Return to Transcripts main page


Congressman Warns of "Nuclear War" with Russia; Tillerson Says Military Action an Option against North Korea; Good Samaritan Saves State Trooper's Life; White House Vows to Appeal Travel Ban Rulings. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 07:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Isn't there more that should have been done then so we weren't sitting in this situation now?

To that, you say...?

REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASS.: I think there should have been more done under the Obama administration. Now the Russian reset under Obama is very different and pales in comparison to the budding relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and the unprecedented number of connections between the Trump administration, the Trump campaign and Russian regime.

We just saw the revelations about Michael Flynn. It seems every single day we uncover a new stone and there's some Russian agent lurking underneath that has connections to Trump.


MOULTON: So it's important to understand that there's a difference --

HARLOW: -- to my question, make the case, make the case, make the case to my question, because we have to wrap up, for why the pre-Trump administration relationship with Russia was better than the relationship with Russia that this country has right now.

MOULTON: There's not even any comparison. I mean, Russia is undermining our democracy. They are involved in our --

HARLOW: Which was happening, sir, under the previous -- which was happening under the previous -- Congressman, which was happening under the Obama administration.

MOULTON: We all know why. We all know why. We all know why. And Democrats, myself included, have said that President Obama should have done more.

But President Obama absolutely -- look, President Obama put sanctions on Russia because of their violation of our elections. Donald Trump is talking about removing those sanctions. Donald Trump's minions are paid by the Russian regime. I mean,

there's no comparison here. But the bottom line is this, that everybody should be paying more attention to the threat from Russia.

It's serious, it's significant and Democrats and Republicans need to come together to fight back. This is about our national security and about the fundamental tenants of our democracy. We've got to rise above partisan politics to deal with it.

HARLOW: Indeed. And just a point of fact here, yes, the hacking of the U.S. election and interference in elections, across Western Europe, unacceptable. This was happening under the Obama administration as well.

Congressman, we're out of time. Thank you very much -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Poppy. Good talk there.

So warning North Korea about preemptive military force.

Our secretary of state, on your screen, Rex Tillerson, did he just reverse decades of American disposition?

Has he helped the situation?

We discuss -- next.





CUOMO: All right, we're following breaking news. Secretary of state Rex Tillerson says, quote, "All options are on the table against North Korea, including preemptive military action, if their nuclear threat requires action."

Is that a good idea with the leaders unpredictable as Kim Jong-un?

Is this different than what we have heard from the U.S. in the past?

HARLOW: Let's discuss it. Gordon Chang, columnist in "The Daily Beast," author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

Also with us, CNN military analyst and former Army commanding general of Europe and 7th Army, General Mark Hertling.

Nice to have you both here.

And let's begin with the words, General, that the secretary of state chose to use, not only saying no options off the table but also saying the era of strategic patience has ended.

How big is that word choice, not just from a diplomacy standpoint but militarily?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's a big deal and it's going to come as a surprise to many of our allies, Poppy. And it's primarily because when you're talking about North Korea, as I'm sure Mr. Chang, I'm sure, will say, you're concerning yourself not only with their nuclear weapons but their potential for conventional weapons.

If a strike occurs in North Korea or if they launch a missile and we return fire with a nuclear tip, they have about -- well, quite a few tubes of artillery along the border. And Seoul, a city of 10 million people, is about 30 miles from the North Korean border.

So a lot of people would be engaged with conventional artillery weapons and that's why it's so difficult to do some type of strike against nuclear weapons because their president is someone who will act in a very radical way, based on that.

CUOMO: Gordon, inform the skeptic. If someone hears this and says, this is much ado about nothing.

Isn't this what you guys always say in diplomacy, that everything's on the table and if you keep doing this, there's going to be an appropriate response?

Why is this raising eyebrows?

GORDON CHANG, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, we always say, in almost every context, that every option is on the table. So when those statements have been made by Nikki Haley and by Rex Tillerson, that really is boilerplate. And we're not going to go for a military option unless we're in extremis, as General Hertling said.

But what Tillerson said about allowing our allies, South Korea and Japan, to actually go nuke, that is different. That's a reversal of about seven decades of U.S. proliferation policy. And, you know, if Japan and South Korea had these weapons, then the Gulf States are going to say, well, what about us?

Why can't we have them, too?

And then you'll have what people call nuclear breakout.

HARLOW: And you had Japan's defense chief saying just this month that they would not rule it out a first strike. So you have an escalation across the board.

Remember 1994, remember when President Bill Clinton walked to the lectern and said, this is a good deal for the United States?

Let's listen.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a good deal for the United States. North Korea will freeze and then dismantle its nuclear program. South Korea and our other allies will be better protected. The entire world will be safer as we slow the spread of nuclear weapons.


HARLOW: That all fell apart in the early 2000s.

General, to you, what's the lesson learned?

What's the page to take from that failure?

HERTLING: A lot of pages, Poppy

First of all, you have to continually watch this and ramp up sanctions and be very careful about taking sanctions off, using the various elements of national power, not only diplomacy but economy, information and military. But you also have to continue to try and bring people to the table.

There have been a lot of changes in North Korea, not just with the policies but --


HERTLING: -- also their leadership over the last 20 years almost since that statement -- or over 20 years since that statement was made. So you have to continually watch what is occurring and I think at times we took our eye off the ball because of other things going on in the world.

CUOMO: But also seems to be an instruction in the futility here: That was 1994, OK, 23 years ago and we seem to be in the same situation now, not only with North Korea but Iran as well.

You made a deal, that you heard the president say and our allies say, this is as good a deal as we can get with Iran. This is a good one. And they seem to not be following it. There seems to be abuses. It fuels a lot of criticism. Seems like this is how it is.

Is there any way to do it better?

CHANG: Well, there's a number of things we can do because there is one policy that we haven't tried and that is to impose costs on China, for China's participation in North Korea's ballistic missile program and its nuclear weapons program.

We haven't done that because we don't have political will. That deal that President Clinton was referring to was the agreed framework. The North Koreans were violating it as the ink was drying because they had a secret uranium weapons program while they were saying that this was only going to be their plutonium program and they were going to shut down that plutonium program.

So we have a series of failed deals with North Korea. We need to have something more coercive, not military force, but something in the line of sanctions, not just on North Korea but also China. HARLOW: The question is, General, to wrap it up, where is the red line?

Right, if Tillerson's going to say this, if Nikki Haley is going to say this, where is the red line?

Does this administration need to be clear about where the red line is and then actually follow through on it?

HERTLING: That's the key question, Poppy. You hit it right on the head. If you say strategic patience is no longer our policy, that's great.

But what has replaced it?

And has that new replacement policy been coordinated with allies?

There are a lot more people on the Korean Peninsula ready to defend South Korea than just Americans and South Koreans. There are several other allies.

So has it been coordinated?

Has it been coordinated with our potential foes, like China?

What is going on in terms of a replacement for this policy?

CUOMO: Gentlemen, appreciate it very much, important discussion, not the last time we're going to have it.

So other news: two federal judges blocking President Trump's revised travel ban. The White House says they're going to appeal.

Would they win?


CUOMO (voice-over): We have legal experts to make the case.

And guess who gets to be the judge this time?


HARLOW (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE)

CUOMO (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE).





HARLOW: So Good Samaritan in Arizona, Good Samaritan in Arizona rushes to save the life of a state trooper being beaten. Our Stephanie Elam tells us how the roles suddenly reverse in our "Beyond the Call of Duty."


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's dark and desolate in the Arizona desert at 4:30 am. Trooper Ed Andersson is working Interstate 10 when an alarming call comes in.

ED ANDERSSON, ARIZONA STATE TROOPER: A pedestrian shooting at traffic or with a gun.

ELAM (voice-over): Andersson finds an overturned vehicle and two possible victims.

ANDERSSON: A male subject, kneeling on his knees, holding a female in his arms.

ELAM (voice-over): Andersson moves his vehicle to block the slow lane but, when he returns to the victims, the woman is there but the man is gone.

ANDERSSON: So I scanned with my flashlight. And, as I scanned to my right, I found him. He was standing in the emergency lane. And as my light hit him, I could tell he already had his weapon pointed at me.

ELAM (voice-over): The suspect shoots Andersson in the right shoulder, disabling his dominant arm.

ANDERSSON: Next thing I know, I look up and he is charging me and his gun is up in the air and he strikes me on the head with his gun.

ELAM (voice-over): The men fall to the ground as they battle.

ANDERSSON: I rolled to my right side so he doesn't get my gun because I knew if he got my gun, it would be all over with then.

ELAM (voice-over): As Andersson fights for his life, a few motorists pass by. No one calls 9-1-1.

ANDERSSON: It takes a certain person to actually stop, put their lives on the line.

ELAM (voice-over): That person is Thomas Yoxall. He exits his pickup, legal firearm in hand.

THOMAS YOXALL, GOOD SAMARITAN: He is beating him in a savage way and just fist after fist.

ELAM: What was his energy like, the suspect?

YOXALL: Evil. If I was going to put a word on it, it was evil.

ANDERSSON: I heard a voice telling him to get off and then I heard the same voice ask me if I needed help.

And I said, "Yes, I do."

And then the next thing I hear is two shots.

YOXALL: I had a clear line of fire and at that moment, I had to discharge my weapon.

ANDERSSON: I heard a voice, which I believe was Thomas.

He said, "Oh, the suspect won't be getting up no more."

ELAM: What do you think would have happened if Thomas didn't show up?

ANDERSSON: I probably wouldn't be here right now.

ELAM (voice-over): One so close to death, the two now forging a bond for life.

ANDERSSON: I'm doing better.


ANDERSSON: I get to see grandkids grow up; my daughters, you know, get married eventually. So he did a fabulous thing.

ELAM (voice-over): Stephanie Elam, CNN, Youngtown, Arizona.


CUOMO: Two heroes right there. Powerful story. Our thanks to Stephanie.

So the president's revised travel ban is going through the legal challenges.

Could the outcome be different this time?

And are we going to see a Supreme Court nominee become a pawn in a political debate?






CUOMO: A federal judge in Washington denying an emergency motion to block President Trump's revised travel ban. It has no practical effect, though, because two other federal judges already blocked the ban from taking effect nationwide. The president vowing not to give up the fight. Here's a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A judge has just blocked our executive order on travel and refugees coming into our country from certain countries. The order he blocked was a watered- down version of the first order, we're going to fight this terrible ruling.

We're going to take our case as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court and let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I want to do in the first place.


CUOMO: All right. Joining us now, CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos and Joey Jackson.

Cevallos, you take -- argue in favor of the ban; Jackson, you argue against the ban.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, your honor.

CUOMO: All right, done. So let's do this quick style.

What's your strong case about why this order is good law now?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Because the Immigration and Nationality Act explicitly gives exactly this power to the president. And the current Hawaii court's basis for issuing the stay is really a bit of a reach. First, it's not necessarily the case that they have standing to even be in court.

But, beyond that, the fact that they are looking back to statements made during the campaign, to conclude that this is a Muslim ban, is really unprecedented. We've never really had courts do that before. They look at legislative history.

But the entire history of an individual, pre-life as an elected official, as a private citizen, opening all of that up is really unprecedented.

CUOMO: Let's put standing to the side because we've chewed on that before. I don't think it will be as much of an issue but we'll see, anything could be.

Let's deal with the immediate argument, which is words from the past are irrelevant. Stick to what's in the four corners of the document.

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: No, you can't do that. Everything we do has a context. And you can't just look at a --


JACKSON: -- document -- don't tell me what something says. Tell me what it specifically does.

And so you're going to say that because this particular ban doesn't address the issue of religion, we should ignore it?

What about the implication of how it impacts religion?

It's clear that, notwithstanding the fact that this ban says nothing about religion, that the intended purpose was, in fact, to affect religion.


CUOMO: If this law had been written by President Obama, who arguably would never have said the things that President Trump said, it would be OK?

JACKSON: Well, we can't suggest that it would have been because anything Obama had done previously was tied to a specific national security threat. And so the reality is is you can't impute the actions of one president because another president does it.

This is an unprecedented action. We have never seen, never seen -- and in fact, since Reagan, when there was a Cuba ban with one country, a president that bans multiple countries --


CUOMO: What about Carter?

JACKSON: -- with no national security basis.

But let's --

CEVALLOS: What about every president?

Every president has exercised --

JACKSON: Hold on. No, no, no. The fact is is that Danny wants to address a specific provision that gives the president immigration authority. That provision is tied to a specific national security threat. So let's address the national security threat here.

What is it, Chris?

What is it, here, Danny?

What's the national security interest?


CUOMO: -- president's basis in a court of law about this?

JACKSON: I think you don't need to question its basis because we have the everywhere from his actions on the campaign trail --


JACKSON: -- to his other -- CUOMO: -- I'm saying the authority Danny Cevallos is given in this federal statute to the president on the basis of his discretion on issues of national security interest when it comes to immigration, where is it?

CEVALLOS: 1182, it's in 1182. Whenever the president, in his opinion, finds that entry of any class of aliens is detrimental -- and that is --

JACKSON: Where's the detrimental interest?


CUOMO: -- rational basis --

JACKSON: Time out.

CUOMO: -- president's discretion, that's the question?

JACKSON: Of course you do, the president doesn't have unfettered authority. Last I checked, we live in a democracy. And that democracy means the president can implement policy but the president is otherwise checked by a Congress in addition to a judiciary.


CEVALLOS: You're saying the Constitution is --

JACKSON: Of course they are. Well, let -- OK, then, time out.


JACKSON: But the fact is is that if we're going to say --

CUOMO: Hold on. Just -- he just pulled a slippery one there. He's not saying the establishment clause per se. You're saying the Constitution says checks and balance, a rational basis for your national security decision can be questioned?

JACKSON: Correct.


CEVALLOS: Do we agree the president has --

JACKSON: No, no, no. The president has the power if it represents a detrimental interest to the United States. In the decision --

CUOMO: You have to prove the threat, Cevallos, for this law to stand?


CEVALLOS: The text of the statute does not require the president to make any showing --

JACKSON: You look at the context -- CEVALLOS: You look at that --


JACKSON: -- the context of how he did this. If you look at what they said about national security, the president pointed in the executive order to Iraqi nationals engaged in counter -- engaged in activities to which they are jailed.

Iraq has been taken out of the order. It also references something about young people from Somalia coming here.

CEVALLOS: This court deemed questioned the president's power. You're talking about things that do not appear in the --

JACKSON: Not at all.


CEVALLOS: So that -- well, hold on, let me make this point.

So, Joey, let me ask you a yes or no question.

If you can excise all of the statements that Trump people, including Trump, made that are admittedly bigoted sounding at least, if you could excise those, is this law facially valid?

JACKSON: I say no and here's why --


CUOMO: Let him answer.


JACKSON: Exactly. I say no because what you have to look to is, again, you point to the statute which talks about the detrimental interest. What the court is saying is that there's no national security at all, no national security implication behind this.

What can you tie directly to the president's action?

And if you can't specifically tie a national security threat, then it must fall. And so you then must look to -- if the president is not doing it on the basis of national security, what is he doing it for?

And the court said it's an establishment clause violation because what you're doing is you're preferring one religion over another. And you can't do that. And so if you want to talk about presidential authority, you can't just talk about what the president can do. You have to talk about in the context of what he intended to do.

And the court said the intent was a Muslim ban.

CEVALLOS: And no court has ever looked at someone's personal history to decide. They looked at legislative history. But no court has ever looked at someone's personal statements in a personal history in order to determine the intent behind a facially -- and you admit it is a facially neutral executive order --

CUOMO: All right, time.

Good points on both sides. Always like when I have nothing to do in a segment. Very strong.

Now question is, you're the judge.

What did you think of those arguments?

Who do you think made the better case?

We'll do it on Twitter. You know how to get me there. That's obvious.

Gentlemen, thank you very much.

We're following a lot of news. Let's get after it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow joins me and we do have breaking news to share with you.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson delivering a very stern warning, saying all options are on the table with North Korea but going even further, saying that the era of silence is over.