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North Korea Nuclear Fears; Court Examines Trump Travel Ban; White House Refuses to Discuss Potential Oval Office Taping. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired May 15, 2017 - 15:00   ET




SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I think if you even look at what acting director McCabe said last week, he made it very clear that they have the resources that they need and that the work continues.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: But I want to play devil's advocate on this, because having covered Hillary Clinton, I'm always reminded of the Clinton years and how there was actually this agreement to go with an independent investigator, and then there was this mission creep from Whitewater.

And eventually that is what led to the impeachment of President Clinton. Why would anyone ever agree to this thing?



This might be -- this isn't a White House, particularly a president, that is really steeped in history, but they seem to be taking this historical lesson from the Whitewater investigations, from the independent counsel that existed under Clinton, and the idea that it wasn't the initial investigation that ended up leading to Clinton's impeachment, but something else, the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

And so, yes, who would want sort of anyone just poking around without really license or mission in someone's background?

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: But if you wanted to avoid people calling for a special prosecutor, what you should not have done was fire the FBI director who was investigating you...

HENDERSON: Very good point, yes.

BACON: ... already, because that was going to raise the expectations of that. One number -- I do numbers over at FiveThirtyEight -- the number zero

is very important here. Zero Republicans on Capitol Hill of the 290 so far support a special prosecutor. So, until that number goes to 10 or 15 or 100, I think Donald Trump, it's probably a good decision to take this stance.

KEILAR: They have -- but they may have good reason.

I just think if this were flipped and Hillary Clinton were president...

BACON: Of course.

KEILAR: ... and this was a...


KEILAR: Exactly, an investigation...


KEILAR: No way would they go along with it.

Something we were discussing, Dana, during the briefing, the demeanor of Sean Spicer, this was so different. It was very deflated.



KEILAR: It wasn't -- the joke, it's Spicey, the joke.

BASH: Yes, none.

KEILAR: But he wasn't fiery.

BASH: No, not in the least.

Look, it's been -- can you imagine working in this White House over the past week or so?


BASH: Can you imagine? And can you imagine being on the front lines, as Sean Spicer has, and also being the subject of a lot of chatter about whether or not he or any of his other colleagues are going to stay there, if they are long for this world professionally.

But I totally agree with you. I'm not -- I feel like we also saw -- and maybe I will be proven wrong -- a press secretary who, as I said before, touched the stove so many times, but he's somebody who has learned a lesson, especially with the unbelievable job of having to speak for a president like Donald Trump, that, yes, the non-answer on the tapes could be intentional and to put ambiguity out there to make people wonder. But I think it's also, you know what? I went out on a limb so many

times. Who knows where this thing is going? I'm going to say the bare minimum, and that's it.

KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny is on the North Lawn for us.

And also, Jeff, if you can just add to that, the demeanor that you saw from Sean Spicer, and also that it seemed like -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- there were some people who normally are called on who were not called on in this press briefing.


And Dana is absolutely right about her observations about working in this White House, about what the people here inside the West Wing are going through, just in terms of the whiplash that was last week.

Quite frankly, now aides are afraid to speak for the president or say what they think he thought when they went into a briefing, knowing that could obviously change moment by moment in some respects.

I was told by a top administration official in the West Wing saying a new policy is going to be going forward I will have to check on that and get back to you, because the president changes his viewpoint.

But, look, I did see a subdued Sean Spicer there. But one of the reasons here that he did not answer the question about if there's a recording system, I don't believe he knows. I don't believe that people in this White House...


ZELENY: ... most of them in the administration, know about this.

If there is some type of a systematic recording system, this is known by a very small circle of people, the president and some people who arrived here with him who have worked with him for a long time in Trump Tower and other places. So, I don't think they know.

But I think you're also right, Brianna, exactly about in terms of who got questions. This is the second day in a row most broadcast networks, most major newspapers did not get questions at this briefing, the same thing, the same situation on Friday.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the questions aren't going to be hard, because they were. And Sean Spicer simply is not going to answer the question of, were there tapes any or not, because he doesn't know, I'm told, and he's not been told to answer it.


It was a really -- it was a stunning answer, which -- really a stunning repetition. Let's go ahead and listen to that, when Sean Spicer was asked about this issue just moments ago.



QUESTION: So, several Republicans have joined Democrats in seeking additional information from the White House in writing about the existence of any tapes, producing the tapes, and any further information about the potential taping of conversations.

Is the White House going to cooperate with those requests and furnish that information as requested in writing?

SPICER: I think I made it clear last week that the president has nothing further on that.

QUESTION: But, Sean, does that mean that the president will deny...


SPICER: I think that I said I was very clear that we -- the president would have nothing further on that last week.


SPICER: I understand.

QUESTION: ... in which would defy the legislative branch's request. That's what you're saying.

SPICER: I understand. Alexis, I made it clear what the president's position is on that issue.


KEILAR: Big points to Alexis Simendinger for trying to get every which way on that question, but, Chris Cillizza, making it clear he's not going to answer it, Jeff Zeleny telling us right there that he believes Sean Spicer, he has reason to believe, from talking to sources, that Spicer does not know.

CILLIZZA: And that's not it terribly surprising, for two reasons.

One, the job of the press secretary at some level -- and this is true for Donald Trump, Barack Obama, whoever -- is plausible deniability.

What you don't know can't hurt you. So, to say I don't know is very different to, say, I don't know and it turns out you did know. So, some of that, they're walled off. That was why "The West Wing" was always ridiculous, because C.J. Cregg was brought in on every meeting, when there's no way the press secretary is in on that stuff.

KEILAR: No way.


KEILAR: Scott McClellan, there is no way he was in on a lot of meetings. CILLIZZA: No.

KEILAR: There were folks we know in the Obama administration -- press secretaries in the Obama administration, much to our frustration covering the White House...

CILLIZZA: They purposely stay out of them.

KEILAR: ... did not go to meetings.

CILLIZZA: Point two, Sean has never been -- and he, I think, would acknowledge this privately -- Sean has never been in Donald Trump's inner circle.

Sean was a Reince Priebus guy. He helped him at the Republican National Committee. Reince helped bring him over. We know from the machinations back and forth during the transition that Sean might not have been Donald Trump's first choice.

Dana made this point. And I then think you have to think about not only that you're in a job in which you're very high-profile, you get made fun of by "SNL." People are asking you questions constantly you can't answer.

But also there are stories constantly about your boss not being happy with your performance when he watches on television. So, it doesn't -- would not shock me that Sean didn't know for those two reasons.

David Drucker, how long will this answer hold, this answer that we heard from Sean Spicer that the president has made it clear he has nothing further on that?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It will hold as long as that's the answer they want to run with. I don't think we're going to stop asking about it, because it's salacious and it's substantive at the same time.

We have not talked about secret White House tapes, I think, since before I was born. Or I must have been like 2 years old. So it's a very big deal. And it relates to the president and his conversations with the now fired FBI director.

And let's not forget why we're dealing with this. And this goes to why I think it's so difficult for anybody in Sean Spicer's job, whether it's him or Sara Sanders or whoever will try and speak for him. The president is the one that told everybody about this.

It's not like we went through some really good shoe-leather reporting, which is being done every day, and we dug up the fact through sources that the president has been taping people.

The president went on Twitter and warned Jim Comey that he better watch his back because he's taping everybody. And so the president has created this crisis of his own doing. And because the president said it, it has an immediate credibility of at least being potentially true, as opposed to one outlet through sources talking about something that may or may not be true.

And I think that's why this is such a big deal. And that's why we're going to keep chasing it so hard. If the president had never admitted to this, I think it would be much less of a serious matter, and I think that, at some point, it would be dropped.

But now it's hanging out there. It's something that members of Congress are going to want to know about. And so I think that Sean Spicer is going to continue to get asked about this. And they may make a decision not to say anything further, but I don't think it's going to call the dogs off.

KEILAR: I want to talk now about what the top of the briefing was. We had Tom Bossert, who is the homeland security adviser there at the White House, talking about this ransomware attack that happened all across the globe.

And I want to bring Rod Beckstrom. He's the former executive director at the National Cybersecurity Center.

OK, so a couple things. He said -- quote -- "The worm is in the wild." He also said, Rod, that some folks, as we understand it, who have paid this ransom, they actually haven't had their data recovered. And he also tried to dispel any idea that this was something that was developed by the NSA.

What stood out to you about that?

ROD BECKSTROM, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CYBERSECURITY CENTER: Well, the first thing is, the only party that can formally confirm whether something was developed by the NSA or not is the NSA, and they are not likely to do that.

And, also, there's different ways to interpret that fact, because it could have been -- the vulnerability could have been discovered by a third-party security researcher or hacker who sold it to the NSA.


So, this could have been used by the NSA and it could have been discovered and developed by someone else. That's part of the tradecraft in practice, is intelligence agencies around the world hire security researchers and hackers to come up with what we call both vulnerabilities they discover and exploit.

So, that's a possible explanation for that. In terms of it being out in the wild, it clearly is out in the wild. It's a huge problem. And it is true, Brianna, that some people paying are not finding their data decrypted because it appears that they actually have a human, manual method for following up if you do post your Bitcoin.


BECKSTROM: So, they have got a bottleneck on their servicing of the inbound requests that, of course, we hope people don't do, that people don't pay the ransomware. KEILAR: OK.

And to that point, there was some news you could use in this, which was he said, look, patches are available. He was telling people what they need to do.


KEILAR: Right?

BECKSTROM: Absolutely.

KEILAR: So, what -- just to refresh people's memory as to what they need to do if they are concerned about this, what should they do?

BECKSTROM: Well, the first thing is, is you should update your operating system, particularly if you're using Windows.

In general, I recommend that everyone put on the auto-update feature. So, as soon as new patches or an operating update is coming on your P.C., your tablet or phone, that you're getting that update automatically, is the best way to go, the same thing for your antivirus.

And then next point is, people need to have the firewall turned on their personal computer. And they're different ways to do that, depending upon which operating system you're using. It's important that you do that.

The last key step is, please go out to an electronics store and spend $20, $50 or $100 on an external hard drive and plug it into your P.C. some time, back up the entire hard disk, but unplug it. Don't keep it attached to your computer, because it could be infected when the next virus or worm outbreak happens.

KEILAR: All great advice. Rod Beckstrom, thank you so much.

And thank you to my lovely panel. I really appreciated the discussion.

A quick programming note, two must-see TV moments tomorrow right here on CNN, at 8:00 Eastern, an exclusive interview with Sally Yates, the woman that President Trump fired as acting attorney general. We will have that tomorrow night on "A.C. 360."

And then at 9:00, John Kasich and Bernie Sanders, they battled in Congress for years. Well, now they are facing off on health care, the economy and the other big issues that are facing the country. That's a live CNN debate tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern.

And coming up: deliberations just wrapping up in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rare on-camera arguments over President Trump's revised travel ban. Is the executive order now heading to the Supreme Court? We will discuss that.

Also, analysts are calling it North Korea's most successful missile test yet. Pyongyang claims the mainland is in now sighting range for a strike. What will the U.S. response be?

We're back in a moment.




SPICER: I think there's no question that North Korea continues to threaten the United States, our allies, Japan, South Korea, and its neighbors, including both China and Russia.

I think we are calling on all of those folks in the region, particularly China and Russia, to do everything they can in terms of sanctions to help resolve the situation and bring stability to the peninsula.


KEILAR: That was the White House just moments ago responding to North Korea's latest missile test, this after the regime sent a not-so- subtle warning to the U.S.: Do not provoke us.

The regime claiming that the U.S. mainland and Pacific operations are now within reach of North Korean missiles. And they say one of their missiles could carry a large nuclear warhead. This new missile test came within striking distance of Russia.

CNN international correspondent Will Ripley has more.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now, the consensus among most military analysts is that this was North Korea's most successful missile test ever.

Here in Japan, they watched the entire flight. They say it lasted a full 30 minutes. The United States believes this missile reached an altitude of more than 2,100 kilometers. That's more than 1,300 miles. They also say it traveled an additional 700 kilometers or almost 500 miles, landing in the waters off the coast of Vladivostok, Russia, just 60 miles or so from the Russian Pacific fleet.

This is significant because it shows that North Korea's missile capabilities continue to increase. In fact, the think tank 38 North says this may be the best performance of a North Korean missile that has ever been seen.

And so now the question, how will Russia respond? Russian President Vladimir Putin condemning the missile launch when speaking in Beijing, but also warning -- and this remark believed to be aimed at the United States -- warning against intimidating Pyongyang.

We know that Russia, along with China, has long held the view that the United States and its joint military exercises with South Korea is at least partially to blame for the escalating tensions on Korean Peninsula.

It's one of the reasons why China has for so long resisted imposing crippling economic sanctions on the North Korean regime, which it has long supported as a strategic buffer between China and U.S.-allied South Korea.

But the timing of this launch significant and very humiliating for Chinese President Xi Jinping, because it happened just hours before a major global economic forum that he is hosting in the Chinese capital, and we know that the Trump administration is reiterating its calls for more and heavier sanctions against Pyongyang.

Over the last decade or so, sanctions have done little to stop North Korea from conducting dozens of missile launches and five nuclear tests, behavior that North Korean officials in Pyongyang told me just last month will continue, no matter what the rest of the world does.

Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.


KEILAR: Thank you to Will for that.

And here with me now to discuss is David Wright. He's the co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He's an expert on nuclear weapons policy and missile defense systems.

So, to that end, David, tell us about this missile, how concerned the U.S. and other nations should be.

DAVID WRIGHT, CO-DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL SECURITY, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: Well, this was certainly something new that we hadn't seen before.

So, in that sense, it was a surprise. If you look at the range that this system would have if it was flown on a normal trajectory, rather than the sort of lofted trajectory, it would get something between 4,500, 4600 kilometers.


The only real target that that brings into range is the U.S. forces in Guam. That doesn't concern me all that much, because the accuracy of this missile is probably so low that I'm not sure it could really target that very effectively.

But what it does is, it tells the United States that, as we have seen in the past, North Korea is continuing to develop its missile program, despite sanction, despite having trouble getting international technology.

And I think what we're learning here is that if something doesn't change, if there's not a way to freeze its program, it's on its way to developing a long-range missile.

KEILAR: So, you're seeing this as a data point just in the general development of their nuclear program.


KEILAR: When you hear the threats, then, it sounds like, from North Korea and the -- well, really what North Korea is saying, you see that as hyperbole about how far this missile could go?

WRIGHT: Well, so, I mean, it's worth keeping in mind that North Korea has for many years been able to hold South Korea, U.S. forces in South Korea at risk, and also forces in Japan.

So it's certainly had a way to threaten both neighbors and the United States. On top of that, it seems to me that the main significance of this is really seeing a step forward toward something longer. But this missile is still only about half the way to the U.S. West Coast.

I think the argument that it could carry a heavy warhead is probably not true. I think that's bluster. So, the jury is out on this. And I think -- I really think the lesson of this is that the United States needs to find a way to sit down and try and cap this program and figure a way out of this.

KEILAR: Because -- that's actually what I wanted to ask you about next, because the Trump administration now is trying to figure out exactly how to deal with North Korea, something that has eluded so many presidents, get -- sitting down and having a discussion about this and capping this, as you said.

In your expertise, having watched many leaders try this, what do you think is the best approach?

WRIGHT: Well, I think the first thing that should happen is, the United States should talk -- should call for talks about talks, informal talks -- it doesn't have to be sitting down for formal negotiations -- to figure out where both sides are and what they are willing to talk about.

I think that needs to be done without preconditions. One of the problems in the past is that U.S. leaders, for example, have said: We want to sit down and talk about denuclearization. And North Korea's response to that has sort of been, well, maybe that's the outcome, but we -- that shouldn't be the thing we decide at the beginning.

So, I think there needs to be an approach that says, let's talk about talking and see where we can get. A couple days ago, the North Korean -- a North Korea official talked about once again that North Korea would like to talk to the United States. Some people that. Some don't. But I think we really need to see if that's true.

KEILAR: A little fact-check on that, talks about talk, you say.

David Wright, thank you so much.


KEILAR: Next: three judges deciding the fate right now of President Trump's travel ban. His campaign statements about keeping Muslims out of the U.S. are at the heart of these heated arguments. We will debate both sides.



KEILAR: Well, for the second time in President Trump's young administration, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is listening to lawyers battle over the legality of his executive order temporarily blocking some foreigners from traveling to the U.S.

One of the points of contention, whether this was a Muslim ban, which is a likely violation of the Constitution and something the president said repeatedly during the campaign.


JUDGE MICHAEL HAWKINS, NINTH CIRCUIT OF APPEALS: Has the president ever disavowed his campaign statements?

Has he ever stood up and said, I said before I wanted to ban all members of the Islamic faith from entering the United States of America, I was wrong, I have consulted with lawyers, I'm now addressing it simply to security needs?

Has he ever said anything approaching that?

JEFFREY WALL, ATTORNEY: Yes, Judge Hawkins, he has said several things approaching that.

And I think it's detailed in various amicus briefs. The best one is probably the Southeastern Legal Foundation brief, and part three walks threat right comments and shows that over time the president clarified that what he was talking about were Islamic terrorist groups and the countries that shelter or sponsor them.

And over time, he and his advisers clarify that what he was focused on were groups like ISIS and al Qaeda.

NEAL KATYAL, ATTORNEY: You asked my friend Mr. Wall has the president ever disavowed all of these statements?

And I thought his answer was surprising, because he couldn't actually point to you any disavowal. He just cited en masse amicus briefs, because the truth is, there is no such statement.

Starting in December 2015, when he called for a -- quote -- "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," then a few months later -- quote -- "I think Islam hates us. We can't allow people coming into this country who have this hate of the United States."

Then a few months later, my opponent -- quote -- "would admit tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East who would try to take over our children and convince them how wonderful Islam is." (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And joining me now is CNN's Dan Simon.

Dan, you are there in Seattle.

This isn't the first time that the Ninth Circuit has been tasked with deciding the immediate fate of this travel ban. Back in February, a federal judge overturned the ban. So, what's different now?