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Trump To North Korea: Stop Threats Or Face "Fire And Fury"; President Decries Leaks, Re-Tweeting Leaked Stories; CNN Polls: Only 24 Percent Trust Most Of What They Hear From WH; Ken Starr: We Don't Want A "Fishing Expedition". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 8, 2017 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: -- without a great number a very serious implications which will explore more depth in just a moment. But first, here's what the president said today.


[21:00:08] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.


COOPER: That was President Trump today, a day we learned that Pyongyang may have mastered putting nuclear warheads on ICBMs. The language eclipses that President Kennedy's during the Cuban missile crisis. The only thing close is President Truman's ultimatum after dropping the first atomic bomb on Japan. He said, "If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth." Three days later he dropped the second and last nuclear weapon to be used in combat.

You can see why this president's word are drawing such a tension it really matters what they actually mean that 's because North Korea today has issued a threat of its own. CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto joins us now with that and all the other late developments on a very busy night. So, Jim, there's a threat of a strike against Guam from North Korea.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Alarming threat, very specific threat, Anderson. Guam, just a reminder it's a U.S. territory it's also where there are two major U.S. military bases, air force bases. North Korea threatening via statement via state news agency that it was considering specific weapons to target those facilities on Guam, intermediate ballistic missiles.

Why Guam? Well, they mention in there the fact that Guam is where U.S. strategic bombers are based. And we were the first to report this evening that on Monday the U.S. flew two strategic bombers, V1V bombers based at Andersen Air Force based in Guam over the Korean Peninsula along with Japanese and Korean fighter jets alongside. These are standard military operations. The U.S. has done this before. But it appears that this threat by North Korea to Guam and to those military bases there tied directly to that flight of U.S. strategic bombers over the Korean Peninsula.

COOPER: Also just to clarify. We don't know for sure, there's been conflicting information, if this threat from North Korea came before or after President Trump's statement today, right?

SCIUTTO: Well, we don't know for sure when the threat was ordered from on high that the report on North Korean state news came after the president made his statement. So it's possible that it was decided that they would make this threat before the president made his statement. But the fact remains the president said that -- and if North Korea made any more threats the U.S. would respond in this way, fire and fury like the world has never seen before, and a few hours later, North Korea makes a threat that it hasn't made before with a specificity it has not made before.

COOPER: And Jim, the nuclear development or the possible nuclear development by North Korea, if it's true, it is a big step forward for their nuclear program, right?

SCIUTTO: That's right. Multiple sources telling myself and my colleagues today that it's the U.S. intelligence community's assessment, not a consensus assessment but an assessment of the DIA, that North Korea is now manufacturing miniaturized nuclear weapons that can be fit on top of intercontinental ballistic missiles. To date, it is not believed by the U.S. that they have deployed such missiles. It's not believed that they have successfully tested such missiles.

But still, a step along the way that is significant. And listen, one official who was briefed on the intelligence telling me, again, not a matter of if but when, and the U.S. military preparing for that. The assumption being among U.S. intelligence that we as a country, that the U.S. as a country has to act as if North Korea already has that capability.

COOPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, appreciate that. More now on what we know about North Korea's nuclear capability, CNN's Tom Foreman joins us now with a closer look. Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. This picture purports to show Kim Jong-un with a miniaturized nuclear weapon. People laughed at it when it came out last year. But now if they believed this is the real deal, what does it show us? Well, it would suggest this would be about two feet across, experts say it may weigh 500, 600 pounds, something like that. And I would have potentially destructive potential of those bombs that you mentioned which the United States dropped on Japan 72 years ago this week. But look at the difference in size. Each of these was 10 to 11 feet long way around, something like 10,000 pounds. These had to be carried by a heavy bomber. This is a different thing altogether. In this case, maybe you are talking about something that can fit in the nose cone of one of their existing missiles. If that is the case, it changes the game, because their last missile test went 2300 miles up into space, way above the space station, way above many satellites out there. Yes. It only went 621 land miles. But that's because it basically went straight up and came straight down. Some scientists say if you flatten out that trajectory, if you fire it across the earth, then you could reach Guam, you could reach Hawaii, Alaska, and some scientists say based on the weight of the payload, in theory they could reach about half of the United States and some major cities, Anderson.

[21:05:26] COOPER: What challenges do the North Koreans still facing this development?

FOREMAN: Well, significant ones, I think. The reason we say "in theory" is because scientists have look, -- look, even if you give them range, if they said they figured out thrust enough, that we can say there's a green light on the possibility of a missile simply strong enough to carry a nuke that far. There are gigantic questions about this part, accuracy and reliability. Technically, getting a missile into space and bringing it back at that angle through the atmosphere without it tearing apart or burning up, and then delivering a warhead to a target, those are gigantic challenges. And this is at best a yellow light because there's no sign yet that North Korea has figured out that part of the equation. But bear in mind only a few weeks ago we had a red light here on the idea that they had a miniaturized nuclear warhead to even consider this with, because so many scientists said that simply could not be the case at this point. Now though we're getting these reports that maybe this belongs more in the yellow zone. You can see it right there, Anderson, the way that North Korea has steadily kept marching towards something they very much want even though so many in the world including the United States don't want them to have it, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Tom, thanks very much. Let's get perspective now from our military analyst we're talking to Lieutenant General Mark Herling generally, we're talking to Army Major General James "Spider" Marks, and we're talking to Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. General Hertling, do you believe the president grasps the magnitude of what he's potentially threatening or for that matter the specifics of it?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. Sure. Hope he grasps it, Anderson, he's the president. But I think what he has done is eliminated something that all leaders want and that's options. As soon as you start saying specifics, as he said at the meeting today, you've just narrowed your ability to either react. And he's kind of made comment on President Obama for doing the same thing in terms of drawing a line. Whenever you say you're going to do something or threaten to do something, you've just eliminated the thing that the leader wants most of all, and that's various options to deal with the problem.

COOPER: It's also interesting, General Marks, during the campaign the president talked a lot about not telegraphing what you're going to do and not telegraphing your strategy. This does seem to be telegraphing a strategy or at least, obviously, a threat. What kind of measures, General Marks, could the U.S. military now take to, in terms of Guam's protection or even South Korea's protection, what could they take?

MAJOR GEN. JAMES "SPIDER' MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Anderson, bear in mind that the United States and South Korea have had a coalition that has been in place for years, over 60 years. It's very strong. It's exercised as a matter of routine. Processes are in place. Forces are allocated, forces are assigned, in other words they're on the peninsula. Forces are designated to arrive at the peninsula. And there's a very large series of exercises and planning that takes place throughout the year, each year, to ensure that that type of defense capability exists.

Now in terms of the air defense capability, certainly the terminal high altitude air defense system which the United States and South Korea have allowed to be deployed in the south part of the peninsula works exceptionally well. Guam is protected, if you're able to engage a missile as it launches. Clearly the most vulnerable time during a missile launch is that first 45 seconds to a minute where it's getting locked, where it's coming off the ground. If United States can detect and can engage, it will work exceptionally well.

So the fact (ph) it's been deployed, it works its operation. So I would say, also -- I would say, look, what Kim Jong-un said, and what the regime said about attacking Guam, he has said before. This is rhetoric that has been used many, many times. So I think we all should take a pause and realize this is more of the same coming from the regime of north.

COOPER: I mean, what's new, Colonel Francona is, really, the comments by the president, not just toward North Korea but any kind of comments like this, since as we said Harry Truman. The president's chief of staff, national security and defense secretaries, all generals obviously have, you know, for years have looked over plans, military plans in the worst case scenario in North Korea. How difficult or how many options does the U.S. have militarily against North Korea?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they have a range of options. The problem is all of them are bad. No matter what happens, any military action, it is going to precipitate the one thing that we don't want is a massive North Korean attack on the south. And as General Hertling said in the last hour, the human cost of that will be astronomical.

[21:10:11] They've got -- I believe over 10,000 artillery tubes just north -- North Koreans have developed an entire class of artillery based just to reign Seoul.

So they were just reign death and destruction down on the capital city that will be the initial thing. And then there will be whatever follows that, are they going to engage Japan, are they going to launch any kind of other attack? And it will just start the war that will probably end his regime.

So, you know, we do have options, but all of them are bad. And the best option of course is not to have to fight, if we can get through some sort of diplomatic effort. But --


FRANCONA: -- if we think that the North Koreans are going to diplomatically, remove their nuclear weapons, I think that's just not going to happen.

COOPER: General Hertling, you know, we had Ambassador Baucus on earlier, who were saying that he believes that China would get involved, would enter North Korea that they wouldn't just stand by and watch a conflict get under way on their border without getting involved. Do you think that's a possibility?

HERTLING: I think that's probably very true, and he knows it more than most having been the ambassador one time that, Anderson, if I can say something else.


HERTLING: When we were first -- when I was the war planner in the Pentagon right before we went into Iraq. And one of the tasks I had was to determine what other strategic challenges we might face if we did go to war in another country. So you have to lay out things not just the microscope that's focused on North Korea. What I'd like to do is lift us out a little bit and say, what other challenges are we facing around the world?

And I might suggest that there are three or four major security challenges in other places in the world. That if we focus almost exclusively on North Korea and that would be what we would have to do. This is a single war and it would be a devastating conflict which would take a lot of our equipment, forces, manpower, and will, the rest of the world is still there.

And there are certainly a lot of challenges that we face that I think the National Security Council and the president and his cabinet need to consider before you just focus everything on one spot on the globe.

COOPER: Right. I mean, obviously, Afghanistan, which is, you know, even just recently had been more in the news about troop levels there, Syria, Iraq, elsewhere.

HERTLING: Right. And Europe, and the potential for other things going on with Russia, cybersecurity. This -- an attack and using all of our forces in North Korea would generate a whole lot of actions in other places where bad people exist. And they would want to take advantage of us being focused on one spot.

COOPER: General Marks, again, not to -- I don't want it any way kind of ratchet up fear, but just from a military standpoint, you know, we talked to General Hertling about this in the last hour, the level of destruction in the region in any kind of conflict between North and South Korea that the U.S. is involved in, and if China gets involved as well. I mean, it's not something that the United States has seen for a very long time or frankly that the world has seen. MARKS: Absolutely. We have not. And it's certain. The destruction and death that would occur is certain. And the Seoul understands that. President Moon and his cabinet understand the incredible risks. They're waking up this morning and they're getting the very first cables on what our president said, what does the latest intelligence say?

You know, every day starts with not only the President Moon, but with his entire -- the entire combined forces command doing an intelligence review of what has occurred in the last 24 hours. And you mix it with what the U.S. posture looks like along with the South Korean posture. And it paints a very, very tenuous picture based on what we've seen in the last 24 hours.

But those plans that Mark has talked about and Rick has talked about, they have been in place for years. And those forces exist. But what we have now is what's called a zero notice type of a scenario. In other words, the North Koreans have a capability to launch artillery without any warning at all. Zero warning, zero notice that creates this incredible drama, this cataclysmic event that's going to take place in Seoul, the evacuation of the wounded and the families.

At the same time, just think of the physics, at the same time, you're trying to position forces into the Peninsula as you're trying to get civilians, wounded, and you're trying to evacuate folks out. And there are only a certain number of places where you can do that. So this becomes incredibly complicated. And this is where the horrors of war manifest their face in all their incredible, incredible sadness and difficulties.

COOPER: All right. We have --

HERTLING: And Anderson, if I could add to what Spider just said, that's a critically important point. Because you can shoot down a high explosive ballistic missile, you can even shoot down one that's carrying a nuclear weapon. But when those things go up and that's your focus of attention, suddenly there's 10,000 artillery pieces firing on a city of 10.5 million, that's still going to cause a whole lot of death and destruction. And that's the conundrum that we face defending on the Korean Peninsula.

[21:15:16] COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We'll pick up the subject in just a moment. We'll also speak with a key Republican member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees get his reaction, when we continue.


COOPER: The breaking news, over a few hours today, U.S. Intelligence Analysts assessed that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead. North Korea, the president warns of fire and fury like the world has never seen before, and North Korea threatens a ballistic missile strike on the U.S. territory in Guam.

Shortly before air time, I spoke with Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho, a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.


COOPER: Senator Risch, the fact that North Korea says it's not "carefully examining" a plan to strike the U.S. specific territory of Guam with missiles. If they were to do that, obviously it would be a huge escalation of this conflict.

And the very fact that they are saying they are considering doing that, doesn't that go directly against what President Trump, the ultimatum he just gave, which was not make any more threats against the U.S.?

SENATOR JAMES RISCH, (R) FOREIGN RELATIONS OFFICER: Yes. It really does. This thing is moving so rapidly. It's really hard to stay with. But Anderson, I can't overstate what a serious situation this is. I mean, it is an incredibly serious situation. And it doesn't seem to be backing off any.

COOPER: Was it wise for the President -- for President Trump, to issue this ultimatum, not against action by North Korea but against threats by North Korea? Because, if you say, well, if you make any more threats you're going to pay this price, and then somebody makes a threat. Then is the U.S., you know, if they don't act, do they look like they're blinking?

RISCH: Yes. You know, this president is notorious for saying exactly what's on his mind. Whether you agree or disagree, you like him or dislike him, he tells you what's on his mind. That's what's on his mind.

And I think the regime in Pyongyang needs to very seriously consider what's going on here. Look, he's pulled the trigger twice since he's been president. And that hasn't been done in the United States in a long time. He did it once in Afghanistan, once in Syria. And so they are in very dangerous territory.

COOPER: Do you have a sense of what -- I mean, if the worst happened, and obviously there's questions about North Korea's capabilities of reaching the United States, but putting aside the idea of reaching Guam or reaching the United States, even if whatever weapons they have, they just used on South Korea or surrounding countries.

Do you have any sense of the death toll that is potentially involved here?

[21:20:05] RISCH: You know, I really do. We have 30,000 troops in South Korea that are reachable easily by the North Koreans. In addition to that, the population in Seoul has 20 million give or take a little. Seoul is so close to the DMZ that it is reachable by artillery fire. If they have a nuclear weapon that they could deliver by -- even by artillery fire, the death toll would be in the millions. They can easily reach Japan. And we all know what -- how dense the population is there.

I mean, this is -- with a person like this and a regime like this in North Korea, the scenarios are mind-numbing, really. And the Chinese are well aware, just as we are. And the chaos and the -- just the horrible situation that could occur by miscalculation

COOPER: Senator Risch, I appreciate talking to you tonight. Thank you.

RISCH: Yes. Thank you.


COPPER: We're now in the political dimension. With us is Joshua Green, Alice Stewart, Paul Begala, Matt Lewis and Asha Rangappa. Alice, you heard

Senator Risch saying that the president known for saying exactly what's on his mind. I don't know and I'm not sure I could tell whether this was a prepared remark by the president or whether part of it was prepared that -- the phraseology that he used.

But was it wise for him to use this rhetoric against the idea of North Korea making any threats against the U.S. as opposed to actual action by the North Korea?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It clearly, based on the fact he said it a couple of times today, it indicates there was more of a prepared statement. And I think it's important, we need to flex our muscles in this case. I think the real concern here is the fact that the Kim regime has accomplished their goal of a compact nuclear warhead that can be put in a missile. That's the concern here. It's important for the U.S. to flex their muscles. Ambassador Nikki Haley has followed up over the weekend saying the U.S. is prepared to do whatever it takes. And I think we need to send that message. And I think while oftentimes many people accuse the president of being unpredictable, he was pretty clear today that when you're dealing with a madman like Kim Jong-un, it's important for us to be clear and decisive on this.


PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Clear and decisive and precise, though. And as Senator Risch pointed out to Anderson, the president today said if you make another threat, essentially we'll use nuclear weapons against you. Koreans -- made another North Koreans, made another threat.

Now, maybe you can interpret that to mean a physical threat against the United States, right? He's got wiggle room in those who was play with know words know that. But I was troubled. I think Ambassador Haley is doing a fine job. I think that the sanctions that we got passed are terrific. I think Secretary Tillerson talking about negotiating it all. So he's got a good team. I'm not just going to be reflexively bashing my president here. But he's got to be careful with his words. I'd say, if somebody has coached him, thousand people did talk at -- he's doing this, which is a very defensive, I feel threatened gesture. It shows people that you want to be removed from the situation. You want to be protected. I bet that's not actually the body language I would coach my president to use nor that language, though. I want to be strong. We have to be strong. This is a real threat --

COOPER: -- which also I think about that the language is very odd to with what the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said just several days ago.

JOSHUA GREEN, AUTHOR, "DEVIL'S BARGAIN": Well, not only that, the Trump -- was odd about to me, was the Trump just won a great diplomatic victory over North Korea this past Saturday by getting a unanimous vote in the U.N. Security Council to impose really tough new economic sanctions on --

COOPER: They've got China and Russia.

GREEN: -- on North Korea, China and Russia and (INAUDIBLE) got bipartisan praise for. You've heard Democrats and Trump critics say, this was a legitimate achievement. So, it's odd that he would switch so quickly from a diplomatic tract would seem to be succeeding to this kind of bellicosity.

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: But there was obviously -- develop that between the time that we got the diplomatic at human. And you can argue that this sort of unpredictability, Donald Trump the loose cannon, could incentivize China to actually hold them to the agreement that they have committed to. But look, we've had three presidents who were very diplomatic and very polite and nice and in some cases appeasing, trying to use diplomacy and strategic patience to get North Korea to cooperate and they continued to develop nuclear capability.

And I think the fundamental question we have to ask is, everybody -- every president says, we will not allow North Korea to get a nuclear weapon that can hit, that come to United States. And they say that's a red line we will not. Really? Are we really committed to that? Or are we OK with it? It's fine. I think it's perfectly plausible to say, look, Pakistan and other countries that we don't necessarily like their nuclear, we can live with that. But we've always said we can't. And if you can't live with that, then you do have to get tough at some point. And Donald Trump has gotten tough on a couple of other people in six months.

[21:25:01] ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, there's a way to send a message and I think that this is an opportunity for him to be presidential. And if you look back at crisis moments, like when the Cuban missile crisis with JFK or even the evil empire speech that Ronald Reagan gave, you know, you have a presidential address that's given, not tweets that are sent out or off-the-cuff bluster. That lays --

LEWIS: -- we're going to bomb Russia in five minutes.

BEGALA: Right. That was a mistake.

LEWIS: And he has a lot --

BEGALA: -- an open mike --


LEWIS: But apparently, the KGB was a little bit chastened in by that.

BEGALA: Yes. I think they were chastened.

RANGAPPA: But JFK in his speech with the Cuban missile crisis showed resolve and firmness but also reassured the American people at a moment that was very uncertain, advocated or mentioned (ph)for patience and restraint and a desire for peace and spoke directly to the Cuban --

LEWIS: And Reagan also called them the evil empire, by the way.

BEGALA: He did and that's fine. They are still evil than just a small empire.

LEWIS: I would agree.

BEGALA: But I want to correct your history. When President Clinton -- very bellicose and very decisive about threatening military action against North Korea, Kim Jong-il, the father of the president dictator backed down. He backed down. He stopped his nuclear approach, he let the United Nations put cameras in and for several years that program was frozen from a combination of carrots and sticks. Chinese were very important at that as well. It's -- we're much -- we're shake now because they have a nuke. They did not 15, 20 years ago and President Clinton was dealing with them. But your two options are, Mr. President, war or China? And I would send Tillerson on the plane to Beijing tomorrow.

COOPER: We got to take a quite break. When we come back, is President Trump himself promoting leaks of classified intelligence while also rallying against them? The answer maybe in his tweets, details on that next.


[21:30:11] COOPER: If the escalating rhetoric from North Korea were not enough to worry about, lately there's also the ongoing problem of people in government leaking classified information. Just ask the members of the Trump administration.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The leaks are incredibly damaging to our intelligence mission and capabilities. Simply put, these leaks hurt our country. We are taking a stand. This culture of leaking must stop.


COOPER: Attorney General Sessions on Friday with the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, announcing the steps to end what they and the President clearly see a major threat on many levels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: They endanger the men and women of the intelligence community, the armed services and those who serve overseas. They give our adversaries knowledge of our activities. They impede our ability to share information with our allies.

There is also a real cost in dollars to compensate for blown programs. And most importantly, as I have previously noted, these unauthorized disclosures endanger to safety and security of Americans across the country.


COOPER: Unauthorized disclosures from anonymous sources to news organizations about sensitive subjects, including, say, that the U.S has evidence and North Korea is equipping patrol boats with anti-ship weapons that can sink American vessels.

Fox reported it, citing, quote, U.S officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence in the region, in other words officials leaking classified information. Something U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley confirmed, perhaps, inadvertently when asked to comment.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any information on the new information that we have that North Korea for the first time since 2014 is moving some military assets maybe in response to these sanctions?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N: I can't talk about classified information.


COOPER: Classified information, leaked classified information, leaked classified information about an ongoing confrontation with Kim Jong- un. Precisely the kind of stuff the administration for the president (INAUDIBLE) says it's trying to contain, except of course when it's not.

Keeping them honest, that story, the very same one that Ambassador Haley would not even comment on is also the one that this morning from this New Jersey golf club, the president promoted linking to it on his Twitter feed.

Now, on one hand, if the story does indeed hurt American interests, the damage is already done, the story is already out. That said, the fact that the president is plugging the story instead of decrying it sends a signal, whether he knows it or not. That links should be judged on their benefit to him rather than the harm they might do to the country.

Back now with the panel. I mean, Josh, it is certain the ultimate irony that he's blasting leaks of unidentified source and yet re tweeting stuff that has -- GREEN: It is. But I also don't think that Trump distinguishes

between what's classified and what's not. And we know from leaks that he isn't a careful reader of intelligence reports, he doesn't have a long, a lot patience. They have to bullet point some of the stuff. So, I doubt that Trump is carefully sifting, you know, what is classified and what's not.

He just tweets stories that catches interest or happen to be, you know, in front of him while he's watching "Fox and Friends" in the morning. And it should after his followers regardless of consequence.

COOPER: Also, I mean, as -- has been report he's not much of a reader, it's very possible he didn't even read the story that he was sending out there.

STEWART: And this is -- unfortunately what happens when your presidential daily briefing starts when you're watching "Fox and Friends." Look, I think, he clearly wasn't, like, he's -- to your point, he didn't unders -- he wasn't fully aware if this was classified information.

The story doesn't explain it in full detail. But I think it's really important, when he has now put together this panel and empowered Jeff Sessions to crack down on leaks and really hold people accountable. It's critical for everyone from the president on down to also follow through and make sure that they crack down leaks and don't be a culprit of passing on classified information at the same time.

BEGALA: I agree with that. He can't run the government without some secretes, especially about national security. I get that, I support that. And yet at one level they seem to be taking it too far when they prosecute journalists, which to some conversation that the Obama administration was wrong then it's wrong now.

But -- Then he undermines it as Anderson points out when he then tweets out a story that is based on leaked classified information. I do think it's not the distinction between what's classified and not, but what is helpful and what is not.

And that's a big problem. It's his job now to know. And he did run saying, he's a hands-on manager, he knew every hole of every golf course that he owns. He has got to get on top of this. It really, really matters. You can't simply say, will this hurts or this helps. Therefore --

COOPER: The other question is does the Department of Justice investigate this leak like they say they want to investigate other leaks?

RANGAPPA: That's right. I think that this is going to highlight whether they are actually serious about the leaks. They -- as Paul mentioned, they have indicated they are willing to go after journalists, and here they have one.

And by the president leaking classified information himself, it raises the question on whether this is truly about national security or is this about chilling the kind of speech that they just don't like. And if they start being selective in the kinds of leaks that they try to prosecute, you know, not the ones from Fox but the ones from "The New York Times" that's going to both give a defense for the journalists that might end up entangled in this web that I think is also going to undermine the credibility of the Department of Justice.

[21:35:21] STEWART: And also keep in mind, this was -- early this morning, when he was basically wanting to convey to his twitter followers and people that may not have seen the news, that North Korea is really ratcheting things up and it's becoming much more serious. And then followed up just a short time later is when he came out with his powerful comment about fire and fury like away never seen before.

So, in my view that he was looking at this in a way, I need to make sure people understand things are heating up in North Korea and that supports what I'm getting ready to say.

BEGALA: I think it's more it's more what he -- what pleases him and what doesn't. I mean, some of us who are old, remember once upon a time there was a White House aide called Anthony Scaramucci. He alleged there was a federal offense to release his financial disclosure form. It says at the top, disclosure form, it's a publicly available form. And he tweeted he was going to seek the FBI and told Ryan Lizza, seek the FBI on this because he didn't want his finances released. It's a public disclosure. Again, that one is a bad leak.

GREEN: About his replacement, Kelly, one of the things Kelly said he was going to do was come in and he was going to limit the president's sources of information so that you don't have these embarrassing gaffes where he's doing things like tweeting out Fox stories that are based on leaked intelligence. And clearly, I believe Kelly is up there at Bedminster with him this weekend. Clearly that process is either not in place yet or it's not working very well.

COOPER: And you can't, I mean, you can't take the remote from the president and let the -- you can't watch T.V unless you've had your broccoli. I mean, it's not like --

GREEN: Somebody's got to.

STEWART: I don't know.

COOPER: I mean, it seems like what Kelly is trying to do is maybe, you know, there are all these stories of people kind of selectively giving the president either things that they printed off the internet as news items for him to read. It seems like that's something that Kelly can --

GREEN: But he also needs to be brief when there is a story in Fox News based on leaked intelligence. There's somebody whose job it should have been to say, "Hey, heads up, the president might find out about this and we needs to let him know that the story is based on leaks".

BEGALA: That's right. But his response should be to call his chief of staff and/or national security adviser. I just saw something on T.V, folks, tell me what's going on, tell me if that's true. Tell me what the sources, track down the leaks. His first impulse is to tweet.

LEWIS: To dig this and Brian Kilmeade is now our national security adviser.

COOPER: We'll going to expand the conversation after the break.

Coming up, a credibility gap, its one thing when we're talking about the president tweeting or saying he got phone calls that he didn't actually get. Any of the things that been happening lately. It's another thing during a potential nuclear crisis, more on that ahead.


[21:41:20] COOPER: With new polling shows the president has a incredibility gap. And majority of people simply do not believe he's honest and trustworthy and many pundits of have warn that this could be a real problem in a real crisis.

The latest CNN poll shows just 24 percent trust most of what they hear from the White House, 24 percent. Back now with the panel. I mean, that's -- this is one of the things, you know, if this does develop into a major crisis, that so many people have been saying for so long. Many of the people unaware about, you know, when the -- credibility is one thing in the best of times, but when the nation is facing crisis, you have to believe what the president is saying.

BEGALA: And there's no substitute for the president's voice. I'm glad he has a strong national security team. I'm impressed with General Mattis, General McMaster is now his security adviser. Ambassador Haley, we said earlier is doing a fine job, Secretary Tillerson looks a little shakier. But only the president has that -- should have that moral authority. And the fact that only one fourth of the Americans believe their president as we may be entering into a crisis is itself a crisis. And additional quick fix for that.

COOPER: There isn't a quick fix. It doesn't -- you can turn it around, I mean, you can't turn around eventually but not overnight.

STEWART: But clearly when we're talking about national security, and I think people are beginning to really recognize that this North Korea situation, it is real and getting more serious by the minute and like you said, with the national security team and certainly now with Chief of Staff Kelly in there, they are a commanding presence. And I think with the national security team, it arm in arm with the president, the people will take certainly have confidence in what we're going to do. And I think when it comes to foreign policy the American people will stand behind the president, especially with that team.

COOPER: But it's -- I mean, today the president was suggesting a, you know, I mean, more power than the world has ever seen, a nuclear response, I assume that's what he was suggesting, if that's more power or yes, I mean, I don't know what else it would be. And he was doing it arguably and what seemed to be kind of an off-the-cuff way. And it wasn't that statement, it wasn't a speech. It wasn't, it was sitting around a round table.

GREEN: And what he did was in gender confusion in the press corps. And what made it even odder was that rather than march out one of his generals to explain and put it in context, he had Kellyanne Conway, and no disrespect to Conway who is fine as spokesperson but not an expert on military national security, come out and talk to reporters today. And that is why I think hours later people are still wondering, what did he is actually intend by that statement?

LEWIS: But Donald -- but I would say Donald Trump and others have made this point, that what he did in Syria, what he did with the Moab, does lend a certain amount of credibility to his -- to the fact that he has been decisive, no, I'm not talking about it, you know, preemptive nuclear strike. But if you're talking about sending a message to a foreign power that you're not messing around, that you mean business. He does have some credibility on that.

RANGAPPA: But when it's conflicting with messages that other members of his team are giving, when there are diplomatic overtures being made, when, you know, there might be nuances to the military strategy that his generals might want to --

COOPER: I mean, Rex Tillerson just the other day gave a very detailed statement of we're not looking for regime change, we are not looking to be a threat, but, you know, and which was clearly a statement that had been worked over.

STEWART: Right. And we also have -- as I mentioned, Nikki Haley is saying, look, all options are on the table. The United States will not stop at anything. So, I think these statements are not mutually exclusive. I think we need to put everything out there on the table and make sure that the Kim Regime understands that we mean business.

And there's also a part of this they're sending a message to China as well, saying China needs to exert pressure on North Korea in order to halt their weapons.

LEWIS: Yes, I think that Donald Trump's unpredictability is actually a benefit when it comes to dealing with the other countries.

[21:45:01] Where it becomes a problem I think is with rallying the American public and holding us together. I think that that is when you need the moral authority that this -- we believe the president to what he says. So, I think that, you know, domestically, in terms of keeping this country together at this very perilous time, Donald Trump is not in good shape.

I'm actually a little bit relieved that, you know, that he is -- I'm OK with the fact that he's (INAUDIBLE), I'm OK with the fact that other countries don't know what he might do.

STWEWART: I'm not.

LEWIS: I'm not. GREEN: But there is, I mean, if you want to take the most

positive analysis of what happened today and Matt touched on this, you know, there is a line of thinking that what he is doing is trying to put pressure on China. And even though Trump won this diplomatic victory at the U.N. Security Council and got these economic sanctions imposed, there are further things that could be done. You could limit oil imports to North Korea which Russia and China doesn't want to do. You can crack down on Chinese banks which launder money for a lot of North Koreans, which in fact, the Trump treasury just did with one Chinese bank in June.

So, by coming out and essentially threatening what I guess was supposed to be nuclear war, you could argue or some of his advisers could argue that, look, if the Chinese have given a choice between letting Trump go down this path and maybe ratcheting down, up sanction on North Korea a little bit more, you know, maybe we should go ahead and do what the Americans want.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. More ahead, he's the most famous independent counsel of the modern American political era. He's been taking some heat for what he said recently about the current Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation. I'll speak with Ken Starr, next.


[21:49:55] COOPER: Some questions have come up recently about whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is investigating Russians medaling the election is overstepping his bounds. What's especially interesting is that notion has been raised by Ken Starr. He, of course with the independent counsel who investigated Whitewater, an investigation that ultimately led to the Clinton Lewinsky scandal or the investigation of that.

I'll speak with Ken Starr in moment. But first, here's what he said on CNNs New Day on Friday.


KEN STARR, LED INDEPENDENT COUNSEL INVESTIGATION ON PRES. CLINTON: To the extent that you are moving beyond collusion with Russian operatives or the Russian interest or the Russian government itself, and into that which doesn't seem to have a direct tie to Russia, then these questions are, in fact, raised. It is certainly a serious matter when a special counsel is accused, and I was accused of that, of exceeding his or her authority. That's a serious matter because we do not want investigators and prosecutors out on a fishing expedition.


COOPER: Ken Starr joins me now. Some people who saw that obviously were critically of -- or surprised or thought it was hypocritical those comments that the idea of a fishing expedition, they say that, you know, you started out investigating Whitewater and ended up investigating Clinton-Lewinsky. STARR: And what I also said is that there are checks and

balances under the old statute under which I was appointed. So, the most controversial phase of the investigation, the Lewinsky phase, was specifically authorized by the attorney general.

COOPER: Who was Janet Reno.

STARR: Who was Janet Reno.

COOPER: So, you -- when you found evidence about the president's comments about and his behavior with Monica Lewinsky, you actually went back to Janet Reno to get approval to investigate that?

STARR: Well, exactly right. And the issue was perjury committed, was there obstruction of justice, a number of very serious possible crimes involving the president himself and others around the president. But we didn't just start investigating. We went to the attorney general.

So to bring that back to the Russia collusion investigation, I think it's the responsibility of the special counsel to make sure that he is staying within the guardrails, within the ambit of what he was charged with doing. That's the point. We don't want fishing expeditions.

COOPER: One of the things -- all the reporting is saying is that at this point, Robert Mueller is actually looking not just at the Donald Trump Jr. meeting which --

STARR: Right.

COOPER: -- Grand jury for, and not just obviously the Former National Security Adviser Flynn, but looking at potential financial improprieties or transactions between Russians and then citizen, Donald Trump, years before the election. In your opinion, would that be -- because it would still involve Russian who have potential links to the government, would that be appropriate?

STARR: I think it's getting to the out of perimeter. It's a judgment call. It's based on here are the facts. But let me come back to the Lewinsky investigation. We go to the attorney general of the United States, Janet Reno, and said here is what we have. And we laid it out transparently. This is what we have. This is the entirety of what we have. We believe it merits investigation, and so, it's your judgment. We would not have investigated had we not had the approval, the (INAUDIBLE) of Attorney General Reno and then it goes to three judge court.

Now we don't have any of those mechanisms in place. All we have is the judgment of the Justice Department senior leadership in the person of Rod Rosenstein, who is very honorable man.

COOPER: Yes. He gave me an interview on Fox News. I just want to play some of that recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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.

If he finds evidence of the 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 of that scope, he needs to come to the acting Attorney General and at this time me, for permission to expand his investigation.


COOPER: And that's exactly what you're saying that they have to do.

STARR: Exactly. Rod Rosenstein is now the attorney general. He is the three judge court from the old independent counsel days.

COOPER: And the USA Today is reporting that through his chief counsel, President Trump has sent private messages to Robert Mueller, messages expressing, "Appreciation and greetings." Does it -- as you see what's going on, does it seem like the Trump administration has changed or there's a change of tone from the White House toward the investigation? I mean, a fewer tweets from the president attacking or raising questions about the investigation and obviously, there's the change of attorneys.

STARR: Yes, and this is kind of outreaches entirely appropriate by an attorney. So this is John Dowd who's a very experienced and able criminal defense lawyer representing President Trump. And for him to have this line of communication with Robert Mueller is entirely appropriate. It would not be appropriate needless to say and his lawyers wouldn't allow it at all if he said, why don't we bring Bob Mueller in here? I'd like to have a conversation.

COOPER: But it's OK for the president to send messages to Mob Mueller?

STARR: Yes. Is it ideal? I don't think so. I think it's better for it to be entirely arm's length.

COOPER: Did President Clinton send you messages of greetings and appreciation?

STARR: Well, his counsel did. I wouldn't say appreciation because it was not that kind of situation.

[21:55:01] But, you know, I had a very good relationship with first Lloyd Cutler who was President Clinton's counsel at the time I took over the investigation. And I always had a professional relationship even when we disagreed, and then with the president's outside counsel, David Kendall of Williams and Connolly.

COOPER: The other thing I've talked to every chief of staff, or everybody ever served in the administration, Republican and Democrat, they all said the same thing that it's crucial that the president and his team be able to compartmentalize when there's an investigation like this going on. It's one of the things people said about Bill Clinton that for better or worse he was able to compartmentalize and conduct business and then separate. There's real questions whether President Trump can do that, but in your opinion, is that crucial for a president to do?

STARR: Critically important. And I think you're right, President Clinton was able permit (ph) the thing we know to focus on other things and say OK, we're here to get the job done. We're here to serve the country and so forth. There's this over here, but we leave that to the lawyers.

And again, Lloyd Cutler who is the counsel to the president made it very clear that when it came to issues of potential, potential criminal culpability, you go raise that Ken with David Kendall, his private counsel. And that I think worked very well.

COOPER: Judge Starr, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

STARR: My pleasure. Thank you.


COOPER: That's it for us. Thanks for watching. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. "CNN Tonight" starts right now.

DON LEMON: President Trump threatens "fire and fury" against North Korea and draws a red line, but what happens next?

This is "CNN Tonight". I'm Don Lemon.