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Pentagon: Russia Bears Ultimate Responsibility For Missile That Hit Poland; McConnell Wins Secret-Ballot Leadership Election; Poll: Trump at 39% Approval As He Announces Candidacy. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired November 16, 2022 - 13:30   ET



GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: And my goal is to make sure they have the means to do what's necessary to ensure that they don't hold out.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIR, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: You had two questions for the secretary, so I get a bye on mine.


MILLEY: On China as quickly as I can say it, China is the pacing threat as we describe it in DOD as part of the national defense strategy. It was defined in the previous ones and the current ones.

What do we mean by that? China is the one country out there that geopolitically has the power potential to be a significant challenge to the United States. They are.

Based on their population, their technology, and they're economy and other things, China is the greatest geopolitical challenge to the United States.

China is not shy about their goal. They want to be the number-one power in the globe by mid-century, by 2049. They want to do that militarily, diplomatically, informationally, economically, and so on and so forth.

They want to be number one by mid-century. By the 2030s, mid 2030s, they previously said they want to be number one regionally. So they want a military that is -- that out does the United States military by the mid 30s. They previously said that.

They advanced that goal to 2027. They advanced that goal in the two- party or one-party Congress ago. And what they have said is they want to be the equal to or superior militarily to the United States. That's only five years away. So they're working on that and they're working on that very, very hard.

But we are not static. We are working on it. Right now, the United States military is, without question, despite whatever criticisms people have, the United States military is the most lethal war fighting machine on earth bar none.

The United States military is number one. We intend to stay number one.

Our task -- militaries only have two task, single purpose really, which is to either prepare for war or to fight a war. We are laser focused on that. We intend to stay number one.

China is not going to be a better military than the United States military is, but they're going to try, but they're not going to get there.

We will be number one five years from now, 10 years from now and 50 years from now. We are not going to let China take number one.

They have made gains in a wide variety of areas, in cyber and space and land, sea and air, so a peasant army of -- largely infantry based. When I was commissioned in 1980, that's they had when he made his reforms. So they had a very large, dismounted infantry, peasant-based army, more or less. Some tanks, not much.

Then they got rich. They made a massive amount of money with a 10 percent rise overrun, drop down to 7 percent, maybe 3 or 4 percent, but the GDP allowed them to buy a military.

And they believe that it's their day in the sun. They believe it's once again time for the Middle Kingdom to be number one. So that's what they're shooting for.

And we're to the going to allow that to happen. The United States military is number one and going to be number one, five years from now, 2027 is not going to be the date that China becomes number one.

And we're going to stay number one the entire time. As long as we remain number one, we'll deter the war that people worry about, a great power war between China and the United States.

As long as we have the military capability, we have the will to use it, your adversary knows it is, then you'll deter that war. But the key is to have the military capability. We intend to stay number one.

AUSTIN: Time for one final question.

We'll go to Nikay (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you for taking my question.

To the secretary, President Biden and President Xi essentially agreed to maintain that open rise of the communication. Do you expect China will reduce military channels suspended in August after the speaker upheld his visit to Taiwan?

And are you planning to meet with your Chinese counterpart guiding the visit to Cambodia next week?

To the chairman, also on China, the President Xi consolidated his power in the China Communist Party and now surrounded by his loyal advisors. How much are you concerned that President Xi might make an ill-advised

or ill-informed decision to take Taiwan by force as President Putin did in the leading up to the invasion into Ukraine.

Thank you very much.


AUSTIN: Thanks. As you've heard me say a number of times, I think it's really important for large countries with significant military capacity to talk to each other.

As I told Minister Wei, when we talked, we met face to face in Singapore, that we needed to work to keep the lines of communication open. That helps with crisis management. It helps with a number of things.

And so my hope is that they will open up their communications channels not only at my level but the chairman's level and at the level where our combatant commander, Admiral Aqalino (ph), can engage with his counterparts as well.

So you're right, we will both be in Cambodia here in the near future. I don't have any announcements to make in terms of any scheduled meetings, but there's an opportunity there and so we'll see how things play out.

MILLEY: So I think, first of all, President Xi is -- I don't know him. I've never talked to him. He'll make decisions based on what he thinks is in his national interests.

As best I can tell, he's a rationale actor. I think he evaluates things on cost, benefit and risk. And I think he would conclude an attack on Taiwan in the near future would be an excessive amount of risk and end in a strategic really debacle for the Chinese military.

I think it would throw off their China dream of being the number one economic and military power and so on. Would he do it? Who knows? I don't know.

I can tell you that we watch it closely. We are militarily prepared. One of the keys now is to make sure that Taiwan can defend itself.

And there are a lot of lessons learned coming out of the Ukrainian war. There's lessons learned for Taiwan. There are lessons learned that we're learning, lessons learned that the European countries are learning. And President Xi and the Chinese military are learning.

One of the things people are learning is that war on paper is a whole lot different than real war. When blood is spilled and people die and real tanks are being blown up, things are a little bit different. There's a lot of friction and fog and death in combat.

And for someone who has, for a military that hasn't fought in combat since fighting the Vietnamese in 1979, they would be playing a dangerous game to cross the straits and invade the island of Taiwan. They don't have the experience or background to do it. They do peace

training. We watch it very closely. How much amphibious, airborne capability they have.

They could bomb it, missile it, attack Taiwan in that sense, but attacking and seizing the island of Taiwan across the straits, putting troops on the island of Taiwan, that is a very difficult military task to do.

You've got a large city of Taipei with three or four million people with the suburbs of seven million. You have complex terrain with mountains, most of Taiwan is a mountainous island. It's a difficult military objective, a very difficult military operation to execute.

And I think it will be some time before the Chinese have the military capability and they're ready to do it.

Now that could be wrong. An incident could happen. Some sort of political thing could happen at a moment in time and all of the decisions would change very rapidly.

I think that Chinese would be high risk to take on an operation like that. And I think it would be unwise. It would be a political mistake, a geopolitical mistake, a strategic mistake similar to the strategic mistake is that Putin has made in Ukraine.


AUSTIN: I'll be traveling with some of you later this week into next week. For those who I won't see between now and Thanksgiving, I want to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a happy Thanksgiving.

And on behalf of the Department of Defense, thanks for what you continue to do for our nation.

Thank you very much.

MILLEY: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for staying with us as we were just listening in to those top U.S. officials at the Pentagon talking about China.

But mainly focusing their comments on the war in Ukraine and this deadly missile incident inside Poland. Right now, world leaders are holding talks about that.

And CNN's Melissa Bell is with us at NATO headquarters in Brussels. We also have General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander, with us.

Let me start with you, Melissa.

What do we know so far about this investigation into that missile that landed in Poland? MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is an

investigation that is ongoing, Ana, and we will have to wait for the results of it, being conducted by American and Polish investigators to get to the bottom very specifically of who fired this missile and where from and to what end.

For the time being, what we've been hearing are a lot of people, including here at NATO headquarters, Jens Stoltenberg, say they believe this is a missile fired as part of Ukraine's defense systems and not a missile fired into Polish territory from Russia.


That is crucial because of Article 5, the foundation treaty would mean if one country is attacked, all of NATO is attacked, and others have to get involved. That was the risk of escalation this morning as they gathered here at NATO.

Jens Stoltenberg at pains to calm the tone of everything down.

Since then, we've heard the remarkable words you were hearing talked about in the press conference by President Zelenskyy suggesting he does not think that this was a Ukrainian missile, and he wants Ukrainians to have access to that crash site.

That is a very different to what we've been hearing from other leaders, including President Duda, President Biden and Jens Stoltenberg.

CABRERA: Thank you so much for that reporting, the latest again from Brussels for us.

General, again, Poland, NATO officials, U.S. officials, are all saying they believe this missile was likely an accident and most likely from Ukrainian air defense, their missile defense system.

A short time ago, Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, says he has no doubt this was not a Ukrainian missile. How are investigators going to get to the bottom of this?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, they're going to have to look at the data on the ground. Secretary Austin said -- or General Milley -- we're going to see the impact crater and get other information from electronic means, probably find the trajectory, probably find out where the missile actually was launched from.

And we'll also maybe even have the serial number off the missile. We'll know a lot of things. We'll probably bring Ukraine in on this, obviously.

But right now, they have to get the information on the ground and the information from higher-level intelligence that would be collected about this.

Is it possible that a Russian missile could have been fired from Belarus, an air defense missile used in the ground attack mode and -- yes, it is theoretically possible.

But, you know, we have to look at the evidence on this and that's what United States is helping Poland do right now.

CABRERA: I'm trying to understand if this were a defensive missile fired by Ukraine, how did it end up going in that direction toward Poland?

CLARK: If it were fired by Ukraine -- first of all, we're going to look at the sites for the defensive missiles. There's probably some defensive missile site around Lviv. And we know Lviv was under attack yesterday. It's possible this missile was aimed to intercept a cruise missile and some -- for some reason, it went off course.

How is that possible? That's a function of the technology of the missile, the electromagnetic environment at the time, the training of the teams that fired it, and so all of that has to be worked down.

You can be sure that there's a lot going on in the Ukrainian air defense chain of command right now accounting for every missile that was fired and what happened and how this could have happened.

So just going to have to wait for the results of the investigation.

CABRERA: The U.S. and NATO allies are all saying even if this was an accident, this is still Russia's fault. They bear responsibility here. If that's the case, how should NATO respond?

CLARK: Well, I think NATO is going to keep the pressure on. I think what you heard from Secretary Austin and General Milley today, is a very, very strong, very forthright statement of the U.S. and NATO positions.

Namely, that we're going to continue to support Ukraine as long as necessary and the phrase Ukraine's territorial integrity was in there and emphasized.

This means Crimea. This means not going back to the February 24th positions just before the latest round of the conflict started, but all of Ukraine's territory.

And so it was made abundantly clear today, and as Secretary Austin said, remarkable consensus from the NATO ministers.

So I think that if Russia is watching this, which I'm sure they are, they should understand that this little tweak that happened, even if Russia had nothing whatsoever to do with it, it's a good indicator of NATO's resolve, the NATO nations led by the United States, are not about to back off.

General Milley explained what he meant when he said last week that there could be negotiations. Sure. When you start to get the military momentum, yes, you can start talking about it.

But that's talking. Nothing wrong with talking. That's a far cry from telling the Ukrainians what they have to do to stop fighting. And as the United States has made clear, from President Biden on down, Ukraine is going to decide when it wants to stop fighting.


CLARK: And President Zelenskyy has made very clear, and his general, they're going all the way, including through Crimea, they want their territory back.

CABRERA: Yes. General Clark, thank you so much for your analysis. I appreciate your time.


We have this just in. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wins the battle after more than three hours behind closed doors. We'll have the latest on the Hill when we come back.


CABRERA: Welcome back. Moments ago, Senate Republicans chose Mitch McConnell to carry on as the party's leader in their chamber. And after a marathon meeting, he got enough votes to fend off the first challenger he has faced in 15 years.

CNN's Jessica Dean joins us at the capital.

Jessica, how did this play out?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As you noted, Ana, it took hours and hours. First, they had to take a vote on whether or not to delay the election. Some of those who supported Scott wanted to delay it. That did not pass.

Then they had to move on to the actual vote. Mitch McConnell winning that vote, 37-10-1.


He did do a press conference shortly ago -- a short time ago, and he said he welcomed the opponent but he was proud of getting 37 votes. And then he said he's not going anywhere.

He circled back to the comments we heard from him yesterday, that his assessment of the 2022 midterms was they did not as Republicans do enough of a good job appealing to moderates and independents.

Look, this fissure between Rick Scott of Florida and Mitch McConnell, and these two wings of the parties, the two factions of the party, and in the Senate, had been brewing for a while.

Scott was running the political arm of the Republican Party for the Senate races. And there was a lot of talk about if that was done properly or not. Senators had very strong opinions on that. And they certainly didn't end up where they wanted to be, Ana, and it spilled over. Again, the bottom line, Mitch McConnell will continue on as the Senate

minority leader.

CABRERA: Jessica Dean, thank you for that reporting.

From that leadership battleship to another. Donald Trump says he's running again.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow citizens, America's comeback starts right now.


TRUMP: In order to make America great and glorious again, I tonight am announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.



CABRERA: But who is behind him? Axios was first to report two top GOP donors will be taking their money elsewhere.

Plus this. Former ally and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was applauded at a Republican governors summit when he called out Trump for the party's midterm poor performance.

And more signs Trump's relationship with the conservative media is cracking. I want to show you the cover of "The New Post," Murdoch owned.

The headline here, how they covered his presidential campaign announcement is this, here at the bottom: "Florida man makes announcement, see page 26." The headline all the way down there.

And then there are, of course, the voters. CNN exit polls showing Trump is more unpopular than ever, 39 percent approval now, down from the last two election cycles.

Let's discuss this with CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro.

Ana, Trump likes to be the underdog. He likes playing the victim. He said twice last night, I am a victim.

But we've seen this before where it looks like the Republican Party is going to break with Trump and they fall back in line. Will this time be different?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know. I think it's all up to the Republican base and the Republican primary voters, right? That's the part that really matters.

Let's remember, in 2016, conservative media, Rupert Murdoch was not on his side. Let's remember, donors were not on his side. Established Republicans were not on his side.

He's making the case he's an anti-establishment guy. A hard thing to do when sitting on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for four years.

I think he likes to play the underdog role. He's going to have to lean into it. We're going to have to bring out our little violins and play loudly for him.

I tell you this. I saw all those people who weren't with him in 2016 go back with their tail between their legs asking for forgiveness and become -- go all in for Trump.

He also has, Ana, in this case, a lot of chips to play because, even though he endorsed 30 of the losers, and election deniers lost, there's a lot of run-of-the-mill Congress people who don't make it on the news who he did endorse and a lot of local officials who he didn't endorse who won.

CABRERA: And the people who were his biggest defectors are essentially no longer in Congress anymore. They're no longer in those powerful positions being lawmakers.

NAVARRO: Except for Mitch McConnell.

CABRERA: Mitch McConnell. He is, again, in that leadership role.

But let me ask you about Ron DeSantis. Because a lot of people have talked about the Florida governor as being a potential strong challenger to Donald Trump for the GOP nomination.

You're from Florida where that battle could play out. Who do you think has the upper hand?

NAVARRO: Too early to tell. Listen. I'm old enough to remember when Marco Rubio was in the front of "Time" magazine as the Republican savior and he went down in flames against Donald Trump.

I'm old enough to remember when Jeb Bush was supposed to be the giant in the Republican Party. Both Florida men. And he went down in flames against Donald Trump. There's a lot of time yet.

I think as a Floridian, the best thing Ron DeSantis can do is do his job and do it well. Instead of manufacturing these culture wars, if he does his job like he did after Ian, I think that's very, very helpful to him.


NAVARRO: I'll tell you who won't be winning any election against Donald Trump either is Rick Scott.



CABRERA: He was the one challenging Mitch McConnell -- (CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: -- in the Senate for that leadership position.

NAVARRO: Everybody from Florida thinks -- there's something in the water. Everybody in Florida thinks they can ascend to bigger things and be president or minority leader.

It befuddles me that Rick Scott, who's the Senator from Florida, who, frankly, might be the only person on earth who can make Mitch McConnell look like Mr. Congeniality and full of charisma, would think, after having that many great losses, that the thing to do would be to run for minority chair.

It's like, you know --


CABRERA: So who do you think is best to take on Trump?

NAVARRO: I think one of the things each are afraid of, there will be too many people taking him on and that will leave an open field, like what happened in 2016.

I think you'll see Liz Cheney -- who I hope runs -- she's going to fact-check him. She's got the aplomb and the moral high ground that a lot of these people do not.


CABRERA: She didn't even get the vote in Wyoming.

NAVARRO: Well, there are some people who run to win. There are some who run for symbolism. I would hope she would run to win. But if she doesn't, I hope she does to be the fly in the milk, you know?

Mike Pence looks like he's about to do it. But he carries so much baggage, you know? How does he shed the accomplice for four years?

CABRERA: Perhaps Jake Tapper can ask him that tonight in our CNN town hall.

NAVARRO: That's right.

CABRERA: Thank you so much, Ana Navarro, for sticking around with us, especially throughout that hour.

NAVARRO: We're never on set together.



NAVARRO: And people -- we're never on set together and people always confuse me for Ana Cabrera. I don't know what they're smoking.


NAVARRO: -- getting together with you.

CABRERA: Yes. It's always a compliment when they confuse me with you.

Thank you, Ana Navarro.

You can find us here, same time, same place tomorrow. I'll be here with you.

The news continues with Alisyn and Victor next.