Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Responding to the Nuclear Threat from North Korea; Firm Behind Russia Dossier Fires Back at Trump; Nuclear Standoff; Iran Protests; Briefly Banned on Twitter; The Trump Presidency; Russia Investigation. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:30] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, and welcome to a special prime time edition of The Lead, I'm Jake Tapper. We're going to begin with breaking news. President Trump this evening responding to the nuclear threat from North Korea in a way that the world is frankly never before heard from an American President.

President Trump apparently recently had been told that in his annual televised New Year's message, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said, quote, "the entire mainland of the U.S. is within range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office" unquote. And that's a questionable claim in terms of North Korea's actual nuclear capabilities.

But regardless, President Trump took to Twitter this evening, writing, quote, "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times, will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a nuclear button but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my button works" unquote.

The bellicose back and forth comes as a former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff's warning that the quote, " closer to a nuclear war with North Korea than ever before. Adding that he did not quote, "see the opportunity solve this diplomatically at this particular point.

President Ronald Reagan once said a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. President Kennedy said every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.

The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us. And President Trump this evening, he is in a back and forth with Kim Jong- un about whose nuclear button is bigger and whose is more powerful.

And maybe difficult for some of you at home to wrap your minds around the U.S. President who makes statements like this about the use of nuclear weapons which would of course murder millions of people. This warning to North Korea was followed by another warning by the President. This one to journalists in the U.S. tweeted the President, quote, "I will be announcing the most dishonest and corrupt media awards of the year on Monday at 5 o'clock. Subjects will cover dishonesty and bad reporting in various categories from the fake news media, stay tuned.

This is the President of the United States issuing a threat to use nuclear weapons and then turning around and glibly chastising the media. These tweets coming on the same day that President Trump also suggested that a former Hillary Clinton aide who has been charged with no crime should be jailed.

And said the former FBI Director who was in a witness -- who is a witness in the investigation into the Trump campaign should be investigated himself. And also said, that his own justice department is part of a conspiracy known as the quote, "deep state."

None of this normal, none of this acceptable, none of this frankly stable behavior. But let's begin with the back and forth on the nuclear war issue and bringing in CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim ,explain what is the significance of this message from the President? Are we overstating how high the stakes are here when one uses language like this?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just break down what the facts are. This is the leader of a nuclear arm state, America. It's a fact, we have been for many years threatening the leader of another nuclear arms state or a state that we believe U.S. intelligence assesses very soon will be or may very may well today be a nuclear arm state.

They certainly had the weapon. Whether they can get the weapon to the U.S., something of a question but they're getting closer. That's significant under any circumstances to the point where I had one Democratic Congressman send me a note this evening and say this President wants this war.

It's a remarkable thing to say. And if you think that's just coming, that concern is just coming from Democrats, look at the public comments from Senator Lindsey Graham.

Of course the Republican who has repeated I think on your broadcast as well, the comment that this president, he put -- I think with the rating at 30% chance that there would be a nuclear war under this President.

That's a remarkable thing for a Republican to say about a Republican President. There are no stakes higher than a nuclear conflict. And there are times where the President's words and tweets go beyond his actual actions, no questions, just may very well be one of those times.

There are also time where you'll hear people at National Security agency, et cetera say, well there's always Mattis, there's McMaster, there are people holding him back. That's all true until it's not true anymore.

The President has a lot of power and the fact is the way our system is, it is the President who has the power by himself to order such action, and there are some who believe that the President at a minimum is considering.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. And you'll be back on CNN at 11:00 p.m. Eastern in a CNN Special Report Trump, One Year Later. My National Security panel joins me now.

[22:05:01] We have with us Laura Rosenberger, she's a former Director for China and Korea at the National Security Council. Kelly Magsamen, a former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. And retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, former Pentagon Press Secretary and State Department Spokesman.

Adm. Kirby, I'll start with you. What's your response to the President's language and having served in the Pentagon and the State Department, what might people in those buildings be thinking tonight?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yeah, deeply troubling. I think we called it -- juvenile would be an insult to children for what he did tonight. And I do think that in the halls of the Pentagon, at the State Department, there's got to be a lot of concern over this.

Because he's the President of the United States and his tweets are going to be taken as official policy. And here's the thing, they're going to -- they're going to be misread. There's no question that they're going to lead the miscalculation and confusion over there.

All these statements that he makes whether it (ph) Twitter, they're parsed for nuance. And he doesn't have a lot of nuance in there. So I think we have to worry about how they're going to be perceived over there. And that's what, I'm sure, my colleagues, my former colleagues in the Pentagon and the State Department are worried about right now.

TAPPER: Kelly, how much more difficult does this make the job of a Secretary Mattis at the Pentagon or Secretary Tillerson at the State Department?

KELLY MAGSAMEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the Secretary is probably having a very uncomfortable evening this evening. Frankly, I was both shocked and mystified by the President's tweet, in part mystified because sort of what's the point.

I mean he's just playing into Kim Jong-un's rhetorical hands on this. At some point, I think the American people want to ask, where is this headed? What play are you trying to run? Because, I think it potentially is counter-productive.

TAPPER: And Laura, let me ask you, there is a counter argument we hear from Trump people and from some of his supporters on Capitol Hill which is, hey, look, the diplomatic language has been tried for decades and at the end of the day it didn't get Bill Clinton, George w. Bush or Barack Obama, anywhere. Why not try something new? LAURA ROSENBERGER, DIRECTOR OF ALLIANCE FOR SECURING DEMOCRACY: Yeah,

I don't think this is question about diplomatic language or not. I think this is a question of knowing, actually what your intending with your words, sending very clear signals, staying on the same page with your allies.

This comes against the backdrop of the potential of inter-Korean talks between North and South Korea following on North Korea's offer to have talks with South Korea in advance (ph) to the Olympics.

I think what we're seeing right now is Trump, as Kelly said, playing into Kim Jong-un's hands here and potentially, actually driving a further wedge between the United States and South Korea.

TAPPER: Is it possible at all that this might -- you know, this madman theory of Trump's behavior when it comes to North Korea, which is he's doing all this in a way of scaring Kim Jong-un, in a way that Barack Obama and George w. Bush who were considered too rational, would never have done, is there anything there?

KIRBY: I don't know, I don't think so, no. I mean I -- I know the logic and I get that Jake but I think look in brinkmanship the trick is know and when to blink. And we don't know how Kim Jong-un thinks.

We can't predict with any great certainty. We don't have great intelligence into how his apparatus works. The other thing that's more important than that is, his National Security team has actually done a pretty good job managing the North Korea crisis to date.

They've got stronger sanctions than ever. They've got China to step up. Yes, they can do more but they've done a lot. And every time he does something like this, he undercuts his own team.

TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN Sara Murray who is at the White House. Sara, is there any sense in the White House that this, frankly, stunning tweet was prompted by anything in particular or planned even?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to say what prompted it in this moment. Obviously, we know that Kim Jong-un has been bragging in recent days about his nuclear capability. And we know that this is a President who frankly responds to taunts with taunts.

We saw him talked about a fire and fury when it comes to North Korea previously. We've seen him referred to Kim Jong-un as little rocket man.

And let's not forget what we saw from the President on Twitter in November when he was on his Asia trip, when he said why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me old man? I would never call him short and fat. So, this is clearly a President who is not above engaging in back and forth insults with Kim Jong-un.

But it is an interesting sort of thing to watch this play out, to watch the President continue to engage in times like this, when recently we've heard Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggest that maybe talks with North Korea could be productive.

Maybe negotiations could be productive and the President seems to continue to cut him off at the knees on this. So it will be interesting to see how those folks in this administration who are in charge with the diplomacy side of this grapple with the President's latest tweet Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray at the White House for us. Thank you so much. Laura, let me ask you, so the President saying my button works as opposed to yours.

I mean as a National Security official, former National Security official, does that concern you, that Kim Jong-un's response is going to be, well you know what, mine works too and let me show you and there'll be some sort of demonstration?

[22:10:01] ROSENBERGER: I think that we absolutely should assume at this point in time that North Korea is on the verge, if not having the capability to deliver nuclear weapons to the United States.

TAPPER: In a missile?

ROSENBERGER: In a missile.

TAPPER: To the mainland United States or to Hawaii or -- I mean not that it matters?

ROSENBERGER: Yes, I mean I think for all intents and purposes we are on the brink of it or we are there. And the point being we should not be questioning and challenging this.

We need to be dealing with this in a very clear and considered manner. But threatening that our button works and his doesn't is not the way to do that.

I mean Jake this is a deadly serious issue and whether we're talking about a nuclear war or the increase risk of some kind of conventional conflict out of the miscalculation scenario that John was talking about.

I mean this is absolutely potential American lives on the line, South Korean lives on the line. This is a very, very serious matter and it's not one where we should be trying to goad Kim Jong-un into proving something.

TAPPER: Do you hear from former colleagues of yours who are still in the Trump administration about their -- without naming any of course, about their concerns about this kind of language which we've been hearing from President Trump in terms of fire and fury and the like?

Although, I have to say I've never seen a President challenge a nuclear power like I bet your nuclear device doesn't even work.

ROSENBERGER: Well let me just say that General Brooks, our Commander of U.S. Forces Korea has a hard enough job as it is. And we're getting ready to enter into a period of intensity with the Olympics coming up in February.

U.S. Military exercises restarting at the end of February and into March, so we're staring down an already very difficult period. And so this kind of rhetoric doesn't help out general Brooks on the ground or Secretary Mattis.

TAPPER: And of course there are thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and Japan. So even if the nuclear device can't reach the mainland U.S. or Hawaii, of course there are plenty of Americans, not to mention innocent North and South Koreans right there.

KIRBY: And their families and it doesn't have to go nuclear, this conflict. They've got plenty of conventional capabilities in the other side of the DMZ to wreak a lot of damage and cause a lot of casualties.

What I really don't understand about all this is that the President is actually intentionally closing down his own decision space, and the decision space of the people working for him on his team.

We still have, I believe or at least I want to believe and maybe the other panelists will disagree, I still believe we have some maneuver space for diplomacy here. But every time he does something like this, he just keeps closing it down. And he's closing down Kim Jong-un's maneuver space as well.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stay with us. We have a lot more to talk about in our breaking news in the President's shocking tweet challenging North Korea. Stay with us.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rocket man should had been handled a long time ago.

We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korean. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

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


TAPPER: Welcome back. That was just a little smattering of some of President Trump's past rhetoric on North Korea as he ratchets up the thread on Twitter this evening.

Tweeting quote, "I too have a nuclear button but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his and my button works." My National Security panel is still with me.

So President Trump is having lunch tomorrow with Vice President Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. I guess one of the questions for this President is how much are these three gentlemen able to say, that's not such a great idea? What do you think?

KIRBY: I think they absolutely should say that, and they have the wherewithal to do it. None of these individuals are afraid to speak truth to power (ph) I think that's the case. And I think, as I said, they have run a pretty good set of plays here on North Korea so far.

Given that they inherited a situation that was obviously more urgent. So, this is an opportunity for them and I hope they take it to absolutely tell him that he isn't helping their larger efforts.

TAPPER: What would you advise President Trump if you were at that lunch tomorrow?

ROSENBERGER: Well I would actually say, to Kirby's point earlier, you know, H.R. McMaster should be, as National Security Advisor working really hard to frame decisions for the President in ways to give him options, more options not fewer options.

So if I was Secretary Mattis or Secretary Tillerson or especially H.R. McMaster, his job is to make sure the President has that full range of options. And to their credit they have pursued a very, very good pressure campaign.

I think more can be done on that front. I think that's one route that H.R. could take or Secretary Tillerson could take with the President. But, I also think it's incumbent on Secretary Mattis to really speak frankly to the President about what the potential consequences of war would be with North Korea.

TAPPER: Especially as you pointed out Admiral a conventional war with North Korea, nuclear weapons off the table would also likely mean millions of people, innocent people killed?

MAGSAMEN: Absolutely Jake. And you were talking earlier about the command and control of the U.S. nuclear forces and the decision really rests with the President.

But the other side of the coin is as Kelly and John were pointing out, I mean miscalculation, Kim Jong-un misreading potentially what Trump is intending through his tweets, if he's actually intending anything I think is the real risk here.

Conventional scenarios are very much a possibility. We've seen in the past North Korea take sort of asymmetric kinds of actions against South Korea, sinking a South Korean vessel several years ago, shelling of an island.

We could see more of that potentially as North Korea is increasingly emboldened by having the potential of a nuclear deterrent. So, I think that these are all very real risks. I think as you said the consequences of even a conventional war are really, really quite serious.

TAPPER: And Adm. Kirby I think there's this kind of myth out there that President Trump could give the order to fire a nuclear weapon on North Korea and General Mattis or Secretary of Defense Mattis would disobey it or that there are too many people in the Pentagon who are good people and they wouldn't follow orders.

That's not how it works and actually it's pretty quick the process.

KIRBY: It is. It's very efficient. It's effective. It's built for that. It's been that way for decades. There are checks and balances along the way. Now, they move quickly because sometimes and obviously in a situation like this time is not going to be on your side.

But once that decision is made by the President, all the vetting by that point had been done. It may have been done quickly but it would have been done by the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint of Staff and probably General Brooks. And at that point, there's no pulling (ph) it back.

TAPPER: Is it -- again to play devil's advocate, is it not possible that the President is just trying to get Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear program and be scared enough to deal and negotiate with U.S.?

ROSENBERGER: I think if that's a strategy, he's not going to win. So what's a more effective strategy would be to do what actually they're doing which is to increase the pressure on Kim Jong-un, to work with international partners.

[22:20:03] When they passed the latest UN sanctions resolution, that was a positive step. Those are the kinds of move that the President should be undertaking right now.

TAPPER: All right, great panel, thank you so much. I want to all (ph) really, I appreciate it. We got more breaking news tonight including all the co-founders of Fusion GPS, that's the company behind that Trump dossier.

The founders are firing back at President Trump and other Republicans who are attacking the Russia investigation. What did they say? What are their really staggering charges? Stay with us.


TAPPER: And we're back with our Politics Lead breaking news and explosive new opinion piece from the founders of Fusion GPS. That's the opposition research organization that commissioned the infamous Trump dossier.

The founders say that instead of investigating the evidence they have provided on Russia influencing the election and ties that the Trump team and camp have with Russian organizations, Trump's allies are instead targeting them.

CNN's Manu Raju and Evan Perez join me now to talk about this. And Manu, this op-ed assails (ph) Congressional Republican saying that the dossier is being used to fuel a quote, " fake investigation from Republicans."

They don't believe the dossier was the actual trigger for the FBI investigation. Manu, break it down for us. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What that they're trying saying here Jake is they're defending the decision to hire Christopher Steele, that British agent, the former British agent that did put together that dossier that included allegations of Trump and Russia connections.

And when they enlisted Christopher Steele, they did not tell him who was the source behind the funding, that the Democrats were involved in any way.

They just charged him with the simple question to say find out why Trump did all this business with a state like Russia. And they said that Mr. Steele who is a noted Russian expert, went to length to investigate what happened.

[22:25:01] And he becomes so alarmed about what he found out that he went and he briefed the FBI about what happened. Now they've said this about their meeting with the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of three committees in Capitol Hill that they met with earlier last year.

They said as we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources including one inside the Trump camp.

The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign.

Now Jake what they are saying here in this op-ed is that they had urged the committees to investigate financial dealings including what they say were dubious financial dealings with Russians, raising questions that the Trump organization may even been involved with some money laundering with Russian sources.

And they said that the Congressional committees had no interest in investigating what they considered rather serious allegations. And they're defending what Christopher Steele found and saying that it raises serious questions about efforts to collaborate between Russians and the Trump campaign during the presidential election.

And Jake, also they're demanding that these committees release a transcripts of their 21 hours of interviews behind closed doors, but no sign that's going to happen just quite yet, Jake.

TAPPER: And Evan, tonight we're learning that the Trump legal team talked with the special counsel Robert Mueller's team a few days before Christmas. Do we have any idea what they discussed?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well Jake we don't know exactly what was discussed. But as we first reported, there were talks between the President's lawyers and special counsel Robert Mueller's team.

And as we reported, the meeting happened a few days before Christmas. And while there have been other meetings between the two sides, this had some importance for the President's lawyers. They wanted to get a sense of where Mueller's inquiry is going.

And more importantly, get some indication of how much longer this cloud of investigation is going to hang over the President. Even since the meeting, we have continued to see optimism from the President's lawyers that the investigation is going to end soon, even if they're no longer giving dates predicting when exactly it will end.

Now one source told us that the President's lawyers still think that Mueller will eventually clear the President. Jake, the President's lawyers looked at this as sort of doctor's check up and they were hoping for a clean bill of health for the President. It looks like what they got was more along the lines of we have more tests to do.

TAPPER: All right Evan and Manu, thank you so much. My political panel is here with me to talk about it. And Bryan, let me start with you because one of the things it's so interesting in this op-ed from the founders of Fusion GPS is that the dossier was taken so seriously.

Because, it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources including one inside the Trump camp. Now the Trump camp is not necessarily Trump campaign or the Trump organization. We don't know what it means.

Trump allies or whatever but that's fascinating that they're alleging, and I don't know the truth about this, they're alleging there was a source inside the Trump camp giving the FBI information.

BRYAN LANZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think we have to look at it under the lens of this is Democratic opposition research firm, trying to paint a negative narrative about a Republican president.

So, we looked at that filter that sort helps us understand why they're doing this and why they're painting the picture that they're trying to paint, sort of say, hey, you need to look at these records. You need to look at these things.

They're trying to pain a different narrative. Going back to who they were talking to on the campaign, whether the FBI was, I think this goes through the broader point as we now had an investigation that started in the middle of the campaign apparently.

And we're now a year and a half later and you have Senator Feinstein referred to you (ph) several times that she's seen no evidence of collusion. So now it's not a short window of this investigation, this is now an investigation is going on for over a year and a half now and there's still no signs of collusion. So what do we actually investigating at this point?

TAPPER: Go ahead.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Is it kind (ph) of collusion? Come on. And Senator Feinstein, believe me, I would guess if you asked her today, she wouldn't say -- she said that months ago.

Because, there hadn't been yet -- in the op-ed today, the guys who did the research say this, the intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign.

TAPPER: From the op-ed.

BEGALA: This is what the guys who did the research said in their op- ed. The committee has that information and yet they haven't released a transcript of the interview they did with Fusion GPS. I suspect that's why they wrote this op-ed to try to push them.

They also tell us that the only bank records that had been subpoenaed by the Congressional Republican were from Fusion GPS, the records Fusion already had.

This suggests that perhaps the investigation on the Hill by the Republicans of a Republican President is not on the level. Follow the money is what we learned in Watergate. They're not following the money on this.

TAPPER: Although, we should point out the Mueller investigation -- we should distinguish there's the Mueller investigation and then the House and Senate intelligence committees.

And the House and Senate intelligence committees, they're looking at collusion with Russia. They're not necessarily looking into possible money laundering or whatever, the other allegations that Glenn and Peter are talking about.

[22:29:56] AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And what this op-ed is about is about calling out the republicans for not following lead, the tips that these investigators have given them.

The title of the op-ed is Republicans' Fake Investigation and this idea that Glenn Simpson is some kind of Democratic operative, GPS was hired by The Washington Free Bacon, a conservative online publication, to find dirt on Trump.

But Glenn Simpson has been hired in the past to find dirt on the Clintons. You know, this guy has been around a long time and he's worked for Republicans and Democrats. And so he is gone to the committee, given them all this information saying, look at Trump's finances, look at his real estate dealings from Manhattan to Florida, go ahead and look at Paul Manafort.

And he is out there openly saying Republicans will not look into it, release the transcripts. And so he is offering a huge document dump, and his facts will be proven out or not, but we will find out at the end of the day, because there will be a majority report from the Senate and House and minority report.

And I can suspect, I will predict that the minority report will be far more interesting probably because it will contain the details from the investigators that can be corroborated and found out.


partly an exercise by this company to clear their name. They've gotten caught up in a situation that's really difficult for them. And I think all of this, especially what's been going on the Hill, it's become increasingly partisan over the last several months, is a little bit of a sideshow, that the real investigation is happening in the special counsel's hands.

It's a continuation of an investigation that if you believe this op-ed has been ongoing for quite some time, that was maybe deeper than we knew about. And if you don't believe that, we know that there was an investigation that pre-existed before the special counsel was formed, and that they took the ball and are running with it.

So, whatever is happening on the Hill, whether Republicans are launching a counter investigation or whether Democrats are actually able to do any of their own digging, it's kind of irrelevant because clearly that has devolved into a partisan sideshow and the Mueller investigation is going on.

And frankly, we probably don't know very much about what's happening there. A lot of the leaks that we've gotten so far have not come from within the Mueller camp. And so it's a little bit of a black box when it comes to where the people who are handing out indictments and what they're doing with their time.

TAPPER: Now, Bryan, you didn't know about a lot -- you worked on the campaign.

LANZA: Correct.

TAPPER: You didn't know about a lot of the things that had been reported in terms of the meeting that Don Junior had with that woman who had been build as a Russian government lawyer, you didn't know about George Papadopoulos. Isn't it possible that there were plenty of other things you didn't know about? I mean, I'm not accusing you of anything.

LANZA: I think that's always the case. You always have sort of individual people talking, individual people that can't sort of be part of that conversation. But I think where we are is, you know, if we take the FISA warrant which started in June of 2016, we're now a year and a half since that FISA warrant.

And I'm sorry, I just haven't seen any demonstrated evidence of real collusion. We see a lot of innuendo, we see a lot of smoke, but we don't see smoke --

CARPENTER: But doesn't smoke warrant an investigation?

LANZA: And that's what's taking place. The investigation is warranted. It is taking place. And what we've seen is a partisan food fight, which is what always happens when you do these types of investigations. Look at Benghazi.

You have Mueller, what he's doing. And you have some honest senators who are actually saying the truth with what they see. I respect Senator Feinstein, she's from my home state of California.

BEGALA: I respect her. She's a good senator.

LANZA: Yes. And so when she's clear, when she says, listen, I've seen this evidence for over a year and a half now that we've known this, she is part of the member of the Intelligence Committee --

BEGALA: Having been a spokesperson for her and advisor to her, be careful, but speaking for Dianne --

LANZA: I don't want to speak for my great senator. The reality is we've seen this going on for a very long time and where is this --

PHILLIP: It's worth noting though on the idea -- one of the things we hear a lot from Trump associates is that the campaign was so disorganized. No one knew what was going on. It's not possible that we could have colluded. I think that might be true that it was so disorganized, that people didn't know what was going on, but that's not proof or evidence that there is nothing there.

It just means people may not have been aware of things that someone else was doing, especially folks like Papadopoulos and others on that kind of outer band of the campaign. It was just -- you know, there are a lot of people out there who have potential, you know, problems that maybe Trump campaign folks don't know about.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We've got a lot more to talk about. We're going to have more on the stunning Trump tweet about North Korea. We're going to talk to the former secretary of defense and director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, about the president ramping up his rhetoric on North Korea and the question of could Kim Jong-un really fire back?


TAPPER: We're back with our panel on our world lead, and President Trump taking things to the next level on Twitter when it comes to North Korea, declaring moments ago that he too has a nuclear button, a bigger more powerful one that works as opposed to Kim Jong-un's nuclear button.

Earlier, I spoke with former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta. He was already concerned about things spiraling out of control.


TAPPER: Secretary Panetta, I want you to take a listen to the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.


MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We're actually closer in my view to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we've ever been, and I just don't see how -- I don't see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's a pretty grim, bleak assessment from Admiral Mullen. Do you agree with that?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY AND CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I agree with his concern about the fact that I think this is probably the tensest I've seen the relationship between the United States states and North Korea.

And that the reality of the exchange of these kinds of contemptuous comments by not only the North Korean leader but by the president of the United States regarding each other have only increased the tensions.

I still am hopeful, though, that the we can find a diplomatic way to try to engage here. I wouldn't lose hope on that because I think the alternatives, frankly, are unacceptable.

TAPPER: In a new year's day address, Kim Jong-un said that he had a nuclear button in his office that could fire intercontinental ballistic missiles at the mainland U.S. Do you think that's bluster or do you think he actually has the capability at this point?

PANETTA: I don't think there's any question that it's largely bluster. He's been saying those things for the long time, but the reality is that he really doesn't have the capability to immediately launch any kind of ICBM. They're still working on that. They are making progress on it.

[22:40:00] but they are still a long way from achieving what their goal is to achieve, which is that capability. So I think right now it is bluster.

But at the same time, you know, if there is the possibility that we could at least begin a dialogue between South Korea and North Korea with regard to the Olympics and how North Korea and South Korea can basically come together to allow those games to be played successfully, I thin that would be an opportunity to at least begin the kind of dialogue that has to begin.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about the last time there were mass protests in Iran in 2009 when you were in the Obama administration. Do you think the Obama administration dropped the ball by not more aggressively standing with the protesters whether on its own or in Congress with our European allies and others?

PANETTA: Well, I remember that movement. It was a much larger protest than what we're having today. It was based on the Green Party and what happened in the election then. I do think that was an appropriate time for the United States to have sent a clearer message that we stand by those who try to represent the rights of people.

That's what the United States is all about. And it would have been important to have sent that message at the time.

TAPPER: Secretary Panetta, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

PANETTA: Good to be with you.


TAPPER: Coming up, a former man of the law and a passionate Trump supporter temporarily suspended from Twitter after telling followers to make the media taste its own blood. That's next.


TAPPER: Tonight, former Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., the outspoken Trump supporter, has his Twitter privileges back after he was temporarily blocked for posting messages that seemed to call for violence against the media.

Here is a screen grab of one of the three tweets he was forced to delete in which Clarke wrote, quote, when lying lib media makes up fake news to smear me, the antidote is to go right at them. Punch them in the nose and make them taste their own blood. That's in all caps. Nothing gets a bully like lying lib media's attention better than to give them a taste of their own blood. Hashtag, never back down.

And I'm glad he had the hashtag in there because it seems kind of -- he was mincing words there for a second. Should note the meme. President Trump's face on a wrestler holding CNN's body as Clarke, also a wrestler, kicking CNN in the face. Ouch.

A tweet somewhat reminiscent of one from President Trump which was actually a video meme showing himself slamming the CNN logo to the ground and giving CNN a full beat down.

Now, Twitter's rule page states you cannot make specific threat of violence or wish for serious physical harm against individuals or groups. The company told one user who complained about Clarke's tweet, that it did violate its rules, and Twitter locked Sheriff Clarke's account, putting him in "read only" mode until he deleted three tweets.

Note, despite the uproar last summer, Twitter did not lock President Trump's account. But back to Clarke, Clarke did not respond to CNN's request for comments on the story, but he did seem to tweet about this whole episode writing on Twitter in part, I know I'm winning. Some snowflake lib made a complaint to Twitter.

I'm back with the panel. As I said, he makes President Trump's tweets look like Walt Whitman. I mean, blind lib media, it's quite a thing.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, it's a whole sideshow.


PHILLIP: I mean, I think what's also really interesting about what he is so upset about are reports that are completely factual, including reports that he had plagiarized some things, which no one has ever said was untrue. TAPPER: No, the (INAUDIBLE).

PHILLIP: And also some more serious reports we should add about the conditions in his jail. I mean, these are the reports that he is upset about. And I think one of the interesting things about social media these days is that you get rewarded for being as outlandish as possible.

And Sheriff Clarke is clearly seeking to reap the rewards of saying the most ridiculous things on social media and getting as many re- tweets as he can before he has to take it down.

TAPPER: We should note, I mean, all of us here have had nasty things written about us on social media or even in regular media. And it's frustrating, absolutely, but I don't think -- I can't remember you, Amanda, ever saying that if anybody who wrote that story ever appears that you should punch them in the face until they bleed or whatever it was.

CARPENTER: Before the break, you had Leon Panetta, and he was talking about how he hoped that President Trump was engaging in bluster in his tweets about North Korea and nuclear war. Sheriff Clarke, this is bluster. He doesn't really care about that. But there's a lot of bluster that comes from the Trump universe.

And forgive me for being a little but hung up on nuclear war. Donald Trump, people say it's just talk. It is just talk until one day it's not. And when I see a tweet like that, I hear it come on the news, I mean, my heart drops when I hear the words nuclear war, bombs. My palms get sweaty.

I cannot imagine what people who live in countries where we dropped bombs actually hear when they hear the president do that. And so, you know, talk is fun, bluster is fun.

There's a big difference between Sheriff Clarke does it, he gets Twitter time out, and the president, but there's a lot of Sheriff Clarkes who will follow Trump wherever he goes and along with whatever he tweets, and that's worrisome.

TAPPER: One other thing President Trump tweeted today, he said that Huma Abedin should be investigated. He even suggested that possibly jailed for -- there was a freedom of information act requested showed that she had forwarded her passwords to her Yahoo! account and we know years later that Yahoo was hacked. He was basically suggesting that she be investigated because she committed a crime.

BEGALA: Right. And this is the guy who as president took known Russian official, but many people believe he was a spy, Kislyak, the ambassador, as well as Lavrov, the foreign minister, into the Oval Office and gave them classified secrets directly, person to person. Now, I think it's kind of pathetic.

[22:50:00] Clearly, this guy, today, he is coming unhinged. You know, there's something going on. And I think it's something about Mueller and Russia. He loves to make these diversions. There is something that he is really losing sleep about.

And it's not whether Huma Abedin's Yahoo! account was hacked, it is what these folks know about his own vulnerabilities, that Russia come back to the story we talked about before, where the founders of Fusion GPS, this research firm that apparently Democrats hired, they said that there was ample evidence of alleged money laundering going on in Trump world.

I wrote down the exact quote, I won't bore you with it. People should check that out. There's something going on here, and I don't think it has anything to do with Sheriff Clarke or Huma Abedin.

TAPPER: I don't think Sheriff Clarke has anything to do with this. Bryan, I would like to give you the opportunity to respond to the idea that something is going on with President Trump.

LANZA: Yes. He just had a successful first year. He spoke on next year North Korea is a serious threat. And people talk about his e- mails in a negative way, his messages or tweets in a negative way.

Let's look at last year. His provocative tweets as everybody sort of stated in the past year, has also led to the first time ever U.N. resolution on addressing North Korea in a very positive way, the international community unified.

So where some people see fear and are apprehensive about his tweets, obviously at some level in the international community, it is working, because now they're more unified than ever before. You have China that is more engaged than ever before.

So you have to sort of gauge, you know, is it working to us or is it working to the international community? I think there is disparate there, but I also look at the what the results have been.

CARPENTER: It seems to me that Nikki Haley has much of the same message in getting other people to the table, and following an America first policy. In the way that she does it seems much more effective and reassuring and positive than anything that is posted on Donald Trump's Twitter account.

LANZA: Nikki Haley is the (INAUDIBLE). I'm not going to take away anything from her. But, you know, President Trump is using his language and using it effectively via Twitter. Look at the security council resolution that came forward. President Obama wasn't able to get that, President Bush wasn't able to get it.


BEGALA: I hardly believed that an unhinged 5-year-old with 6,000 nuclear weapons is really what's getting (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: Thanks to all, appreciate it. Did we just get a glimpse at the latest disinformation campaign against Robert Mueller's Russia investigation? Stay with us. I'll explain.

[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Welcome back. The New York Post just published a claim about the racial makeup of the grand jury empanelled in the Justice Department's Russia probe. A witness who testified before that jury told, page six, that they don't appear to be fans of President Trump in the grand jury box, by which the unnamed source appeared to mean that there were too many black people.

Quote, the grand jury room looks like a Bernie Sanders rally, the source told the Post. Maybe they found these jurors in central casting or at a Black Lives Matter rally in Berkeley. There was only one white male in the room and he was a prosecutor, unquote.

The witness said 11 of the 20 jurors were African-American while two were wearing peace shirts, whatever that means. The grand jury has handed up indictments against Trump's former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and his partner, Rick Gates.

Let's talk more about this with CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. First of all, Jeffrey, Richard Johnson, who wrote this report, he has a lot of sources in the Trump camp, which is why I'm taking this with any seriousness at all, although many people find this story blatantly racist.

But we've seen President Trump and his team undermining or attempting to do so, a range of institutions that they've felt threatened the president's power. The intelligence Community, Justice Department, FBI, the media, FBI Director Comey, judges, special counsel Mueller. Might this be the next line of attack, the grand jury is biased?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right, it's part of the attack on Mueller in particular, because he is the supervisor of the grand jury. By the way, Mueller had absolutely nothing to do with selecting who is on the grand jury. That's something that's run by the court.

And if the story is correct about the racial makeup of the jury, that would be very common for the district of Columbia, which of course has a substantial minority representation. It's of course racist to suggest that they are somehow incapable of doing a fair job. But remember, Mueller has been attacked because the FBI agent supposedly had a bias, that some of the prosecutors supposedly had a bias because they gave campaign contributions.

And here we have another part of the investigation, the grand jury, potentially under attack. I mean, this is just one item. But it just shows the comprehensive nature of the attack on Mueller in particular and Trump critics in general.

TAPPER: As you point out, Mueller didn't convene this grand jury. He didn't select the members. But even if he had, Washington, D.C., as you note, it's 48 percent African-American, according to the census. That's almost half African-American. Would 11 out of 20 jurors being black really be that surprising?

TOOBIN: No. I've practiced in that courthouse, and that would be a very typical makeup of any sort of jury, a grand jury, a petit jury in Washington, D.C. And, you know, there's nothing surprising and there's certainly nothing sinister about that.

TAPPER: And the idea being that, I guess, from this witness who talked to page six, that black people won't be fair to President Trump, that they're going to -- go ahead.

TOOBIN: Right. Well, that's certainly the implication, and there is no question that the president, one of the defining aspects of his presidency has been, you know, criticism of African-American athletes, criticism of African-American athletes' parents, football players.

So, you know, the racial dynamics of the Trump presidency are clear. And this looks like an attempt to bring that ugliness into the Mueller investigation, which whatever other controversies it's caused, has not been racially oriented so far.

TAPPER: And we might as well also note that there have been two guilty pleas. That has nothing to do with the grand jury.

TOOBIN: Right.

TAPPER: Papadopoulos and Flynn, they pleaded guilty.

TOOBIN: Right, which they plead guilty to what's called an information, which skips the grand jury process altogether, and simply goes directly to trial. So, the grand jury had absolutely nothing to do with those two successful cases by Mueller.

TAPPER: All right, Jeffery Toobin, thanks so much. Be sure to follow to follow me on Facebook and Twitter at "Jake Tapper." Tweet the show at "The Lead CNN." That is it for "The Lead," a special rebroadcast. I will see you again tomorrow at 4:00 p.m.

[23:00:00] and 10:00 p.m. Eastern. I know turn you over to Jim Sciutto and Pamela Brown for a CNN special report, the Trump presidency one year later.