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Report: Mattis Says We Are Not Closer to War After North Korea ICBM; Trump to Consider "Severe Things" On North Korea Response; Tillerson, Lavrov Are Only Ones Joining Trump-Putin Talk. Aired 3:30- 4p ET

Aired July 6, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: It would take some action on the part of the North Koreans who attack our forces either in Korea, our ally in Japan, which would try to launch a missile that would attack the United States. But I think what Secretary Mattis is doing is trying to tamp down somewhat the implications contained in President Trump's tweet about serious consequences are going to flow. You can read that in economic terms, diplomatic terms but you can also read it in military terms but I think what Secretary Mattis is saying is, we're not closer to war as a result of this at this point. I'm paraphrasing Henry Kissinger now, in his White House years, but he said an idle threat that is taken seriously can be helpful. But a serious threat that is dismissed as being idle can be catastrophic.

We've got to be careful when the president makes a statement that other countries either take it seriously and react accordingly or if they dismiss it as being not serious, that can lead to catastrophe as well because they're not treating it as a serious threat. So, we have to be careful in the words that the president uses and the implications other countries, especially North Korea, might draw from it.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Sure. So, to go with you, if Secretary Mattis is trying to tamp this down, and you pointed out the Trump tweet about, you know, serious consequences, he also said this today on North Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as North Korea is concerned, I don't know, we'll see what happens. I don't like to talk about what I have planned. But I have some pretty severe things that we're thinking about. That doesn't mean we're going to do them. I think we'll just take a look at what happens over the coming weeks and months with respect to North Korea. It's a shame that they're behaving this way, but they are behaving in a very, very dangerous manner, and something will have to be done about it.


BALDWIN: Some pretty severe things. Mr. Secretary, what does that mean, do you think? COHEN: Well, I think that's what Secretary Mattis was addressing. It

means, for example, there can be and should be secondary sanctions, targeting those companies in China and other countries that have been providing the ability for Kim Jong-un to create this capacity and capability. It's another thing, it's an old expression. You can build a throne of swords, but you can't sit on it. Not unless you have a soft cushion in between. And the soft cushion has been provided by Russia, China, and other countries.

And you had, I think it was Matt Rice on earlier and he said the one thing that Kim Jong-un wants is to be able to come home and night and sleep in a bed safely. The bed has been very big and fluffy, and what we need to do is make that bed very hard. And so that we have to intensify the sanctions in a major way to say, you can't have the soft bed. You've been living a good life. You like wine or whiskey and cigars, whatever, and you've been able to do this because other countries have been giving you that cushion on that throne of swords. Got to take it away. One way is economics and to isolate him even more.

BALDWIN: To make the hard bed, to go with your analogy, beyond sanctions, though, I mean, I've been talking to different people about the missile system and the U.S. capability, I mean, that doesn't seem like a fail-safe win yet. What are our best options?

COHEN: The best option is to squeeze North Korea to the point where they're willing to really sit down in a serious fashion and say, you have an option you can pursue. You can pursue the course you're on, or you can have one where there is ultimately a unified Korea under an arrangement whereby you get to prosper and China doesn't feel threatened. That is an arrangement that can be made. Secretary Albright when I was in the Clinton administration actually had conversations with the North Koreans leading to such a potential outcome. So, things can be done, but you can't do it from point of weakness.

[15:35:00] We've got to toughen up in terms of making sure that North Korea is not living as good a life as they are, and I met with the South Korean president when he was here in Washington, and he said the North Korean economy's improving because of support from China and Russia. That can't continue. And we have to draw line there and say, if you're going to continue to support them, then you're going to have difficulty with us on a number -- a range of other issues because you're supporting a man that has destabilizing the entire region in the Asia-Pacific region and threatening the United States. We can't accept that so we want you to understand if you're going to be supporting him in this fashion, it's going to change and alter the nature of the relationship we have with you.

BALDWIN: So, hit them where it hurts, financial. You mentioned the Clinton administration, of course, all the modern recent presidents, Secretary Cohen, have dealt with North Korea in some form or fashion. Do you think, though, just given the arc of North Korea's advancement, that this current president will end up being the one to make the ultimate decision on U.S. military action?

COHEN: We hope not.

BALDWIN: We hope not.

COHEN: Hope is not a strategy. But we don't want to face that, because the consequences to the South Korean people is devastating. As too potentially our allies in Japan and elsewhere and potentially to us so we've got to use every arrow that we can in our quiver in order to bring about a peaceful solution, and that's going to require China really to do more than it's done and Russia to do more than it's been willing to do, and unless we're able to bring that kind of economic pressure on them as well, then they're faced with a consequence, potentially, of the president having to take action. I don't think he wants it. I surely don't think that we want it.

BALDWIN: OK. Before I let you go, Secretary Cohen, let me ask you one more question ahead of this Putin meeting because we know Secretary Mattis is one of the few people to actually, personally briefing the president ahead of this Putin meeting. If you were Secretary Mattis and you have been before he was in that position some time ago, what would your one piece of advice be as president Trump is entering the room?

COHEN: Well, I'd actually like a rhetorical body slam of President Trump as opposed to CNN being in a wide world of wrestling. But what I would say -- what I would say is I would like President Putin, you understand, you have tried to interfere and have interfered with our electoral system. It's unacceptable. You'll pay a penalty. We're not releasing -- we're not relieving you of any sanctions until, number one, you comply with the Minsk Agreement and Ukraine and agree not to do this again. The president continues to attack the media and our intelligence community because he wants to diminish the impact, if anything untoward is found with this investigation of saying, you can't believe our intelligence community or the media, therefore it didn't exist. That, I think, is what he's trying to do.

BALDWIN: Secretary Cohen, a pleasure. Come back any time.

COHEN: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, President Trump's motorcade left the G-20 summit moments ago while thousands of protesters have been out and about on the streets of Hamburg, Germany. We will take you back there live.


BALDWIN: Moments ago, we know that President Trump has now returned to his hotel there in Hamburg after dinner with the leaders of both South Korea and Japan all while just miles away these protesters have been filling the streets of Hamburg basically because of the G-20. Jeff Zeleny is our who he is correspondent. Do we know, Jeff, the president in his motorcade, did they drive past any of these protests and see what was going on?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, we are told that the president's motorcade did not drive past any of these protests. As he finished dinner with the prime minister of Japan and the president of South Korea, he went back to the place he's staying tonight and we are informed by the reporters, the pool reporters, the small group of reporters traveling in his motorcade, that he, in fact, did not see any of this. There were some people along the route but no, you know, no one causing any issues, no protesters.

And that's the thing, Brooke. This is a large city, so the protesters are miles away from there but he is now locked in for the evening, and he, of course, has a big day on Friday, but just one more view here from the rooftop, Brooke, as the sun now finally begins to set. You can see the smoke in the distance there as we pan backwards. We've seen a lot of smoke, a lot of sirens, other things. It seems to be, from our rooftop vantage point, things are quieting, but as Atika and Fred have been reporting, once sun falls, once the night falls, police are certainly mindful of these protests could again become more advanced. But that is just the scene here really from a gorgeous evening otherwise here in Hamburg, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Incredible how bright it is still at quarter until 10:00 at night where you are, Jeff. Before I let you go, of course ahead of the all-important Trump-Putin meeting tomorrow, you've now learned who else will be in the room. Who is that?

[15:45:00] ZELENY: We have indeed, and this is going to be a very small, small meeting. It's going to happen tomorrow afternoon here in German time, Friday morning east coast time. Secretary of state Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, are going to be the only two officials in the meeting with the two leaders. They, of course, will have translators as well, because Vladimir Putin does not speak very good English, at least that's normally his protocol when he's meeting with American presidents.

But it is going to be the smallest of meetings, and of course interestingly, Rex Tillerson, in his previous occupation before becoming secretary of state, he had a relationship with Vladimir Putin, so that is one of the key reasons that the White House wants to bring Secretary Tillerson into this meeting and he has already met with him a couple months ago in Moscow, so this will be the setting and stage for the meeting. Now, the question is, will election meddling be front and center at this meeting? All advisers are telling us it indeed will not be. It may be mentioned on the side, but that is not the thrust of this meeting tomorrow, Brooke. But certainly, a very big meeting. High stakes meeting for this new American president.

BALDWIN: Yes indeed. Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny in Hamburg.

Coming up next, he has been criticizing the administration for months over conflicts of interest. So, why now, the head of the White House ethics office decided to up and leave? Submitting his resignation today.


BALDWIN: So, we have now just learned, really the next headline speaks for itself. The man in charge of government ethics in this country has just quit his job. Walter Shaub, who's been the director of the Office of Government Ethics since 2012 tweeted out this letter to the president today. He did not offer any specific reasoning for stepping down, but he has a history with sparring with President Trump, specifically over his business holdings. He held this press conference just before the president's inauguration pleading with the president to divest from his businesses.


WALTER SHAUB, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust. It's not even close. Should a president hold himself to a lower standard than his own appointees? I appreciate that divestiture can be costly, but the president-elect would not be alone in making that sacrifice. I've been involved in just about every presidential nomination in the past ten years. I've also been involved in the ethics review of presidents, vice presidents, and most top White House officials.

I've seen the sacrifices these individuals have had to make. It's important to understand that the president is now entering a world of public service. He's going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices, he's going to ask our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around. So, no, I don't think divestiture is too high a price a pay to be the president of the United States of America.


BALDWIN: Let's start here. I've got two of our senior commentators standing by. Robby Mook is the former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton. Scott Jennings is a former assistant to George W. Bush. Gentlemen, welcome, welcome. Scott, let me begin with you, if you boil this down, this is the ethics guy has left the building. The building being the White House. How big of a red flag is this to you?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO GEORGE W. BUSH: It's not a red flag for me. This is a nothing burger. In fact, it's opened up, just a black bean nothing burger. We have a former government bureaucrat turned Obama appointee whose decided to take another job after nearly five years in this particular appointment. This is not a huge deal. There's a succession plan in that office. President Trump can appoint someone to run the office just as the president did before him. I don't think this is a huge deal and this guy is grand standing a little bit.

BALDWIN: OK. How do you see and Robby?

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR HILLARY CLINTON: This is one in a long string of ethical lapses, shall we say, in this administration. This is a president who doesn't take these roles seriously. I don't think he cares. Keep in mind, just down the street from the White House is his hotel, which he gladly markets out to foreign leaders who come to visit Washington. Fundamentally, I don't think he thinks it's a problem to make money off of being president of the United States. And I don't think he thinks it's wrong that enhances his brand which is basically his product.

But this also raises a bigger issue that we've seen across the administration, which is you have to good people serving in government who believe in their mission, believe in their purpose there been but they can't in good conscience continue to serve because they feel like they're normalizing the president. We saw this with the digital service as well recently. It's a real quandary. I know for a fact that this gentleman would do a better job of being a watchdog of the president and his office than whoever the president's going to choose, but I'm also sympathetic to the idea that you can't stick around and serve someone who you fundamentally disagree with on every level.

BALDWIN: Well, Scott is right in saying that the next pick, the person who fills his job will be selected by president Trump. I mean, ultimately, it's a senate confirmation thing, but it is the president who will select it. Let me move on, Robby, staying with you, the president being overseas and listening to him today refusing to say outright that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. Why do you think he just can't quite say it? Despite what his own intel chiefs have said?

[15:55:00] MOOK: I think the president fundamentally sees all issues and all matters in terms of himself. And I don't think he likes to admit that a foreign power came in and did what they could to help him win the election. Set aside the degree it mattered and so on and so forth. I don't think he likes admitting that. I also think that, you know, frankly he's mishandled this entire issue but not putting it in an independent commission on day one and continuing to resist the fact that it existed.

All 17 intelligence agencies said this happened. It definitely happened. I don't know a single other Republican, frankly, who doesn't admit that it happened, and I think by maintaining this position that he has, he's making it worse, and now he's got probably one of the top prosecutors in the modern era in our country investigating him because he continued to push and resist what everybody knows to be true.

BALDWIN: So, put the investigation aside, I mean, the issue is the fact -- what he said overseas, how this would make the intel community feel hearing this overseas, not to mention the core issue, which apparently, he never even asked the former FBI director about, about the interference itself, Scott. Isn't the real question that we should be talking about is our next election influence-free?

JENNINGS: Well, we do need to talk about it, and obviously there's investigations going on all over Washington. And I think a lot of Republicans do believe that the Russians tried to meddle in the election. And I read the president's comments today differently. He did acknowledge that the Russians might have tried to meddle. He said no one knows for sure.

BALDWIN: He's taken it further today than in the past.

JENNINGS: Frankly -- BALDWIN: He's taken it in the past, forgive me, back in January 11th

when he was giving that news conference he said sort of the same thing -- it could be Russia but it could be other things as well.

JENNINGS: The point is this, he is taking it further on this overseas trip, I think, in my opinion, than he has taken it before. He keeps raising the specter of the possibility of other countries. I don't know whether that's true or not. I do think, one thing we have to talk about, if you want to talk about somebody mishandling this issue, how about Barack Obama finding out it was going on in august and not telling the American people about it until December? I think there's been a lot of people that want to somehow blame Donald Trump for the Russians trying to meddle, he wasn't the president during the election and from what I can tell and "The Washington Post" reported, the previous administration was pretty spineless in how they dealt with it and the president has a good point on that front.

BALDWIN: Feckless or spineless, yes, a lot of questions being what took president Obama so long and maybe politics and certainly playing into that, Robby, what would you say to that?

MOOK: We need to look top to bottom at what we can do to prevent something like this happening, it is imperative that we do so. The public has to have confidence in our elections. I think that must be done in a bipartisan manner there. I think that Scott and I would agree on that. I think we need to look at election security within the parties, with the campaigns within our elections. But we also need to look at what kind of response our military and diplomatic apparatuses should have when something like this happens again. But, so, look, I think scrutinizing how this was handled is appropriate. I do think the president acted decisively and I think he did what he thought was right at the time.

BALDWIN: President Obama?

MOOK: President Obama. That's right. And as someone in the middle of this, I'm learning things I didn't know at the time and I would have done things differently. I'm the first one to say that myself. We can't let this become partisan, and frankly, what I was trying to get at earlier with President Trump is by denying it, by then pivoting and blaming president Obama, he's making it partisan. And I just think the two parties have to come together. I think there's a lot of goodwill in that regard right now. And I think we need to build on that. Not resist it.

BALDWIN: Sure. It was president Trump who said president Obama, his words, choked. Robby, thank you, Scott, thank you. Let's continue, mass protests in Germany. As president Trump prepares for his first face to face with Russian president Vladimir Putin. We'll be right back.

Congressman Scalise is listed in serious condition. Of course, we wish him well. We'll bring that to you as soon as we have it. I'm Brooke Baldwin, thank you for being here with me in New York. Washington, "The Lead" with Jake Tapper starts right now.