.
Also, keep your eyes on Shinzo Abe. For Japan, he is a hawkish leader. This is the second launch over the country that we've seen in the past few weeks. As the South Korean president said just today, he does not want to see a nuclear South Korea, but we may be in a situation where there is more talk of a potential nuclear arm's race in the region because of this.
BLITZER: And, Brian Todd, most U.S. analysts in the intelligence community, they think that Kim Jong-un is acting from his perspective rationally.
TODD: That's right. He wants to be seen as an equal partner with the United States in any negotiations like the Soviets used to be. But, remember, this is a guy who has never met with the foreign leader face-to-face. He's never traveled outside his country as a leader and he's got these nuclear weapons, the highest profile American this guy has ever met with, Dennis Rodman.
BLITZER: This important programming note, to all of our viewers, tomorrow night, CNN's Will Ripley takes us on an exclusive journey inside North Korea with unprecedented access to sites never before seen by American eyes. "Secret State: Inside North Korea" airs 10:00 p.m. Eastern, tomorrow night, right here on CNN.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Our coverage continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."