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Democratic Party Infighting; Interview With California Congressman Ted Lieu; War Against ISIS; Kim Jong Un's Wife Makes Rare Public Appearance; Trump: Frustrated Justice Department Not Pursuing Democrats. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 3, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: lashing out. President Trump in the air and on the attack as he heads towards Asia with lots of baggage from the Russia investigation. Is this any way to start a trip with huge implications for America's security?

Ten times harder. Mr. Trump suggests there's been a major military escalation against ISIS after the New York City terror attack. Is this new information or a misleading exaggeration?

Going rogue. After the president's Twitter account vanishes for 11 minutes, the social media giant blames an exiting employee and orders new safeguards. New concerns, though, tonight that the president's Twitter account may be dangerously vulnerable.

And DNC drama. Democrats trade new accusations that Hillary Clinton's campaign hijacked the party machine. Are they worried about giving the president new ammunition as he renews his charge that the system is rigged?

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: President Trump lands in Hawaii very soon, as he kicks off his most important international trip yet, but his public comments suggest he may be more focused on distracting from new revelations in the Russia investigation.

The president unleashing a rapid-fire tweetstorm before boarding Air Force One and continuing in flight. His multiple attacks included a slap at his own Justice Department for not going after Hillary Clinton.

Also tonight, a leading Republican critic is slamming the president, accusing him of trying to pressure federal authorities to prosecute and punish his political enemies. Senator Bob Corker says the president is undermining confidence in the U.S. judicial system.

The president also is facing new questions tonight about whether he's misled the American public by denying any knowledge of his campaign aides' contacts with Russia. The president telling reporters today that he doesn't remember much about a 2016 campaign meeting in which former adviser George Papadopoulos proposed a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

All this as the special counsel's probe moves into overdrive, with the first indictments against top Trump campaign insiders. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is now tentatively scheduled to face criminal trial on May 7, along with co-defendant Rick Gates.

This hour, I will talk with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees, Ted Lieu. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles with more on the president and his new message.

Ryan, the president is beginning a very high-stakes trip to Asia, but we haven't seen him do much talking or tweeting about that.


This is an important trip for the president, but he's only talked and tweeted about the trip in very general terms. But he is still weighing in and giving his opinion on a wide variety of topics, even as he makes his way here to Hawaii aboard Air Force One.


NOBLES (voice-over): President Trump took off from Washington today for the longest trip of his presidency and quickly got right back to tweeting, writing: "Bernie Sanders reporters have every right to be apoplectic of the complete theft of the Dem primary by crooked Hillary."

Then: "I always felt I would be running and winning against Bernie Sanders, not crooked H., without cheating. I was right."

Trump did tweet about his Asia trip, but then returned to attacking the media for not focusing enough on the Democrats in 2016. Before taking off, Mr. Trump promising the trip will be productive.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will be enlisting the help of a lot of people and countries. We will see what happens. But I think we're going to have a very successful trip. There's a lot of good will.

NOBLES: But his efforts abroad continue to be overshadowed by issues at home. The special counsel investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia has now netted a plea deal and two arrests, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

And the president, who as late as last week bragged about his memory...

TRUMP: One of the great memories of all time. NOBLES: ... claims he does not remember a meeting with former adviser

George Papadopoulos, who recently pled guilty to lying to the FBI as part of the special counsel probe.

TRUMP: I don't remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting. It took place a long time -- don't remember much about it.

NOBLES: The president quickly changed the subject.

TRUMP: There was no collusion. There was no nothing. It's a disgrace, frankly, that they continue. You ought to look at Hillary Clinton and you ought to look at the new book that was just put out by Donna Brazile, where she basically bought the DNC and she stole the election from Bernie. That's what you ought to take a look at.

NOBLES: And he told reporters that he wishes he had more control over the Justice Department, which is overseeing the special counsel investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia.

TRUMP: The saddest thing is that, because I'm the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department, I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated by it.


I look at what's going on with the Justice Department. Why aren't they going after Hillary Clinton with her e-mails?

NOBLES: And as the president makes his way to the Asia, with so much in front of him, he made it clear he sees himself as the one in charge.

TRUMP: Let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters.


NOBLES: And Air Force One is expected to touch down here in about an hour.

Shortly after the president lands, he will receive a briefing from the Pacific Command. Then tonight he will tour the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. He will spend the night here in Honolulu. Then it will be wheels up tomorrow morning for Tokyo -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ryan, thank you, Ryan Nobles in Honolulu for us.

Let's dig deeper now into the Russia investigation and serious new questions for the president and his attorney general.

Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us.

Jim, the president keeps trying to downplay the special counsel probe as though it has nothing at all to do with him.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is another in a series of cases where the president and his supporters' stories have changed.

It's often hard to keep up with it. Early on, the president and his supporters said that there was no meetings, communications with Russians during the campaign. That's since been proven to be false. More recently, they have said that there were never any discussions of anything untoward. We have since found and the special counsel has found e-mails that show that there were discussions, for instance, offers of dirt on Hillary Clinton during the campaign.

And we know now that this is a line of inquiry that is still very much of interest to the special counsel.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, a pressing question: Were President Trump and Attorney General Sessions misleading when they denied any knowledge of campaign contacts with Russians?

Here is Mr. Trump in February.

QUESTION: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Well, I told you General Flynn obviously was dealing, so that's one person. But he was dealing, as he should have been.

QUESTION: During the election?

TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of.

SCIUTTO: And here is Mr. Sessions in testimony just last month.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You don't believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians? Is that what you're saying?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I did not and I'm not aware of anyone else that did. And I don't believe it happened.

SCIUTTO: In fact, court filings unsealed this week show that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal investigators, suggested at a March 2016 meeting that Trump meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

J.D. Gordon, a former national security adviser to the campaign, who was in the room for that meeting, tells CNN that Trump heard out Papadopoulos. And another source tells CNN that Sessions, a top campaign national security adviser and surrogate, rejected the idea.

The president responded today by saying he doesn't remember much of the meeting.

TRUMP: I don't remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting. Took place for a long -- don't remember much about it.

SCIUTTO: Another former campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, tells CNN that he testified before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors Thursday that he informed Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, though he said that the trip was not tied to his role with the campaign.

Papadopoulos' account is placing another Trump adviser under scrutiny, Sam Clovis, who served as deputy campaign chairman. Court documents show that Papadopoulos contacted a campaign supervisor who "The Washington Post" has identified as Clovis about a potential trip to Russia to meet Russian officials. The supervisor responding, encouraging Papadopoulos to make the trip.

Papadopoulos' account was unsealed the same day as indictments of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, in relation to their lobbying work for the Ukraine government.

In the indictments, the government alleges that they received tens of millions of dollars for their work and, to hide that income, laundered the money through -- quote -- "scores" of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.

Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which cover activities prior to Trump's presidential campaign.


SCIUTTO: There is now a proposed date for the start of the Manafort/Gates trial. It is May 7 of 2018. The trial expected to last at least three weeks. That, of course, will take it to the summer, before a very busy summer in the political season, before those very key midterm elections in 2018 as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, reporting.

Let's talk a little bit more about all of this with Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You heard the president say in February, this past February, that during the presidential campaign he knew of nobody with any Russia contacts in his campaign. Do you believe that's true?


LIEU: I do not. We now have direct evidence of collusion. George Papadopoulos, a

Trump campaign official, coordinated with the Russians to try to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The only question now is, how high up did that go? Was Jeff Sessions aware of it? It's pretty clear he was, according to the various reports. And it's very likely Donald Trump was aware of it, because they were at that same meeting.

BLITZER: You think there was absolute evidence of collusion, even though the White House says that Papadopoulos was some low-level volunteer? Some other former aides say he used to served coffee. They make fun of him.

LIEU: The Trump campaign tweeted out a picture, released a picture of that meeting, and you don't stick someone there who's a low-level staffer at that head table with Jeff Sessions and the president if he's just some low-level staffer.

And also keep in mind, during Watergate, it was low-level staffers that ultimately brought down the president of the United States. So the level of where he was in the campaign is not as relevant as who knew about the collusion.

BLITZER: Before leaving the White House today, the president had this little on Q&A with reporters out the South Lawn of the White House.

He was asked specifically, would you fire Jeff Sessions if the Justice Department doesn't take action against Hillary Clinton? That was the question.

I'm going to play the exchange. Hard to hear the question, but listen to this.



TRUMP: I don't know. I'm not really involved with the Justice Department. I would like to let it run itself. But, honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats. They should be looking at Podesta and all of that dishonesty. They should be looking at a lot of things. And a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.


BLITZER: So he doesn't know. He says, would you fire Jeff Sessions, the question, if the Justice Department doesn't take action against Hillary Clinton? He says, "I don't know."

How concerned are you about that?

LIEU: I'm very concerned.

After Watergate, rules and norms were put in to make sure that the president didn't use the FBI and the full power of the Department of Justice to go after his political enemies. And keep in mind these issues have been reviewed ad nauseam about the uranium deal, about e- mails, and nothing criminal has been discovered.

So there's no reason to relook at all those issues again.

BLITZER: Carter Page, another former Trump campaign adviser, now says he actually told the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, about his trip to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. He told our Jake Tapper, Carter Page, just a little while ago that he has also told other campaign officials about that.

That's something Sessions originally omitted in his testimony that he knew anything about those kinds of things. Do you believe the attorney general of the United States perjured himself?

LIEU: Absolutely.

He lied under oath at least twice. And most recently, both Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, based on their testimony and their statements, they show that Jeff Sessions contradicted himself when he said he was not aware of any campaign official talking to the Russians. It is very clear both Carter page and George Papadopoulos were doing that and they let him know they were doing it.

BLITZER: So, you want -- I assume you want Sessions to resign if he lied under oath and if he committed perjury, as you suggest?

LIEU: I believe the top law enforcement official of the United States cannot have committed a crime and still be there. He committed a perjury. He should not be in that position.

BLITZER: The president also says he may -- he's not sure -- he may meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on this trip to Asia. They're going to meet maybe on the sidelines.

In light of the entire Russia investigation that's under way right now by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, committees in the House and the Senate, do you think that would appropriate, a good idea?

LIEU: It would be a horrible idea.

And I also sit on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And Russia is helping North Korea get access to the Internet. Russia is not our ally. Putin is not our friend. The president should not be taking these actions by meeting with Putin. He should be imposing the bipartisan congressional sanctions on Russia, which he's already weeks behind the deadline.

BLITZER: I know you're a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

And I want to play a clip of what the president said in an interview on FOX last night about Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state. Listen to this.


TRUMP: Rex is in there working hard. He's doing his best. He's doing the best he can.

QUESTION: Is he going to be with you for the duration?

TRUMP: Well, we will see. I don't know who is going to be -- duration. I think the duration...


BLITZER: He didn't exactly express a vote of confidence in him.

You're smiling. Why are you smiling?

LIEU: Because the president is making Rex Tillerson's job very difficult.

When Rex Tillerson was trying to engage in diplomacy with North Korea, the president decided one day to tweet out that that was a waste of time. The problem is, when the president does that publicly, he undercuts the credibility of Rex Tillerson.

So, now when Secretary Tillerson talks to world leaders or members of Congress, we don't know who he's speaking for. And that's unfortunate.

BLITZER: Congressman Lieu, thanks very much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you.

BLITZER: Ted Lieu of California.


Just ahead: The commander in chief is making a surprising new claim about the U.S. war against ISIS.

I will ask the former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for his take on the president's new response to the New York City terror attack.


TRUMP: What we are doing every time we are attacked from this point forward, and it took place yesterday, we are hitting them 10 times harder.

Every time they hit us, we know it's ISIS, we hit them like you folks won't believe.




BLITZER: We're now awaiting President Trump's arrival in Hawaii. That's the first stop on a major international trip to Asia.

He's been tweeting up a storm aboard Air Force One, including a new rant complaining that the Justice Department should be going after Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

We're joined now by a former defense secretary in the Obama administration, former CIA director Leon Podesta.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Let me get your reaction. I want you to listen to a comment the president made about the U.S. Justice Department.

Listen to this.


TRUMP: The saddest thing is that, because I'm the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department, I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated by it.


BLITZER: But, today, the president directed, in effect, the Justice Department to go after Hillary Clinton, John Podesta and the Democrats.

What do you think when you hear that?

PANETTA: It just -- it confirms in my mind that this president has no idea where the lines are with regards to the authority of the presidency.

There are certain traditions, there are certain values, there are certain rules that are involved with the presidency of the United States. And one of those rules is that you do not interfere with the Justice Department, in the pursuit of their investigations, nor do you command that they investigate certain issues.

He's crossed those lines. And, frankly, all he's doing is making more trouble for himself. I just fail to understand why he keeps talking this way, because, the more he does it, the more problems he creates for himself.

BLITZER: Because, this morning, he tweeted: "Everybody is asking why the Justice Department and FBI isn't looking into all the dishonesty going on with crooked Hillary and the Dems."

And then he added: "At some point, the Justice Department and the FBI must do what is right and proper. The American people deserves it."

Those are his words.

You served as President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff. If he had said that or if any previous president spoke about the Justice Department like that, what would be the consequences?

PANETTA: Well, there is no question in my mind that, when a president of the United States crosses that line and that clear distinction between being president of the United States and then trying to directly interfere with what the Justice Department is trying on do, that that president is operating out of bounds.

And there's no question that, if Bill Clinton had done that, the Republicans would be up in arms about taking action against the president for crossing that line.

This is just -- in a way, this is very sad for all of us, because this president is embarked on a very important trip to Asia to determine whether or not he's going to be able to take steps to prevent the potential of a war, nuclear war, with North Korea. That's what he ought to be focused on. That's what he ought to be talking about. He ought not to be engaged in this swiping at the Justice Department and others, when there's a serious business involved in being president of the United States.

BLITZER: And he went one step further, Mr. Secretary. The president also hinted very strongly that he would consider firing the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, if Sessions doesn't go after Hillary Clinton with a criminal probe.

He was asked just before leaving the White House, would you fire Jeff Sessions if the Justice Department doesn't take action against Hillary Clinton? The president responded, "I don't know."

Those are pretty strong words about his attorney general.

PANETTA: Well, and what it means is that he's undermining the ability of his of attorney general to be attorney general.

He's undermined the ability of his secretary of state to be secretary of state. He seems to have no qualms about undermining the credibility of those who work for him. And what that does is, it not only weakens their position in the department. It weakens their position in terms of the Congress and in terms of the courts of law that have to review what actions they take.

I just don't think a president, if he wants a team working for him, ought to spend his time criticizing the very people that he himself has appointed to those positions.


BLITZER: It's not just the Justice Department or the FBI that he's criticizing. He's now criticizing the U.S. military justice system.

He responded to the ruling today by judge, a military judge, that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl won't be receiving jail time. The president quickly tweeted: "The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our country and to our military."

The decision was made by a military judge following lengthy procedures.

Is it appropriate, do you believe, as a former defense secretary, for the commander in chief to say that the U.S. military, in effect, disgraced itself with this ruling?

PANETTA: I think it's a disgrace that the president would say something like that.

He took our judicial system and called it a joke this week. Now he's criticizing the justice system within the military. And the fact is that, by doing that, he's only undermining his own credibility.

The fact is, when he criticized the Bergdahl case, there's no question in my mind that his words impacted on the judge in that case, because he had to pay attention to what the president of the United States said about the case.

And when the president starts talking about the Bergdahl case or starts talking about how the ISIS suspect in New York ought to be treated, what he's doing when he speaks is to undermine the credibility of the justice system that's trying to pursue justice in these cases.

It's a terrible mistake. It's irresponsible, and it's not what presidents should do.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much more joining us.

PANETTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta joining us from California.

Just ahead: What does it tell us when a president who boasts about his memory suddenly can't recall a meeting that could be key to the Russia investigation?


TRUMP: No hesitation. One of the great memories of all time.

I don't remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting. Took place a long time -- don't remember much about it.



BLITZER: We're getting new reaction tonight to President Trump publicly venting his frustration that the Justice Department isn't going after Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. Republican Senator Bob Corker says the president is pressuring federal authorities to pursue cases against political opponents. Strong words from the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. [18:32:19] Let's bring in our analysts and specialists. Susan Hennessey, the president was specifically asked just before leaving the White House -- I'm going to play the clip for you and our viewers one more time. It's hard to hear the specific question. I'll read the specific question: "Would you fire Jeff Sessions if the Justice Department doesn't take action against Hillary Clinton?" Listen to the exchange.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm really not involved with the Justice Department. I'd like to let it run itself, but honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats. They should be looking at Podesta and all of that dishonesty. They should be looking at a lot of things, and a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.


BLITZER: And he also said -- let me read it, because we didn't play that clip. "Would you fire Jeff Sessions if the Justice Department doesn't take action against Hillary Clinton?"

The president said, "I don't know."

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So these are really profoundly troubling statements. Look, in the same breath, Trump is sort of saying, "Well, I don't have anything to do. I don't run the Justice Department," and then calling for investigations into his political opponents. That really is part of a pretty remarkable trend of behavior that we've seen from Trump that really is threatening to sort of this principle of independent law enforcement.

Now, the president does need to have some communications with the attorney general, some communication with -- with the Department of Justice. Where that line falls is he should not be having active communication or commenting publicly at all on ongoing active investigations. That's not a line that past presidents have struggled with at all, and yet again and again, we see Trump sort of unable to -- to respect this really, really important and fundamental principle.

BLITZER: Yes, and Ron Brownstein, the Republican senator, Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he put out that strong statement. Let me read a sentence or so from that statement. "Like me, most Americans hope that our justice system is independent and free of political interference. President Trump's pressuring of the Justice Department and FBI to pursue cases against his adversaries, and calling for punishment before trials take place are totally inappropriate and not only undermine our justice system but erode the American people's confidence in our institutions."

Do you believe other Republicans will join Senator Corker in making statements along those lines, blasting the president for those words?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, this is a very profound moment, because as others have said on this show, what we are hearing from the president is more like what you hear in an authoritarian regime, where he's urging the law enforcement officials to take action against his political opponents.

You know, I had a conversation a few months ago with a top law enforcement official from the Obama administration. And I was saying I really have no idea what this is going to look like, this Trump presidency in 18 months, whether it will be seen as successful, or blowing up or how Republicans -- and he said, "That's probably right, but we have no question about how it will look in 50 years."

[18:35:13] And I think this is one of those moments where Republicans have to realize that the judgment of history is looking over their shoulder, and if they want to basically say, "Well, this is a Twitter controversy, and I'd rather talk about tax cuts" while the president is threatening to kind of cross this very historic line, this critical line between a democracy and something that is less than that, that is a very profound statement on their part that I think is not going to look very good in 50 years.

BLITZER: Let me let Phil Mudd weigh in on this. You not only used at work at the CIA, you also worked at the FBI. And you hear the president in his tweets and his statements saying not just the Justice Department but the FBI has to start investigating Hillary Clinton or, as he calls, her "Crooked Hillary" and the other Democrats.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think the American people understand how profound what the president's -- how profound his statement is.

We live in a country that has a gift that we take for granted. If you're black, if you're white, if you're Christian, if you're Jewish, regardless of ethnicity, justice is blind. When you serve at the FBI, you follow the facts. If those facts lead you to a crime, you prosecute the crime going through the Department of Justice.

What the president has suggested is that, regardless of the facts the Department of Justice finds, the political branch of government -- that is the president -- should be able to decide who gets investigated.

When President Putin does that against political opponents, we sanction him. When President Trump does that, we say, "This is a little weird."

One more point here, Wolf, and this is critically important. The president just undermined any prospect that the Justice Department would do that. Obviously, as you know, the department has declined to pursue charges against Secretary Clinton. Let's say they reopened that case tomorrow. What would everybody say? They'd say that's as a result of the political pressure from the president. He's not even thinking enough, in a sort of Tillerson moment, a moronic moment, not even thinking enough to realize that by saying that, the prospect the Justice Department does it is near zero. Not a good move.

BLITZER: And in his statements and his tweets, you know, David Axelrod, the president specifically said, "They've got to do this," the Justice Department and the FBI. In one tweet -- I'll read it to you: "Pocahontas" -- he's referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren -- "just stated that the Democrats, led by the legendary Crooked Hillary Clinton, rigged the preliminaries. Let's go, FBI and Justice Department."

I want to get your reaction, as well.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I agree with everything that has been said.

You know, when I was in the White House, everybody was under strict orders that -- not to talk to the FBI, not to talk to the Justice Department. That those discussions, any questions should be routed throughout the White House counsel. The president was very circumspect about talking about these things. Because this is fundamental to the rule of law and the -- and the nature of democracy.

I think what's happened here is the president had a very bad week with these indictments and the plea of Mr. Papadopoulos, and this story is snowballing. And he's trying to create a massive misdirection play, but he's doing it at a great cost to a fundamental institution in our society.

BLITZER: Susan, let me get you, because you're a lawyer. You were an attorney over at the National Security Agency. Have you heard anything like this going on before from an American president to this degree?

HENNESSEY: Well, no. Certainly, many of sort of the post-Watergate reforms were actually designed to memorialize and institutionalize this really profound wall. You know, David referenced the fact that all communications are supposed to go through the White House counsel's office.

The problem is that, because the president does need to have some communication on sort of high-level law enforcement priorities, we really do have to trust him as an individual to care about sort of being, you know, an appropriate steward of our democracy and really respecting those lines. It's not an area in which it's easy to set sort of hard and fast rules. You know, and so that opens the door for somebody like Trump to just say, "Well, I don't care about that. I'm going to say whatever I want," without -- without thinking about the long-term consequences here.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's much more we need to assess. I want to get your reaction to the president's Twitter account going down for 11 minutes. People are laughing about that, wondering about it. But does it represent, potentially, a national security threat? Stand by.


[18:44:05] BLITZER: Let's get back to our analysts. And David Axelrod, I want to play a little clip from an interview the president gave to FOX's Laura Ingraham last night. Listen to this exchange.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: You're heading off to Asia, a huge trip.


INGRAHAM: Lots of stakes, to get North Korea, deal with the Chinese. You're going to stop in Seoul. Your State Department still has some unfilled positions. Are you worried that the State Department doesn't have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through, because other State Departments, including Reagan's at times, undermined his agenda. And there's a concern that the State Department currently is undermining your agenda.

TRUMP: So we don't need all the people that they want. You know, don't forget, I'm a business person, and I tell my people, "When you don't need to fill slots, don't fill them." But we have some people that I'm not happy with there...

INGRAHAM: But assistant secretary of state, you're not getting rid of that position?

TRUMP: But let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters.


[18:45:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: So, what do you think, David, about that statement? The one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters. What impact does that have on American diplomacy?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I think it maybe a statement of philosophy for the entire administration, which is part of the problem that the president has because he seems to feel that the only thing that matters is him.

But I think the most serious implication of that particular statement, other than the lack of recognition that the understaffed State Department actually hobbles the ability of the United States to do its work around the world is that really undercuts the secretary of state. And he's done it a couple of times. I mean, I honestly don't know how Rex Tillerson continues in that job because the president cuts him off at the knees time and again.

And here they are off on a journey to Asia that is of some consequence, and basically what he's saying is, none of these guys count. And by implication, even the secretary of state, I'm the one who matters. And I think it really makes it hard for people who are traveling and representing this country to do the job that we would hope they could do.

BLITZER: What do you think, Phil?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think this is curious, sort of a head-scratcher. You would think the president wants to revolutionize government, as he says, drain the swamp. One way to do that, as David suggesting, classic way in government is to put people in significant positions so that they can execute the policy that you want, particularly when they're faced with bureaucrats like me who might want to resist.

This is an opportunity for him to drain the swamp, to execute policies he wants in places like the Middle East, against ISIS, regarding China, on North Korea. Yet he's saying policy only comes from me. This limits his ability to do what he wants. I don't understand it.

BLITZER: Do you understand it, Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no evidence that policy fundamentally comes from him, right? I mean -- to begin with, right? In the sense that we have seen I think consistently through this presidency that he -- he operates in an orbit that is somewhat distinct from the policy orbit, both in the administration and on Capitol Hill. I mean, what the president does is precipitate an endless series of personal feuds on Twitter, outrageous comments, suggestions of the kind we're talking about today.

Meanwhile, there's a poll out today again that 60 percent of the public thinks the GOP tax plan is towards the rich. Only less than 25 percent of the public supported the GOP repeal and replace ACA plans by the end. The president has shown he can dominate the news cycle. He hasn't shown he can move public opinion on an issue that matters and that's what Congress needs more than anything else.

So, the idea that he is kind of -- yes, he has certain predilections, but the idea that he is driving the policy in detail is detached from where we are.

BLITZER: Susan, last night the president's Twitter account went down for 11 minutes. People had fun with that. It came back. There you see what they saw during those 11 minutes, but there are some national security concerns if some employee can randomly shut down that account. Can some random employee post statements in the name of the president that could cause some sort of turmoil internationally?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right, there's a concern about sort of the president's use both of unsecured cell phones and sort of, you know, Twitter and social media and as these direct communication, imagine the kind of mischief that you can get into. Markets respond to what the president tweets.

Imagine if someone hacked the president's account and instead of deleting said, I've ordered a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, right? These could have really, really profound consequences that it appears as though the president hasn't necessarily sought or followed the advice of professionals at NSA and elsewhere regarding sort of what information security practices.

It also sort of reveals that, you know, Twitter is not the U.S. government. It's not focused on the high level security issue. It's a social media company. So, I really do think it's a pretty dramatic illustration of a potentially, you know, really significant national security vulnerability. BLITZER: Potentially very significant indeed.

David Axelrod, let me get your thoughts one other issue that came up today. The White House, the Trump administration, released its national annual climate assessment. Let me read a couple of sentences.

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.

Are you surprised by this statement coming in from the White House?

AXELROD: Well, look, it's a fair question because the president has called climate change a hoax in the past. His secretary of energy has doubted whether man is playing a role in climate change. His environmental director has been dismantling programs. We withdrew from the Paris climate change agreement, the Paris climate change agreement.

So, this arrives as, to borrow a phrase, an inconvenient truth. But I really think they had no choice.

[18:50:01] First of all, it was mandated to release the report, secondly, hundreds of scientists worked on this report. The idea that you could suppress this report and it wouldn't be made public is a, it would have been really, really foolish and finally, as Ron points out, they're in the middle of a tax cut fight an some rational person in the White House may have suggested you know what, maybe we should skip this fight that we're not going to win any way and try and concentrate on the things that we need to get done in the next couple of months.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Ron, give me your thought.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, look, I mean, I think that the collusion between their agenda and the science and the observed reality that Americans are living through, climate change is not something anymore that people are thinking about affecting their kids or 2045. They are looking at the pattern of hurricanes, that are more intense than in the past. They're looking at the wildfires in California. You are seeing public opinion move and I think the administration is caught in a position of in effect defending the past against what is an undeniable future.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by, because there's more news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Kim Jong-un may be getting ready for a new missile or another nuclear test. But he's also showing his softer side as well, as he tours a cosmetics factory with his stylish wife. We have some fascinating photos we'll share with you.


[18:56:05] BLITZER: We're standing by for President Trump's arrival in Hawaii as he begins a trip that will take him to the Korean peninsula.

Right now, I want to take a closer look at some rather unusual photos of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un with his wife.

CNN's Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

So, Brian, what does all this signify?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one analyst believes that the presence of Kim Jong-un's wife Ri Sol-ju on the public stage means that there's some stability inside the regime now. Tonight, we have new information on Kim's wife, on her powerful connections and on the mysteries surrounding the couple's children.


TODD (voice-over): At the same time North Korea's Kim Jong-un is flexing his muscles on the world stage, possibly according to South Korean intelligence preparing for another missile test, the reclusive, brutal dictator, appears to be trying to soften his image at home. These newly released photos show scene straight out of a Western democracy. The 33-year-old touring a cosmetics factory with his glamorous wife.

North Korea's rarely seen first lady, Ri Sol-ju, is believed to be about three years younger than her husband. In the photos, she's dressed stylishly, examining bottles on the production line. But tonight, analysts see something more in these pictures, a trip to a makeup factory intended to dress up Kim Jong-un's image.

KEN GAUSE, KOREA LEADERSHIP EXPERT, CNA: This would with an indication there's stability inside the regime, that Kim is feeling comfortable with the people around him because when there are times of tension, either severe external tension or internal tension, she is usually not available.

TODD: Ri Sol-ju is said to be very image and fashion conscious. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman after a visit with Kim and Ri said North Korea's first lady often wears outfits from top designers. The regime is said to want to portray her as a Princess Diana-like figure, which analysts say serves as a critical balance.

JUNG PAK, KOREAN CHAIR, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Ri Sol-ju allows Kim to present a softer side of the regime to the outside world and what she provides is this glamorous counterpart to the current narrative about North Korea as a human rights violator and developing illegal nuclear weapons.

TODD: Ri Sol-ju comes from Kim's inner circle of trusted elites. Former Air Force General Ri Pyong Chol, one of three top officials who Kim Jong-un often hugs after successful missile launches, is believed to be her grandfather or great uncle. Analysts say Kim Jong-un was set up by his future wife by the uncle he later executed, Jang Song- thaek and by the uncle's influential wife.

Ri is also someone not unfamiliar with the spotlight. GAUSE: From what we understand, she was an entertainer with one of

the singing groups. She was also one of a group of cheerleaders who visited South Korea we believe in 2005.

TODD: Tonight, much of the intrigue surrounding this young couple has to do with questions about an heir apparent. Ri and Kim Jong-un are believed to have at least one child, a daughter, Kim Ju-ae, likely born a few years ago. Rodman claimed to have once held the child in his arms. Observers say the question of succession is critical.

JUNG PAK: She probably does feel some pressure given that all three Kims have been, all three Kims who have been leaders in North Korea have been male. So, she probably does feel some pressure produce a male heir.


TODD: But if Ri Sol-ju does not have a son, could Kim's daughter some day be elevated to be supreme leader? Analysts are split on that. Some believe the North Koreans would be reluctant to place a woman in that position, but others say with this regime, bloodline is paramount and a daughter would be more likely to assume leadership than anyone outside the Kim family -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lot of mysteries that continue to this day. Brian Todd reporting for us for that report, Brian, thank you very, very much.

That's it from me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.