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DOJ Will Sue to Block AT&T-Time Warner Deal; Charles Manson Dies; Trump Silent on Accused Sex Abuser Roy Moore; Trump Administration Makes Move on North Korea; Trump Vents Anger in Stream of Twitter Attacks; Trump Designates North Korea as State Sponsor of Terror. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 20, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. moves. How will North Korea react?

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump makes a move on North Korea, calling it a murderous regime, as he designates it a state sponsor of terrorism. But will the announcement make a difference against Pyongyang?

On the attack. President Trump once again using Twitter to tear into his opponents, but holding fire on Roy Moore and the sex abuse allegations against him. Is the president's silence acceptable?

And he haunted Americans for half-a-century. Today, a look inside the twisted mind of the late Charles Manson from someone who met him face- to-face.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake Tapper this week.

We begin with the breaking news. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with a surprise appearance in the White House Briefing Room just moments ago to talk about brand-new measures to keep the rogue nation of North Korea and its nuclear ambitions in check.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's really just the latest step in a series, as you can see, ongoing steps to increase the pressure.

And I think this is, though, to hold North Korea accountable for a number of actions that they have taken.


SCIUTTO: Tensions have been ramping up and just this morning the president declared the nation a state sponsor of terrorism. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow, the Treasury

Department will be announcing an additional sanction and a very large one on North Korea. It will be the highest level of sanctions by the time it's finished over a two-week period.


SCIUTTO: Tillerson insisted that the United States is not running out of diplomatic options and that sanctions are already having an impact on North Korea.

Joining me now is retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, as is CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Admiral Kirby, if I could begin with you.

Tillerson in that press conference there called these moves, in his words, very symbolic. He says they will have limited practical effects. You spent a lot of time at the State Department. Tell what those effects are.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, the limited practical effects he's talking about or at least I think what they hope it will have is an effort to encourage and maybe induce other nations, our allies, partners and other nations in the region to increase their level of pressure on North Korea, particularly the Chinese.

SCIUTTO: Financial pressure, because, of course, China has actual trade, significant trade. This is a way to squeeze them further to stop that trade.


KIRBY: I think that's what they're really trying to go for. Look, the sanctions on North Korea are already so severe that any sanctions that would come on top of this by labelling them as a state sponsor are likely to be minimal at best.

You're not going to feel a practical effect in Pyongyang on this, but it will have potentially a chance to help galvanize and sort of continue this momentum of international pressure.


Barbara, Secretary of State Tillerson, he said the U.S. is not running out of diplomatic options and this is a message we have heard from him consistently, even when the U.S. has taken various military moves to kind of assure the world that diplomacy is still on track here. But what are actually the additional options in the diplomatic space that there still are for the president?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me underscore what John Kirby is saying.

What you're looking at, whether you call them economic or diplomatic, essentially the noncombat options, and what experts will tell you is one of the things they're watching so closely right now that the U.S. intelligence community is watching, believe it or not, is North Korean fuel supplies.

Winter is coming. They are beginning to see, we are told, shortages of fuel, shortages of gasoline, some petrol stations that should be open closed. And this can be the kind of diplomatic pressure, economic pressure that can be applied against North Korea. They have got to harvest their winter crops at some point. They need fuel, they need trucks to move all of that around to feed their people.

So Kim may be feeling that kind of pressure, and it's coming to a large extent through China. So, again, the diplomatic pressure that the White House hopes will work is to pressure China and winter fuel may be the lever to try to accomplish that.

SCIUTTO: And we heard Secretary Tillerson list some other countries that are no longer trading with North Korea. He said Malaysia, Singapore, Sudan, the Philippines. They're feeling that pressure.

Here is how he described how it's working.


TILLERSON: So, I think it is having an effect. Is this the reason we haven't had a provocative act in 60 days? I don't want to suggest to you that that I could say. But we are hopeful this period will continue.


SCIUTTO: Admiral, you look at that.

Should the U.S. read any, I don't know if hope is the right word, but confidence. You have had a couple of months here without a provocative missile launch, for instance, over Japan. You had quite a hot period there for a few weeks.


Do you see anything positive in North Korea's behavior?

KIRBY: I do. I think you have got to be careful reading too much into it. Kim Jong-un can be rather unpredictable. Let's not get too optimistic or Pollyannish here.

But it is notable there hasn't been much in terms of provocative behavior in the last couple of months. It's notable that the senior enjoy from the party went to Pyongyang and they advertised it. And that's a big deal.

So, we don't know what was discussed, but the fact he was able to go and have those meetings also significant. And, look, if you had told me a year ago, Jim, that China would cut off natural gas to the North and that would reduce by a couple of billion barrels their oil exports and that they would stop importing seafood from Pyongyang, I would have laughed at you.

So I think the administration does deserve some credit for the ability to move China in the right direction. But, again, you know, North Korea, you know as well as I do is very unpredictable where this is going to go. So I think we need to be careful here.

SCIUTTO: Credit where credit is due. As you said, China has been squeezing in the last few months North Korea in economic ways it had not done in the past. That's important to note.

Barbara, another story that's attracted a lot of attention, a top U.S. general, John Hyten, who leads Strategic Command, said that he would push back if President Trump made an illegal order for a preemptive strike on the North Korean regime.

Quite a remarkable comment to hear from the man in charge as head of Strategic Command of carrying out nuclear strikes.

STARR: Well, you know, Jim, there is so much unpredictability with Kim Jong-un. Potential unpredictability with President Trump, that the military is very much paying attention to this and the top commander for nuclear weapons assuring Americans about American launch procedures for nuclear weapons.


STARR (voice-over): President Trump designating North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism also has a military objective.

TRUMP: The North Korean regime must be lawful. It must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development.

STARR: The president's hot rhetoric...

TRUMP: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

STARR: ... about North Korea's weapons causing deep worry by some he might suddenly order a nuclear weapons launch.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests.

STARR: General John Hyten, the respected four-star in charge of U.S. nuclear weapons, says if he got an illegal order from President Trump to launch nuclear weapons, he would not follow it.

GEN. JOHN HYTEN, COMMANDER, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: I provide advice to the president. He will tell me what to do. And if it's illegal, guess what's going to happen?

QUESTION: You say no. HYTEN: I'm going to say, Mr. President, that's illegal. And gets

what he's going to do. He is going to say, what would be legal? And we will come up with options of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is. And that's the way it works. It's not that complicated.

STARR: The weapon must be proportional to the threat, especially because nuclear weapons can kill tens of thousands of people.

STEVE WARREN, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think the general's remarks were very forceful. They were very plainspoken and they were very blunt, and, frankly, they were also very refreshing. It's very important I think for the American public to understand the types of safeguards, the types of security measures we put around our nuclear arsenal and our nuclear strike capability.

STARR: Commanders continue to say the obligation is on them to not obey an illegal order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It might surprise you if I told you I have been in situations in combat where we have had to take orders that were given to us and go back to our commanders and say, hey, the lawyers say this might not be legal to do these things.


STARR: All of this taking on added urgency because the latest assessment from both the U.S. intelligence community and the South Koreans is that North Korea could have the capability to launch a working intercontinental ballistic missile with a warhead as soon as 2018, and that is just a few weeks away.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Kirby, John Hyten, the general who made these comments, I have had the privilege of interviewing him before. He's an experienced man. He's a reasonable man and not a loose cannon by any means. How significant are these comments?

KIRBY: What's significant, Jim, is that we're having this conversation.

Look, Hyten was asked a question. He didn't volunteer that. And nothing he said there is new. I mean, we all have a responsibility in the military to obey lawful orders and just as critically to disobey unlawful orders.

And there is a structure for what makes and unmakes a lawful order, of course. But what is really remarkable is that in this day and age, we are now having congressional hearings about the fitness of the commander in chief to make these kinds of decisions, because the authority rests with him.


That to me seems much more remarkable than the fact that a four-star general, you know, had to answer a question by stating the obvious.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Kirby, Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

And breaking news: We're learning the Justice Department wants to take legal action to stop AT&T from taking over Time Warner, I should mention Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, this according to a source familiar with the matter.

The potential implications of that move, we're going to discuss it in full right after this.


SCIUTTO: Breaking news in our national lead.

The Justice Department is set to file a lawsuit to block AT&T's takeover of Time Warner, a source tells CNN, Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.

CNN's Brian Stelter is in New York.

[16:15:01] Brian, I know you've been reporting this out. Tell me what you've been learning.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: A year ago, this was a very, very unexpected. Normally, these deals get announced, it takes about a year for the approval process, the government gives its blessing usually with conditions and then you see deals become official.

That's what was about to happen between AT&T and Time Warner. They were weeks away from completing this mega media merger, but the government later today will file suit in order to block the deal. That means a lengthy court process may be ahead.

This is something that has been the talk of the antitrust community because there are two theories here, Jim, on what's going on. The first is that the Trump administration has legitimate and real concerns about whether this deal is anti-competitive, whether it would harm consumers. The other theory is more personal. It's that President Trump and his aides in the White House want this deal to be blocked and have somehow interfered in the process in order to ensure that AT&T and Time Warner would be sued.

I'm told AT&T will try to pursue that theory in court in the months to come.

SCIUTTO: I know you've been in touch with the AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. He has said in the past that they'd be committed to go to court to fight this in court, to carry the deal forward. Is he sticking to that commitment?

STELTER: That's right. That was the message from him as recently as a couple of weeks ago. Through my reporting there was really a change a couple of weeks ago in the sense among AT&T and Time Warner executives. They had been quite confident that they would win approval for this deal from the government the way they did from the 17 or so countries that had to review it. But then, earlier this month, after a meeting in Washington with the

DOJ anti-trust chief, AT&T CEOs Randall Stephenson turned much more pessimistic and expected a lawsuit to be filed. There s a dispute about what actually happened in that meeting. Some say that the government wanted CNN to be sold off as a condition for approval. The government has denied that. We're going to hear all about the DOJ's case later this evening.

But that's what provokes this question about whether the Trump administration is somehow trying to punish CNN through this deal. Again, they've denied that, but that's something that's probably going to come up in court.

SCIUTTO: And the president, of course, had public comments saying he opposed the deal before the election as well. I'd imagine that would come up in court as well.

Brian Stelter, thanks very much.

STELTER: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: To the politics lead. Need a window into the president's thinking? Look no further, of course, than to Twitter. Who he's taking on today and the issue he's taking heat on for staying silent. That's after this.


[16:21:53] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

This afternoon, White House aides again find themselves scrambling to respond to the president's itchy Twitter fingers after he spent a good part of the weekend attacking NFL stars, college basketball players and a Republican senator.

CNN Washington correspondent Ryan Nobles is live at the White House.

Ryan, so is the White House explaining this today?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, they don't have a good answer, frankly, and the president has weighed in on a number of topics over the past 24 hours, but he's remained silent on that controversial Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. This despite some mixed messages from his own administration.


NOBLES (voice-over): President Trump dialing up the pressure on North Korea.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, the United States is designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. It should have happened a long time ago. It should have happened years ago.

NOBLES: The announcement that North Korea is going back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism came in front of a meeting of the Trump cabinet, and shortly after the president used his twitter feed to suggest that the UCLA basketball players caught shoplifting should have been left in jail and to call out Arizona Republican Jeff Flake for saying that if the GOP becomes the party of Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, they are toast.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: If we become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast.

NOBLES: Trump tweeted in response at Flake's political career is toast and signaled the Arizona lawmaker will, quote, be a no on tax cuts.

What the president isn't talking about is the Senate race in Alabama where the Republican candidate Roy Moore continues to face heat over allegations of sexual improprieties with a minor.

REPORTER: Your thoughts on Roy Moore, Mr. President? Do you believe his accusers?

NOBLES: The president himself has yet to weigh in but this morning his top adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested voters in Alabama should support the Republican.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: And Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal, which is why he's not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him.


CONWAY: I'm telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax -- this tax bill through.

NOBLES: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders still refusing to say whether the president stands on Moore.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president feels that it's up to the people of Alabama to make that determination, who their next senator will be.

NOBLES: The Moore dilemma is not going away and the White House and Republicans face two uncomfortable outcomes. One where the Democrat wins and a key vote could be lost on issues like tax reform. Or Moore wins. Republicans face another round of controversy if he is seated.

The president promised the tax bill will pass and warned his fellow Republicans in Congress that they better deliver.

TRUMP: We're going to give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas. Hopefully, that will be a great big, beautiful Christmas present. It will be up to the Republicans to come through for America.


NOBLES: And while the future of that tax bill remains very much in doubt, the White House did get some good news today, one unpredictable senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, signaled he is likely to support the tax bill. Of course, Paul was one of the key no votes that sunk their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare -- Jim.

[16:25:03] SCIUTTO: Ryan Nobles at the White House. Thanks very much.

Coming up, the political storm around Roy Moore. Three of Alabama's biggest newspapers are now rejecting his candidacy. But will that impact the race?


SCIUTTO: We're hearing now for the first time in her own words and on camera from Leigh Corfman. She is describing in great detail, alarming detail, what she says that current Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore did to her back in 1979 when she was just a 14-year-old girl and he at the time was 32.


LEIGH CORFMAN, ROY MOORE ACCUSER: He removed my clothing. He left the room and came back in wearing his white underwear. And he touched me over my clothing, what was left of it. And he tried to get me to touch him as well.