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World Braces for North Korea Move; Trump Flexes Military Might; White House Visitor Logs Kept Private; Trump Gives Military Authorization; Violent Officer Behavior. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired April 14, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:10] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.
All eyes on North Korea right now as concerns mount that it's unpredictable leader will launch a nuclear test in the next 24 hours. U.S. Navy ships are nearby as satellite images suggest that Pyongyang is poised for action. Keep in mind this date is significant. Upcoming April 15th, this is the isolated country's biggest holiday. This is the birthday of North Korea's founder, Kim Jong-un's grandfather. And the provocative act is a big tradition. Make no mistakes here, Kim Kong-un's threats are escalating. He's vowing, quote, "a merciless response" to any provocation from the White House, assuring, in no uncertain terms, it would leave no survivors. President Trump, we're told, is being briefed while down at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
For more on that reporting, let's go to David Nakamura, the White House reporter for "The Washington Post."
David, nice to see you.
DAVID NAKAMURA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Hi, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Talk to me about how the president is in Florida and who's with him? Who of his inner circle, National Security Council, are with him in his ear on this?
NAKAMURA: Well, you know what's interesting, they all - all presidents say when they take leave, especially at a time of crisis, that, you know, the apparatus of the presidency always travels with you. But what's interesting here is the president did not take a high - a number of senior aides who have been with him on previous trips. Even Chief of Staff Reince Priebus left the president at the airport here in D.C. yesterday - last night when he flew there. We're told the president has been briefed. He can always, as well, be briefed by officials at the Pentagon and at intelligence agencies back in Washington through a secure video conference.
But he is at the golf course now. We don't know that he's actually playing, but he seems to be, you know, being able to juggle both of these things. Now, it's a very alarming situation and, you know, the rhetoric from Kim Jong-un in North Korea is to be expected. This is what they do when they feel threatened, they use bellicose language like this. But obviously this is a new president. How he reacts is very unknown. He's signaled that the U.S. is willing to handle North Korea on its own, but it's not clear how that would manifest itself, clearly.
BALDWIN: But it seems to me that some of this rhetoric, or maybe even some of the president's tweets are getting to Kim Jong-un. Let me read this one tweet. Quote, "North Korea is looking for trouble," the president writes. "If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them."
And to your point, you know, the leader responding that the president is more aggressive than past American presidents. What do you make of that, David?
: Well, I mean, look, this comes after - a week after this president launched the strike in Syria. And that was not just looked at in the region or in Asia as a strike against Assad, but also a warning shot to other countries, especially North Korea, that this president will take different actions than his predecessor. And so you're already seeing new policies being developed. It's not clear from Donald Trump, you know, 80 some days into his presidency now, what his full North Korea policy is.
But what we do know is that, you know, efforts in the past to isolate and put sanctions on North Korea, very difficult, economic sanctions, have not worked in making them back off their missile test and their nuclear test. And so I think all analysts are saying they're making progress on making that - those capabilities more sophisticated and more dangerous, not just to their partner - their neighbors, but to the United States.
And, of course, China is directly involved in this. You saw down in Mar-a-Lago last week the summit and the president (INAUDIBLE) on Xi Jinping to put pressure on North Korea. China is doing that. Whether that's going to be enough to head them off in the next 24 hours, we don't know.
BALDWIN: The "Day of the Sun." The world is watching North Korea.
David Nakamura with "The Washington Post," thank you very, very much.
Let's, meantime, turn our attention to Afghanistan. Getting our first look at the aftermath of this giant bomb that the U.S. military dropped on Afghanistan. You see these pictures. Grainy, black and white video here. This actually shows the moment of impact as this massive so-called mother of all bombs exploded over ISIS tunnels. We're told this ten-ton smart bomb killed at least 36 ISIS fighters. Also significant, that this is the first time the U.S. military has used this powerful weapon on the battlefield. The commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan defending the decision to use this bomb, saying it was the right weapon at the right time.
And now questions over how the operation was authorized. President Trump said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Did you authorize it, sir?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody knows exactly what happened. So - and what I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world and they've done a job, as usual. So we have given them total authorization and that's what they're doing. And, frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately. If you look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that to what - really to what's happened over the last eight years, you'll see there's a tremendous difference. A tremendous difference. So we have incredible leaders in the military and we have incredible military and we are very proud of them and this was another very, very successful mission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:05:22] BALDWIN: This while sources are telling CNN that it was actually General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who signed off on the use of this bomb, but that the White House was informed before the bomb was detonated.
A senior administration official telling CNN that, quote, "we don't approve every strike," adding that, quote, "this administration has moved further away from dictating military strategy from the White House." That is a stark contrast, both the president and Defense Secretary General Mattis wanted.
With me now, Brigadier General Anthony Tata. He was the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and is the author of "Besieged."
Good to see you, sir, again.
And Robert Farley, a professor in -
BRIG. GEN. ANTHONY TATA, U.S. ARMY (RET,): Great to see you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
A professor and senior lecturer in national security at the University of Kentucky.
So, professor, welcome to you.
ROBERT FARLEY, SENIOR LECTURER IN NATIONAL SECURITY, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY: Thanks for having me.
BALDWIN: But, general, you know, you know - you know Afghanistan. You served in this part of the country. I understand that General Nicholson, who signed off on the use of this MOAB bomb, was actually your subordinate. So is it unusual to you that the president of the United States would give that much latitude to the U.S. military to drop this mother of all bombs?
TATA: Brooke, great to be with you again. And, no, it's not unusual at all. What we're really talking about is commander's intent. This is - you've got a president, a commander in chief, who is unleashing his commanders to make their decisions and find solutions to the problems on the ground, as opposed to what we had in the past, which was a more tightly controlled command climate from president Obama. And so commanders intent is to kill the enemy, kill ISIS and what you've got here is a known trail between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is in the same area that Osama bin Laden escaped, the same general region. Mick and I operated in this area. He was the brigade commander when I was a deputy commanding general in Afghanistan and this was his turf. He knows this ground. And if Mick Nicholson says this is the right weapon for the right enemy at the right time, I believe him and I trust him.
And I think it's a great thing that President Trump has really unleashed our commanders to make these kinds of decisions. We've got Vince Brooks in Afghanistan, we've got Mick Nicholson - or in Korea and Mick Nicholson in Afghanistan and Shaw McFarland (ph) in Iraq. You couldn't ask for three better leaders to be leading our military right now. And I just think it's great that President Trump has - trusts the military and respects the military enough to be making these decisions.
BALDWIN: Robert, how do you see it?
FARLEY: I see it largely in the same way, that this strike does seem to have been driven by local conditions where the tactical commanders decided that there was a situation here that could be solved by this particular piece of ordinance. I do think that some of the commanders do feel more enabled in the environment that Trump has created to undertake these kinds of strikes. So even though we have some indication that there was some allowance for these kinds of weapons previously, we haven't seen this particular kind of bomb dropped and it does look like some of the commanders do seem more inclined to use big weapons like this under the new command environment.
BALDWIN: What about, if I can just interject, since you all are essentially on the same page, you know, and we heard President Trump, you know, when he was asked about this authorization he said, quote, "what I do is I authorize my military."
But, General Tata, back to you. You know, what happens, heaven forbid, you know, something goes awry, there is collateral damage in some part of the world with this specific mission that the president himself did not personally authorize. Where does the blame fall there?
TATA: Well, I think, you know, the buck stops with the commander on the ground. The commander makes the call. And part of commander's intent is underwriting and trusting that your commanders are going to make the right call, that they are trained and ready to execute decisions on the ground. And so I really see this, Brooke, as the president is saying he's going to underwrite any mistakes that are made. And if there's an egregious error for negligence or something like that, then, of course, that's a whole different thing.
But, you know, I think, you know, what Mick did here was a very calculated - this is a very unpopulated area and it's a known rat line. We've got Pakistan involved now with, you know, helping ISIS get into Afghanistan. So we've got to deal with that flank.
And this is a weapon that can really destroy a lot of people and material. And, you know, there are a lot of people that are saying, well, it's just 36 people that were killed. Well, that's 36 that aren't planting IEDs, that are not going to be fighting and killing green berets like we had killed the other day. And so - and we don't really know the true number. If it's at least 36, that's not a bad number for one - one attack.
[14:10:22] BALDWIN: Quickly, professor, to you, bigger picture on just the message that this use of this tremendous bomb is sending to the rest of the world. I had a very bright, you know, North Korea expert on yesterday saying this absolutely sends a message say to Kim Jong- un, as we're looking ahead to this weekend in that - in that country. Do you think it sends a larger message? The president says it doesn't make any difference. Do you think it does?
FARLEY: Well, I mean, just to step back for a second and talk about where the buck stops. The buck always stop with the president. I mean if the president gives his commander's leeway to launch a strike, then it's the president's - president's responsibility when they make the decisions with that latitude.
With respect to North Korea, it's really hard to say. This is not the kind of weapon you would want to use in an North Korea environment. You have to push this weapon out of the back of a cargo plane. And you can't fly those kinds of cargo planes over North Korea and you can't fly them over Iran. Now, this may be an indication that the president's willing to use larger and more powerful ordinance and we may be hoping that the North Koreans and the Iranians and the Chinese and the Russians will be picking up on that kind of message. But it's really hard to say how they're going to think about how to respond to this, especially when they can think to themselves, if this plane appeared in our territory, we could shoot it down. They're dropping it on people who are effectively defenseless against this kind of weapon and we weren't defenseless. So they get a vote in what kind of message that they hear from this kind of strike.
BALDWIN: OK, Robert Farley, at the University of Kentucky, thank you for your time.
General Tata, as always, a privilege to talk to you.
Thank you, gentlemen, very much.
TATA: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Moving on, just into us here at CNN, the Trump administration announcing that it will not reveal its visitor logs. Right, you walk into the White House. That records who comes, who goes. That breaks with the Obama administration. So the big question, why do they do that?
Also, as whispers grow of a staff shakeup at the White House, new word that someone's getting more and more of the president's attention and ear. And, guess what, he's not a Republican. We'll tell you all about him.
And, two officers seen punching and kicking a man in handcuffs during a traffic stop. Hear what happened to them.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
[14:16:34] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Just into us, the Trump administration says it will keep White House visitor logs private, breaking with a precedent set by the Obama administration. The White House citing, quote, the grave national security risks and privacy concerns for White House visitors as a reason for the move. They did say some logs could be disclosed through Freedom of Information requests.
CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin is with me to discuss.
You know, this basically then goes back to, the Clintons didn't disclose, the Bushs didn't disclose. How big of a deal is this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think it's a huge deal, but it is a change. The Obama administration operated on the assumption, and I think it's a fair one, that access is power. Is that if you are in the White House making your case to senior officials, that's something not everybody gets to do and the public should get to see most of those visitors. Trump administration says no.
BALDWIN: I understand the need for transparency, especially from the White House.
BALDWIN: And I can understand why people would be frustrated. But in reading a little bit about the caveats with the visitor logs and the Obama administration. They wouldn't reveal, you know, sensitive visits.
BALDWIN: They wouldn't reveal private visits. This -
TOOBIN: Military, close personal friends.
TOOBIN: No, I understand. It's not - it's -
BALDWIN: I'm just playing devil's advocate.
TOOBIN: No, it's not - it's - and it's not devil's advocate. I mean it's true. It was never a blanket policy that every single person who enters the White House complex was disclosed. Now it's going to be very few. I mean, yes, you can file a Freedom of Information Act request, but as someone who has filed those and studied those, those take forever.
TOOBIN: Very difficult to get any sort of information. It's just - it's a cutback on public access. It's a cutback on transparency. But it is not something that the Trump administration was legally obligated to do and they've decided not to do it.
BALDWIN: OK, let's talk military action -
BALDWIN: And congressional approval. So let me just set this out. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are saying they want the president to clue them in into what he's doing militarily, specifically after the U.S. dropped this MOAB bomb over, you know, ISIS tunnels in Afghanistan and unleashed some 59 tomahawks in Syria. I want you to listen to a portion of my recent interview with Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: This is an act of war because any time a country bombs a sovereign nation with no authority, no legal authority, that constitutes an act of war. And here in the United States, first of all, we must insist that members of Congress do their job. And if, in fact, we're going to engage in warfare, we need an authorization and a vote, an up or down vote, because this is our job as members of Congress.
And let me say, my heart goes out to the Syrian people. The use of chemical weapons, that's barbaric. We cannot tolerate that. One surgical strike is not going to stop that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: I mean take, for example, what happened with Syria last week. Where's the law on what the president can and can't do without Congress?
TOOBIN: Well, I think, based on my understanding of the law, President Trump was on very shaky ground. That, you know, we have transformed presidential power. The last declared war we had in this country was World War II. Even Vietnam -
BALDWIN: Say that again.
TOOBIN: Yes. The last -
BALDWIN: The last declared war was World War II.
TOOBIN: You know, the Constitution says it is the power of Congress to declare war. BALDWIN: Yes.
[14:20:01] TOOBIN: Congress has not declared war since Germany and Japan in 1941. However, Congress did authorize the use of force in Vietnam, did authorize the use of force in Afghanistan after 9/11. Now we have drifted to a situation where there is no authorization of the use of force. And it's - and you can't even make the case that the attack on Syria was self-defense, which is one perhaps presidential prerogative. I mean, you know, there may be -
BALDWIN: That's what they're saying.
TOOBIN: There may be good reasons -
TOOBIN: To attack that airfield in Syria, but it was not self-defense against the United States.
But the real issue here is Congress - you know, they could tomorrow insist on this and they haven't. They have - they have given this power. I mean, sure, you know, Barbara Lee, who's a Democrat, can talk to you on CNN.
BALDWIN: She was the lone "no" vote on Iraq, right, back in the day (ph)?
TOOBIN: Right. But the Republican who run Congress have basically said to the president, go ahead and do it. They could cut off funding for the - for any kind of war tomorrow but choose not to do it.
BALDWIN: Do you think Americans are just more comfortable with a president flexing his military muscle beyond, you know, some Democrats ala Barbara King in Congress getting irked about this?
TOOBIN: Well, also -
BALDWIN: Generally, what do you think?
TOOBIN: I think that's true. I also think the nature of warfare has changed a lot. We don't have a draft in this country.
TOOBIN: We don't even have many soldiers at risk in military ventures like a missile - you know, in 2006, when the Iraq war was going very badly and 4,000 Americans had died there, you saw the public get engaged. But when the public sees missiles flying, one big bomb in Afghanistan, you don't see that get people politically engaged. I think, you know, the fact that we - that the army is - and the armed forces are much smaller than they used to be and most Americans can put it out of their minds means that they do.
Jeffrey Toobin, thank you for weighing in on that. TOOBIN: Brooke B.
BALDWIN: I appreciate it.
Coming up, are more moderates winning the policy battle within the White House? With Steve Bannon's role apparently diminishing, slipping, we'll look at the man who many say is now pushing policy and the presidential agenda. Why some conservatives say he could be a liability.
Also, two police-involved incidents on opposite sides of the country, both caught on tape, and both causing this firestorm over police behavior. We'll look at them coming up here on CNN.
[14:27:01] BALDWIN: Two separate incidents involving police caught on tape on opposite sides of the country. First in the Atlanta area, two officers have been fired after this video surfaced online. It shows the officers kicking and punching this 19-year-old man while he was on the ground in handcuffs. He was initially pulled over for missing a license plate.
A second witness video shows the man raising his hands above his head when one of the officers punches him in the head. And this dash cam video out of Sacramento shows an officer throwing a man to the ground for jay walking.
Sara Sidner is with me on details from both of these stories.
And, my goodness, let's just begin in Georgia. This apparently happened Wednesday. The officers were fired the next day. What do you know about the decision to fire them?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that can be summed up, Brooke, in just two words, "excessive force." Beyond that, the Gwinnett, Georgia, police chief showed that he was absolutely disturbed and disappointed by what he saw and how his officers treated the 21-year- old student Demetrius Hollins.
We should look through this video a bit. I want to give you another look at it because Hollins was initially pulled over because he did not have a license plate according to the police report. But you see him there. This is the first video I think that police got a hold of. You see him there. There is a sergeant that's standing over him. And up comes this other officer, Officer McDonald, and, there, stomps him in the face. He is not doing anything. He is not - he is not trying to push an officer. There's no fighting going on. But this officer rushes up, stomps him in the face. So that was problem number one.
And as it turns out, this sergeant, which is on the other side, on the left side, Michael Bongiovanni, he's standing there on the scene, he actually reported that the officer did that. Here's what he did not report. Officer Bongiovanni, sergeant - let's show the other video, because this video came out second and this is the video that got him in trouble and fired. That video shows Officer Bongiovanni punching, hands up, there he is, 21-year-old student, punching him in the face right there. And that is a sergeant on the scene. So a higher level officer.
Those two videos pretty much summed up this case. They didn't care about the other circumstances surrounding it. When they saw that and when the public saw that and when the chief saw that, they said, this is not how we operate. You are done. Let's listen to a little bit more of what the police chief said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF BUTCH AYERS, GWINNETT COUNTY POLICE: Recognize that the trust between the community and law enforcement is fragile. And situations like what occurred yesterday only make this worse. Therefore, it was extremely important that the Gwinnett County Police Department do a thorough, quick, and honest evaluation as to what occurred yesterday and to take appropriate action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:29:54] SIDNER: All right, now let's move on to another case, something else that happened this week with a police officer. We're going to go to Sacramento. In Sacramento a man named Nandi Cain was walking down the street. Police said that he was jaywalking. You can hear that on video. And eventually this escalates. And here's how it escalates. Nandi Cain says to him, "be a man." He takes off his jacket. He says,