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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump: I Feel 'Stronger and Tougher' on North Korea; South Korea: North Korean Hackers Stole Military Secrets; Trump Denies Wanting to Increase U.S. Nuclear Arsenal; 21 Dead, Hundreds Missing in California Wildfires; Shifting Timeline Raises New Questions about Las Vegas Massacre. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 11, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Spreading flames. California's wildfires now are blamed for at least 21 deaths. Hundreds more are missing. Thousands have been forced to flee. With winds picking up, the flames remain out of control. When will firefighters and homeowners get a break?

"The wick of war." As U.S. bombers conduct drills over the Korean Peninsula, President Trump says he's stronger and tougher than his top advisers. A top North Korean official accuses the president of lighting the wick of war. Will either side tone down the dangerous rhetoric?

"Tip-top shape." President Trump also says he wants the U.S. nuclear arsenal modernized and brought to perfect condition, but angrily denies he wants a huge increase in the number of U.S. nuclear weapons. Why is this the latest battle line in the president's war on the news media?

And shifting timeline. New questions are being asked tonight about the Las Vegas mass shooting, and there's new audio from inside the hotel during the frantic search to find and stop the gunman as he fired into the crowd. Could the shooter have been stopped?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour. In California, nearly two dozen wildfires are burning as we speak. At least 21 people are dead. We're seeing reports of at least 500 people missing. Thirty-five hundred homes or commercial buildings have burned, and the latest forecast calls for more hot, dry winds.

Also breaking, increasing tensions as both President Trump and North Korea ratchet up their war of words. This afternoon at the White House, the president told reporters he feels stronger and tougher on North Korea than his top advisers, and the president added, and I'm quoting him now, "My attitude is the one that matters."

This comes the same day U.S. bombers are taking part in war games over the Korean Peninsula. And a top official of the Kim Jong-un regime is accusing the president of lighting what he quotes "the wick of war."

Also today, President Trump says he wants the U.S. nuclear arsenal in tip-top shape but denies wanting to increase the number of U.S. nuclear weapons. He's going out of his way to slam an NBC report he wants a ten-fold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Senator Ed Markey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he's standing by live. He'll take our questions. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin over at the White House and President Trump's tough talk on North Korea, nuclear weapons and the freedom of the press. Our Sara Murray is on the scene for us.

Sara, the president certainly had a lot to say today.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He took the opportunity to tout America's nuclear arsenal but insists he does not want to build it up farther. And if there was any doubt as to who gets the final say when there is a split in the Trump administration, the president made very clear who gets the last word.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): As President Trump grapples with North Korea's nuclear threats, he's leaving little doubt as to whose strategic opinion matters most.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I have a little bit different attitude on North Korea than other people might have. And I listen to everybody, but ultimately, my attitude is the one that matters, isn't it? That's the way it works.

MURRAY: North Korea's aggressive nuclear posture remains one of Trump's top foreign policy conundrums. It's an issue that has divided his cabinet, pitting the president against other top advisers.

TRUMP: I think perhaps I feel stronger and tougher on that subject than other people, but I listen to everybody, and ultimately, I will do what's right for the United States, and, really, what's right for the world.

MURRAY: Trump has even urged his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to abandon hopes of a diplomatic solution. "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary of state, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with little Rocket Man," Trump said in a tweet earlier this month, using his newly-minted nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Sources say there's been ongoing friction between Trump and Tillerson. At one point earlier this summer, sources say Tillerson referred to the president as a moron after a meeting. During an Oval Office meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today, Trump insisted he and his secretary of state get along just fine. TRUMP: We have a very good relationship. The press really doesn't

understand that, but that's OK. We actually have a very good relationship.

MURRAY: During a summer marked by missile tests from Pyongyang, Trump repeatedly made it clear that a U.S. military response is an option.

TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

[17:05:11] MURRAY: But today, he disputed an NBC News report that he wanted a ten-fold increase in the nuclear arsenal.

TRUMP: No, I never discussed increasing it. I want it in perfect shape.

MURRAY: This even though Trump has called for bolstering the nation's nuclear capability in the past. In December, he tweeted, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such a time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

Today, he bragged about the status of America's nuclear weapons stockpile.

TRUMP: I know the capability that we have, believe me, and it is awesome. It is massive.

MURRAY: All while insisting he's not looking to build up the arsenal further, a move that would require congressional approval and be heavily governed by treaties with other nuclear states.

TRUMP: When they said I want ten times what we have right now, it's totally unnecessary, believe me. But I want modernization and I want total rehabilitation. It's got to be in tip-top shape.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, the president today downplayed any talk of tension between himself and his secretary of state as old news, something that happened last week, and, in fact, the White House does say the president had lunch with Secretary Tillerson yesterday and that Tillerson was there for their meeting about North Korea, in which the president was presented a range of options on how to move forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you. Sara Murray over at the White House.

Some more insight on the danger posed by North Korea right now, which clearly goes beyond missiles and nuclear weapons. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You have new information on the North Korean cyber capability.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is an attack targeting the U.S. power grid, power companies here that run the U.S. power grid. In fact, just a short time ago we got this statement from the Department of Homeland Security. It says the following: "While there is no indication of a threat to public safety, the importance of the nation's energy grid makes it a prime target for malicious cyber actors."

We also reached out to Fire Eye. This is a cyber security firm that is often contracted by the government to analyze cyber-attacks. They were involved, for instance, in analyzing the Russian interference with the U.S. election.

They detected this attack. They gave us some details on it, said the following, that "We can confirm that Fire Eye Devices detected and stopped spear phishing e-mails sent on September 22, 2017, to U.S. electric companies by known cyberthreat actors likely affiliated with the North Korean government. The spear fishing tactic is one that is frequently used. The Russians used this, in fact, during the U.S. election. You might remember John Podesta targeted by one of these things. And many of our viewers might have been targets, as well. Where if -- you get an e-mail that looks like it's genuine. You click on a link, and that allows access to your computers.

We did speak to Fire Eye. I said that after their analysis, that these attempts, these particular attempts were unsuccessful in terms of accessing the U.S. power grid.

BLITZER: And there's another cyber threat out there, as well. We've learned of a North Korean effort to go after classified U.S./South Korean military plans to deal with the so-called decapitation of the North Korean leadership.

SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. And sadly, this attack apparently successful. We spoke to a member of South Korea's national assembly who belongs to the ruling Democratic Party, who said that this attack took place in September of last year; successfully accessed some 235 gigabytes of data, including, this member of the Korean National Assembly says, wartime operational plans for both the U.S. and South Korea, in response to a possible North Korean attack, but also plans to, as you said, Wolf, to decapitate the North Korean leadership.

Now, we spoke to the U.S. military, as well. They say that U.S. military plans remain intact. They're confident in those plans, and they're confident that they have the secrecy necessary to move forward.

But this is not the first time this has happened. North Korea has tremendous hacking capabilities, shown in both the public sector with something like this, but also the private sector. You'll remember the Sony hack going back more than a year now.

BLITZER: Yes. Multi-pronged threat from North Korea right now. Jim Sciutto, good reporting. Thank you very much.

With us now is Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. He's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's go through several of these issues. First of all, the North Korean foreign minister today said that President Trump has lit the wick of war and is basically -- he accused the president of being insane. How concerned are you about how the Kim Jong-un regime is interpreting President Trump's words?

MARKEY: Obviously we should all be very concerned. We're having an exchange of rhetoric, which is dangerous, it's reckless, it's escalate ore and it's moving us towards a situation where there could be an accidental war that gets triggered, potentially by Kim, who has a paranoia about our desire to potentially decapitate his regime.

And the more that President Trump escalates his rhetoric, what we're seeing is a corresponding increase from the North Koreans, and, unfortunately, it's just making this situation more and more dangerous as each day goes by.

BLITZER: Your colleague, Chris Murphy, the senator from Connecticut, believes that President Trump is, in his words, "intentionally cutting the legs out from underneath Secretary of State Tillerson and any diplomatic path, as far as North Korea is concerned."

Tweeted, "Now is time before it's too late for R's" -- Republicans -- "and 'D's" -- Democrats -- "to make clear no preemptive strike against North Korea can happen without a vote by Congress."

Do you agree with Senator Murphy?

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I came on your show six weeks ago, and I said the very same thing, that we have to use diplomacy, that there is no military option, that we're heading towards, perhaps, a trip wire that could move us into a conventional war. And ultimately, unfortunately, towards a nuclear conflict on the Korean Peninsula and beyond, and that the only option that we have is to impose much tougher trade sanctions.

Cutting off all oil going into North Korea. Cutting off all slave labor revenues going into North Korea. We have not exhausted that pathway yet. And yet, the president just seems to have dismissed it.

He insults Tillerson. He insults anyone else that talks about diplomacy, but, unfortunately, if North Korea believes that we're engaged in a strategy that ultimately leads to the decapitation of his regime, he is not suicidal; he is homicidal.

BLITZER: But does the president...

MARKEY: You can make sure that he does an equivalent amount of damage.

BLITZER: Does the president need a vote in the Senate before any preemptive strike can be launched?

MARKEY: Right now the president does not need a vote, as he would interpret the Constitution. My view would be that. if there is a first use of nuclear weapons, that it should be a vote of the United States Congress. That no president, no human being should have the ability to start a nuclear war on behalf of the American people unless the United States Congress has given him that right.

And so right now the Congress is out of the mix. I've introduced legislation with Congressman Lieu, with Senator Van Hollen and others to ensure that we have a debate in Congress, that Congress has to vote and that Donald Trump cannot start a nuclear war if we have not been attacked by another country.

BLITZER: What about a conventional -- what about conventional war? If the U.S. doesn't use nuclear weapons but uses conventional bombers to try to get the job done, would a vote be necessary for a conventional strike?

MARKEY: I would -- I would urge very strongly that what we're seeing since the vote on the Afghan war where the Congress has abdicated its responsibility to cast the votes on the expansion of our military effort in the Middle East, I would say even looking back to the Korean War, as it began, where there was no vote by the United States Congress, it is time for the Congress to reclaim its war-fighting authority that is built into the United States Congress.

And we should vote in either instance, but for sure, we should be voting on whether or not Donald Trump uses nuclear weapons first when we have not been attacked. That could lead to catastrophic consequences for our country and for the planet.

BLITZER: Very quickly, you say the U.S. should strengthen the sanctions against North Korea. The North Korean foreign minister, in his interview, said today that "Any sanction resolution, any additional sanctions is equivalent to an act of aggression and war, that in return, we will not abandon the use of our extreme means."

So if you go ahead, strengthen sanctions, he says that's an act of war and they will do what is necessary.

MARKEY: Well, in 2006, we were able to get the Chinese to cooperate with us in cutting off oil to North Korea, and North Korea came to the table to negotiate.

I do not think that we should be talking about a military escalation until we have exhausted all nonmilitary options, and that includes even toughening the sanctions beyond what has occurred thus far and ensuring that we can say honestly that we tried everything possible.

Right now, Donald Trump is just shoving all of that aside and moving right towards the military option, and that is very dangerous, because Kim will not, in any way, stop short of starting to shoot his rockets towards South Korea, which would kill hundreds of thousands almost immediately and could quickly escalate into an all-out nuclear war.

BLITZER: Senator Markey, thanks so much for joining us.

MARKEY: Glad to be on. BLITZER: Still ahead, surprising new developments in the Las Vegas

massacre investigation. Officials at the hotel where a gunman turned his room into a sniper's nest, now are openly questioning whether or not the police have the timeline right.

Also breaking, fire catastrophe. The death toll is rising as wildfires spread in California.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:16] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. More tough talk from both President Trump and North Korea. This afternoon at the White House, President Trump told reporters he's stronger and tougher on North Korea than his advisers, adding that his attitude is the one that really matters.

His remarks came after a top official of the Kim Jong-un regime accused the president of lighting what he called "the wick of war."

I'm joined now by Jake Sullivan, who was a top foreign policy adviser to both Vice President Biden and to Hillary Clinton. Jake, thanks very much for coming in.

JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR FOR VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN AND TO HILLARY CLINTON: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right. So when the president says today he's stronger and tougher on North Korea than his own advisers, how do you translate that into policy?

SULLIVAN: You know, it's interesting. He's been chest beating and saber rattling going back weeks now, starting with his comments about fire and fury. And I have to say, I'm beginning to wonder whether, in fact, he's trying to provoke the North Koreans into doing something. That he feels like he wants to get going with them and that, if he can wind them up enough, maybe they'll take a shot.

Because there's no other good explanation for why he would keep raising the rhetorical stakes this way. I think the rest of the administration is doing what they can to explain to him the immense downsides of the United States starting a war with North Korea, both in terms of our ally, South Korea, and in terms of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens and troops that are on the Korean Peninsula.

BLITZER: You know, Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he told "The New York Times" that President Trump's tweets have derailed backchannel talks with North Korea, diplomatic back-channel talks with North Korea. Do you think that's true?

SULLIVAN: Well, I have to imagine that when Secretary Tillerson goes out in Beijing and says, "You know, we have channels with North Korea," and then Trump takes to Twitter to cut the legs out from under his secretary of state, it would derail those channels from both sides. It would make it very difficult for an American diplomat to proceed credibly with talks if the president is going out and saying, "I just don't believe in diplomacy."

And Trump has now said repeatedly he doesn't believe in diplomacy, which doesn't leave a whole lot of options with respect to North Korea.

BLITZER: But diplomacy has clearly failed over the past 25 years. North Korea has a nuclear arsenal, capability of miniaturizing nuclear warheads to put on intercontinental ballistic missiles. Do you still believe diplomacy can work?

SULLIVAN: Diplomacy has had short-lived success where we've been able to ratchet up enough pressure in order to bring North Korea to the table and get them to slow their march. And I think that's what we need to do right now. We need to put time on the clock.

So I actually believe the Trump administration deserves credit for getting increasing pressure through both the U.N. Security Council and from China, and I think we need to continue that.

But just piling on more pressure only works if you convert that pressure into leverage at the bargaining table. So I think we have to keep working at it, and we cannot give up on the idea that there could be a negotiated solution, even if the odds on it are long.

BLITZER: And clearly China, you agree, is critical in this effort, given their leverage over North Korea.

Let's get to some other sensitive issues, including Turkey right now, a key NATO ally, has a major NATO air base, Incirlik, as you well know. Turkey arrested a U.S. consular officer. The U.S. responded with a freeze on Turkish visitors, visas for Turkish visitors coming to the United States. Turkey now says it no longer recognizes the United States ambassador in Turkey.

How do you explain this sudden deterioration in relations between the United States and a key NATO ally, Turkey?

SULLIVAN: I lay this at the fault -- the blame for this at the feet of Turkey and its President Erdogan, who has decided that he can act with impunity, not just with respect to U.S. embassy employees, but with respect to journalists from American newspapers.

They just sentenced a "Wall Street Journal" reporter to two years in prison on a completely unjustifiable basis. So I think the Trump administration has done the right thing here. They said that "If you're going to be messing with our employees, we cannot have confidence that you will protect us."

BLITZER: At what point does the U.S. pull its troops out of Turkey, for example? This relationship seems to be getting worse and worse almost by the week.

SULLIVAN: I think taking a firm line of what our expectations are of our Turkish ally and how we expect them to step up and act responsibly is appropriate. and I think our long-term troop presence in Turkey should be on the table as part of this. We should not feel that we are obliged or beholden to Turkey, because we're not. We do a great many things to protect and enhance Turkish security to support the Turkish economy. And from my perspective, the administration deserves credit for taking the line that it's taking.

BLITZER: Very quickly, there's another story that CNN is reporting that Hezbollah, not ISIS, not al Qaeda, but Hezbollah now added to the equation, backed by Iran, is perhaps plotting terror attacks on U.S. soil. I assume you've seen those reports. That's pretty alarming, given Hezbollah's record, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut where a couple 100 Marines were killed. What Hezbollah is accused of doing in Argentina, the Jewish center there.

[17:25:14] How worried are you about Hezbollah terror threats to the United States?

SULLIVAN: I saw those reports. I obviously haven't seen the intelligence behind them. But reading the reports carefully, the public reports on it, it seems to suggest that they'd like to at least keep this option open, not that there is an imminent threat from Hezbollah right now.

I think Hezbollah wants a long-term capability to strike the homeland if they decided they needed to. And that's something that we need to be vigilant about, but it is not as immediate a threat as Sunni jihadist groups like ISIS.

BLITZER: Like ISIS or al Qaeda.

SULLIVAN: If you're sitting in Israel right now, though, Hezbollah is an imminent threat. They have 140,000 rockets pointed at Israel right now. And I think part of what this administration needs to be focused on, instead of playing games with the Iran deal, is going after Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, to make sure they don't threaten Israel.

BLITZER: Jake, thanks so much for joining us. Jake Sullivan here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Appreciate it.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, a newly-revealed recording made during the frantic search for the Las Vegas gunman. Could the mass shooting actually have been stopped?

Plus, California's wildfires claim more lives. When will fire crews bring the flames under control?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Trump is lashing out at the news media, pushing back on a report that he called for a ten-fold increase in the number of weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[07:31:10] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've seen tremendously dishonest press. It's not even a question of distortion, like the question that was just asked before about ten times the nuclear capability.

I know the capability that we have, believe me, and it is awesome. It is massive. And so when they make up stories like that, that's just made up. And the generals will tell you that. And then they have their sources that don't exist. In my opinion, they don't exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our experts to discuss what we just heard.

John Kirby, you're a retired admiral. He says he wants the nuclear arsenal modernized, in tip-top shape, but he's flatly denying that he wants to increase the number of nuclear weapons. But how does that fit into previous statements he's made on nuclear proliferation?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, two different issues. So he's been fairly consistent on modernization. We know he's got a nuclear posture review going on right now. DOD is working their way through that. We'll have to wait and see what it says in terms of additional modernization regimens as opposed to external, what President Obama did, or whether he wants to develop new weapons.

On proliferation and use, he's been all over the map. He said no first use, and then he also said in the same breath, "Well, I would never take any options off the table."

On proliferation, he said right with you, Wolf, on this show that he wouldn't mind actually considering giving Japan and South Korea nuclear weapons. And then later set perhaps even Saudi Arabia. So he's -- and at the same time said that proliferation was the biggest problem the world faced. He said that during the campaign. So he's been all over the map on that.

BLITZER: You know, he also said, Rebecca, that he is, in his words, "stronger and tougher" when it comes to North Korea than his advisers. So how does that fit in, in this whole strategy as far as Kim Jong-un? Does he believe that Kim Jong-un is to -- is ready to back down because of his tough talk?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly, I mean, we've seen that Kim Jong-un is not ready to back down, Wolf. I mean, he's continuing to pursue his nuclear ambitions. He's continuing to act in a way that is adversarial to the United States and our partners.

So the president's rhetoric so far isn't working, and in fact, we've heard many suggestions, of course, from experts in this field that it's actually been counterproductive and potentially sending us in the direction of maybe an accidental conflict or at least hurting the president's chances of ratcheting the rhetoric down and pursuing a diplomatic solution.

But it's important to remember that President Trump at any moment is messaging not only to Kim Jong-un and North Korea and our partners, but also sending a political message. And part of this is about his supporters and trying to portray himself as a strong president.

BLITZER: When he says he's tougher than his advisers, I assume he's referring to the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, maybe the secretary of defense, James Mattis, and others who are advising him. So how does this play out?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple things. One is -- what I find disturbing, for somebody who has not served in the military, that being me, I do find it disturbing to see the president talk about his generals as like they're toy soldiers. You know, the idea like, you know, "That's absolutely false. The generals will tell you." The idea that, you know, "Talk to my four-star general. He's a smart guy; he's a good guy." The idea that he treats them that way is just beyond me, and it really is disrespectful.

As for the relationship, there's no question that the Tillerson relationship is fractured, if not entirely destroyed. Jim Mattis, though, might be a little bit different. Four-star general, knows how to serve. Has probably served under some people he has not necessarily liked.

My big thing is, is there's been a lot of talk about destabilization of the White House and the West Wing if General Kelly left. I don't think that would be good for the nation. I think if Jim Mattis lives the DOD, if he leaves as the secretary of defense, we're in a lot of trouble.

BLITZER: You know, David Chalian, in addition to all of that, he's continuing his war on the major news organizations. He tweeted this today: "With all of the fake news coming out of NBC and the networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license? Bad for country."

[17:35:09] Is he really threatening to challenge the license, let's say, of NBC and stop them from broadcasting the news?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I mean, this may be one of those instances where we're not supposed to take him literally, just take him seriously. I'm not sure why that matters here.

Here's what's different about this attack on the press, Wolf, and why we should take it much more seriously. It's one thing, and it has been a tried and true political tactic for decades, going back to Richard Nixon, for politicians to bash the press and allow them to curry favor with their base. That's a popular thing to do. Politicians have done it on both sides of the aisle.

Donald Trump has certainly done his fair share of that type of press bashing.

But when you get into using -- threatening to use the levers of power that you have, because the American people elected you to that position, to shut down this constitutionally protected notion of freedom of the press, that becomes the stuff of dictatorships. That is no longer just political rhetoric. That becomes the stuff of, you're threatening to use the power given to you by the American people to actually try and shut down something that is constitutionally protected.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. And Mark Preston, let me let you weigh in on this. Is he serious about trying to challenge the license of NBC News and potentially other news organizations here in the United States?

PRESTON: I think he's serious about trying to send a message to back off a little bit and be more favorable to him.

If he tries to move forward and challenge the license, he's going to be unsuccessful. There's no question about that. But he did fire a shot across the bow. And it will be interesting to see how NBC, and, quite frankly, every other media company reacts in coming to the backing of NBC in this situation.

BLITZER: Rebecca, let me let you weigh in, as well.

BERG: Well, I think it's also important to consider what is the effect of this sort of rhetoric? I mean, let's take off the table the hypothetical of the president actually taking this action. But the president raising the suggestion brings it into the public sphere, and maybe Americans sort of think, "Well, that's not so abnormal. That's not so unreasonable that the president would suggest this." And that starts to be potentially very corrosive to democracy.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on another sensitive issue that came up today. Both Senator John McCain -- he's a Republican -- Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, they have written to the president saying that the delay in implementing the new sanctions against Russia, quote, "calls into question the Trump administration's commitment to the sanctions bill." As you remember, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and the house, the president reluctantly signed it. But now there's a delay in implementing it. What's your reaction?

KIRBY: I share their concern. And it's just another, you know, question mark on the pile of why won't he, why can't he bring himself to hold Russia publicly to account for their destabilizing activities, particularly in Ukraine? And this is just another -- another piece of evidence for that. So I absolutely share their concern, and I think it's well-founded.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. Don't go too far away.

Coming up, we're also going to get a live report from California's wine country where devastating wildfires show absolutely no sign of letting up.

And new questions emerging right now about the Las Vegas massacre. Why are investigators still struggling to pin down a timeline of events?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:52] BLITZER: Breaking news. Wildfires burning out of control across Northern California right now. They've claimed more than 20 lives already while charring thousands of homes and businesses. The governor warning residents today that the risk is far from over.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us now live from Santa Rosa, California. Right in the middle of all of this, Dan, give us the very latest.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just got off a Black Hawk chopper just a few minutes ago. As a matter of fact, I'm still standing on the air strip.

The California National Guard took us for a little tour. And a couple of things stick out. The first is just the utter devastation that you see in all of the communities. We saw the neighborhoods that were completely leveled. It's just street after street, house after house that has completely been destroyed.

The other thing that sticks out is all the active fire that we're still seeing. We saw the fire getting dangerously close to people's homes just a mile or so away. And that is why authorities are still evacuating people. There are still people in danger.

And it's expected to get windy tonight. It's actually windy right now, but there's a red flag warning that is going to be in effect starting at about 5 p.m. local time, so things could get a lot worse.

Wolf, we now know that this fire in Santa Rosa, in this area, is now the most destructive wildfire in California history: 3,500 homes and buildings destroyed. And it has the potential, unfortunately, to become the deadliest. At this point, 21 people are now confirmed dead. The record is 29, and that was set back in 1933. Now you have about 500 or so people who are reported missing. Now, that does not mean, of course, they are presumed dead, but it is a concerning number and hopefully authorities will begin to pair that down as people begin to communicate where their loved ones are.

BLITZER: Yes, because yesterday it was about 200 people who were determined to be missing. Today, more than 500 are missing. So how are folks there -- you've been there from the start of this. How are folks there reacting to all this horrendous, horrendous news?

SIMON: I think they're just stunned by it, Wolf. And we know that more than 20,000 people have been evacuated. They're just trying to get by. These shelters are absolutely full. Thousands of people are spending the night there, and so they're still just trying to process what has happened to this community.

And hopefully, things will get better soon. But like I said, with the wind getting worse, we could be in for another batch of just utter devastation tonight.

BLITZER: Yes, we're showing some aerial footage, some aerial view, of the horrendous situation. Thousands and thousands of acres that have been charred. And as you point out, no end in sight, at least not yet.

Do firefighters have an explanation why this has exploded the way it has?

SIMON: It really comes down to the wind, Wolf. We saw 40 to 50-mile- per-hour gusts when this first took place.

There is also so much brush, you know? We had a six-year drought in California, and we had a very wet winter. The drought ended, so the conventional wisdom was that perhaps the fire season would not be so bad.

Well, we haven't had rain here in this area for several weeks, so a lot of that brush has dried. And because during the winter when you had all that rain, you had an explosive amount of brush that was created. New vegetation, if you will.

And so there is a lot of fuel out there to burn. And when you combine it with the winds, it just obviously can keep burning and get into some of these neighborhoods, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Our hearts go out to everyone out there. Be careful. We'll stay in close touch. Dan Simon in Santa Rosa, California.

Coming up, there are new questions right now about the events before and after the Las Vegas massacre. Why does the timeline provided by investigators keep shifting?

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[17:51:37] BLITZER: It's been 10 days since the deadliest shooting in modern American history. The authorities in Las Vegas, they are still struggling to work out a timeline of events at the scene of the crime. Brian Todd is working this story for us.

Brian, you're getting more information. What can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The timeline remains critical tonight as police and officials from the Mandalay Bay Hotel try to piece together what happened and the response from law enforcement, but there is still significant conjecture over this timeline. And veteran investigators say, given that so much was likely recorded digitally, that shouldn't be happening.

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TODD (voice-over): Tonight, new questions are being raised about the investigation into the worst mass shooting in modern American history because the basic timeline of what happened has changed once and could well change again.

More than a week after the shooting, police laid out a new timeline, saying Mandalay Bay Hotel security guard, Jesus Campos, was shot six minutes before the gunman opened fire on concertgoers, not during the rampage as they had previously said.

In a statement, MGM Resorts, the Mandalay Bay's owners, said, we cannot be certain about the most recent timeline that has been communicated publicly, and we believe what is currently being expressed may not be accurate.

Pressed by CNN today, MGM representatives said they were simply agreeing with the Sheriff that the timeline could change. A law enforcement source close to the investigation tells CNN, the police timeline is pretty accurate with all the facts known.

Former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes says, by now, there shouldn't be so much conjecture over the timeline.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: There shouldn't be these kind of discrepancies. And especially, we're not relying on witness statements, which vary a lot, you know, but we're relying on basically digital information.

When was that alarm tripped on the 32nd floor that caused Campos to be dispatched to check the alarm? When did he arrive?

TODD (voice-over): And tonight, an account from a second person in that hallway could help investigators.

Stephen Schuck, a Mandalay Bay Hotel engineer, told NBC News he was walking down the hallway toward gunman Stephen Paddock's room to check on an open fire exit door when shots rang out. Schuck says Campos, the security guard, popped his head out of a hallway alcove, and warned him to take cover, saving his life.

STEPHEN SCHUCK, BUILDING ENGINEER, MANDALAY BAY HOTEL: I called over the radio, what was going on? As soon as the shooting stopped, we made our way down the hallway and took cover again, and then the shooting started again.

TODD (voice-over): CNN has obtained audio of what an MGM official says is Schuck's radio call.

SCHUCK: Call the police. Someone's firing a gun up here. Someone's firing a rifle on the 32nd floor, down the hallway.

TODD (voice-over): And MGM official tells CNN, they're trying to figure out who Schuck called, the exact time he called, and they're trying to ascertain how long it took Mandalay Bay staff to notify police after Schuck and Campos reported gunfire on the 32nd floor.

Minutes later, Paddock unleashed his deadly fire on the crowd below. And tonight, the Sheriff leading the investigation tells the "Las Vegas Review-Journal," he still has questions about whether Paddock truly acted alone.

SHERIFF JOE LOMBARDO, LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: It's very difficult for me to believe nobody else would be aware of the possibility of this or assisted him in the development of this.

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TODD: And tonight, we're learning of at least one other Mandalay Bay employee who came in contact with Stephen Paddock.

[17:55:03] An MGM spokesperson tells CNN the shooter was accompanied by a bellman on two occasions in a service elevator. The spokesperson says the bellman was helping Paddock with his luggage and says the use of his service elevator by guests is not a special perk, Wolf.

BLITZER: We also have one of the first lawsuits being filed today in the case, right?

TODD: Right, Wolf. A college student from California who was injured in the shooting, well, she's fired a lawsuit against MGM, the owners of Mandalay Bay, and against the concert promoter and also against the bump stock manufacturers.

They accuse MGM of failing to respond in a timely matter to the shooting of guard Jesus Campos, who was, of course, shot just six minutes before the shooting started on the crowd.

An MGM spokesperson told me they, right now, at the moment, do not have any comment on that lawsuit.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.

Coming up, President Trump ramps up his war of words with North Korea.

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