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Interview With Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly; States Fighting Back Against Trump Vote Commission; North Korea Missile Launch; Trump, Putin G20 Meeting Upgraded to Formal Talks. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired July 4, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Not the kind of fireworks we were hoping for.

THE LEAD starts right now.

And breaking news, North Korea's quest for the ability to strike the United States with a nuclear missile might have just taken an alarming step forward. What the U.S. military is now saying about Kim Jong- un's latest missile launch. And how will, how can President Trump respond?

Countdown to the showdown. New details about the president's upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin, what the ground rules will be and what it says about the relationship between the two men, the two nations right now.

Plus, dozens of states, including the vice president's home state and the state of the committee vice chairman, now refusing to fully cooperate with the president's voter fraud commission. Is this going nowhere fast?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake Tapper.

We begin with July 4th holiday with breaking news in our world lead.

The president just wishing the country a happy Independence Day, saying -- quote -- "Our country will grow and prosper."

This as the president faces a new and serious threat from North Korea. U.S. officials have now determined that North Korea's missile test last night was most likely an intercontinental ballistic missile, which could indicate a significant development in the rogue regime's weapons program.

The launch prompted an unexpected July 4 meeting of President Trump's national security team, the president responding to the test as you might expect on Twitter, writing -- quote -- "North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!" The North Korean threat is certain to be a major focus of Donald Trump's second overseas trip as president, with a formal sit-down with Putin in the offing.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon today.

So, Barbara, tell us, what is leading U.S. officials to believe that this could have been an intercontinental ballistic test with the range at least potentially of hitting the United States?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, administration officials throughout the day are quietly making it clear they don't want this situation to escalate, but they are also saying that, looking at the latest intelligence from satellites and other sensors, that is what is convincing them this most likely was an intercontinental ballistic missile.

SCIUTTO: So a step forward, but you're hearing that officials don't believe that today a North Korean ICBM could actually directly strike the continental U.S.?

STARR: hat they are saying is what they have continued to say. Kim Jong-un has a very active missile test program, and that they believe that is his ultimate goal.

He can't maybe do it yet, but they really do believe That that's what he wants to do, a missile with a nuclear warhead that could hit the U.S.


STARR (voice-over): These are the first images of the North Korean missile launch the U.S. never wanted to see. U.S. officials calculate this is likely a two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile, an ICBM, that could someday hit parts of the United States.

U.S. spy satellites for days had picked up imagery of a potential KN- 17 missile launch like this one launched in May, being readied. Now the latest assessment suggests the new launch was a more advanced missile that traveled farther than any previous missile test. The South Korean and U.S. military estimates the missile traveled more than 580 miles in 37 minutes.

Based on this, experts calculate the missile could have a maximum range of roughly 4,160 miles, long enough to reach all of Alaska, but not the rest of the U.S.

DAVID WRIGHT, CO-DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL SECURITY, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: You have to remember the missile technology has been around for a long time, so there are no particular secrets.

STARR: The new launch comes as North Korea also continues to pursue the development of a nuclear warhead.

ADM. HARRY HARRIS, COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND: Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technologies in the hands of Kim Jong- un is a recipe for disaster. I know there is some debate about the miniaturization advancements made by Pyongyang. But PACOM must be prepared to fight tonight. So, I must take him at his word. I must assume that his claims are true.

STARR: Top officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House held meetings throughout the July 4 holiday. Administration officials emphasizing diplomacy, but with tensions rising, everything is on the table.


WRIGHT: I think essentially everyone agrees, and I believe the Trump administration agrees as well, that there are no good military options. If you take the military option off the table, you come back to sanctions. We have seen in the past it's not going to solve the problem.

STARR: The Russian and Chinese presidents offering up another solution at their meeting in Moscow, announcing they will work together to freeze the North Korean program, but demanding a stop to U.S.-South Korean military exercises and an end to the THAAD missile defense deployment to South Korea, both nonstarters for the U.S.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): There is, of course, the whole question of the Korean Peninsula, the building of peace and stability. It is very important to push forward our joint initiative on settling the Korean problem with the view of immediately freezing the ballistic missile strikes and also dealing with the U.S. deployment of weapons in South Korea.


STARR: Now, U.S. commanders had recently updated military options for President Trump to be ready for a very rapid response if it came to that.

But, again, what they're saying is nobody is looking tonight for a shooting war on the Korean Peninsula. What we might see is more diplomatic action and possibly more of a U.S. troop presence in the coming weeks -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: And all those military options strike -- have some serious downsides. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

The North Korea missile test is rattling the region and drawing widespread condemnation really across the globe.

CNN senior international correspondent Paula Hancocks is in Seoul, South Korea, of course, right on the front lines of this.

How are officials there responding to this latest missile test? These tests are almost a weekly event now.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, there's certainly much more concern about this particular test. The South Korean officials at this point haven't officially confirmed

that they believe it to be an ICBM. The joint chiefs of staff here in Seoul saying they're still analyzing the data. But they did have some tough talk for North Korea. We're really seeing an uptick in the South Korean side of the rhetoric at this point, saying that if North Korea continues to ignore the South Korean military, to continue with these reckless provocations, then the Kim Jong-un regime will face destruction.

It's very hard, though, in reality to see what exactly North or South Korea could do in addition to what they have already done. We also heard from President Moon Jae-in. Now, remember, he's pro-engagement. He's pro-dialogue. Just a few days ago standing next to President Trump in the Rose Garden, he said he wanted to invite North Korea back to the negotiating table.

It's difficult to see how that would happen now. But today he said that he warned North Korea not to cross the bridge of no return. He didn't exactly say what the red line was, but asked them not to cross that either -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Paula Hancocks in Seoul right in the midst of it there, Paula, thanks very much.

I want to bring in now Gerry Connolly. He's a Democratic member from the great state of Virginia, also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Thanks very much for taking time out on your Fourth of July holiday.



SCIUTTO: This has been the latest in a series of tests by North Korea in the weeks since President Trump was inaugurated, really an acceleration we've seen in these tests.

CONNOLLY: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Do you consider this latest test and this series of tests, does this mean that President Trump's North Korea policy is failing?

CONNOLLY: I think Donald Trump's modus operandi of threats and intimidation tweets is backfiring.

If you're Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang North Korea, you're going to accelerate your nuclear program and your missile defense program because this guy is threatening you, and the only way to protect yourself is not to stand down, is to proceed and develop that capability.

Whatever the intentions of the Trump administration, the results are counterproductive.

SCIUTTO: Our reporting is that the president's response, he's considering a "measured response," something like a flyover, possible imposition of more sanctions.

These are things that have been tried before by multiple administrations, and yet the North Korean nuclear program marches on, in effect.

Do you have any expectation that steps like that will actually deter the North Korean regime?

CONNOLLY: Not at this point.

I really believe -- I'm pessimistic about being able to get them to cease and desist their nuclear development program. I think the only possibility it's going to work is a combination of carrot and stick. We have only tried the stick lately. That's not working.

So there has to be some invitation and something they get out of freezing their program. We need the Chinese and we need the Russians to cooperate with that. I was glad to hear the Russians and Chinese talking about it, but there hasn't been an awful lot of action so far.

And, frankly, the price Putin just talked about, which would be for the United States to cease doing joint military exercises with the South, is an unacceptable price for us.

SCIUTTO: I wonder, is a military strike actually a workable option?


Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump have said military options are on the table, but we know the enormous cost to Seoul, for instance, very close to the border. North Korea has thousands of artillery pieces trained on South Korea.

We know that there would be an immense cost there and, of course, many U.S. troops based there as well. So does the president actually have, realistically have, a military option with North Korea?

CONNOLLY: Boy, I don't really think so.

Is it a credible threat? We don't want to take anything off the table, but 25 million people live in Seoul, which is -- and the DMZ is the suburb of Seoul. The DMZ is as close to Seoul as Dulles Airport is to Washington, D.C.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. There's no reaction time there, literally, to a strike.


And they would be the first victims, and the Japanese would be the second. And so that is why they're very concerned about hostile rhetoric coming out of this White House, because it only makes the tension greater and seems only to, you know, get Kim Jong-un to double down on his nuclear and missile development programs.

SCIUTTO: I suppose there is always the risk of misunderstanding, too, escalation.

CONNOLLY: Oh, absolutely. We don't understand each other very well to begin with. Absolutely, that's a real risk.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Connolly, stay with us. We have the advantage of more time, much more to discuss to talk about President Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin now being upgraded to a more formal sit- down.

We will talk about that after this break.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back, and sticking with the world lead.

As the U.S. weighs a response to North Korea, President Trump is now raising the profile of his meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Instead of just a brief sideline conversation at the G20 summit in Germany, a pull-aside, as they call it, the White House now confirming to CNN a full-fledged bilateral meeting is in the works, making the talks more on-the-record, we should note, for both sides and with many more people involved in the room.

[16:15:14] CNN's Ryan Nobles joins me now live from the White House.

Ryan, the Kremlin said advantages of a meeting with the U.S. and Russia are at zero level. The White House, officials you speak to today, see the situation the same way?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, there's no doubt that the administration recognizes that things are tense with Russia, but President Trump has long talked about smoothing out the relationship with the country. And now that this meeting will be a formal bilateral event, it will take on a much greater public focus and it could indicate that both sides are looking to strengthen diplomatic ties.


NOBLES (voice-over): As Donald Trump prepares for the second overseas trip of his presidency, rising tensions around the globe are raising the stakes for his meetings with world leaders. From yet another missile launch by North Korea, to ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, to the growing threat from ISIS and terrorism around the world. All of these will be up for discussion as President Trump travels to the G20 summit in Germany.

But nothing will likely get as much attention as Trump's face-to-face meeting Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, an encounter that will now be a formal bilateral discussion, the first between the two countries' presidents in nearly two years.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset rather than a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia.

NOBLES: Russia is a country many U.S. leaders, both Republican and Democrat view as one of America's biggest foreign threat. But the Trump administration is hopeful for a break-through.

H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Our relationship with Russia is not different from any other country in terms of us communicating to them really what our concerns are, where we see problems in the relationship but also opportunities.

NOBLES: The meeting comes amidst some ongoing special counsel investigation, and multiple congressional probes are under way regarding Russia's meddling in the U.S. election, though it's not clear if the issue will be raised when the leaders meet. Instead, administration officials tell CNN the president plans to focus the time on Syria and Ukraine.

In addition to his time with Putin, Trump will also huddle with China's President Xi Jinping, a meeting that will be critical after North Korea's latest missile tests and recent U.S. sanctions against a Chinese bank for allegedly aiding North Korea.

TRUMP: The era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime has failed. Many years and it's failed. And frankly, that patience is over.

NOBLES: Trump signaled his impatience with the regime during a meeting with South Korea's leader a week ago. And last night on Twitter, he took it a step further, specifically calling on the leaders in the region to do more, writing quote, North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all.

South Korea, Japan and China will all be in attendance in Germany this week, as world leaders gathered to confront these global threats and the role the U.S. will play in addressing them.


NOBLES: And with all of these measure issues in front of the president on the eve of this very important trip, we got another tweet from the president just moments ago and this is what he's thinking about. He wrote, quote: Gas prices are the lowest in the U.S. in ten years. I would like to see them go even lower.

So, Jim, this is not a topic we've heard the president talk all that much about, and as I said before, it comes right before a major trip with some major issues in front of him.

SCIUTTO: I guess no gas tax for the major infrastructure plan.

Ryan Nobles at the White House, thanks very much.

More states pushing back on the federal government's request for voters' personal information, as the guy in charge of that request says he didn't ask for Social Security numbers, even though his letter tells a different story.


[16:22:17] SCIUTTO: We're back now with our world lead and Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia.

Thanks again for sticking around.

The president, of course, is going to sit down with Vladimir Putin, his first face-to-face meeting with Putin, apparently ever, but certainly as president here. It's CNN's reporting based on comments from White House officials that Mr. Trump is not planning to bring up Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, your response?

CONNOLLY: Well, this long-range bromance puzzles all of us. I think it's highly irresponsible for the president of the United States who takes an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States to not defend the electoral process of the United States that allows that Constitution to continue with the lead hacker who attempt -- who did interfere with our election and attempted to influence its outcome. Of course, Trump was the beneficiary. Maybe that's why.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. It's interesting. This Trump and the White House will often say that this is purely a Democratic point of view. You're, of course, a Democrat.

But what's interesting, this is happening now as there's bipartisan support in the Senate for a bill imposing further sanctions on Russia exactly for election meddling, but that bill is sitting in the House now. It can't get through. You're there.

Do you have an explanation for why that is?

CONNOLLY: I think a lot of members of the House are protective of this White House no matter what. There are a lot of enablers and rationalizers.

The idea that Democrats only care about foreign interference with an American election is absurd. Any patriot -- this is July Fourth -- ought to care about foreign interference with an American election. And it's very conspicuous that this president has chosen to deny it, to belittle it, to dismiss it and not discuss it with Russian officials.

SCIUTTO: Are you saying this sanctions bill will not get out of the Republican-controlled House?

CONNOLLY: I believe sooner or later, it will pass because of public pressure and the Senate had a huge vote in favor of the sanctions bill. And I believe it's will come up to a vote on the floor of the house, and I believe when it does, it will pass.

SCIUTTO: Final question. The Kremlin said yesterday it's losing patience with the U.S. over those compounds -- those diplomatic compounds which were seized by the U.S. during the transition period by the Obama administration as a further round of sanctions against Russia for election meddling here.

Do you think the president might use those compounds as some sort of bargaining trip (ph) with Russia, a sign of improved relations, as he sits down with the Russian president?

CONNOLLY: I certainly hope not. Until and unless we get to the bottom of this hacking and the nature of the Russian interference and the extent of it in our elections, why would you want to reward them by returning these properties that we know they've used for espionage? We know that when we took them back over, they were filled with equipment that they had destroyed that had clearly been used for intelligence gathering purposes.

[16:25:02] So, no, don't reward bad behavior, and if you do, I think it looks suspicious as it is and only further clouds this president and his presidency.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Connolly, thanks very much for taking the time.

CONNOLLY: My great pleasure, Jim.

SCIUTTO: A happy Fourth to you and your family.

CONNOLLY: You, too.

SCIUTTO: With more states pushing back, will the president's voter fraud commission actually get any of the personal data it's now asking for?

We're going to look into that right after this break.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back, and we are back with more in politics and a wave of pushback on a Trump administration requests for information about you.

In a remarkable rebuke of the president, 44 states are now refusing to hand over sensitive information to a presidential commission. The request in a letter last week not only asked for names, birthdates and partial Social Security numbers, but also party affiliation, voting history, even criminal records if already publicly available.

Both Democratic and Republican state officials have raised questions about what the commission actually plans to do with all the data. We should remind our viewers that President Trump ordered the formation of this commission after making a claim repeatedly debunked that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

I want to bring in CNN's Tom Foreman now. So, Tom, President Trump has accused states of hiding something by

refusing the commission's requests, but what are the states' concerns in refusing to provide this information?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're worried about privacy, they're worried about legality, and in the absence of any credible study suggesting there has actually been some widespread voter fraud, they're worried about what the White House's true intentions might be.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Fourth of July and states coast to coast are showing their independence in the face of the sweeping presidential request for voter information. All but a handful are either flat out refusing to share data, offering only some of it, or saying the White House needs to go through other channels to obtain it. Many are citing privacy concerns and legal barriers while others are openly questioning the administration's motives.