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White House Says President Trump Was Joking About Encouraging Police Brutality; Interview With Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed; Anthony Scaramucci Resigns; Trump: U.S. Will "Handle" North Korea After New Missile Launch. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 31, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: out already. After only 10 days as White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci is forced to step down, as a new chief of staff takes charge of a chaotic White House. This hour, new details on Scaramucci's implosion after his profane rant and nasty feuds.
Angry and hurt. As the president lavishes praise on his new chief of staff, we are learning retired General John Kelly said he considered quitting the Cabinet job he held until last week. We are going to tell you what Mr. Trump did that left Kelly fuming.
It will be handled. After North Korea's most threatening missile launch yet, President Trump tests U.S. defenses and promises action. Kim Jong-un now claiming all 50 states are potential nuclear targets.
And Russia retaliates. Vladimir Putin orders the U.S. to slash its diplomatic staff on his turf, hitting back at new sanctions. We will take a closer look at the impact of an aggressive move with echoes of the Cold War.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, Anthony Scaramucci forced out as communications director only 10 days after he was hired.
Sources tell CNN the president soured on Scaramucci, and the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, wanted him removed after he unleashed a vulgar tirade against two White House officials.
Also tonight, the White House says Scaramucci has no role in the administration. We are told he was escorted off the White House grounds.
Retired General Kelly clearly is trying to take charge of the turbulent Trump White House, but tonight we have exclusive new reporting suggesting that Kelly recently had his own doubts about his future in the administration. Sources telling CNN that Kelly was angry about the way the president fired James Comey as FBI director, so angry that he called Comey afterward to tell him he was thinking of resigning as homeland security secretary.
Also breaking, the White House says Mr. Trump is reviewing his options after Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. to dramatically cut its diplomatic staff in Russia. The Kremlin leader hitting back at new U.S. sanctions that the president is expected to sign, but still hasn't. The president declining to speak publicly about the new slap by Putin, while Vice President Pence had tough words for Russia during a trip to Eastern Europe.
This hour, I will talk about those stories and more with the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, another abrupt exit from the Trump White House today.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
As it turns out, the Mooch was a bit too much. Just hours after President Trump insisted there was no White House chaos in his West Wing, his staff once again descended into turmoil with his new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, stepping down, a shakeup apparently orchestrated by the new chief of staff here, John Kelly.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We just swore in General Kelly. He will do a spectacular job. I have no doubt.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Another wave of White House chaos swept through the West Wing. Just hours after President Trump welcomed his new chief of staff, retired General John Kelly to the White House, his recently hired and embattled communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, suddenly stepped down.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: General Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House and all staff will report to him.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I love the president.
ACOSTA: It was just 10 days ago when the man nicknamed the Mooch pledged to improve White House messaging and praised outgoing Press Secretary Sean Spicer and then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
SCARAMUCCI: As it relates to Sean, it speaks volumes to who he is as a human being, who he is as a team player, because his attitude is Anthony is coming in, let me clear the slate for Anthony. And I do appreciate that about Sean and I love him for it. But I don't have any friction with Sean. I don't have any friction with Reince.
ACOSTA: The following week, he went to war with Priebus, savaging the then chief of staff in a profanity-laced rant to "The New Yorker," suggesting he might be the source of White House leaks. SCARAMUCCI: As you know from the Italian expression, the fish stinks
from the head down. But I can tell you two fish that don't stink, OK?
And that's me and the president.
ACOSTA: The White House said in a statement: "Mr. Scaramucci felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team."
But sources told CNN new Chief of Staff John Kelly had lost confidence in Scaramucci. It was an immediate sign that Kelly is aiming to bring order to a White House that's been rocked by near constant staff turmoil.
The president had praised Kelly as a miracle worker in his previous job as secretary of homeland security.
TRUMP: You look at the border, you look at the tremendous results we have had. And you look at the spirit. And with a very controversial situation, there's been very little controversy, which is pretty amazing by itself. So, I want to congratulate you on having done a fantastic job, General. And we look forward to, if it's possible, an even better job as chief of staff.
ACOSTA: But earlier in the day, the president took to Twitter to insist all is well, touting the nation's stock market and unemployment rate before insisting, no White House chaos, a message echoed by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: If you want to see chaos, come to my house with three preschoolers. This doesn't hold a candle to that.
ACOSTA: The new chief of staff will find rival factions still in place. Even with Scaramucci gone, there are still sharp elbows being thrown by strategist Steve Bannon, counselor Kellyanne Conway, even the president's family all competing for the president's attention.
Daughter Ivanka Trump hailed Kelly in a tweet as a true American hero. In the president's Cabinet turned board room, Kelly was able to observe another source of White House tension, the damaged relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has gone from being trashed publicly by Mr. Trump last week to sitting across the room from him silently today.
ACOSTA: And sources close to the White House say not only was John Kelly unhappy with Anthony Scaramucci's performance. The president had also soured on his new communications director.
As for that article in "The New Yorker," according to White House officials here, the president did not approve of Scaramucci's language in that article when talking about Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, and other staffers here at the White House. According to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president viewed that
language as inappropriate. That's despite the fact the president has used lots of inappropriate language himself in the past -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta at the White House.
And while we heard the president lavish praise on his new White House chief of staff, John Kelly apparently has had a serious disagreement with the president.
We have some exclusive new CNN reporting on that.
Let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
What are you learning, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, my colleague Shimon Prokupecz and I have learned that incoming White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was so upset with the way President Donald Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that he called Comey shortly after he was terminated to tell him how upset and angry he was.
This is according to two sources familiar with the conversation between Kelly and Comey. And at the time, Kelly was secretary of homeland security. Apparently, he was so angry that he even told Comey that he was contemplating resigning from his position as secretary of homeland security in a showing of solidarity.
Comey apparently responded in this phone conversation by telling him not to resign. Now, both sources caution that it was unclear how serious Kelly was about resigning and, of course, that never happened. And fast-forward a few months later, now he's chief of staff at the White House. But the sources say he was particularly upset by the way Comey was treated, how it all went down, by the fact Comey learned he had been fired on the news, rather than by the president.
And the call took place while Comey was traveling back from Los Angeles to Washington on May 9. For context here, Wolf, the sources said Comey and Kelly are not particularly close friends, but that they had a professional relationship and a deep mutual respect for each other.
Comey declined to comment to us about this story. The White House and DHS did not comment, Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown reporting for us, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all of these developments.
Senator Jack Reed is joining us. He's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: First to the breaking news.
What does the White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci's dismissal after only, what, 10 days or so on the job say about the influence of the president's new White House chief of staff, General John Kelly?
REED: Well, I think it says a great deal about General Kelly's influence.
He is someone that I have known and respected for many, many years. We have known each other for more than a decade. He's a patriot who sacrificed for his country. I think he went in and he wanted to not only organize the White House, but reorient it, get a strategy in place.
And I think it was his influence probably more than anyone else that was decisive.
BLITZER: So, does this give you a little bit more confidence in the president of the United States? Can General Kelly really bring order to the White House? I know you like him.
REED: I think General Kelly will establish more stricter guidelines. He will try to control the access to the president, not exclude people, but make sure it is an orderly process.
But, ultimately, it's the president and his attitude and his approach to these issues. And that's the key factor. I think you can bring in new staff, but you have to have the president willing to listen to the staff, willing to change some of his behaviors. Some of the tweets that he puts out are not helpful strategically, and I think that's going to be the test.
BLITZER: I want you to react, Senator, to the latest CNN reporting that the White House chief of staff, General Kelly, was so upset with how President Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that Kelly actually called Comey afterward and said he was considering resigning, this according to two sources familiar with the conversation between Kelly and Comey.
What does that tell you?
REED: A, it wouldn't surprise me at all. John Kelly has dedicated his life to the country and the Constitution, and he is somebody who believes very firmly in fair play, for want of a better term, that people should be treated fairly, decently, the expectations should be made clear to them, and they should be allowed to do their jobs.
And I think, again, that's not inconsistent with my knowledge and my experience with General Kelly.
BLITZER: As a reaction to the Russian sanctions bill that was overwhelmingly passed in the House and the Senate, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, says he will make the U.S. reduce its embassy and consulate staff by 755 people by September 1, including diplomats.
How much of a blow is this to the United States?
REED: Well, it's a significant loss of diplomatic presence, obviously, but, ironically, it's going to be a loss also to Russia.
Many of those individuals are involved with organizing and approving visas both going to the United States and people entering Russia, tour groups, tourism, so, economic collaboration to the extent we have it. It's not just a penalty to us. I think in the long run it will be a penalty to the Russians.
And, again, the one thing we have to do is not allow Putin to see this as a moral equivalence. We imposed these sanctions because of Russians' activities in Crimea. They seized territory of another country. They are encouraging a separatist movement in the Donbass in Ukraine, supporting it militarily.
They have interfered in our election. They have interfered with other elections. And I think the president should be speaking out very strongly about how this underscores not what we have done inappropriately, but what the Russians consistently do inappropriately.
BLITZER: The White House says the president is now reviewing his options. He hasn't responded yet to what Putin has ordered, 755 people to leave U.S. embassies and consulates in Russia. What do you think about that? What's the delay all about?
REED: Again, it's been a delay not only responding to this, but a delay in signing the sanctions bill.
In fact, there was a moment where it was unclear whether the president would sign the bill. So, I think we have to take a much more explicit tone towards the Russians. There are issues where we are significantly in disagreement, the Crimea, their activity in Ukraine, their threats to the Baltic, their actions in interfering in elections.
And then there are areas where we have tenuous cooperation in Syria and elsewhere. It's not a black-and-white picture, but I think we should seize quickly the high ground and talk about what they're doing so wrong in the world and that this is another aspect of their attempts to upset diplomatic relations.
BLITZER: The president said today he will -- quote -- "handle" North Korea.
Respond to that comment. Is he handling that crisis?
REED: I think there is much more he has to do and has to do it quickly.
This is an existential threat to the United States as they develop their nuclear capacity and their long-range missile technology. I think there has to be a much more coherent structure. He should consider appointing a special envoy. He should use sanctions against companies, including Chinese companies, that are doing business with the North Koreans.
He should do it on a very a -- scale where he increases the pressure, but the pressure keeps ratcheting it up until we get some cooperation. We all understand any that type of military operation on the Korean Peninsula will be horrendous, so we have to exhaust every diplomatic option. We have to do it coherently, too.
BLITZER: How serious is the North Korean threat to the U.S. mainland?
REED: Well, it's serious, in the sense that our intelligence agencies are suggesting that within a year they will have the technology to reach targets within the United States.
And that in itself is very disturbing. So, we have to start now with what time we have to use diplomacy. The Chinese initially indicated they might be supportive. They have not been supportive. But we have to use whatever tools we can. And we have to also, I think, understand one of the concerns the Chinese have.
That is the regime in Pyongyang collapses and they are confronted with literally millions of people trying to flee into China. We have to work on that dimension, too, that that would be treated as an internationally humanitarian disaster, and the world would assist.
So, there's several dimensions. But I just don't get the sense that there is a regular coherent process in which the president is intimately involved. It seems to be more or less, you know, a tweet here, a tweet there, and not the consistent thorough details of policy-making and diplomatic activity.
BLITZER: Senator Jack Reed, thanks for joining us.
REED: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more reaction to the breaking news, Anthony Scaramucci now the shortest-serving White House communications chief in modern history. So, how will this ouster impact the president's inner circle?
And why is Mr. Trump staying quiet about Vladimir Putin's aggressive new move, demanding a drastic cut in the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia?
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news.
The president's new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, forced out after only 10 days on the job.
Let's bring in Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."
Fareed, Scaramucci, what, was in the White House for only a few days. We both covered multiple White Houses over the years. First of all, have you ever seen anything like this?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Oh, gosh, no.
I think this is beyond anything anyone could have possibly seen. The only comparison one could really imagine is in some ways there are periods in Nixon's Watergate years where things were tumbling down.
But there's more of a kind of circus chaos here. There, you felt at least there were things that were disintegrating because of the congressional inquiry, because of legal issues. Here, it's just -- I mean, it's that line, history repeats itself. The first time, it's tragedy, the second time, it's farce.
BLITZER: You know, these internal crises taking place against a backdrop of actual very serious foreign policy crises, North Korea's growing aggression, escalating tensions right now with Russia.
Do you believe the new White House chief of staff, retired General Kelly, can help the president focus outward, focus and deal with these major national security threats?
ZAKARIA: Well, he can't do any worse than the current situation. There is only room for improvement, and Kelly is a very smart guy.
But the problem is you can have as many serious grownups as you want around, but the problem is the president, who is clearly highly undisciplined, highly erratic, highly personal, and not very strategic. It's not just North Korea. If you think about it more broadly, Wolf, we don't really have a foreign policy right now.
We don't have a policy toward Russia. It is being dictated by some congressional hawks, joined in by gleeful Democrats, trapping a president who is paralyzed because he can't move one way or the other without seeming to be a pawn of the Kremlin. We don't have a China policy because the president fell in love with Xi Jinping when they had chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago and now seems to feel that he's a jilted suitor.
We don't have a policy on North Korea. What we have is President Trump issuing what appears to be a kind of bogus threat, because we all know the military options are very, very poor. So, the United States can't handle it.
And that covers most of the major areas we should be -- we should be really thinking strategically about. It's very worrying.
BLITZER: You know, I just noticed the president just moments ago, Fareed, had another tweet. And I will put it up on the screen. Look at it. "A great day at the White House!" "A great day at the White House!" You think it was a great day at the White House today?
ZAKARIA: I think what Donald Trump is testing -- they are testing the limits at every level. He is testing of his generation of fake news.
So, the idea is, if I say that the sky is green, will people accept it? How else can you look at something like that? It's almost tongue-in-cheek. It's almost defiant. But in a way, it reflects Donald Trump's view that, you know, if -- what did he say during the campaign? If I shoot somebody in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue, I won't lose a single voter.
BLITZER: "Great day at the White House!" He just tweeted that only a few minutes ago.
Fareed Zakaria, as usual, thank you.
BLITZER: More on the breaking news coming up and details of the decision to force Anthony Scaramucci out just hours after President Trump claimed there's no chaos in the White House.
And his comments were condemned by police. Now the White House has an explanation for the president's apparent approval of some police brutality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And when you see these towns, when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough.
I said, please don't be too nice.
TRUMP: Like, when you guys put someone in a car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand over -- like, don't hit their head, and they have just killed somebody, don't hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're following a major breaking story, another dramatic shakeup at the highest levels of the Trump White House.
Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci forced out after only 10 colorful and controversial days in the spotlight.
Our political analysts, our specialists, they're all here to break it down for us.
Gloria Borger, only 10 days on the job. What are you hearing about what really happened to Scaramucci and why he's now out?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there's a new general in town, and I was told by a source close to the White House that General Kelly made this decision two to three days ago.
And this source said that the days of tolerating B.S. in this White House are over. I have also been told that the president consulted with at least one friend of his and said, what do you think about Scaramucci? Do you think he ought to go? And the friend said, yes, I think he ought to go.
And the feeling was, from General Kelly's point, I'm sure, that Scaramucci talking about firing people and that he had direct access to the president just wasn't going to work for him. And I was told by a friend of the president's that the president thought that Scaramucci was grandstanding.
And this source said, with the president, you end up in the cheap seats in center field when that happens. You know, no star shines brighter in this White House than Donald Trump.
[18:30:15] BLITZER: Yes. Well, good reporting.
You know, the -- David Chalian, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she says that all staff members in the White House will now report through General Kelly to the president. Her words, all staff will report to him.
This is a major change, because a whole bunch of staffers at the White House would go directly to the president when Reince Priebus was the White House chief of staff.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right, and now I think we have to wait and see how this works operationally. It is obviously General Kelly getting his arms around the West Wing, around the White House operation, and instilling some discipline and some order where it is badly needed, obviously.
So, I would read that as a very good sign if, dot, dot, dot, it stays that way. I mean, here's the deal. You've seen, Wolf, how Trump Organization works. You have seen how this president has operated. He likes a steady stream of information from lots of different information flows, and I don't imagine that Ivanka Trump is going to think that she has to report in to John Kelly before she wants to talk to her father.
I think this may be more about just building a pipeline of information, some sort of discipline, but I do think the jury will be out on whether or not the president finds that as satisfying a way to deal with his staff as he has otherwise.
BLITZER: You know, John, John Kelly -- Admiral John Kirby, I should say -- you're with us. You know John Kelly well. You worked with him when you were the Pentagon spokesman. He was, what, a top advisor to defense secretary Leon Panetta.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Correct.
BLITZER: So you wrote a piece on CNN.com. You called him a "no kidding, bona fide, straight-shooting, full-tilt leader." Based on what you know on the new White House chief of staff, is he going to get that place organized?
KIRBY: If he is invested in by the president; as David said, it really comes down to the president and what kind of chief of staff he wants. But if he'll invest in and trust General Kelly, yes, I think General Kelly can certainly get things more organized, more disciplined, you know, and more productive, more effective. Now, you can argue whether the policies are right or not, but he can certainly organize the team.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting also, Rebecca, this morning he tweeted, the president tweeted -- and I'll put it up on the screen -- "Highest stock market ever, best economic numbers in years. Unemployment lowest in 17 years. Wages rising. Border secure, Supreme Court" -- S.C. -- "No White House chaos."
And then just moments ago he tweeted this: "A great day at the White House.:
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's clearly all sunshine and rainbows at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Wolf.
I think it's clear that there is some level, at least in terms of staffing, of chaos at the White House right now. But I think the president is clearly optimistic that Kelly is going to change that as chief of staff.
And you can see in these tweets that the president wants the results of the administration to speak for themselves. He wants the focus to be on, OK, what is this administration doing? What is happening on a macro level, not these daily sort of fights that transpire in the White House.
The problem is we might be focusing on those things if it weren't for these daily -- daily fights, this chaos coming out of the White House. And, so this really is important for Kelly to get things under control so that, you know, we can focus on what the White House is supposed to be doing.
BLITZER: You know, and Gloria, take a look at the number of resignations, forced resignations, people being fired at the White House. I'll put some of them up on the screen. Michael Flynn, Katie Walsh. You see Comey was fired, clearly the former -- another former White House communications director Mike Dubke, was -- he resigned. Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, now Anthony Scaramucci. You look at that, what does that say to you, Gloria?
BORGER: Well, I think that, if you look at -- if you look at Sean Spicer, Katie Walsh, and Reince Priebus, you have the kind of the RNC wing of the White House, which has been obliterated. And what you see coming in with General Kelly is someone with four stars who is going to try and make the ship run.
I think one thing you can't do is end the competing forces unless everybody is on the same page. That's where you get leaks. You get leaky White Houses when people are competing against each other, both for the president's attention and to -- to have their point of views known in the press.
And so what Kelly has to get control of is the -- is the flow of policy that comes from this White House, to make sure that everybody is on the same page.
[18:35:00] And we know that, for example, you've got Steve Bannon in the White House still fighting with what they'd call the Democrats, you know, the more moderate people in the White House, like Gary Cohen and Steve Mnuchin and all that.
So, I think that they have to get that under control if they're going to get this White House under control, and that's a policy thing which General Flynn -- you know, General Kelly also has to organize.
BLITZER: He's got a tough job ahead of him. We're going to be watching him closely.
Just ahead we'll have more on the breaking news. There's breaking news on Russia. The president's response to an aggressive diplomatic slap by Vladimir Putin.
[18:40:27] BLITZER: More breaking news tonight, the White House says President Trump is weighing his options on how to respond to Vladimir Putin's new orders gutting America's diplomatic staff in Russia. There's no explanation from the administration, at least not yet, as to why the president still hasn't signed new Russia sanctions legislation into law, sanctions that prompted the Russian leader to retaliate.
Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, over at the State Department.
Michelle, this is an aggressive move by Moscow.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right, and Russia, of course, is framing this as something that they were forced to do by U.S. actions, but they're hitting back. Now we know that more than 700 U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia will be out of a job in a month's time.
Russia has been threatening for months to retaliate after the U.S. kicked out a few dozen of its diplomats and closed two properties. And now this is what we're seeing them doing, in typically grand fashion. Topped with insults, denials and more threats.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): In Russia, U.S. diplomats today locked out of their property near Moscow, which Russia denies. They are packing up. Loaded trucks seen leaving a U.S. diplomatic warehouse, also soon to be shut down.
Come September 1, 755 employees of the American mission there will be forced out of their jobs, including Russians working in support roles, ordered out by Vladimir Putin.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We waited a long time for things to perhaps change for the better. We had such hope that the situation would change, but judging by the situation, that will not be soon.
KOSINSKI: Putin has capped the number of U.S. diplomatic employees in Russia at 455, the same number of Russian diplomats in the U.S. That will be about a two-thirds cut, considering the U.S. currently employs around 1,200 people in Russia, according to a 2013 inspector general report. A State Department official calling it regrettable and uncalled for.
On Facebook, the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson using sarcasm. "Cruel? Makes your blood run cold."
This is Russian retaliation, payback for the Obama administration expelling 35 Russian diplomats that it considered to be intelligence operatives, giving them and their families 72 hours to leave and shutting down two sprawling estates in Maryland and New York. That was punishment for Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill is passed.
KOSINSKI: And now Congress, in a bipartisan show of force, passing new sanctions against Russia, preventing the White House from easily lifting them. The president is expected to sign it.
Vice President Pence today in Estonia didn't hold back on Russia's behavior.
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At this very moment, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force; undermine democracies of sovereign nations; and divide the free nations of Europe, one against another.
KOSINSKI: And the gulf between the U.S. and Russia only widens.
STEVEN PIFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: It looks like the Kremlin is giving up on the idea that there might be some kind of a reset under President Trump. I don't see us getting to a better place without some pretty difficult diplomacy; and there's going to have to be some modification of Russian policies. And my guess is that's going to take some time.
KOSINSKI: Despite the hundreds and hundreds of U.S. staffers affected by this, one Russian official tells me this is less harsh than what President Obama did to Russia, because Russia is giving these people a month to pack up and get out, and the U.S. gets to decide who.
And for all of the threats that Russia is still making to do more in response to what it calls U.S. provocations, Russia is still saying that it's willing to normalize the relationship with the U.S. and cooperate. Who we're not hearing from at all today on this: the State Department and the president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We are hearing from the vice president, though. All right, thanks very much, Michelle Kosinski over at the State Department.
You know, John Kirby, it's interesting. The vice president being very tough, Mike Pence, on the Russians. You don't hear that, as Michelle said, from the president or from the official State Department spokeswoman over there.
How significant are these moves by the Russians against the United States?
KIRBY: It's a big number, and, you know, you have to remember you have the embassy in Moscow, and you have three consulates elsewhere in the country where these people will come from. It's a big number. It's not proportional to what Obama did.
And the Russians can say all they want about how soft they're being with 30 days, but we had 35 diplomats we kicked out. This is 755 employees that are going to be moved out.
I think it's also important to remember that there's about 800 local nationals, Russians that work for our embassies and our consulates there in Russia. And some of this is targeted at them. It has always been a burr in Putin's saddle that we have that many local nationals working for us and they have tried without great success to turn some of these people against the United States, to do a little bit of espionage. So, some of this is about punishing these people as well.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Why is the president so far, Gloria, you think, so silent on this? Usually if someone hits him, you know, he likes to hit right back.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right away. Yeah, I think and I hope there are conversations going on about what they're going to do.
I mean, you have this situation and Fareed was talking about a little bit earlier, where you have the president boxed in by Congress on the sanctions. Even if he wanted to override those -- even if he wanted to veto those sanctions, he would be overridden. And then you have the Russians moving ahead of his signature on that bill and saying, well, if you're going to do this, we're going to do that.
I think the State Department is trying to figure out what they ought to do, and perhaps the fact that the president hasn't hit back in a tweet is actually not a bad thing. I mean, maybe there is some consideration being given about what the response ought to be, and perhaps the president is consulting with people about what he -- what his next move ought to be. BLITZER: It's interesting, David Chalian, the Vice President Mike
Pence in Estonia today, former Soviet republic, he's not holding back at all. He says what Russia is doing poses a clear threat to European security.
So, why do you think the president and his vice-president seem to be out of sync?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think the administration would say, well, the vice-president is speaking administration policy. It does seem like Mike Pence's entire trip here is designed to sort of an anti-Putin, throwing an elbow in that direction kind of trip.
But it is worth noting the silence, and I also think, you know, it coming as we're hearing from Sarah Huckabee Sanders today, that, yes, they put out a statement they intend to signed the sanctions against Russia. But that the president is still looking at his options, even though he's not taking away the notion that he intends to sign that sanctions bill Congress passed overwhelmingly, seems a little bit of odd rhetoric coming out of the White House today as well.
For now, it seems that the president is happy to have Vice President Pence carry this message. And, once again, begs the question, what is it with Donald Trump and Russia?
BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of diplomacy going on, I suspect. The president is looking at it carefully.
I'm told one of the reasons for this delay is whenever the president signs legislation into law, he also has an accompanying document explaining his interpretation of that legislation, and they're coming up with some -- trying to finesse some language.
REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: OK. So, maybe trying to make this a little more palatable for him and the administration because he was, as Gloria said, backed into a corner with these sanctions.
And these weren't only Russia sanctions, by the way. There's also North Korea and Iran, but the administration has not decided to highlight those elements of this legislation. Instead, they have fixated on the Russia element because this is something that the president did not want to do.
But it could have been an opportunity for him to side with the more than 400 members of the House, the 98 senators who backed this legislation. It was a huge -- I mean really, the only major piece of legislation to come out of this Congress this year so far in this administration, but they haven't really taken that opportunity.
BLITZER: You know, John Kirby, the legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House, 419 -- 419-3, Senate, 98-2. Is it normal for the president to wait this long to actually sign it into law?
KIRBY: I haven't seen a gap like this before. I'm not an expert on the halls of Congress, but it does seem to me, especially given how absolutely certain Congress was about this and how we all know about what Russia did with the election, that it would be taking this long.
And I do share David's concern about the silence coming from him on this. This is an opportunity for him and he should look at it and maybe that's what they're going to do, I hope, when he does this, when he signs it, to issue a statement. You know, that backs up what Vice President Pence was saying, because it's important that pence is where he is, Estonia and the Baltic states, they matters a lot here when it comes to Russia's aggression.
BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, Gloria, the president Friday, when he was speaking to law enforcement out on Long Island, speaking about these criminal gangs out there, he said to the cops, you know what, it's OK to get rough with these guys. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And when you see these towns, when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don't be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over -- like, don't hit their head and just killed somebody.
[18:50:08] Don't hit the head. I said, you can take the hand away. OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You know, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today said, Gloria, the president was only joking. The police departments didn't take it as a joke. One department says, as a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up prisoners.
So, what do you think? You heard what the president actually said.
BORGER: Yes. I think the president has to understand that he's not on the campaign trail anymore and that his words have meaning and that police departments all over the country have been struggling with the issue of the appropriate use of force against would-be criminals and that this is a big issue in this country.
And that a president coming out there, even -- let's say he was joking. Let's give Sarah Huckabee sanders the benefit of the doubt. Let's say he was joking. This isn't something you ought to be joking about. Not at all.
This is a very serious issue in this country. And as president in the United States, you want to understand that. So, I think it's not acceptable to lock the police forces around the country who have been dealing with this issue day in and day out.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's more breaking news we're following after North Korea's most threatening missile test yet. President Trump says it will be handled, but how? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[18:56:02] BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is declaring that North Korea's missile threat, quote, will be handled. But he's offering no specifics as to how to deter Kim Jong-un from advancing his threat of a nuclear strike on the United States.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, there's more pressure on the U.S. to act after North Korea's second intercontinental ballistic missile test?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf. And, tonight, the Pentagon is absolutely committed, they tell us, to a diplomatic solution in North Korea. But it's not clear the North Koreans feel the same way.
STARR (voice-over): It's North Korea's second launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile in less than a month. Kim Jong-un on hand for it all, leaving President Trump with little new to say publicly.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll handle North Korea. We're going to be able to handle the North. It will be -- it will be handled. We handle everything.
STARR: Japanese television cameras captured what appears to be a flash of light when the missile was believed to have fallen into the sea. The U.S. is evaluating if parts broke up and how much flight control and guidance Pyongyang really had.
But an unwelcome surprise -- the Pentagon calculates this missile flew longer and higher than any previous North Korean attempt. That means it has a potential range of more than 6,500 miles, putting Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, possibly even New York and Boston in its range, according to some calculations.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: It's almost certain that the North Koreans are getting help from Chinese companies, whether the Chinese government is participating is unknown and Russian scientists, former Russian Soviet rocket scientists who had -- there were about a dozen of them at least, who have gone to North Korea to earn a living.
STARR: For now, the Trump administration is sticking with diplomatic pressure and a military show of force, firing its own missiles in an exercise in South Korea, flying bombers low over a South Korean air base, and firing a THAAD anti-missile system. The South Koreans want more of those on their territory.
Senior U.S. military officers warning a diplomatic solution must be found.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: We're trying a wide variety of methods in the diplomatic economic sphere and we the military fully support those. We want those to succeed. However, time is running out.
STARR: President Trump tweeting out the need for China's help: I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do nothing for us in North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem.
The North Koreans still have to perfect flight control and guidance and put a nuclear warhead on top of a missile. But that is small comfort.
CIRINCIONE: This is not your grandfather's missile program. This is a very sophisticated, very determined missile program.
STARR: And U.S. defense officials say in recent days, they have also detected unusual activity amongst North Korean's submarines. Not just what is going on there. And on Wednesday, the U.S. military will conduct an already scheduled test of a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting indeed.
All right. Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
Important programming note for our viewers. Please join Anderson Cooper for a CNN town hall event with former Vice President Al Gore to talk about the climate crisis in the era of President Trump. That's tomorrow, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.