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Trump to Speak to U.N. Tomorrow. Growing Threat from Rapidly Intensifying Hurricane; Trump Mocks "Rocket Man" Amid North Korea Missile Threat. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 18, 2017 - 17:00   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, the world stage. President Trump makes his debut at the United Nations, calling for reform of the world body as he looks to step up pressure on North Korea and step down from U.S. commitments into other areas.

Rocket Man Mr. Trump comes up with a new nickname for North Korea's leader, calling him "Rocket Man" after a series of weapons tests. But as the U.S. and its allies engage in their own show of force, is Kim Jong-un getting close to having a missile that can hit the United States with a nuclear warhead?

Another hurricane, Hurricane Maria, has doubled its strength in the Atlantic, now a Category 4. It's barreling toward the Caribbean islands, already devastated by Hurricane Irma. A state of emergency has already been declared in Puerto Rico.

And last chance. Republican leaders are making one last attempt to overhaul Obamacare, launching an all-hands-on-deck push to pass a health care bill. Can they do it before September 30th deadline?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Trump makes his debut at the United Nations and makes a splash, calling for reform of the world body and an end to business as usual. Ahead of tomorrow's big General Assembly address, the president has already met with the leaders of Israel and France, dropping strong hints that he wants to drop the Iran nuclear deal, amid new confusion about whether he really wants to drop out of the Paris Climate Accord.

The president spoke by phone today with China's president, the White House saying they agreed to maximize pressure on North Korea. That comes a day after President Trump called Kim Jong-un "Rocket Man." Amid another aerial show of force by the United States and its allies in the region and word that North Korea may be drawing closer to a missile that can reach the United States.

There's also a new spotlight right now on the Russia investigation after a "New York Times" reporter heard members of the president's legal team talking casually and loudly at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. "The Times" reports the lawyers publicly debated over how much to cooperate with the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and openly worried that White House colleagues were wearing wires, microphones, for the special counsel. And breaking news. The new forecast is just in. Hurricane Maria is a

Category 4, and a state of emergency is already up in Puerto Rico as the storm churns toward Caribbean islands already hammered by Hurricane Irma.

I'll speak with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondent, specialists, guests, they're all standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with President Trump's debut at the United Nations looking up step up pressure on North Korea and step down from U.S. commitments in other areas.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president wants to see some dramatic changes at the U.N.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's, right, Wolf. President Trump is signaling a big change in course in U.S. foreign policy here at the United Nations this week. He is dropping big hints that he plans to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. He is, of course, ratcheting up the rhetoric on North Korea. And top administration officials are telling reporters the president plans to stick with his plan to get out of the Paris climate agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): During his first visit to the United Nations as leader of the free world, President Trump is closing in on a major decision on whether to scrap another big piece of former President Barack Obama's legacy, the Iran nuclear deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you plan to stay in the Iran nuclear deal?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You'll see very soon.

ACOSTA: The president sat down with the only foreign leader who may be a more vocal critic of the Iran deal than he is, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I look forward to discussing with you how we can address together what you rightly called the terrible nuclear deal with Iran.

ACOSTA: Iran's president told CNN canceling the agreement aimed at delaying Tehran's nuclear weapons program would come with consequences.

HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Exiting such an agreement would have -- would carry a high cost for the United States of America.

ACOSTA: The president is showing the U.N. what Trump diplomacy looks like. TRUMP: We're actually thinking about Fourth of July, Pennsylvania

Avenue having a really great parade to show our military strength.

ACOSTA: Tweeting a new nickname for North Korean dictator Kim Jong- un. "I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night, asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad."

While the president's supporters are defending Mr. Trump's attempts at humor.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: "Rocket Man" was -- I thought was poking at Kim Jong-un in a -- in a -- in, frankly, in a pretty funny way.

ACOSTA: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is trying to make the case the U.S. is deadly serious about what happens if diplomacy fails, warning the Pentagon would take action.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: If that doesn't work, General Mattis will take care of it.

ACOSTA: The President is looking for the U.N.'s support after savaging the world body as a candidate.

[17:05:04] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United Nations is not a friend of democracy. It's not a friend to freedom. It's not a friend even to the United States of America, where, as you know, it has its home.

ACOSTA: Now he's all but telling foreign diplomats to join his campaign.

TRUMP: I think the main message is make the United Nations great. Not again, but make the United Nations great.

ACOSTA: While working in a quick plug for one of his apartment buildings.

TRUMP: I actually saw great potential right across the street.

ACOSTA: A New Yorker, the president is not a total stranger to the U.N., meeting with foreign secretary-general Kofi Annan in 2001, and even weighing in on renovations at the U.N. in 2005, when he sounded less critical of the world body.

TRUMP: I'm a big fan, a very big fan of the United Nations and all it stands for.

I'm listening to these people that are very naive, and I respect them. But they're very naive in this world. Now, I might be naive in their world, but in this world, they're naive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's talk of having a Fourth of July parade in Washington, D.C., on Independent Day, it's just not used to show off America's military strength, we should point out, Wolf, there's already a Fourth of July parade in Washington D.C. On Independence Day. It's just not used to show off America's military might.

At the same time, we should also point out later on tomorrow morning the president will be delivering his first major address to the United Nations. Expect more brinkmanship on North Korea -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll of course, have live coverage of that right here on CNN. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's turn now to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what's the Trump administration's bottom-line message right now, as far as North Korea is concerned?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you have the American president in the odd position as being someone who in the past has derided, even dismissed the U.N. as an institution, now as president somewhat dependent on the U.N., the U.N. Security Council on those unanimous votes, as we had one just several days ago to impose economic sanctions on North Korea, which are a key part of the U.S. response to North Korea's military program. Nuclear program. An escalation.

That said, the message in the last 24 hours from Trump administration officials, McMaster, the national security adviser, Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador and others, is that the time for diplomacy, in their words, is running out. That their patience is running thin and that the next step would be military options.

The trouble, of course -- and you and I have spoken about this many times -- is that the military options have potential of enormous human costs, particularly to Seoul, where you have many U.S. troops based but also, of course, an enormous civilian population.

That said, it was notable today. You heard Defense Secretary James Mattis says that among U.S. military options are options that he says do not put Seoul at grave risk. He didn't say what those options are, but he said that there are options in that vein. It shows that, at least in their public posturing, Wolf, that a military response is something very much under consideration by the president.

BLITZER: How's -- how are the North Koreans reacting, Jim, to the U.S. threats of military options?

SCIUTTO: Well, in very colorful terms, Wolf. And I want to read this, because you have to listen to these words, even for North Korea.

They call the North Korean, the sanctions against North Korea imposed by the U.N. Security Council, vicious, unethical and inhumane acts of hostility. They go on to say that their program will not be cowed, will not be stopped by economic sanctions, that they will go forward. And you might say, Wolf, that they have a point, because economic sanctions to this point under the Trump administration and previous administrations, though billed as very strong, very powerful, have not stopped the North Korea nuclear program, either their missiles, their nuclear tests. So it remains to be seen what will stop them. And that's perhaps part of the reason why you have the Trump administration making clear that, at least, they are considering the possibility of military action.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto at the United Nations for us today. Jim, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us. Let's talk about North Korea right now. Clearly, North Korea is upset with the new U.N.-approved sanctions. Are you hopeful that these latest measures are putting enough pressure on the North Korean regime to really have an effect?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, Wolf, it's the best hope that we have.

Kim Jong-un and his father, who is previously the dictator of North Korea, have shown great resistance, great resilience and willingness to continue to pursue a nuclear weapons program that could threaten the homeland even in the face of tough sanctions.

President Trump has a tall order tomorrow at the United Nations. He needs to show that he can be a world leader and rise above name calling on Twitter or blustering or threatening speeches and really pull together the world community to confront the dangerous, reckless North Korea regime.

One of the things he's got going for him is the example of American leadership under the Obama administration in pulling together the world to impose tough sanctions on Iran, which ultimately brought them to the negotiating table. I think it would be a disastrous moment for the Trump administration to walk away from the Iran agreement because of the consequences that would have for our allies and potential partners' willingness to trust us that we would fully implement an anti-North Korea agreement.

[17:10:24] BLITZER: What's your reaction, Senator, to the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, saying that the secretary of defense, James Mattis, will in her words, take care of North Korea if the diplomatic efforts fall through?

COONS: Well, I do think Ambassador Haley has overall done a strong job at the United Nations. That casual comment is a reminder that there are military options. They're not appealing; they're not positive. They would lead to huge loss of life, mostly among South Koreans, but it is reminder that the amount of time we have left fora diplomatic solution is running short.

I do think this is a moment when the Trump administration and Ambassador Haley need to redouble their efforts. As I've said on this show before, I was deeply puzzled by the Trump administration's budget, which slashed our investment and diplomacy by a third. I'm puzzled by their choice to cut the number of folks we have representing us at the U.N. at exactly the moment when we need to strengthen our engagement and diplomacy around the world, because the military options against North Korea are so unappealing.

TRUMP: You mention the future of the Iran nuclear deal. As you know, the president, President Trump, he's been dropping some strong hints about that deal, maybe getting ready to move away from it, even though he's authorized the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to twice so far during an administration certify that North Korea is complying with the basic outlines of the agreement.

Do you believe that Iran, that the president is getting ready to scrap the Iran nuclear deal?

COONS: Well, it's unclear what direction he's going. As a candidate, Donald Trump certainly was repeatedly, forcefully, vocally opposed to the Iran deal, saying it was a terrible deal.

But as president, his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has now said, as you just said, certified that Iran is in compliance with the deal.

The main criticism that President Trump has had of the deal is a legitimate one, which is that it didn't deal with Iran's human rights violations, its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism in the region. I, too, have that criticism of the Iran nuclear deal.

But it was intended to constrain Iran's efforts at getting a nuclear weapon. It didn't intend to address those other things. There were many who hoped that Iran would change its behavior. I think I was a fairly clear-eyed critic of Iran's likely future behavior through the whole process.

More importantly, right now, Wolf, we've got too many crises on the world stage for us to throw over an Iran agreement that so far has worked to contain Iran's nuclear program.

BLITZER: So you say Iran is compliant, is in compliance with the basic outlines of the nuclear agreement. But as you know, the critics are pointing out what Iran is doing, not just in Syria, for example, or supporting Hezbollah organization the U.S. regards as a terrorist organization. What Iran is doing in Yemen, in Iraq. You see Iran spreading its influence, especially now that it has all of this cash that the U.S. provided as a result of the Iran deal. Are you comfortable with that, Senator?

COONS: No, I've never been comfortable with that. To be clear, Wolf, Iran is one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism in the world. And they have not restrained in any way -- in fact they've advanced -- their support for terrorist organizations in the region and, arguably, around the world.

Their human rights record domestically remains abysmal. Their support for organizations from Hezbollah to the Houthis remains appalling. And their ongoing ballistic missile development is alarming. None of those were goals of the Iran nuclear deal. It was hoped that they would restrain those, but they didn't. I never thought that they would.

And to be clear, the access to money that they got was not U.S. money given to Iran. It was money that was Iranian and frozen in accounts around the world during the period when tough sanctions were imposed on them.

Also, to be clear, Wolf, I've joined many other senators, both Republican and Democrat, in cosponsoring a bill that imposes tough new sanctions on Iran, recently signed into law by President Trump, for exactly the actions you raise: their support for terrorism, their ballistic missile program, and their terrible human rights record. I think it's fully appropriate for us to continue to call them to account and to impose tougher sanctions on those nonnuclear areas of Iran's misbehavior.

BLITZER: Senator Coons, there's more we need to discuss. There's additional information coming in. Big speech tomorrow by the president at the United Nations. Let's take a quick break, resume the interview right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:19:38] BLITZER: There's a new twist in the Russia investigation, as a pair of President Trump's lawyers are caught speaking a little too loudly about it at a Washington, D.C., restaurant.

We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.

Pretty amazing story, Senator. I want your reaction to the report in "The New York Times" that, according to "The Times," two of the president's lawyers Ty Cobb and John Dowd, were overheard at a D.C. restaurant talking about conflicting views within the president's legal team. Cobb voiced his frustration with the White House legal counsel, Don McGahn, saying he was too conservative with his approach to the Russia probe and alleged that McGahn has a, quote, "couple of documents" locked in a safe.

[17:20:11] Are you concerned that the White House might be hiding information from the special counsel's investigation?

COONS: Well, Wolf, it's my hope, it's my expectation that the White House will fully cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. I have no reason to believe that that's not the case.

This was a titillating story. It suggested that you've got pretty senior attorneys making the mistake of chatting loudly on a sidewalk cafe. And we'll see whether it amounts to anything.

I have been working across the aisle in a way that's designed to strengthen this process. Republican Senator Tom Tillis and I introduced a bill before we went out on recess for August that would make it more difficult for any president to fire a special counsel. This is about strengthening the independence of the Department of Justice and its process.

And it's my hope that we will see a strong bipartisan support for Special Counsel Mueller and for this investigation going forward. I think you'll see further hearings in the Judiciary Committee this month that will be designed to advance that process.

BLITZER: "The New York Times," Senator, is also reporting that some White House officials privately expressed fear that their colleagues might be secretly recording conversations on behalf of the special counsel, Robert Mueller. How much legal liability are staffers at the White House exposed to right now? And how much paranoia is going on there?

COONS: Well, I don't speak for White House staff, Wolf, but I would expect that, knowing that there is an ongoing investigation by the Judiciary Committee into obstruction of justice, by the Intelligence Committee into the national security consequences of Russia's interference in our 2011 election, and that Special Counsel Mueller, a very seasoned, very respected Republican, career law enforcement leader, that he's leading an investigation that is bearing down on members of the inner circle of the Trump campaign, that would make me exceptionally uncomfortable if I were on White House staff.

And so I would suspect that this is a difficult time for them. That making sure that they are observing all the boundaries and processes that are required once you've got a federal investigation like this has got to be an added layer of stress for them.

BLITZER: But it would be pretty shocking, I assume you agree, Senator, if White House were wearing wires.

COONS: That would be a striking development if senior members of the White House team had begun to cooperate actively with Mueller's investigation by gathering further evidence in that way, yes, that would be quite striking.

BLITZER: And the professional conduct of these two lawyers who were having this conversation at that D.C. restaurant, speaking loudly. A reporter from "The New York Times" was at the next table, could overhear everything they were saying. Was that appropriate? Should they face consequences for discussing, in an open session like that, all of these very sensitive issues?

COONS: Well, Wolf, it's certainly sloppy. It's not the best of legal practice. And I'm sure they're having some very difficult conversations with their client. But I can't speak to whether there would be disciplinary consequences from the D.C. Bar or whatever bar they're admitted to.

It certainly doesn't reflect the highest standards of representation, particularly in such a sensitive matter as this ongoing investigation.

BLITZER: Good point. All right. Senator, thanks for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Coons of Delaware.

Coming up, the president makes his debut of United Nations. Ahead of his big speech, he's making it clear that North Korea and Iran are topping his agenda.

And Hurricane Maria, it's now a Category 4, and it's barreling toward Caribbean islands already devastated by Hurricane Irma. Stay with us. The latest forecast coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:28:36] BLITZER: We're following President Trump visit to the United Nations. He's pushing for reforms at the global organization, but so far, he's keeping world leaders guessing about what he may do about the Iran nuclear deal and North Korea's nuclear weapons.

Let's bring in our specialists. And Gloria Borger, President Trump has hands full on the world stage.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: How big of a test is this for the president this week, especially tomorrow morning when he addresses the General Assembly?

BORGER: I think it -- I think it's a very big test. This is a president who has already talked about America first. And he's speaking to the United Nations, where the world comes first. And so it's going to be interesting to see how he adjusts his world view. And what they think of him on this -- on this stage.

This is a president that they don't know what to make of. You know, he promised that he was going to withdraw from the Iran deal. He hasn't withdrawn from that. He promised he was going to withdraw from NATO or said, "I'd like to withdraw from NATO." He hasn't done that. He was going to withdraw from NAFTA. He hasn't done that.

So they're trying to figure out who the real Donald Trump is. They do agree with him on North Korea. They'd like the United States to take a leadership role, but they're not quite sure what "fire and fury" means. And so I think they're going to be all ears. And the one-on- ones are going to be really important to this president.

BLITZER: Yes, do you remember, Dana, during the campaign he was very critical of the United Nations? Didn't like the fact the U.S. was funding so much of the United Nations' operations. How is he likely to be received?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it largely depends on what he says in his speech. My understanding is that his speech is probably going to sound a lot like what he warned of in the campaign. He's going to have -- maybe won't be as explicit, but it will be at least implicitly "America first."

But, look, Wolf, you've been to the U.N. General Assembly to presidential speeches for many years. I've covered a few in my time, as well. And there certainly have been many controversial speeches. And many spotlights on presidents because of whatever is happening in the world.

I don't think, it's certainly my memory, there will be one quite like we're going to see tomorrow, if for no other reason than the world is fascinated and obsessed with Donald Trump. Well, the world is going to be gathered, the representatives all in one place to hear from Donald Trump about how his world view is right now. Certainly, will be about the U.N., the institution, but also about -- about that.

And I talked -- interviewed Nikki Haley yesterday, and she was very clear that it's all of the buzz. And of course it is.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a very important speech. So we'll see what he says tomorrow.

How's he going to play the Iran nuclear deal? Because as you know, he says the worst deal ever, ever, bar none. He says the U.S. should have never signed it. During the campaign, he said he was going to rip it up. But twice already so far in his administration, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has written documents to Congress that the Iranians are, in fact, complying with the agreement. And October 15, they have to do the same thing. How do you think this is going to play out?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I'll give you the same answer I give on almost every foreign policy question relating to his world view, Wolf, which is we'll kind of wait and see, which is what, to Dana's point, makes this speech and Donald Trump's presidency, more broadly, domestic policy and foreign policy, very watchable.

Whether you like him, hate him, or don't know what you think of him, although that's probably ten total people in the world, but he is someone who often says contradictory things.

I'm -- Dana noted the world is waiting to sort of see him elucidate his world view. I am interested to see how much of Donald Trump having a world view beyond "America first." Right? Yes, we know that was the campaign slogan. Yes, we know that's why he got elected. But what does that mean? And that's always the thing that we've run into since he's been president. OK, well, let's put some flesh on that bone. What does it mean? Is this the speech where he explains a little bit more what it means?

I tend to think, when we believe that Donald Trump is going to go into a lot of specifics and give us a real meaty foreign policy or any kind of vision, we tend to be over -- disappointed, but who knows? This is a speech where he could do that.

BLITZER: Because he said during the campaign he wanted to renegotiate that deal. It was a horrible deal. Worst deal ever. Got to be renegotiated.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But you know, what's worth noting is that the day that we pull out of the Iran deal is the day that Iran can start building a nuclear weapon again. And there are no sanctions in place any more. The sanctions would have to be re- imposed with allies, including Great Britain and -- and France, that don't want us to leave the deal in the first place. They think it's a good deal.

So withdrawing from this deal could wind up being a tremendous gift to Iran, because they could get their nuclear program started up again, and no sanctions. So that's a problem that withdrawing from the deal -- and that's why, I think, the Trump administration is not withdrawing from the deal.

BORGER: And you know, we've already withdrawn from the Paris climate change deal, although there seems to be a little question now about whether the door is open this much. But you withdraw from one, and then you withdraw from another, and what are your -- your allies are left holding the bag or deciding what to do.

CILLIZZA: And campaign rhetoric versus governing reality. You see it time and time again. "Fire and fury," what does that mean? Is there a policy? Is there a military option? Is he going to go to it?

You know, it is easy to say the thing: "We're going to rip this deal up. We're going to make better deals with everyone in the world. We're going to be tough again." Being tough is not a foreign policy.

BLITZER: Let me get Susan Hennessey into this. Susan, you're our national security analyst, a former lawyer at the National Security Agency. What was your reaction when you read that "New York Times" story about two of the president's lawyers having a pretty blunt, open, sensitive conversation at a D.C. restaurant, clearly within earshot of a "New York Times" reporter who was sitting at the next table?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: All right, so it's certainly a notable story on a couple of different fronts. The underlying issue that they're discussing is sort of the scope of executive privilege. The president has some ability to keep documents secret. How much is he is going to assert that? That's an issue that arises in all investigations involving a president. We've seen it lots in the past.

[17:35:05] What's really interesting in this case is, one, that it's not just about sort of conflicts between the special prosecutor and Trump's team. It actually appears as though there's conflicts within Trump's team. They don't all have access to all the same documents. That really raises questions about sort of their organization, their ability to mount a defense.

Then, of course, the other question is why, exactly, were these lawyers having this kind of sensitive conversation in public in the first place? That goes to much broader issues of professional conduct.

BLITZER: Let's get Jeffrey Toobin, our other legal analyst, into this conversation. It's pretty extraordinary. You saw that one sentence in "The New York Times" that some White House officials fear that others are wired at the request, at the orders of the special counsel. That I've never heard before. But you have more experience in this than I do.

TOOBIN: Well, certainly, that is an investigative technique that prosecutors, like the people...

BLITZER: For White House -- for White House staffers to be wired?

TOOBIN: No, it's -- I'm saying for criminal prosecutors in general. It has certainly never happened in history before that people in the White House have been wired. And I think that would raise all sorts of difficult constitutional and legal questions about whether that would even be permitted. Remember, as you point out, that has never been done before.

But the issue that these two gentlemen were argue -- were discussing at significant volume is actually one that comes up in every investigation in the White House, which is how cooperative to be.

HENNESSEY: Right.

TOOBIN: Do you want to turn over documents and sort of let the chips fall where they may, show that there's no "there" there? Or do you want to fight the way Bill Clinton fought with Ken Starr about disclosure of documents?

I mean, that is an important strategic question that all these White House lawyers deal with. They usually don't deal with it in quasi- public settings, though.

BORGER: Yes, and it is an open secret, I think -- and Dana and I have done a bunch of reporting on this -- that there are differences in approach among a lot of these lawyers. Because perhaps their clients have competing interests. And so there are going to be different approaches.

I think the big question here is executive privilege and when the president asserts it and when he does not assert it. I'm not a lawyer, but you are. And a question of cooperation. And so far what we have heard from the White House is "We are cooperating with the special counsel in every possible way that we can." That's what we've heard publicly.

BLITZER: In a midst of all this Russia investigation, pretty stunning comment today from Hillary Clinton in a new interview on her book with NPR. She had this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go back to the question. Would you completely rule out questioning the legitimacy of this election if we learned that the Russian interference in the election is even deeper than we know now?

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: No. I would not. I would say...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not going to rule it out?

CLINTON: No. I wouldn't rule it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Pretty -- pretty stunning, you've got to admit. She's not ruling out the possibility she would raise the legitimacy of this election if the Russians were proven to be involved.

BASH: Right. And that's a big "if." Because as of right now, the people who, at least initially, were looking at it in the Obama administration said that they didn't any evidence that the meddling that the Russians did had any real implications that changed the election.

Having said that, look, I mean, she's doing a book tour. She's explaining the things that she felt that she did wrong. But also talking pretty extensively about the fact that she believes that Russia played a very, very big role.

And I just have to say, we all know that Donald Trump just can't quit Hillary Clinton. He can't get over her from his retweeting the GIF this weekend to everything that he talks about. And a big reason is because of that "L" word, legitimacy.

BLITZER: Yes.

BASH: And for him to hear that, I am sure he is going to go...

BORGER: Well, you know what? He retweeted a tweet with golf balls in the -- hitting her in the back.

BASH: That's what I'm talking about. Yes.

BORGER: The GIF. I'm not so sure this wasn't her way of getting back at him. Saying, "OK, I'm going to question your

BLITZER: Hold that thought for a moment. We have a lot more coming up, including the updated forecast for Hurricane Maria. It's turned into a major hurricane. It's threatening islands already devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Also, the president jabs at the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, calling him "Rocket Man."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:44:11] BLITZER: The breaking news, a rapidly intensifying major hurricane now threatening some of the areas already devastated by Hurricane Irma. Let's go to our meteorologist, Allison Chinchar. She has the latest forecast for Hurricane Maria. Where is the storm heading, Allison?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's heading right now towards the Lesser Antilles, and it's expected to make landfall in just a few hours from now. This storm has been intensifying, and we actually expect it to intensify even more as it moves to the west.

Right now winds 130-mile-per-hour. That makes it a Category 4 storm. It's moving west-northwest at about 9 miles per hour. So we do expect it to make its way towards Dominique and Guadeloupe as we go into the next couple of hours.

From there progresses to the north and west towards the Virgin Islands and then towards Puerto Rico where we expect a direct landfall as a Category 4 storm, if not potentially even stronger than that.

From there it continues up to the north but exactly where that's the ultimate question.

When we talk about the two big models, there is very good agreement up to Puerto Rico. In fact, both of them, while the landfall point may be slightly different, they both expect a hit on Puerto Rico.

After that, however, the American and the European model split, and they split pretty far apart. The blue is the European model. The red is the GFS, known as the American model. And notice that one actually has it pushed towards the U.S.

So why? Why is there such enough discrepancy in the two? It all comes back to this high pressure. This is what's been stirring it currently, OK?

The European model is banking that this is not going to move, and it will wrap -- Maria will wrap clockwise around the system. The American model is banking on that high shifting just a little bit to the west. In doing so, it will push Maria to the west, potentially, Wolf, giving us a U.S. landfall.

But I would like to point out that we're still talking, at this point, seven to 10 days out and a lot can change in that timeframe, so we'll keep a close on it.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Unfortunately, our friends in Puerto Rico, they are bracing for the worst.

Allison Chinchar, thanks very much. We'll stay in touch with you.

Coming up, a new warning about Kim Jong-un's missile program just as President Trump mocks the North Korean leader, calling him "rocket man."

And later, Russia's military shows off its firepower and Vladimir Putin is there to watch.

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[17:51:10] BLITZER: There's an alarming new prediction about North Korea's missile program, and it comes just as President Trump is taunting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, as, quote, "rocket man." Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what are learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a short time ago, a U.S. intelligence official told me that unless China and Russia step in, there is no reason to believe that Kim Jong-un is going to cease his provocations, short of extreme measures.

Now, this comes as North Korea claims its development of its longest- range missiles that could hit the United States is, quote, near the final stage. All of this has put the region on edge tonight and has North Korea's rivals conducting live fire drills.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Multiple bombs explode simultaneously, striking their target in a narrow valley. Fighter jets scramble. Part of a massive show of force today over South Korea by American, South Korean, and Japanese warplanes.

At the same time, U.S. and Japanese forces conduct urban warfare drills near Mount Fuji, Japan. This is what the region looks like when it's on edge. These drills, all in response to Kim Jong-un's forces launching what's believed to have been an intermediate range missile which flew over the Japanese island of Hokkaido on Friday.

Tonight, analyst say the distance that missile traveled could have been meant to send a message to America.

IAN WILLIAMS, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: So this missile flew about 2,300 miles. So if you rotate that distance south, that puts Guam in range. So this could be a signal by North Korea to the United States that it could hit the island.

TODD (voice-over): And tonight, new information on North Korea's longer-range missiles which could soon be capable of hitting the United States with nuclear warheads mounted on them.

South Korea's Defense Ministry says Kim's regime believes its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles has advanced, quote, near the final stage. Analysts say that could be accurate.

WILLIAMS: We have not seen them demonstrate necessarily a re-entry vehicle technology, but that's really the last piece of the puzzle. We're still a little bit unclear about whether they've been able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead small enough. The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that they do.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the challenges of stopping Kim Jong-un's weapons program and taking him on in the event of war are coming into focus.

South Korean defense officials say they're speeding up the creation of a so-called decapitation unit, a military brigade which would specifically target North Korea's commanders in the event of war. Those commanders would include Kim Jong-un. The unit could be ready by the end of this year. Analysts say Kim's

likely taking measures to evade the assassination teams.

DR. ALEXANDRE MANSOUROV, FORMER RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT IN NORTH KOREA: He uses doubles, you know, several Kims. They've been many Kims out there. And, of course, different vehicles. And for a long time, the guard command did not allow, whether it's his father, Kim Jong-Il or himself, to fly the plane.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But analysts warn that while Kim Jong-un is taking his own measures to dodge South Korean assassination squads, he could well be preparing assassination teams of his own to go after South Korea's President.

The North Koreans did that at least once before, in January of 1968, sending dozens of commandos to target South Korea's President inside his residence, the Blue House. They came within 350 feet of that residence. And in a furious gun battle, nearly 60 soldiers from both sides were killed, but the South Korean President survived -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Amid all this tension, Brian, and the combat drills that are going on right now, the U.S. Defense Secretary, James Mattis, just made a rather surprising comment about military options for North Korea, right?

TODD: He did, Wolf. Secretary Mattis, a short time ago at the Pentagon, told reporters that there are military options to deal with North Korea that would not put the South Korean capital, Seoul, at grave risk.

[17:55:02] Now, Mattis would not go into detail about what those military options are. But until now, you know, most analysts believe that any military option to deal with North Korea would inevitably provoke an attack from North Korea on Seoul which could kill potentially tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people in Seoul.

Interesting that the Defense Secretary mentioned that option, that does not put Seoul at such great risk.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, the breaking news. Hurricane Maria is now a very dangerous Category 4. It's racing toward Caribbean islands already devastated by Hurricane Irma. We'll have the latest forecast.

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