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Pence Denies Reports of Presidential Bid; Tillerson: North Korea Must Halt Missile Launches to Talk. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 7, 2017 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump spending his 200th day on the job on a working vacation as the vice president pushes back against a report he is positioning himself for 2020.

[05:57:34] KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: That is complete fiction. That is complete fabrication.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's face it: I don't think anybody should count anything out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's in President Trump's interests for Robert Mueller to continue this investigation to its conclusion.

CONWAY: We've been doing this for about a year now, and what is there to show for it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob Mueller understands his specific cope of the investigation. It's not a fishing expedition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was a gut punch to North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These resolutions are not going to change the calculus in Pyongyang.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to provide all options, and that includes a military option.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, August 7, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. Our friend, Brianna Keilar, joining us. Thank you as always, my friend.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Of course.

CUOMO: And you bring with you news.

Here's our starting line. Donald Trump marking 200 days of his presidency with a little down time at his New Jersey golf club. The president insists his 17-day trip is not a vacation and that he has piled up a list of accomplishments that have been ignored. So we will test that for you this morning.

Meantime, Vice President Mike Pence slamming a report that he's positioning himself for a run in 2020, if President Trump does not seek a second term. The vice president making his loyalty clear and calling "The New York Times" report disgraceful and offensive.

KEILAR: And all of this coming as President Trump dismisses the Russia investigation as a, quote, "total fabrication." In a new interview, the deputy attorney general says Special Counsel Robert Mueller can investigate any crimes that he might uncover within the scope of his probe.

And the war of words is escalating again between North Korea and the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the reclusive regime must stop missile launches to begin negotiations. But the North is vowing to bolster its nuclear arsenal and says it will retaliate against the U.S. after tough new sanctions.

And we have all of this covered for you. We want to begin with Joe Johns, live for us from Bridgewater, New Jersey -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brianna.

Normally at this time, with control of both houses of Congress, a new president would expect to be fully in control of his own agenda. But at this time, there are a lot of legislative challenges for President Trump, and there are even a few questions about whether he'll be on the ballot in the next election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump waking up on his 200th day in office at his golf club in New Jersey, where he'll be spending the next two weeks on a, quote, "working vacation," as the White House undergoes renovations.

The president stressing on Twitter that he will still be taking meetings and calls while spending time at his resort, while touting the successes of his first six months in office.

This as Vice President Mike Pence pushes back against a "New York Times" report that some Republicans have begun building 2020 shadow campaigns, with Pence advisors allegedly signaling to party donors that he would plan to run if Trump did not. Pence contesting the story in a strongly-worded statement, calling the report, quote, "disgraceful and offensive" and dismissing as "laughable and absurd" the suggestion that he isn't working solely for Trump's agenda and reelection.

CONWAY: It is absolutely true that the vice president is getting ready for 2020, for reelection as vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No concern he's setting up a shadow campaign?

CONWAY: And he's also getting ready for 2018. Zero concern. JOHNS: The report also cites a number of other Republicans allegedly

weighing a 2020 bid as the president continues to grapple with record low numbers and an intensifying Russia investigation.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The special counsel is subject to the rules and regulations of the Department of Justice. And we don't engage in fishing expeditions.

JOHNS: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asserting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller can investigate any crimes within the scope of investigation, during an interview with FOX News.

ROSENSTEIN: If it's something outside that scope, he needs to come to the acting attorney general, at this time me, for permission to expand his investigation.

JOHNS: "The New York Times" reporting that Mueller's investigators have asked the White House for documents related to fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and possible payments from the Turkish government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: The Trump administration also celebrated a dramatic victory over the weekend with that big vote in United Nations Security Council, imposing sanctions on North Korea for its continued ballistic missile testing, the president applauding both China and Russia for voting in favor of those tough sanctions.

Brianna and Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: Joe, appreciate it. Let's bring in the panel. We've got CNN political analysts Karoun Demirjian, John Avlon and Alex Burns. Alex co-wrote "The New York Times" story about Vice President Mike Pence's 2020 ambitions.

Let's get a little bit more of the vice president's denial, just because it makes it uncomfortable with Alex on set. "Today's article in 'The New York Times' is disgraceful and offensive to me, my family and our entire team. The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration. Whatever fake news may come our way, my entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the president's agenda and see him reelected in 2020. Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd."

Alex, good to see you this morning.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you, Chris.

CUOMO: Do you feel more disgraceful or offensive?

BURNS: That's pretty much my natural state.

CUOMO: So let's get to the point of what this is. Tell the audience what is the basis of the reporting and what is it that you're hearing, and we'll deal with the vice president's reaction to it afterwards.

BURNS: Our story was actually broader than just the vice president and his team. It was taking a look at the sort of larger mood and activities going on in the Republican Party among people who are ambitious, established and feel that there's some doubt about whether the president will be in a position to run again in 20 or whether he will choose to run again in 2020, or whether he will choose to run again in 2020. Mike Pence was a part of that.

What we're looking at in terms of the vice president's activity is that he has done some things that are unusual for a newly-elected vice president in his first term. He has set up his own federal pact. He has kept a political schedule and a fund-raising schedule that is miles ahead of where someone like Joe Biden was at this point eight years ago, and he has essentially set himself up as a steward of the Republican Party's donor class, that he has been extraordinarily attentive to the people that fund the party and its campaigns.

And we reported, and I suspect that this is what triggered the statement that two advisers to the vice president have, in private conversations with Republican donors, suggested that, look, we need to be ready for 2020, just in case. They're not suggesting that they would run against President Trump. They're not predicting that President Trump won't run again, but they're leaving the door open to the possibility that you just never know what's going to happen with this guy, and we need to be prepared for those scenarios.

KEILAR: John Avlon, that's the thing, right? And there are a number of Republican candidates, as you mentioned, Alex, potential candidates we should say. Here is a list of several of them, including Ambassador Nikki Haley. We know that her pollster is getting -- her pollster is getting a paycheck, right? So...

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

KEILAR: ... wouldn't it be irresponsible for the vice president to not have his ducks in a row, considering the tumult that we're seeing?

[06:05:05] AVLON: That's a very reasonable point. Yes. I mean, look, I think the point you're making, I think that the point you're making, and the point Alex is making, is there is enormous amount of chaos surrounding this presidency. There are question marks. And you've got a situation where the vice president is doing things just objectively unusual, to have a pact that's raising more money than the president, to be doing this number of political events, and that the entire field, a potential sort of successor group, is breeding and saying, "What are my options?"

Kasich almost certainly is going to run, because there's just a deep philosophical divide that he represents. Ben Sasse could also fill that. Arguably, with more credibility with conservatives. Nikki Haley is probably angling for something further down the road, but she has been keeping a very high-profile job at the U.N. I think the macro point is Pence doth protest too much.

KEILAR: A lot of adjectives about how awful this story was. AVLON: And the tale of the tape is there in that he is raising money

and doing events. And what we all know to be the case is this, there are plenty of Republicans, let alone donors who are uncomfortable looking into '18 and 2020 with Donald Trump. But Mike Pence's to date has been playing the same responsible face of the Trump administration. That leaves some folks to say, life might be a little easier if he was at the top of the ticket.

CUOMO: Also, just one simple observation. This would be a lot more compelling coming from the head of the RNC. You know, the president has not been fully embraced by the parties, the putative candidate, but they have big problems within that party of who we are, what we're about, and that's no secret to anybody, no matter how much you bash the reporting.

So Karoun, let's deal with the best metric for what will happen in 2020, which is these first 200 days. What do you believe the administration can reasonably point to and say this was worthwhile so far. Here is our good list for 200 days. What are you hearing?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president is pointing to job numbers right now frequently. And so those have been going in the right direction, although, you know, if he has to continue on that trajectory for that line to hold, and he pointed to a Supreme Court justice and various other things, as well. But the other things are all attempts. At this point, the first 200 days have resulted in a lot of campaign promises that have not been filled, agenda items that have not even been attempted.

And it's odd, because the other major victory that Trump was claiming in the last two weeks was this Russia sanctions bill that his administration was actually lobbying against.

So the pickings are slim. No health care. Tax reform remains an untapped thing to be done in the future. Will it be just as politically treacherous? Probably. But there's a lot of ground to make up. And so that's why you're in a situation where you see whispers happening in the Republican Party about, wait a second. What next if this ship doesn't get righted?

KEILAR: Karoun, I want to ask you about Russia, because we heard from the deputy attorney general, who obviously is overseeing in a way the special counselor, Bob Mueller, and he said he can investigate, Mueller can, any crimes that are uncovered in the Russia probe. Here's what Rod Rosenstein said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSENSTEIN: If he finds evidence of a crime that's within the scope of what Director Mueller and I have agreed is the appropriate scope of this investigation, then he can. If it's something outside the scope, he needs to come to the acting attorney general at this time, me, for permission to expand his investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: He's saying he would need permission from -- from Rosenstein. How likely do you think he is to ask for that permission and how likely do you think Rosenstein would be to grant that?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, it seems like Rosenstein and Mueller have had a good working relationship. Rosenstein has put himself out there as a firewall since very early on. Right after, in fact, Jeff Sessions recused himself and after Comey was fired, he saw Rosenstein testify in front of congressional committees that he was going to not fire Mueller unless he saw cause, and he saw no cause at this point.

And he set himself up as basically the guy who will not be moved by all this political firestorm circulating about what Mueller's role will be, what Sessions' future should be and so on. It's very telling, what he's saying, that he said the scope of it is what he and Mueller have agreed to, which means it may be broader than just the Russia probe. And if he's looking at Flynn and his Turkish lobbying ties, then that's already broader, because it encompasses the whole campaign.

Probably, if Mueller finds some very random thing that has nothing to do with the scope of the 2016 election whatsoever, then he'd have to clear it with Rosenstein; and then maybe it's not part of that investigation and goes to some other part of the Justice Department.

But at this point, Rosenstein has given Mueller a very, very strong vote of confidence and stuck up for him in these contexts when the party is starting to grow very frustrated. I would just not that he's also not the only one. I think it's very, very telling in the aftermath of all of the president's tweets against Jeff Sessions and this scuffle with the Russia sanctions bill. You've seen other Republicans come up to write legislation that would protect Mueller, and it would make it impossible for him to be fired without the approval of a three-judge panel. That's significant, because it's not just your usual suspects doing it.

[06:10:13] AVLON: That's a big deal. It's a necessary, I think, step that shows the seriousness of Congress. It's taking the potential, and I think it's a serious potential, based on what we've learned to date that the president could fire Mueller against the advice of his counsel and the chief of staff, presumably.

And the fact that this weekend, the administration's spin, via Kellyanne Conway, well, let's not pass legislation regard to hypotheticals. You know, I can't imagine why would people would feel a need to do that. It shows the seriousness of the investigation and the seriousness of the threat that the president, almost out of personal pique, can put us in a constitutional crisis.

BURN: Well, this is a big part of why to tide these things together, why the whole 2020 conversation is even happening right now. It's not just that you have an unpopular president, an unproductive administration. It's that you have an administration that is sort of under legal siege right now, and that you don't know how they're going to handle it and just how self-constructive the president could be if he continues to do things like attack his own attorney general, like fire people along the lines of Jim Comey and Robert Mueller. If he were to do something like that, many Republicans, as you alluded to, John, have already said that would be something of a red line.

CUOMO: Alex, John, Karoun, thank you very much.

The world is putting pressure on North Korea after the U.N. Security Council issued tough new sanctions. But, the question is, will they make a difference in what Kim Jong-un's clear nuclear ambitions are? We'll discuss the plus-minus next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:15:18] CUOMO: Secretary of State Rex says a unanimous U.N. vote slapping North Korea with the strongest sanctions yet shows the world is united against the reclusive regime's nuclear ambitions. North Korea, however, is vowing to retaliate against the U.S. as the war of words escalates.

CNN's Ivan Watson is live in Manilla. That's where Tillerson is attending a meeting of Asian nations.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. goal for here at this international gathering was to diplomatically isolate North Korea. There's been some success here with these new U.N. Security Council sanctions, which ban North Korean exports of coal, iron and even seafood. In theory, that could cut North Korea's export revenues by as much as a third. But the secretary of state, Tillerson, conceded that the test will come in the practice. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The next steps, obviously, are to see that the Security Council resolution sanctions are enforced by everyone. We will be monitoring that carefully. We hope, again, that -- that this ultimately will result in North Korea coming to the conclusion to choose a different pathway, and when the conditions are right, that we can sit and have a dialogue around the future of North Korea so that they feel secure and -- and prosper economically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Now, the Chinese foreign minister has been at this meeting. He met with his North Korean counterpart and repeated that warning. You have to stop firing these ballistic missiles that are banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions. There was also a broader statement by southeast Asian nations, expressing concern over the two ICBM tests that North Korea carried out just last month.

But there is little sign that this is making a change. Pyongyang issued a statement, calling the new sanctions a violation of North Korea sovereignty, and there was another stark warning to the U.S., coming from North Korea, quote, "There is no bigger mistake than the U.S. believing that its land is safe across the ocean" -- Brianna and Chris.

KEILAR: Ivan Watson for us. I want to bring back now John Avlon and Karoun Demirjian with us. And also now, Gordon Chang. He is the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on The World." He's also a Daily Beast columnist. So with these new abilities that we're seeing from North Korea, there is this -- more than we've seen in reports, this increased worry about, really, the reach and the potential conflict with North Korea and something very alarming that we heard from the president's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How concerned should the American people be that we are actually on the brink of a war with North Korea?

H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I think it's impossible to overstate the danger associated with this. I think it's impossible to overstate the danger associated with a rogue brutal regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Gordon, how worried should Americans be?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": Well, I think we should be worried, because what McMaster is saying is that the United States cannot be assured of deterring North Korea. You know, in about a year's time, I'll be able to nuke the American homeland. But you know, we lived with the Soviet Union. We live with China now. They both were big powers when it came to nukes.

But with regard to North Korea, the issue is, is the regime stable enough? Can we come to some equilibrium? And what McMaster said is that the White House thinks maybe not. And that means, if we don't think we can deter them, we've got to use force. And that is going to be, of course, horrific.

CUOMO: So that concern winds up becoming bootstrapped by what seems to be a non-reality with these sanctions. This was supposed to be a celebrated event. You've got people on board. You've got China on board. This is great. I guess they felt the wrath of the president of the United States stepping up. You see it very differently. You see China as getting involved with these sanctions as proof that they won't work. Justify your needle in the balloon of hope.

CHANG: Well, the problem is that, yes, the sanctions on Saturday were the strictest of the seven sets that we've seen since 2006, but the problem is it's just incrementally tougher than the preceding one. And the North Koreans have been able to adjust to each set of sanctions, because they're only slightly more difficult.

If we want to cripple the North Korean regime, even if we just want to bring it to the negotiating table, what we've got to do is hit them with all we've got all at once, because that means that they realize they have no choice but to talk to the international community. We're not willing to do that. That's not considered to be practical.

The problem is we're then going to drift to that point where, you know, McMaster says, "Oh, my God. The North Koreans can nuke Seattle or even Washington, and we can't deter them. That's going to be critical a year from now when we figure out how stable is the North Korean regime.

[06:20:14] KEILAR: Speaking of this celebratory, I guess, sentiment that you're talking about, listen to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and her assessment of these sanctions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: This is a gut punch to North Korea. We did what we could in the U.N., and that was basically speak with one voice. He is now on an island. North Korea has now to look at the rest of the world and see that they're all telling them to stop this reckless activity.

KEILAR: I guess what stands out to me, John Avlon, is that we did what we could, right?

AVLON: Right. Which is a little bit at odds with the gut punch. Look, a unanimous resolution on sanctions is unusual. China has dragged its feet historically with regard to North Korea, so that is an accomplishment. I think the point that Gordon is making is, if it's incremental, how serious is it? You know, you don't have an incremental gut punch. That's a contradiction in terms.

And this is ratcheting up in the very real danger. I think the administration deserves some credit for taking North Korea more seriously, more proactively than some in the past. But this is getting exponentially more complicated for the world. The question is when will China step up and exert its influence on North Korea?

CUOMO: So Karoun, you with the synthesizer here. If both of these points are taken at face value -- you have Gordon Chang saying, look, this is incremental. That's why China is not on board with it and John Avlon isn't going to stop it.

And John Avlon saying something that's also true, which is, you know, this administration has teed up North Korea with an urgency we haven't seen. Why? Why are they teeing up North Korea the way they are and making it an urgent situation if the measures that we're taking aren't getting it done?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, we know that President Trump has been very concerned about North Korea since before he became president. Those reports were -- that being the one issue that gripped him when he was getting briefed early on by President Obama during the transition. But I think a reason may be because, you know, our tools are, to an extent, limited.

We wield a lot of influence in the international financial system. We're trying to wield that right now. There's an effort in Congress to bring back North Korean sanctions to up that ante in that department. But we can't -- we don't take in North Korean workers into our country the way that China does and Russia does.

But if China and Russia wanted to send all those people home, that would be a way of blocking hard currency from getting back to Pyongyang. They're not doing that. They're agreeing to sanctions that can be enforced internationally, but they're not actually taking the really deep-dive measures at home that we can't force them to do, because we can't take a parallel measure at the same time.

So when Nikki Haley is saying we did what we can do, and Trump is trying to rattle the sabre on this. That is trying to make a lot of international pressure and noise brought to bear on the countries that have more influence to wield than we do in this sphere. And that's an important distinction to make of why Gordon's point is so important, that you know, it's not everything, but we don't have control over all of the strings in this one. And that's part of the problem.

KEILAR: Gordon, I saw you sort of shaking your head there.

CHANG: Well, I think one thing that we can do is we can sort of look at not just North Korea as the target of sanctions, but China. You know, China talks about, oh, we don't want the North Koreans to launch.

But the missiles that the North Koreans launched on July 4 and July 28 were brought to the launch sites by Chinese transporter erectors. So, you know, the Chinese military is helping the North Koreans become a real threat to the U.S. You know, one thing that we can do to really want to be effective is start targeting, for instance, Bank of China, one of China's so-called big four banks, because it was money laundering. That was in a 2016 U.N. panel of experts report, that the Bank of China devised and operated a money cleaning scheme for the North Koreans.

We don't go after Chinese banks. And we know that there's a lot of money that flows, for instance, between Iran and North Korea through the Chinese banks. You know, Iran pays North Korea somewhere between $2 and $3 billion a year for their military cooperation. We've got to stop that. It's not just seafood, and iron ore and coal. It's also ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons technology.

DEMIRJIAN: In a way -- in a way, the political problem of going after China. You know, when you go after China, you can't do that without injuring yourself. And so I don't know if the Trump administration feels like it's on solid enough ground right now to take whatever economic hit that's likely to be to the United States if you pursue that path. Which like you said, it's going to be effective if you do, but it comes with costs that the administration might not be ready to bear.

KEILAR: A whole new can of worms there, for sure.

CUOMO: The good bad news is that there are things you can do, but they're going to cost in a way that nothing to date has. That was really helpful.

Gordon, thank you very much.

Karoun, as always.

John Avlon, I didn't see you there.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meeting with Russia's foreign minister, the two men discussing dueling sanctions and the damage done by election meddling. Can the serious mistrust be repaired? That's the question. Answers ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:29:14] KEILAR: We have breaking news. Two of the three U.S. Marines missing after their Osprey aircraft crashed off of the coast of Australia have now been identified as recovery crews are finding the wreckage. Loved ones are mourning the loss of Lieutenant Ben Cross of Bethel, Maine. And a family friend telling the station in Wichita, Kansas, that Corporal Nathan Ordway is also presumed dead. Twenty-three other service members on board were rescued.

CUOMO: All right. Secretary of State Tillerson revealing he told his Russian counterpart the Kremlin's election meddling created, quote, "serious mistrust" between both nations, the two men also discussing dueling sanctions.

CNN's Matthew Chance has reported extensively from Moscow. He joins us now with more. It's good to have you in New York. What is your take on the relevance of this discussion and the language used by the secretary of state?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's really interesting we're seeing these meetings take place so soon after this U.S. sanctions bill was put into effect and signed into law by President Trump.