Return to Transcripts main page


List of Comey Replacement Candidates Grows; Biographer: Decision Reflects Trump's Childish Style; Republican Congressmen Face Heated Town Halls; Axelrod: Comey Firing "A Brazen Act"; North Korea Launches Unidentified Projectile. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 13, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:05] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You're live in the CNN in Newsroom, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being here.

We begin with what sources are describing as plummeting morale inside the White House following the sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey. Forces described the west wing as the justice. The Vice President as rattled and President Trump himself as agitated and isolated. The President is trying to move on by picking a new FBI director as soon as quickly as possible. Here's what he said earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think you might make a decision before you leave for Saudi?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP (R), UNITED STATES: These are outstanding people that are very well known, so we can make the best decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Next week if possible?

TRUMP: Even that is possible.


CABRERA: A list of potential candidates appears to be growing by the hour. These are the six people we know are being interviewed but we're also hearing that a seventh mystery person is in the running as well.

We'll going to take a closer look at each of these candidates and the impact they could have on the Russian investigation. But first, let's go live to Washington, the place still in crisis mode.

CNN White House Correspondent Athena Jones is joining us outside the White House. Athena, tell us more about what's happening inside the west wing.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. Well, we've been talking about the low morale and the fact that this was, you know, by all accounts a bad week for the White House. But particularly that, if your part of the President communications' team, if it's your job to speak on behalf of the President and of the administration, we saw this week that there were changing story lines. That's because the press shop didn't find out about the President's decision to fire Director Comey until about an hour before he did it.

And so they didn't have a lot of time to put together a cogent explanation for why the President made this decision. The talking points we saw early on put this all on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying, this was his recommendation. We heard later from the President himself that he was going to fire Comey all along regardless of any recommendations. So, it's been a tough week for the White House.

The President tweeting about this yesterday morning trying to explain the situation that his press team faces. Here's what he said. He said, as a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy. He went on to say maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future press briefings and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy. He expanded on this a bit in his interview on FOX with Judge Jeanine Pirro. Take a listen.


JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST, "JUSTICE WITH JUDGE JEANINE": Are you moving so quickly that your communication's department cannot keep up with you?

TRUMP: Yes, that's true.

PIRRO: So what do we do about that because --

TRUMP: We don't have press conferences and we do --

PIRRO: You don't mean that.

TRUMP: We just don't have them unless I have them every two weeks and I do it myself. We don't have them. I think it's a good idea.


JONES: So, it's impossible to know how serious the President is about that proposal. We certainly saw the press briefing be scheduled and take place in a normal way on Friday. But all of this does highlight the challenge that the President team faces in trying to explain his moves. And let's not forget, that one of the officials that was delivering the story line that the President later contradicted was the Vice President himself. He repeated it seven times on his trip to Capitol Hill and this is not the first time that the Vice President has found himself communicating something to reporters that later turned out to be inaccurate -- Ana.

CABRERA: That's why sources say he was feeling rattled after this week. Athena Jones at the White House. Our thanks to you.

Let's go ahead and turn to our panel as the search for a new FBI Director is well underway. We are learning at least seven people are being interviewed. With me now, CNN crime and justice producer Shimon Prokupecz, and

National Security analyst Juliette Kayyem.

So, Shimon, first, let's talk about who we know is on the short list so to speak?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: So many names right now, right? You have Alice Fisher. You know, Andrew McCabe who is the current director. A couple of interesting names here. I think Senator John Cornyn would seem to be a political pick here is causing some concern for folks within the FBI because in any way, if you were to -- if he was to be selected as the FBI director, you know, it could potentially politicize the position.

You know, Andrew McCabe, the current acting director, well-liked, it would be well-received by the agents and sort of, you know, mission just continues the way it's been. Alice Fisher is an interesting choice. She would be the first woman to lead the bureau and also a lot of high praised for her from the folks that I've talked to. She's experienced. She has been a lawyer for many years and she has some history with the Department of Justice. Also, those are just some in the names I think that people are happy to hear about and there's one name that people are not so happy to hear about and that's the Senator.

[17:05:09] CABRERA: What do you think about this list, Juliette?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think, you know, from the National Security Law Enforcement perspective, there's really on one name that has legitimately given that the President has now stated and twitted that he got rid of Comey, you know, essentially sort of disrupt and investigation that would be of course McCabe. I would sort of roll over and give you my first child if he picks McCabe, there's no way he's picking McCabe. And so, what that means is that the leveling degrees of legitimacy will determine on who he picks.

I think, like what you said, I think that the politicians, in particular Cornyn and then you're also hearing some representatives in there might be the most challenging, not just from the perspective of the outside but from the perspective of the inside. FBI agents do not view their director as a political beast. They still view him as a law enforcement person.

CABRERA: Of course.

KAYYEM: So, it's going to be a big challenge to find someone who is legitimate or can show that he can continue or he or she will continue with any investigation, but also someone that Trump will pick. And that's where I just -- I can't answer that question because Trump has been sort of all over the place.

CABRERA: Who is that person for the rank and file? They have a pick, right? There are so many that they'd like to see.

PROKUPECZ: They're not really -- I think they're trying to really stay out of it, the rank and file. You know, Mike Rogers name, he's supported by the FBI association, he was an FBI agent.

CABRERA: And a former lawmaker as well.

PROKUPECZ: And a former lawmaker. He was ahead of the House Intel Committee, so he has a lot of respect within the law enforcement community within. So, even on the political side, and he's an even- tempered kind of guy. But keep in mind, I mean, he was of the transition team and he was fired during this transition. And there was rumors that he was being considered for CIA director. So, I mean, while the agents may support him, I think that could actually hurt him. I think Juliette saying earlier to me that, that can actually hurt him. Because Trump may not want to bring in someone who already has a favorability within the bureau. He wants his own person perhaps.

KAYYEM: Yes. And that's, I mean, I do have to say this, sort of you know parade of "The Apprentice" and "American Idol" or whatever is happening today, it really does I think undermine what the FBI agents and what the FBI feel about themselves, to parade potential directors out like this as if it were sort of a dating game. I mean, do the interviews, you don't need to say when they're being done and how these pictures.

CABRERA: And we saw this with his Vice Presidential --

KAYYEM: And we saw in the Supreme Court and it was clear that the eventual winner did not like that either. It's very disrespectful to the person who's going to get the job and let alone the people who won't. It's very disrespectful for the agents. This is a serious job and these are serious people.

CABRERA: We are looking at a live shot right outside the Department Justice where these interviews are happening on and on and on today. Juliette, you touched on this a little bit ago. But I mean, the fact that it's Jeff Sessions and President Trump, two people who have been, you know, kind of distancing themselves because of the Russia investigation, that the President's campaign team who's under investigation directly, the fact that the Attorney General had to recuse himself from being any part of this Russian investigation, now they're going to be picking a person who is going to oversee the Russian probe. How does the America, the public have confidence in the result of this investigation after all of this?

KAYYEM: It's a good question. I'm more alarmed moment than I have been before because I do think that there will be legitimate questions about whether this investigation can carry forward. Now, I believe that this investigation is so far along, you're seeing reports coming out of the Treasury Department now. We're seeing reports coming out of the different parts of Department of Justice. Comey has not spoken yet. There are going to be things that he's going to be able to speak too. I still have confidence this investigation's far enough along that the truth will come out.

And I'm not willing to say what the truth is yet. I don't know if they have collusion. I don't know if this has to do with financial dealings. But what I do know is that, we do deserve a sort of legitimate investigation. So, I think that the further away they can get from a political fight and I do think some Republican senators, not certainly some can extract, sort of bargaining through the confirmation process from whoever that director is going to be, that either, you know that they do not end the investigation or get resources. So, this is not ending but I will say this is a big bump in the road.

CABRERA: Are there any assurances that the Russian investigations is not coming up in the conversations in this interview process?

PROKUPECZ: Well, if they are it would be highly, I mean, it would be inappropriate. So, I mean, I wouldn't even want to speculate to that but if that is going on that would be highly inappropriate. We don't know what kind of questions they're asking of these candidates but these are known candidates. These aren't people who are just coming out of nowhere. They have experience, they've been in the public before. But if there's anything, any questions about the Russia investigation, that would be pretty bad.

CABRERA: Juliette, a former Justice Department spokesman under President Obama says James Comey leave a protective paper trail whenever something he deems appropriate happens. What does that look like?

[17:10:18] KAYYEM: So, it's very interesting and I've heard from a number of people who know him well. So, there's a couple of things to imagine, and I'm just basing this on Comey's actions. First of all. Comey can't speak. He can't speak to the investigation. I don't expect him too, once an FBI agent, director always an FBI director. He can speak to the tweet about whether he actually told Trump three times that he wasn't under investigation. That is now a matter of public record. He can speak to whether he asked for more recourses as was reported. He can say whether he ask for more prosecutors or not.

It's also would be interesting to know whether he left the White House Oval Office, that famous dinner and actually didn't moralize it in some way. A very smart person like Comey. Anyone put in that position would have left that room and either documented it, affidavit it, something just to have a paper record because he want to know what's unfold. If in fact that conversation about, you know, about, you know I need your, you know, I need you to pledge allegiance to me actually occurred. So, I think we haven't heard the end of Comey yet, he wants to clearly pick his audience, and he can't. I mean, in other words, he's not prohibited from doing that.

CABRERA: Are you surprised that he hasn't come out and so anything regarding --

KAYYEM: No. I mean, it may be forever in cable time but it's just been a few days for him. And I think he wants to do it in a way that respects his office. Respect his agents and does not undermine the investigation. In other words, Comey has, I believe he's made mistakes in the past. I don't think he should be fired by, he got too involved with politics. I suspect what he wants to do now is to ensure that he keeps the investigation alive but also makes clear where the President may have misstated or made lies about their communications. And I think that's important for him to do it.

CABRERA: And he was asked before one of these committees this week and apparently it's not going to happen but --

KAYYEM: Because it wasn't secret.

CABRERA: Well, and we now know that they still want to bring him on and hopefully it will be public.

PROKUPECZ: No. They do want to bring him on. But, you know, Comey has told people about the meeting with Trump. Very few people and the people who are very close to him. There are people in the FBI who are close to him that don't even know, who didn't know about that meeting. But we have talked to some folks who are very close to him and he felt concern. And there was definite concern coming out of that dinner with Trump.

CABRERA: Concern about his job or concern about the administration and the influence on the investigation?

PROKUPECZ: Well, it was whether or not it was inappropriate for some of Trump's -- some of their conversation with Trump, whether or not it was inappropriate. Because, Comey throughout this whole investigation and just generally as a practice did not like to talk about investigations with anyone whether it was on The Hill or with presidents and he tried to keep it separate. And he wouldn't share information about investigations.

CABRERA: Well, the FBI is always given us the line as journalist saying, we cannot confirm or deny an investigations as it's ongoing usually.

KAYYEM: And one key point on the calendar with this, four or five days before that dinner was when the FBI interviewed Flynn, the day before the dinner is when Yates tells the White House about Flynn and then Comey is invited to dinner. Comey is no idiot. He knew that calendar was happening. Yates in fact testified that she had told Comey she was going to the White House. So, he knew what was going on.

CABRERA: And Yates also told, we know the administration that the FBI had interviewed Flynn as well prior to that dinner.

KAYYEM: Absolutely. So, he was well aware of what was going on.

CABRERA: We got to leave the conversation there but there's so much more to discuss and as we are trying to put the pieces together. Shimon and Juliette Kayyem, thank you both.

A reminder, we are monitoring what's happening right now outside the Department of Justice. We do know six people have been interviewed today for this FBI director position, we are told a seventh person is likely to be walking in and out as well. You're looking at the six that we know about, Senator John Cornyn, Andrew McCabe, Alice Fisher, Judge Michael Garcia, Adam Lee, and Judge Henry Hudson.

We will stay on top of this throughout the hour.

Meantime, President Trump has said he's basically the same person as when he was in the first grade. He said his temperament is not that different, a surprising statement about the U.S. President from the U.S. President.

We'll take a closer look next with the author of the article, "The Little Boy President." You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:18:48] CABRERA: President Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey is raising more questions about exactly how the President thinks and operates. Some of the commentary in that regard has been downright scathing consider this explanation from Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio who wrote an opinion piece for called "The Little Boy President."

And in it he writes, quote. "Unpredictable, impulsive and immature Trump acts in a way that would expected of a six-year-old boy. But it's terrifying in a man whose mood dictates decisions carried out by adults in behalf of the most powerful nation in the world."

Again, that's from Michael D'Antonio who wrote a book called "The Truth About Trump." He joins me now from Long Island, New York. Thank you, Michael for being with us. You go on to say in that opinion piece that Trump is like having a first grader in the Oval Office who throws tantrums and lets the grown-ups around him deal with the aftermath. Ouch.

Tell me what you mean by all of this? When I read it my takeaway is you believe he's making decisions based on an emotional reaction.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, DONALD TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: Well, he always has worked from his gut. And I think if you're a real estate prompter in elbows out kind of place like Manhattan that can work. In fact he played the media for 40 years to great effect. The problem is, when you're President of the United States, the world is weighing every word that you say and you actually have a whole apparatus in the White House and in the federal government that's trying to act on what you say and answer questions about the claims that you make, and that has tied the government in knots.

And it has in some ways terrified the world. I think about Ronald Reagan and James Baker and how he had people around him who were really rocks that he could land on and who would protect him and guide him through these difficult issues. And I think with President Trump we still have a person feeling his way toward an adult response to those responsibilities and I think, you know, a lot of time has passed and it's time for the learning curve to end and for us to see some steadiness there.

CABRERA: What we've seen this week isn't what you witnessed of him in the business world as well?

D'ANTONIO: Well, this is what he's done in the business world for a long, long time. And the problem is, even in the business world he struggled with credibility and with things like financing once he went through the four big bankruptcies. Now he could go outside of the normal channels and find sources of revenue and income that sustained him and allowed him to recover from the bankruptcies but this is a whole new scale of activity that he's embarked on.

I find it kind of amazing that people were talking about how busy the President is and how much action he's engaged in, this is the definition of the presidency, it's a 24/7 kind of responsibility and all presidents are really active, all are engaged in issues, it's really the norm. And I think the country and the world is desperate to see that he'll get up to speed and maybe let people help him.

CABRERA: The word loyalty has come up over and over and over again when we talk about President Trump. You say he demand loyalty in that business he opens hire people who didn't have options. One man involved in Comey's firing we know who delivered the dismissal letter has been close to the President for decades. So, tell us about Keith Schiller.

D'ANTONIO: Well, this is a case and point. Mr. Schiller was a New York City police detective who actually managed to get a job and security with Donald Trump in 1999. And he demonstrated the loyalty and also the ability to keep his mouth shut, and that's another key requirement if you're working with Donald Trump. There's one star on the stage and it's him and he showed that he could be trusted and could be loyal almost to a fault. And this is classic Trump operating procedure, you're supposed to pledge your loyalty to him.

[17:23:15] So when I heard that perhaps he had asked FBI Director Comey to express his commitment and loyalty, that sounded about right to me. I think that this is a much different circumstance and the people who work in the government pledge their loyalty to the constitution and they serve the American people not the whim of the chief executive. And so, again this is something that work for him in private business and worked for him as the sole proprietor of multiple businesses but it doesn't work when the press of the world is focused on you and when there's other branches of government that will the power commensurate with yours, it's just a completely different dynamic. So when I saw Keith Schiller delivering this letter to the FBI --


D'ANTONIO: I knew first of all that this was on direct orders from the President. I also sense that the FBI folks, the people in the bureaucracy there would resent this. This was sending a person who's really an interloper into their headquarters to deliver really the coup de gras, to amend who was well-supported by the agents there. It just was obvious to me that this was Donald Trump at his usual operating style.

CABRERA: I want to just ask very quickly about this search for the next FBI director. We've heard there are seven people who are interviewing today for this position and one of the things that we heard from our Jeff Zeleny reporting that people who are close to Comey, that the President thought that Comey was too much his own man, that was the thinking behind why he was fired. Too much his own man, what do you think that the President meant by those words?

D'ANTONIO: Well, the thing that I took away actually that mattered more in my ear was the phrase, showboat. He recognized and called me a person who got his own attention and actually could make headlines and seemed to be willing to do it. And that is unacceptable. Now, truth be told there are many around Washington and around the country who thought that Comey had overstepped the responsibilities of the FBI director but the way that he was fired really was a disgrace.

So, he's going to be looking for someone who will not be the showboat. I don't think he now believes that that person should lack independence. I think there's been such a blowback from the dynamic with Comey that he may be willing and actually eager to find someone who has credibility, has independence and will get him out of this controversy. So I look for actually McCabe to be a person at the top of the list.

CABRERA: All right. Michael D'Antonio, thanks for spending some time with us this weekend.

D'ANTONIO: Thank you, Ana. Republican lawmakers are getting an ear full of outrage on their home turf.

Up next, a look at flaring tempers as they meet with voters. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:30:34] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera.

Many of House Republicans are back in their home districts this weekend facing their constituents head on in halls and taking heat for their vote on health care and President Trump's firing of the FBI director. Some of those town halls are getting intense.

CNN's Gary Tuchman shows us.



GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump said during campaign he will be a great unifier for the country --


TUCHMAN: -- but there's been no evidence of that at congressional town halls this week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) -- shut your mouth.


TUCHMAN: Many of the Republican congressmen who held town halls during this recess have heard the wrath of many of this constituent.

In New Jersey, Congressman Tom MacArthur got an earful. It was his amendment to the Health Care Act that helped push it over the finish line.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is rape considered a preexisting condition under your amendment?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes or no? Yes or no? Yes or no? One word please. One word please.


REP. TOM MACARTHUR, (R), NEW JERSEY: Folks, you get to ask the questions and I get to answer them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, so answer them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So answer them. Is it?

MACARTHUR: I will not describe a violent act against a woman as a preexisting condition. That to me --


MACARTHUR: But what I will say, but what I will say is that this bill does not allow discrimination in health insurance based on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, you can say what you want, but I think we all know the truth here. And thank you.

TUCHMAN: In North Dakota, Congressman Kevin Cramer heard from a woman with a disabled child. She asked them not to repeal Obamacare with her family facing bankruptcy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what $3.5 million looks like. And she's only 3 years old.

TUCHMAN: A man upset for the woman started walking towards the congressman.


TUCHMAN: Another town hall participant then grabbed his neck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raise my taxes and give it to that woman. Take the billionaire's money and give it to that woman. Here.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's too far.

TUCHMAN: Both he and the man who grabbed his neck were taken out by police.

Then there was this woman asking a question of Republican Congressman Rob Blum of Iowa about how he could still support Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How come Bill Clinton get impeached over (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and this --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and this thing that's in the White House now brings the Russians into the Oval Office in front of their cameras.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is he not being impeached?

TUCHMAN: The answer did not satisfy most in this audience.

REP. ROB BLUM, (R), IOWA: No evidence, so far, of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.


TUCHMAN: Representative Blum held three other town halls this week and ended up leaving this mostly combative one without even telling the audience good-bye.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Cedars Rapids, Iowa.


CABRERA: A former insider at the Obama White House says the Comey firing was a brazen act. David Axelrod weighs in on the firing and the aftermath, next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:37:44] CABRERA: Tonight, at 9:00, "The Ax Files," with CNN senior political commentator and former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod, airs here on CNN. In this new episode, Axelrod talks to California Governor Jerry Brown in a wide-ranging interview that spans from California's role in the U.S. economy to Brown's take on the firing of FBI Director James Comey.


JERRY BROWN, (D), CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: I do think that Comey's public statements about the e-mail and Hillary was a very bad and unprofessional -- and he never acknowledged it. So, I think Comey has real serious problems.


BROWN: But, that's the other point, that he asked for recourses to investigate the Russia/Trump connection, so, yeah, that smells, no question.

AXELROD: Where do you think this all goes? Is it going to hang over Trump?

BROWN: Well, it's hanging over Washington. It's all they can think about. I'd like to see the Senate restore some of its earlier luster with the great giants in the Senate in the past, and with truly bipartisan, Democrat and Republican. Let them investigate. I think maybe bring the House in, too. But Watergate was a lot -- the investigation there was driven by the House of Representatives and by the committees. So I think they're capable, if they can get off this circus of partisanship and polarization, which they seem addicted to, tragically.


CABRERA: That was CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod's interview with California Governor Jerry Brown. We'll have more of their conversation in a special tonight.


CABRERA: David Axelrod is with us now.

You spent years inside the White House as a senior adviser to President Obama. You served as chief strategist for both Obama presidential campaigns. What was your first reaction when you heard President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey?

AXELROD: Well, I guess shock would have to be the answer. I really thought it was such a brazen thing. If you're of a certain generation, your mind does flash back to the Watergate time. I think there are a lot of differences. But the fundamental act of a president firing a law enforcement official who was conducting an investigation that might touch on some of the president's associates and the president's campaign is reminiscent. I thought it was a pretty brazen act.

[17:40:12] CABRERA: Comey said this in his farewell letter. I'll read it. He said, "I have long believed that a president can fire an FBI director for any reason or for no reason at all."

David, do you agree?

AXELROD: Well, that the FBI -- it's certainly true the president can fire the FBI director. It's also true that FBI directors have 10-year terms for a reason. We've seen FBI directors fired for cause under the Clinton administration, ethics violations. But it's rare for FBI directors to be taken out in this way. We don't have a parallel situation. This particular FBI director was leading an investigation that is obviously sensitive to the president. And then, you know, complicating matters, the country was told, at first, by the vice president's spokespeople for the White House that it had to do with the way he handled the Hillary matter, which didn't pass the smell test. The president himself cut them off at the knees. That creates more of a cloud over all of this. So it was a very, very dramatically bad week for this White House.

CABRERA: But there really was a lot of blowback on Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails and the announcements he made during campaign. President Obama, of course, hired Comey in 2013. After everything that happened during the election, which Rosenstein brings up in his memo this week, should President Obama have fired Comey before he left the White House, do you think?

AXELROD: Well, that is a matter that he would have to speak to. But my reaction to what Comey did, I was very critical, like most people were, of his handling of this, but I always believe what he was trying to do was avoid the appearance of being political. And he was thrust in a bad position because the attorney general, then-attorney general had to recuse herself from the investigation, as you'll remember. So I think he was trying to protect the integrity of his organization, but he handled it very badly. It was awkwardly handled. I don't think it was a breach of integrity on his part. I think he's a man of integrity. So I would not have been so quick to relieve him, even around that matter. But, the point here is that Donald Trump was a cheerleader for what Comey did, applauded the very things that Rosenstein was criticizing him for. So he's not a very persuasive agent of -- of justice here in terms of, you know, redressing whatever he feels was done wrong.


CABRERA: You can join David Axelrod tonight, at 9:00 p.m. eastern, for "The Ax Files," with guest, California Governor Jerry Brown.

We have breaking news. North Korea appears not to be backing down from its missile program. South Korea's military say North Korea has fired what appears to be an unidentified projectile from a region of its north coast. A South Korean military official says the nature of this projectile is not immediately clear. We're working to gather more information.

We'll have more next on CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:47:37] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CABRERA: North Korea launches another projectile today. The unidentified projectile was fired from a region near North Korea's west coast.

I want to get straight to CNN's Alexandra field in Seoul, South Korea.

Alexandra, what are you learning.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is about confirmed but South Koreans military officials saying this was some kind of launch of some kind of projectile -- (INAUDIBLE) -- more towards the east coast of the country. But these are the moment that we are quite use to where officials from both the U.S., Japan, South Korea will all be looking at what kind of evidence they can use from this launch strike to determine exactly what was launched and what kind of -- (INAUDIBLE) - and, of course, what they can tell about any potential development with North Korea's missile program. I can't say enough that this is something that North Korea continues to do. They have tested missiles over at least nine different times. Since the start of the year, they've launched at least nine different projectiles. (INAUDIBLE) -- in the region that another projectile of some sort has been lost.

So while we wait to hear details of what exactly they were testing in North Korea -- (INAUDIBLE). This comes just a few days after South Korea has elected a new president. The former president of South Korea was, of course, ousted from office following an impeachment and a corruption scandal. They've got a new president who has come to office. He campaigned for the Democratic Party on a different kind of approach to North Korea. This country has had Conservative Party leadership for more than a decade now. The Conservative Party took a much harder line towards North Korea. The Democratic Party and President Moon has repeatedly taken a different kind of line towards North Korea about having more open communication and dialogue. Right now, we'll see how exactly government officials respond with another confrontation.

[17:49:54] CABRERA: All right, Alexandra Field, we appreciate it.

She just mentioned how North Korea has attempted at least nine missile launches on six occasion just since President Trump took office.

I want to bring in CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, joining us on the phone.

Elise, are you hearing any more about this particular launch?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not yet, Ana. I think, unless it's going to be, even not just a medium range, but intermediate range missile -- of course, they'll figure out what this is in the coming hours. But I think right now, we're probably looking at a medium-range ballistic missile.

I think this is part and parcel of what we have seen from North Korea over the last several months. As Alex was saying, the timing is interesting, not just because of the election of the new South Korean president, but it's also interesting that it's been kind of quiet from North Korea for the past several weeks. You saw an increased rhetorical by the Trump administration, by President Trump himself. There was also talk about, you know, China growing increasingly frustrated with North Korea. So, you know, North Korea, you usually see this from North Korea. They'll lob a bunch of missiles, you think it's coming to the brink, and then it'll back off a little bit. And that's what seems to have happened.

In the last few week, we even heard from the South Koreans that the North Koreans are saying they might want to talk with the Trump administration, they might want to see if there's a way forward.

You even heard Secretary of State Rex Tillerson say a couple weeks ago in New York, if North Korea was willing to back off of its nuclear ambitions, there could be talks and assurances of the regime. North Korea could take that a bunch of different ways.

I think what's the most interesting, is you see all the political chaos here in the United States, the Americans are completely focused with this. And a lot of times, North Korea needs attention and needs to remind the world that it's still there, and this is not an issue that's going away. I think this should be a bit of that.

CABRERA: So you think this might be about, when you talk about how North Korea was just recently saying that they would be willing to have direct talks with the U.S. government. This is according to South Korea's news agency just this week.

I want to bring in Victor Cha, former White House director of Asian Affairs and author of "The Impossible State of North Korea."

Victor, what do you make of the timing of this missile launch?

VICTOR CHA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF ASIAN AFFAIRS & AUTHOR: Well, it's not surprising in the sense that North Korea has had a historical record of target South Korean election with provocations. It doesn't matter whether it's a conservative or progressive government that's elected. In this case, it's a progressive government that, as Elise said, is more interested in engagement with North Korea. But that doesn't seem to matter to the North Koreans. They will do tests around the South Korean election, and they've proven again they'll follow this pattern.

CABRERA: You think it was meant to send a message to the new South Korean leader?

CHA: Yeah, I think -- part of it is trying to establish a position of strength, to show that people are going to have to come to them to negotiate with them. It obviously has a military testing purpose. That's what the spike in testing has shown us. They are developing their technologies and improving them with every test, whether they succeed or fail.

CABRERA: When I reported earlier that U.S. spy satellites had picked up signs of missile movement in North Korea, they believe it's preparing for a potential missile launch, that the same scud missiles, they believe, that have failed in recent past tests. We don't the exact projectile that was used here. We don't have all those details, but we did know it appeared they were readying something. If it is a scud missile, does that tell us anything about the advancement of their program?

CHA: No, I think the thing would be if they are testing medium-range ballistic missile technology, solid fuel, from mobile launches, that would demonstrate a real advancement in their capabilities. We've seen a lot of shorter-range ballistic missiles fired from mobile places off the east coast, to land within 200 miles of the shores of Japan. This was launched from the west coast. We don't have enough information. I don't know if they were launched into the west sea or over Japan. So we just don't know just yet.

But what I think this also does is it puts pressure on the new South Korean government, in the sense that they keep talking about wanting to do engagement with North Korea, but the North Korea don't give them a lot of room to do that with these sorts of launches.




[17:54:49] CABRERA: Victor Cha, we appreciate your expertise. We'll have you back here shortly.

We continue to get more information about this projective that was launched from North Korea, and our teams are working to gather more details.

Stay with us. We'll take a quick break and be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: The project is making welcome mats from the life vests. So they're weaving these and getting paid to weave them. We are going to sell these in the U.S. And the idea is that we are laying down to welcome mat for them.



UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: We can do so much better in welcoming people into our country.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: This is a direct way to give empowerment and hope in something as simple as purchasing a mat.


CABRERA: To find out more about the welcome project and how you can buy a welcome mat, or to nominate a "CNN Hero," go to

I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. Thank you so much for being with me. I'll see you one hour from now, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

"Smerconish" is next.