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THE SITUATION ROOM

Manhunt After Terror Attack Kills 235; After Mosque Attack, Trump Demands 'The Wall' & 'The Ban'; Source: Flynn Attorneys Stop Sharing Info with Trump Team; Flynn's Lawyers No Longer Sharing Information With Trump Team; North Korea Replaces Border Guards Where Soldier Defected. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 24, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:14] JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Deadly attack. A manhunt in underway after a brazen terror attack targets worshippers at a mosque. Bombs explode, gunmen open fire as victims try to flee. Tonight, as 235 people are dead, why is President Trump renewing his call for the wall and the ban, even though they have nothing to do with today's attack?

Striking a deal. Sources say fired national security adviser Michael Flynn's attorneys have stopped communicating with President Trump's legal team. Could Flynn be preparing to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation? What could that mean for the president and his inner circle?

Playing the course. President Trump acknowledges something he often does but rarely admits. He's playing golf at one of his golf courses. Why did he assure his Twitter followers it would only be a quick round?

And kingpin of terror. A new blast of anti-U.S. rhetoric from North Korea, calling America a terrorism kingpin. And it comes as members of North Korea's military dig a trench and make other changes to prevent more defectors from making a dash to freedom across the demilitarized zone border. What provocation is Kim Jong-un planning?

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: We are following breaking news. The manhunt is on for the terrorist behind today's heinous attack on a mosque in Egypt's north Sinai region. The terrorists set off explosions inside the mosque during Friday prayers. Then after survivors streamed outside, gunmen opened fire on the crowd and arriving ambulances. At least 325 -- or 235 people are dead. Another 109 are wounded.

President Trump talking with Egypt's president today, calling the attack "horrible and cowardly." Even though it's completely unrelated to the situation along the U.S. border with Mexico, the president used the terror attack in Egypt to once again demand a border wall and enactment of his administration's travel ban, which does not include Egypt but is bogged down in the courts. Also new tonight, an intriguing new development in the Russia meddling

investigation. A source tells CNN former national security advisor Michael Flynn's lawyers no longer are sharing information with President Trump's legal team. The source adds it could be an indication Flynn is preparing to plead guilty and cooperate in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

We're also following a new round of name-calling by Kim Jong-un's regime, which insists North Koreans are afire with anti-U.S. feelings. This comes as North Korea's military is making it harder for would-be defectors to repeat a desperate soldier's successful soldier's dash across the border into South Korea.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee, is standing by to take our questions. And our CNN correspondents, analysts and specialists, they have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the shocking and bloody attack that now ranks as Egypt's deadliest terror attack. President Trump just spoke with Egypt's president, offering condolences and promising the U.S. will continue to stand with Egypt in the face of terrorism.

CNN's Ian Lee is monitoring the situation. Ian, is there a claim of responsibility yet?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, so far no one has claimed responsibility, but this bears all the hallmarks of an ISIS attack, especially where it happened in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

Now, Egypt's military and air force combing the desert right now, looking for the culprits behind this attack. Now, what we know is that it happened around midday, when worshippers were going to the mosque to pray. Two explosions were set off and the worshippers fled the mosque. That's when the militants opened fire on them. After killing the people outside the mosque, they went inside the mosque and executed more people there.

Ambulances trying to get to the scene were also ambushed, and they had to wait until security forces were able to get there to secure the area. 235 people are killed, over 100 people are injured. No one is claiming responsibility but a lot of people believing that this is a terrorist attack.

And President Abdel el-Sisi said he would use brute force going after them. But he also warned and cautioned earlier in the month saying with the ISIS defeat in Syria and Iraq that there is real concern in Egypt that ISIS terrorists could try to make their way to Egypt and other parts where ISIS still operates, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Ian Lee, thank you very much for that.

President Trump this afternoon phoned Egypt's leader to offer condolences to the victims of today's terror attack. After a round of golf, the president sent a tweet using today's mosque attack to bring up two of his favorite issues, the wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and his administration's travel ban.

[17:05:05] CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Florida. Jeff, what else is on the president's mind?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Jim.

That call with the president of Egypt happened just a short time ago. Indeed, that was the third world leader the president has spoken to since he has been here on his working vacation, but the White House has made it clear it is a working vacation. Today we saw both: some work and some play out on that golf course.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President?

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump hitting the links today with two of the biggest names in golf: Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson. The White House rarely confirms when the president is golfing, but he made the announcement himself on Twitter, saying he would be heading over to Trump national golf club Jupiter to play golf quickly. He departed after more than four hours at the course.

His visit marking the 80th day he's spent at one of his golf properties since taking office and his 100th day at a Trump-branded property. Many Americans and more than a few presidents play golf. It's only notable because of what Mr. Trump repeatedly said before winning the presidency.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I win, I may never see my property -- I may never see these pieces again, because I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf, believe me.

ZELENY: The president also talking by phone today with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the conflict in Syria. The Turkish foreign minister said Mr. Trump pledged to stop arming a Kurdish militia, the YPG, that the government considers a terrorist organization.

The president also condemning the attack today in Egypt, killing more than 230 people and wounding more than 100 others in the deadliest terror strike on Egyptian soil. He called the president of Egypt to discuss the attack, which he also seized upon to push his immigration agenda, tweeting, "We have to get tougher and smarter than ever before. And we will. Need the wall. Need the ban. God bless the people of Egypt."

The president is also turning his attention to the tax plan up for a vote next week in the Senate. He offered a preview during a Thanksgiving day call from Mar-a-Lago with American service members around the world.

TRUMP: Now we're working on tax cuts. Big, fat, beautiful tax cuts. And hopefully we'll get that, and then you're really going to see things happen. ZELENY: The president is set to meet with congressional leaders at

the White House and attend a weekly lunch of Senate Republicans on Tuesday. The Senate Republicans still don't have the votes to pass the sweeping tax overhaul amid concerns of the bill's effect on the deficit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress is talking about tax cuts that will add trillions to our national debt and hurt our economy.

ZELENY: Senator Ron Johnson has announced his opposition, with senators Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and Lisa Murkowski all voicing concerns. Senator Rand Paul will likely support the plan with Senator John McCain as a wild card.

As America marked Black Friday, the president's campaign joined in on the annual day after Thanksgiving shopping rush, with Trump merchandise marked down 30 percent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now there is no word if the president did any shopping today, Jim. Between those calls with world leaders and spending about four or so hours on the golf course, probably not time for that. But he is here for a couple more days, of course looking forward to all of the challenges left in Washington for him in the month of December. That tax plan front and center in that. That's why the president is going to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. But before then, Jim, time for at least a couple more rounds of golf here in sunny Florida.

ACOSTA: That would be par for the course, Jeff Zeleny. Thank you very much.

Now to the intriguing developments in the Russia investigation. In the 2016 election. A source tells CNN attorneys for former national security adviser Michael Flynn no longer cooperating with President Trump's legal team. That could be a prelude to Flynn making a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Let's get the latest from CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, what are are your sources telling you tonight?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, yes, Jim, you know, based on some conversations we've had with sources, it appears that there are ongoing talks between Flynn's camp and Special Counsel Bob Mueller.

There are several things that this could mean. They could be negotiating a plea deal in which Michael Flynn would agree to plead guilty to what the government says he did wrong, and as a result, he wants to distance himself, Michael Flynn that is, from the president's team so that he doesn't do anything to jeopardize the plea deal. That's one possibility.

Another even more significant explanation could be that Flynn is trying to work out an agreement to cooperate with Mueller's investigators. In either case, Flynn would want to cut off information sharing with the president's team.

But there is also this chance that Flynn is preparing to fight any potential charges and believes it's no longer beneficial to work with the president's lawyers.

Now, the president's lawyer Jay Sekulow reacted to this news, issuing a statement. Let me read that to you. And he said, basically, that no one should draw the conclusion that this means anything about General Flynn cooperating against the president.

Now, Jim, whether he is cooperating or pleading guilty, keep in mind, this is a significant change in the defense strategy, and clearly something has happened that now his attorneys, Michael Flynn's attorneys, feel they should no longer communicate with the president's attorneys.

[17:10:16] ACOSTA: Could potentially be a very big development. Shimon, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

With us now is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee -- Committees.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us tonight. What is your read on Michael Flynn's legal team cutting ties with President Trump's lawyers? Could this be a pretty significant development, meaning that potentially something may be happening soon with respect to Michael Flynn and that investigation?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: This development could be very, very significant. We have no inside information as to exactly what's happening, but the point is that there are potentially very, very important talks underway between the Flynn legal team and the special counsel. And Flynn would have to convince the special counsel that he's going to be fully cooperative and candid. And Flynn would have to be satisfied that the deal is worth his cooperating, if, in fact, there is going to be some agreement.

But, remember, Michael Flynn is one of the very key people here. It was his firing that was involved in my call for a special counsel in the first place. I was joined by ten of my colleagues. And his potential false statements to the FBI are the reason why Sally Yates, then acting attorney general, thought he was a threat to our national security and told the president that he ought to be fired.

He has very close knowledge of the Comey firing and perhaps, likely, the president's state of mind when he did that firing.

ACOSTA: And you were an attorney general, Senator. What could that potentially mean, though, do you think at this stage? If these lawyers are no longer talking with one another, has it been your experience in the past that that is essentially what is happening? That -- that this side, that Flynn's legal team is now cooperating with the special counsel's office, that they're in communication with the special counsel's office? Would there we other circumstances where that would not be the case? BLUMENTHAL: What it means at the very least is that, in all

likelihood, Flynn is exploring cooperation with the special counsel. And not only he but also his son, who also has highly significant exposure.

Remember, Michael Flynn sought immunity from our congressional committees in order to cooperate. So he senses and understands his legal exposure here, and the Comey firing occurred after Jim Comey refused to, in effect, end the investigation of Flynn. The president asked him to do it. He refused and not long after Comey was fired in a possible obstruction of justice.

So this cooperation could well reach into the White House for the first time. No one else -- Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos -- have been involved in the White House and potentially the obstruction of justice charge.

So as a former attorney general, I think that this news and these reports have all the makings of a major development. Difficult to know at this point where it leads.

ACOSTA: And is there enough evidence at this point to indict Michael Flynn, based on what you've seen so far?

BLUMENTHAL: Based on what I've seen, Michael Flynn is in deep trouble. And what we don't know is the additional charges. What we've seen is potential perjury. That is, lies to the FBI. Five days after the inaugural when he was interviewed by FBI agents and denied contacts with the Russians that reflect on collusion, he denied them, and then he denied also to Vice President Pence, which was the reason that Sally Yates thought he was so compromised, and also his failure to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Possible tax, criminal violations in connection with his payments from the Turkish government and the Russians.

So there are a series of potential charges here, and I think that he faces some serious exposure.

ACOSTA: And Flynn may be worried about his son's legal exposure, as well. This morning, Senator, Michael Flynn Jr. tweeted this gif of the comedian Tracy Morgan with the words "everybody calm down."

Do you have reason to believe that Flynn Jr. might be in legal jeopardy, as well?

BLUMENTHAL: Michael Flynn Jr. was a very significant employee of the consulting firm that his father formed. General Flynn formed a consulting form and appointed his son as, in effect, chief of staff. So violations by the consulting firm could be well chargeable to him.

[17:15:06] ACOSTA: And White House communications director Hope Hicks, despite being the communications director, you don't see or hear her very much, but she's a big player inside the White House. She is slated to meet with Mueller's team, as well. What does that tell you at this point about where the special counsel's investigation is going, would you say? BLUMENTHAL: Behind all of the noise and the public statements, there

is the inexorable momentum of the special counsel. And that momentum and impetus are clearly gaining ground here.

With the Papadopoulos conviction, the Manafort and Gates indictments, clearly the special counsel is moving forward now with interviews in the White House staff. They have to be looking at each other and asking who has talked to whom and the interview with Hope Hicks indicates a level of seriousness and severity here that I think is pretty impressive at this point.

ACOSTA: And, Senator, Michael Flynn met with the Russian ambassador, the former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year along with Jared Kushner. Is it possible that Flynn could expose Kushner to legal trouble by cooperating with Mueller? I suppose the tentacles can go in all sorts of directions here.

BLUMENTHAL: That's a really good question and the answer I think is yes. Because Michael Flynn was part of the White House staff, not just a campaign operative or official, for a very short but significant amount of time. He was a key member of the White House staff. He was to be the cornerstone of the Trump foreign policy, and Jared Kushner was involved in that foreign policy.

So whatever conversations there may have been about Comey's firing or about other issues related to obstruction of justice or collusion with the Russians, again, we're doing some educated guess work here without the benefit of what Robert Mueller knows, but it could be very significant.

ACOSTA: OK, Senator, stand by. We have more to talk about, as well as the sexual harassment allegations that are unfolding up on Capitol Hill. We'll talk about that after a quick break. We'll be right back. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:40] ACOSTA: And we're back with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Armed Services And Judiciary Committees.

Senator, let's turn to the sexual harassment turmoil up on Capitol Hill. As you're probably aware, Senator Al Franken issued an apology yesterday on Thanksgiving after more groping allegations came to light. We can put this up on screen. I'll read it to you.

It says, "I've met tens of thousands and people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I'm a warm person. I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of these encounters I crossed a line for some women, and I know that any number is too many. Some women found my greetings or embraces for a hug or a photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that."

Does that feel like enough to you, Senator? BLUMENTHAL: An apology is welcome and important, but far from enough.

There should be and there is ongoing now an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

And so we need to recognize that any harassment and assault are repugnant and abhorrent and need to be addressed seriously by more than just an apology, and that's what the Senate will be doing.

ACOSTA: And you know Senator Franken. You've served with him. I'm sure this is somewhat of an uncomfortable subject. But what do you think should happen to him? Should he resign?

BLUMENTHAL: That's the question that will have to be determined after the investigation. Obviously, more than just an apology. Some remedy and probably a serious remedy is appropriate here. And that serious remedy will be determined after the investigation comes to all the facts. And what we've seen so far is certainly deeply troubling, and any sexual harassment is abhorrent. What's happened here is deeply disturbing.

ACOSTA: And what about that apology? "I'm a warm person. I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of these encounters I crossed a line."

It doesn't sound as if he's embracing what he has done, that he's coming to terms with what he's done. "I'm a warm person. I hug people." I mean, there's a difference between being a warm person and hugging people, and touching them inappropriately.

BLUMENTHAL: And that's crossing the line. And Senator Franken has to acknowledge, in what he tells the Senate Ethics Committee and what he tells the people of Minnesota and the nation, that in fact, he crossed the line, and that some remedy is appropriate here.

ACOSTA: And senator, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, she says she doesn't believe the House Ethics Committee is equipped to investigate sexual harassment allegations against Congressman John Conyers. Can the Senate Ethics Committee do any better?

And what about this notion that we're hearing from several lawmakers that the system up on Capitol Hill is really designed to protect the lawmakers who are caught doing this sort of thing, as opposed to protecting the victims?

BLUMENTHAL: That's a key question, Jim, and a very appropriate one. The present system really has to be changed. And one way it should be changed is to avoid nondisclosure agreements when they are forced on women who agree to settlements. This situation in many respects was allowed to go unchecked because of the secrecy surrounding it, not only in Congress but elsewhere in other arenas.

[17:25:13] And remember that this kind of sexual harassment and sometimes assault has reason found to be prevalent in other industries such as entertainment and business. So the system itself has to be very, very thoroughly scrutinized in Congress and elsewhere.

ACOSTA: OK. Something we can all agree on. Senator Richard Blumenthal, thank you very much for that. We appreciate it.

Coming up, the political and legal questions being raised now that Michael Flynn's legal team has cut off communications with President Trump's attorneys.

And later, North Korea's military changes the landscape along its border with South Korea. Will it prevent more of Kim Jong-un's soldiers from attempting to dash to freedom?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: We're following a tantalizing new clue in the Russia meddling investigation. A source tells CNN former national security adviser Michael Flynn's lawyers have stopped sharing information with President Trump's legal team. The source says it may be an indication Flynn now is cooperating in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

[17:30:50] Let's bring in our political and legal specialists. And Susan Hennessey, I'll go to you first. What does this mean, do you think?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY & LEGAL ANALYST: It's not uncommon in these kinds of investigations for the various defendants to sort of have a joint defense agreement, a joint information sharing agreement. They don't have much information about what the government is up to, and so they're trying to put the pieces together.

Now, you can't ethically continue in those agreements if you're sort of an inside man for the government. So once you're -- once you're actually cooperating with the government, you have to notify the other parties that you're not going to be information sharing. So that's one reason why people say, "OK, he's made this notification. Surely, he's cooperating."

That's not the only explanation, right? So we've seen lots and lots of leaks coming out of these cases. Those probably aren't coming from Mueller's team. A lot of them have been damaging or embarrassing to General Flynn and his son. So it's also possible that Flynn's attorneys just decided, "Hey, it's not worth it to us to be sharing sensitive information about our clients with your team if we don't think it can be kept safe." So one reason --

ACOSTA: Could be pulling back because of a pending indictment, as well? That could -- something --

HENNESSEY: There's a number of different explanations.

ACOSTA: Yes.

HENNESSEY: I think that sort of this idea that he's cooperating is the most likely at this point, especially considering the time. You know, there's been multiple reports including on CNN that Mueller's team has enough to indict both General Flynn and his son.

So that time delay could be explained by this, but it isn't the only explanation. So you certainly can't be sure what's going on.

ACOSTA: And Jackie Kucinich, if Flynn is indicted, we would cross a pretty important threshold, in that this would move into the White House. You would have a former administration official indicted. How significant is that?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not only an official. The former national security adviser. Someone who the president actually -- Flynn initially didn't want to come into the White House, according to reporting. He wanted to stay in the private sector. Trump brought him in, because he trusted him so much, because he felt so close to him.

He was an early signer -- he was early in on the campaign, an early adviser to the president. So this is someone close to Trump. It's not -- I mean, even Manafort who, you know, was part of the campaign, despite what the White House may want to brush under the rug. This is someone they can't explain away.

ACOSTA: And Chris Cillizza, he also led the chants of "lock her up" during the campaign.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: During the campaign -- Jackie makes this point -- he was an early adopter of Trump and Trumpism. And he was the most prominent sort of introducer of Donald Trump. They clearly had a personal rapport.

I'm fascinated by Susan's sort of analysis of what this all could mean. Obviously, if there is cooperation, then it feels like, well, if he's cooperating theoretically then Mueller thinks that there's someone higher up in that orbit to whom Flynn -- because Flynn is pretty high up. I mean, Mueller can just indict Flynn, if he had that ability.

If he is cooperating, that may mean that there are other pieces still to fall, which, again, Mike Flynn is not a low-level apparatchik in this organization.

KUCINICH: He's not the coffee boy?

CILLIZZA: No. Nor can he be dismissed as such. I mean, it's very clear from his title and his role in the campaign, This is a guy who was close to Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: And Ron Brownstein, I guess when the White House responds to whatever happens to Michael Flynn, one of the persons who would be involved in crafting that response would be Hope Hicks, the communications director, who is set to meet with the Mueller team, as well. So this is getting much more complicated for this White House.

BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right. And certainly, placing the investigation as we have seen in several fronts in the last few weeks squarely inside the White House.

[17:34:20] You know, all of these developments just underscore the sense in my mind that how different a criminal investigation is than what we usually are watching and handicapping. How different it is in a campaign or a legislative fight, because simply the special counsel, the one thing we know is that the special counsel knows a lot of things that we don't know. There are a lot of known unknowns.

ACOSTA: Like George Papadopoulos.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, exactly. exactly. And rarely do you have everyone in Washington as surprised as they were on that day. And this just seems to be an investigation with a lot of energy and momentum on a lot of fronts. To Chris' point, this is a pretty big fish and if you are thinking about, you know, flipping general Flynn, obviously there are even bigger targets in mind. So I think that, you know, it's harder to handicap this than say the tax bill because so much is happening that we don't see, but I think the expectation, you know.

I think that the special counsel has established a kind of expectation that they know a lot that we don't know and they probably know a lot that even many of the players don't know. And that increases pressure on them to kind of make their deals, because they don't know what kind of deals he's negotiating with someone else and; they don't know exactly what -- all of what he knows.

ACOSTA: Yes, and Susan Hennessey, I'm intrigued by Hope Hicks and what she will bring to this investigation, because you rarely see her. You don't hear from her very much. It's not like she comes into the briefing room or goes on THE SITUATION ROOM.

CILLIZZA: And yet, as the White House communications director, has been in the inner circle of Trump for -- since he's been a candidate.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

And she is extremely close to President Trump. I mean, that we know for sure. What does that mean for this investigation? Does this move the investigation closer to the president?

HENNESSEY: Right. So one thing we've seen is sort of this tightening, this getting closer and closer to the president's inner circle. Also recent reports that Mueller's team is preparing to interview current White House officials, right? That's a relatively significant and sensitive step. Whenever we think about sort of the possibility of cooperation or the possibility of having interviews, you have to think about what is in these people's heads.

So just think about General Flynn. He knows not only the content of his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which was sort of the thing that started off a lot of these inquiries. He knows somebody directed him, what he said, why he said it. Whatever you think about an obstruction investigation.

So Flynn might know what representations were made to him. People like Hope Hicks, Stephen Miller, they're going to know what the president said about what he was thinking.

In an investigation where that mental state is the most important piece, not just what the president did, but why he did it, having high-level cooperators is critical in making that case.

Everybody, stand by. The White House in the bunker on this Russia investigation. A very different bunker. We'll be talking about how he was tweeting earlier today. It was only a quick round of golf.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:47] ACOSTA: All right. We're book with our political and legal specialists.

And guys, the president played some golf today. That's not really a headline. But what was a headline is that the president acknowledged this. And look at this video right here.

That's not me yelling "Mr. President." That's somebody there on the golf course. But this is some Instagram video that came in.

And what was interesting about this, the president tweeted he was doing this quickly -- we put this quickly onscreen: "After Turkey call" -- I guess meaning his call with President Erdogan of Turkey -- "I will be heading over to Trump National Golf Club, Jupiter, to play golf quickly with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson. Then back to Mar-a- Lago for talks on bringing even more jobs and companies back to the U.S.

Chris Cillizza, help us --

CILLIZZA: Terrific use of the parenthetical there by Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: Kind of a mulligan, you might say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, God.

CILLIZZA: I see what you did there. We didn't even set that up.

ACOSTA: Sorry. Bad.

CILLIZZA: He -- he made this a big issue. Let's just say the -- being president is a very stressful job. If he would like to go play golf to relieve, fine. But you cannot attack Barack Obama for how much he played golf and then promise repeatedly on the campaign trail you would be too busy to play golf and would only play golf with other world leaders to get business done.

ACOSTA: Right.

CILLIZZA: And then play golf at a much higher rate than President Obama.

And although -- and I know you know this, Jim -- one of the most frustrating things for me is, with very few exceptions, today being one, they never acknowledge he's playing golf.

ACOSTA: No.

CILLIZZA: He goes to Trump National, which FYI, is a golf club. He's gone --

ACOSTA: We have to send our --

CILLIZZA: He's gone for five hours --

ACOSTA: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- which is about the time to takes you to play a game of golf.

ACOSTA: We have to send our cameras around the course to take pictures of the president.

CILLIZZA: Instagram video comes out of him playing golf, and they still don't acknowledge it, which is just (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ACOSTA: You mentioned some of that sound. Let's play it real quick, the president talking about how he -- how he likes to play golf, but not as much as Obama, though.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not going to have time to go play golf. Believe me.

I love golf. I think it's one of the greats, but I don't have time. Two hundred and fifty rounds. That's more than a guy who plays on the PGA tour plays.

Obama ought to get off the golf course and get down there.

Everything is executive order, because he doesn't have enough time, because he's playing so much golf. He doesn't have enough time to convince Congress to do it.

So I have the greatest staff, but you know what? And I love golf, but if I were in the White House, I don't think I'd ever see Turnberry again. I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: All right. And Ron Brownstein, we should point out so far he is outpacing Barack Obama when it comes to trips to the golf course as president. What do you make of this?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes. Well --

ACOSTA: Do people actually care about this, Trump voters and so on?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think -- I don't think so on that front. I mean, look, as Chris said, it is a stressful job; and people, generally speaking, in both parties, you know, they criticize the president when they go on vacation. And I don't think it usually resonates very much. Although in this case you have the hypocrisy element which does reinforce the doubts that voters who don't like Trump have.

I want to look at this from a slightly different angle. Once again, I think we have seen that the president has shown the ability to dominate the news cycle with Twitter. He can kind of move the media toward talking about whatever usually kind of personal attack that he's delivering on Twitter.

But what he hasn't shown the ability to do is to move public opinion on the key elements of the Republican agenda. And I am struck, you know, by the time of the end of the health care bill, it faced three to one, roughly, opposition in public opinion.

ACOSTA: Ron is --

[17:45:07] BROWNSTEIN: The Senate is -- the Senate is getting ready to vote on a -- on a tax bill that is now a two to one and the president is tweeting about golf and LaVar Ball. And his ability to create --

ACOSTA: You've -- you provided us the perfect segue, Ron, because just in the last two minutes the president has tweeted, and we'll put this up on screen in terms of shaping the narrative. Here we go. Time Magazine called and say that I was probably going to be named Man/Person of the Year like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said, probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway.

BROWNSTEIN: Nailed it.

ACOSTA: Jackie Kucinich, I suppose in this case if he were named Man of the Year he would have an actual Time Magazine photo to put up on the wall.

KUCINICH: And that would be priceless, but, you know, he took a pass. It's an honor, you know, you don't have to be nominated. It's just -- it's another -- it's enough -- it's one of these things that he wants but he won't say that he wants but he needs that validation, and so I guess he's not going to get it he's --

CILLIZZA: And by the way of --

KUCINICH: Well, he's going to say he doesn't want it.

CILLIZZA: This is not -- this is not new like he has been fixated on being Man of the Year long before he thought about running for president. He has been -- in his mind snubbed repeatedly and they've given it to other people, so this is not a new thing that he's interested in.

BROWNSTEIN: But -- just like -- but and just to go back real quick, can I jump back in? I mean this is sort of the way he has communicated with the public is a kind of endless story about him, about who he is fighting with, who he is feuding with, who is disrespecting him, what he is accomplishing, as he did on Thanksgiving. As I said, what he hasn't been able to do is convince the public of his agenda, the agenda that Republicans are pushing will make their lives better, and that can ultimately cost them in 2018 whatever, he -- however much he dominates in his syllables on Twitter.

ACOSTA: I -- it is sort of like, if the year's fireside chats if only the fireside chats were about himself.

KUCINICH: Or the -- or the Rodney Dangerfield presidency.

ACOSTA: Yes, exactly. All right. Thank you, guys. Coming up, a new round of anti-U.S. name-calling by Kim Jong-un's regime as North Korea's military tries to prevent more of its soldiers from escaping their freedom across the border.

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[17:52:01] ACOSTA: North Korea isn't done fuming over President Trump's decision to put it back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. A new blast from Kim Jong-un's state-run media proclaims, North Koreans are, "A fire with anti-U.S. feelings". At the same time, North Korea's military is taking action to prevent any more soldiers from defecting. CNN's Brian Todd is here. They haven't built a wall, Brian, but they have made it harder to cross the border, didn't they?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They did, Jim. By digging a large trench and by making examples out of the North Korean troops who failed to kill or capture that defector. Tonight, there is considerable fallout from this escape inside Kim Jong-un's regime, as the dictator and his generals seek to punish those who allowed that young soldier to make the dramatic scramble across the border. They were just a few feet behind him. They fired more than 40 bullets but failed to kill or capture him. And tonight, the North Korean soldiers who couldn't keep their comrade from pulling off a dramatic escape last week are facing the fallout. A South Korean lawmaker tells CNN nearly all the North Korean soldiers present along the border that day have been replaced. Human Right's observer say, being replaced could be the least of their worries. What's their most likely fate?

GREG SCARLATOIU, COMMITTEE, HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: They will be investigated by the military security command, possibly by the state security department as well which is the North Korean Gestapo. It is very likely that torture will be involved in the pretrial investigation if there is going to be a trial. It's most likely that they will be charged with treason.

TODD: Analysts say, the North Korean soldiers' dash across the border with every compelling sequence captured on closed-circuit footage was such a humiliation for Kim's regime that the repercussions could be felt among Kim's top generals as well.

SUE TERRY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think the fallout will go higher up to a commanding person who was not able to stop this from happening because this is very high profile defection. It's very embarrassing for the Kim regime. I mean even just all those tapeworms coming out of this ultra-spotty, all of this is very embarrassing to the regime.

TODD: Experts say the commanders of these units could be sent to labor camps, could be demoted, or sent for re-education. Another measure the regime is taking to prevent this from happening again, North Korean workers were seen digging a trench at the spot where the soldier made a run for it. Meantime, the South Korean soldiers who risk gunfire to crawl to the North Korea and dragged him to safety have been given medals for their bravery. The 24-year-old at the center of all of this is now off life-support. His doctors say, he's out of the ICU, but still suffering psychological trauma.

LEE COOK-JONG, SOUTH KOREAN SURGEON: Last night, he had a dream that he was kidnapped to North Korea again.

TODD: Dr. Lee Cook-Jong says, he had to reassure the young man that he's safe. But PTSD is very not likely not this defector's only concern. Human rights monitor say the North Korean regime will probably go after his family back home.

[17:55:00] They could be arrested, tortured, and possibly even executed. They say this regime has been known to sometimes wipe out up to three generations of a defector's family. So we'll be watching for that, Jim, to see if his family has repercussions, they likely will.

ACOSTA: Absolutely, very disturbing. Brian Todd, thank you very much. Coming up, More on the breaking news. President Trump phoning Egypt's leader this afternoon after terrorist attack on Mosque killing at least 235 people.

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[18:00:06] ACOSTA: Happening now. Terrorist assault, hundreds of people killed in a coordinated attack on a mosque.