Return to Transcripts main page


North Korean Nuclear Warheads; Trump and Leaks; Trump's Latest Poll Numbers. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 8, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Out of North Korea.

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next. For our viewers in North America, "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin, You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being with me.

We're going to continue that breaking news coverage here out of North Korea, this potential game-changer in the world standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons.

"The Washington Post" is now reporting that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles. Essentially, a nuke small enough to be strapped to an intercontinental ballistic missile, or an ICBM, that final frontier in Kim Jong-un's missile program that nuclear experts have been fearing for years.

So, let's begin with Ryan Browne, who's live at the Pentagon for us on this.

And so, I mean, as you well know, North Korea has been escalating threats to hit the U.S. mainland. So if this "Washington Post," Ryan, if this "Post" report proves to be true, how much more dangerous did North Korea just become?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, a lot more dangerous. Again, you know, there are still some things that are -- that would need to be assessed here. This "Washington Post" report citing a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment that North Korea has the ability to miniaturize these weapons on to missiles.

But, again, there are a couple of other capabilities that might need to be developed in order for them to successfully launch an ICBM against the United States. One would be the ability to target. A targeting system. Is that -- have they refined that capability yet? The other is reentry. Can the missile with the warhead intact reenter the earth's atmosphere in one piece as it approaches a target. These are other things that need to be worked out.

But again, a major development, if this assessment is accurate. This is a major advancement in the North Korea nuclear weapons program. Again, "The Post" story noting that it's unclear if these smaller warheads have been tested yet.


BROWNE: But still a concerning development.

And again, this is something that military planners here in the United States, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford has said the military has long worked under the assumption that North Korea has this capability in its planning and its preparation of missile defense, things of that nature. So they've worked under that assumption. But this is kind of the first assessment that really says that North Korea now has this capability.

BALDWIN: All right, Ryan, stand by. I want to bring in Elise Labott, CNN global affairs correspondent, and Tom Collina. Tom has 25 years of experience in nuclear weapons, missile defense, and nonproliferation issues. And he's also policy director at the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation working to prevent the spread and use of weapons in war.

So, welcome to both of you.

And, Tom, just first to you. Just your reaction to this report that Kim Jong-un's regime has crossed this major, major threshold, reportedly.

TOM COLLINA, POLICY DIRECTOR, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: Yes, reportedly. I think the most dangerous thing about the situation right now is you have two unexperienced, bombastic leaders that are now pointing nuclear weapons at each other. It's a dangerous situation. It's a very unstable situation that could quickly stumble into catastrophe.

You know, mistakes, misidentification of cues. Again, neither one of these leaders have much experience doing this. So the first thing we need to do is try to sit down, get these two leaders to sit down, the two sides to sit down and start talking. How are we going to defuse this situation? How are we going to bring some stability to this very unstable situation so that we don't stumble into war? That's the primary thing we have to do right now.

BALDWIN: And, Elise, just, you know, coming off of Tom's point, I mean, you were making a point a moment ago on TV about Otto Warmbier, who sadly died, but clearly there was a conversation about getting him home from North Korea, some sort of maybe back channel between the U.S. and North Korea.

We know Secretary Tillerson did recently say that, you know, the conversation with the foreign minister would be on the table. How imminent could that happen -- could that be?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I don't think we're talking -- I don't think we're talking about, you know, imminent in the next, you know, days or weeks, Brooke, but certainly Secretary Tillerson is trying to lay the groundwork, sending a pretty not-so- subtle message to the North Koreans, we're ready to talk, send us a signal, a positive sign. I just want to say about Tom's point about, you know, the leaders. I

mean certainly on Kim Jong-un, he's known as erratic. He's known as unpredictable. But I don't think that U.S. officials are going on the assumption that he's crazy. I mean certainly he could be irrational, but I think that there's a belief that this leader knows that if he were to launch a nuclear weapon, that that would spell the end of his regime. And everything about this regime is about regime survival.

So, clearly, the U.S. has to be ready. It has to have its defenses up. It has to have some kind of deterrent against North Korea. And as Ryan said, the U.S. has been working on the assumption that if North Korea isn't there right now with miniaturizing and having all the ingredients to assemble and launch and test a nuclear weapon, that they're there, that they're going to be there soon.

[14:05:09] But certainly I think that the U.S. wants to have a diplomatic solution. It's putting out the signals that it would like to have that. And I don't think they think that this is a crazy leader who they don't think that they can talk to.

BALDWIN: Well, on the crazy leader note, and, Tom, let me pose this to you. I was listening to Colonel Francona who, a moment ago, posed the question, is Kim Jong-un suicidal, homicidal, or rational? How would you answer that?

COLLINA: He is not suicidal. The Kim regime has survived for decades. If there's anything they care about, it is self-preservation. They are not suicidal. They know very well -- I agree, they are -- they know very well that if they attack the United States, they will be attacked in response, and North Korea will be toast, quite frankly.

So they realize that and so we don't need to panic here. I mean just because North Korea has this threatening capability does not mean they will use it. There is time to sit down with North Korea and talk with them and bring some stability to this otherwise dangerous situation.

BALDWIN: So I hear both of you guys saying, talking -- talking needs to be on the table.

But, Elise, how fast does this timetable need to move up on the talk if this report is true?

LABOTT: Well, I mean I think, Brooke, what you have right now that you might have not had during the Obama administration is this kind of credible threat of using force against North Korea. We're hearing -- you know we've heard about it over the years.

But you've seen President Trump with Syria, that he was prepared to use military force. I think that now, when the U.S. says -- when Nikki Haley says or when H.R. McMaster talks about military action, that's not to say that the U.S. is going to go ahead and do that. But I think in Kim Jong-un's mind, he looks around and says, it's possible that the -- that President Trump would launch some kind of military action. He just doesn't know. I mean President Obama, a lot of times, would talk tough and then wouldn't take any kind of robust action.

BALDWIN: Follow through.

LABOTT: And so I think that there is a desire to talk. I think they need to do it sooner rather than later. I agree that there is some time. And that what we should -- I don't think our viewers should panic that North Korea is about to launch a nuclear weapon that could hit the continental United States, but just the fact that they have that capability --


LABOTT: Makes them that much more important and dangerous of an adversary. And it's going to bring a lot more to get them to a table and get them to have some kind of deal.

BALDWIN: So, last question. If the capability is there, Tom, what would provoke North Korea to use one of these missiles ever?

COLLINA: If the United States were to panic and launch some sort of preemptive strike, then there's no telling what North Korea could do, either to South Korea or to Japan or to the United States.

So, again, we don't want to panic. We don't want to stumble into a response that would be counterproductive. We don't want to make a mistake here.

And the danger is that neither leadership is very experienced with these very high-tension, stressful situations. So we need to get on the same wavelength. The United States needs to talk to North Korea and say, if you do this, it means this. We know if you do this, it means this. So we need to have better understanding about where the red lines are and to establish firmly that if North Korea attacks us, it would be the end of their regime. I think they know that, but it would be nice to confirm it so that we don't have to worry about a surprise attack.


Tom and Elise, thank you.

There is an interesting twist here also on North Korea today. Keep in mind, if there is one thing President Trump despises, it's leaks and anonymous sources. Since taking office, he has said multiple times that he wants leakers thrown in prison. So the question I'm asking today then, is why did the president just retweet this Fox News report, a report that cites anonymous intelligence officials?

The report, which CNN has now confirmed, says that spy agencies have detected North Korea loading missiles on a patrol boat. But remember here, one of the president's tweets from back in May read like this. Whenever you see the words sources say in fake news media, and they don't mention names, it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers. #fakenews is the enemy.

Also worth noting here, just a couple hours after the president retweeted this Fox News report citing these anonymous intelligence sources this morning, the U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, appeared on Fox News and condemned the fact that classified information was leaked in the report.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I can't talk about anything that's classified. And if that's in the newspaper, that's a shame. It's incredibly dangerous when things get out into the press like that. You're not only just getting a scoop on something, you're playing with people's lives.


[14:10:08] BALDWIN: With me now, Asha Rangappa, CNN legal and national security analyst, and also an associate dean at Yale Law School.

Nice to see you.


BALDWIN: Let me just bring up another tweet. This is from the president from February. He wrote, the real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on North Korea, et cetera." So he even uses North Korea as an example there. I mean how can he have it both ways, right, slamming anonymous sources, fake news, yet retweeting something that -- a report that is based on classified, sourced information.

RANGAPPA: Well, Brooke, technically, he can have it both ways in the sense that when the president leaks classified information, it's not illegal. We've heard this. And I call it the nanny nanny boo boo defense. It doesn't make it any less dangerous. So we've seen both with the retweet this morning, giving information to the Russian foreign minister about a source which may have put that source in danger --

BALDWIN: But it's hypocritical.

RANGAPPA: It's hypocritical, for sure.

BALDWIN: It's hypocritical.

RANGAPPA: And it is, again, I think that most of what the president seems to criticize is actually gossip, not necessarily leaks, which is about classified information. And what he's doing is potentially more dangerous to our national security than many of the things that he criticizes as being illegal leaks.

BALDWIN: Just the fact that he retweeted it, which is totally the opposite of what Nikki Haley did (ph).

RANGAPPA: Absolutely, and what Nikki Haley said.

BALDWIN: So, we heard from Nikki Haley condemning the very report that the president retweeted. From an intel perspective, what kind of challenges does this sort of thing pose when you have the president and his diplomats out there openly contradicting one another? RANGAPPA: Absolutely. So in a situation like this that is so delicate

and that is potentially escalating, you have a number of different levels operating at the same time, a military defensive strategy, a diplomatic strategy, the economic strategy that our world community has bought into. And when these tweets enter the picture, the effect of them is very unknown. And it doesn't really fit into this idea of a carefully crafted approach that right now, as you just heard from your two experts, is really about trying to push this diplomatic avenue, one-on-one conversations, tweets that go out to millions of people that could unravel that really undermine, I think, what should otherwise be a very coherent policy.

BALDWIN: So, at the moment, North Korea, this is the above the fold story right now. And I just wanted to show everyone what the president just tweeted. Let's all read this together. E-mails show that the amazon "Washington Post" and the failing "New York Times" were reluctant to cover the Clinton/Lynch secret meeting in plane.

He just tweeted that right now? Yes. OK, 11:00 a.m., August 8th. So that is what he's tweeting about this morning. Right now I'm being told. Right now.

RANGAPPA: You know, but the e-mails is, you know, always the fallback, I guess.

BALDWIN: That's what he's choosing to focus on.

RANGAPPA: Yes. And, you know, this is like someone who just can't stop talking about their ex two years later. It's -- that's not what the issue is right now.

BALDWIN: Here's another one. After 200 days, rarely has any administration achieved what we have achieved. Not even close. Don't believe the fake news suppression polls. Alluding to the new polls that are out, you know, that are saying three-fourths of America don't trust what's coming out of the White House. Again, this is what the president is choosing to focus on.


BALDWIN: Nuclearized warhead. ICBM. And this.

RANGAPPA: Exactly. It's troubling and I think, Brooke, what this goes to is, who does he think his audience is? And constantly I believe that his audience for him that matters is his base.

BALDWIN: But he's losing. I mean if you believe the polls, you know, the polls are indicating even his own base is on the decline.

RANGAPPA: It might -- I mean he's getting, I guess, Russian bots telling him that he's doing a great job.

BALDWIN: Which he retweets, right.

RANGAPPA: But, you know, he's undermined his own legal strategy through tweets. BALDWIN: Right.

RANGAPPA: It may be that he's simply not attuned to the broader implications of what he does when he's tweeting, because he really cares about one audience.

BALDWIN: Listen, a lot of Americans really still support him. I sat around a New Jersey diner last week with six Trump supporters that, you know, had wonderful things to say about the president. And we're going to roll that out later this week. But I asked them about the tweets and most of them agreed that they don't love how he's choosing to communicate in 140 characters or less.

Asha, as always, thank you so much.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let me move on. We have more on the breaking news, of course, out of North Korea for you today.

Also, as we just mentioned with regard to these new poll numbers out, three quarters of Americans do not believe a word that is coming out of the White House. And the president, they don't really trust him either. These damning new poll numbers, we have them for you. We'll walk you through them.

[14:15:11] Also ahead, he's called it a hoax and he said he doesn't believe in it. Now, government scientists are apparently leaking their climate change report because they fear the administration might suppress it, might change it, might not acknowledge it. We have to talk about that coming up.

You're watching CNN.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

More on our breaking news. "The Washington Post" is now reporting that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles. Essentially, this is a nuke small enough to be strapped to an ICBM.

As this news is breaking, I want to show you what the president is tweeting about. About CNN's polls. Here's why he doesn't like what the polls found. They show that support for President Trump is weakening. And by the way, this is significant because it's not just in his party but in the key demographic credited for helping him win the White House, white voters with no college education.

[14:20:18] Just as troubling here, the bigger picture, the polls paint about how Americans overall view their president, a vast majority of those surveyed do not trust all or most of what they hear in official communications from the White House. And the president just received the lowest job approval ever given since the poll has been conducted.

Let me bring in our polls guru of the moment, CNN's senior political analyst Mark Preston.

And so, I mean, the biggie is the 75 percent number, right? Three- fourths of Americans just don't trust a darn thing coming out of the White House.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean terrible news right now, as you said, for President Trump, 200 days in. He's making history, though. No question about that.

Let's look at his overall approval rating right now, 38 percent. As you had mentioned, Brooke, this is the lowest ever in modern polling. And we go all the way back and we look at what happened after six months, going back to John F. Kennedy. Look where Donald Trump is on that line right now, 38 percent. Less than four in 10 approve of how the president is conducting himself right now. What's interesting, though, is that Bill Clinton, right there at 44 percent, both of them in their first year were trying to get health care done. A very, very difficult topic.

But we talk about why he is losing support. It's not from Democrats. Democrats never supported him. He's having problems with his own party right now. There is a 14-point drop in strongly approving President Trump amongst Republicans. From February, basically when he was sworn into office, to where we are now.

And as we go down, you talked about the also important trust factor. Look at that right now. One in four Americans -- only one many four Americans trust most of what they hear coming out of the White House. More than seven in 10 Americans don't trust it at all. So specifically, when you're dealing with big issues, whether it be tax cuts, health care, infrastructure spending, domestically, that is a big issue.

Going on to tweets, where he does all or it seems most of his communicating with his base, right now Trump's tweets are a risky way to communicate. More than seven in ten Americans believe that, Brooke. I know that he likes to say that this is how he communicates. But if you look at these numbers right now, clearly the American people don't think it's effective.

And I do want to add one more number in we don't have up here. That number is on foreign policy. How is he doing when it comes to foreign affairs? Only 35 percent of Americans approve of how he's doing. I bring that number up given the news in the last hour of North Korea.


BALDWIN: So on North Korea, I mean, what do you make of the fact -- again, the president refers to these polls as the "fake news suppression polls."


BALDWIN: What do you make of the fact that he's tweeting about that in the middle of the breaking North Korea news?

PRESTON: Right. Well, no, let's assume that these poll numbers were really good and all these numbers were flipped, I'm sure we'd hear from the president saying, what great poll numbers coming out of CNN, because we've seen that in the past.

The fact of the matter is, President Trump, from a lot of Americans, believe that he needs to be focused on the major issues that are affecting us right now. And as we stand at this moment, North Korea is at the top of the list, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Mark, thank you. Thank you very much.

And just as the president's credibility is under deepening scrutiny, CNN is now learning about this administration attempt to suppress the way officials talk about climate change.

In an e-mail obtained by CNN, the president's Department of Agriculture advised staff members at the Natural Resources Conservation Service to avoid using the phrase ""climate change." Don't use it. And instead use terms like "weather extremes" when describing their work.

This is coming on the same day that 13 federal agencies are contradicting the Trump administration's stance on climate change. "The New York Times" cites a draft report that states, quote, many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change.

Punctuating this stunning report, one scientist says he leaked it to "The New York Times" because he was simply afraid the Trump administration would change it. Whether or not President Trump believes climate change is real, though, the White House isn't entirely clear on that answer.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president still believe that climate change is a hoax.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think you'll hear more today about the climate and what he believes.

He does not believe that, as I mentioned at the outset, that you -- that there is a binary choice between job creation, economic growth, and caring about the environment.

I've not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes or no, does the president believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States?

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: You know what's interesting about all the discussions we had, the focus remained on whether Paris put us at a disadvantage. And, in fact, it did. [14:25:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president believe today that

climate change is a hoax?

PRUITT: Is Paris good or bad for this country? The president and I focused our attentions there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he still believe it's a hoax?

SPICER: I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.


BALDWIN: OK. So they've tried getting an answer on that there in the White House Briefing Room.

We do have some idea as to what then private citizen Donald Trump thought about global warming and as a candidate, so let me just read some of this for you here.

2012, he wrote, the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. OK. A year later he writes, it's freezing outside. Where the hell is global warming?

2015, he writes, I believe in clean air, immaculate air, but I don't believe in climate change. And then 2016, I'm not supposed to be using hairspray. Obama's always talking about the global warming, that global warming is our biggest and most dangerous problem, OK?

So, Mr. President, let's just put this whole thing to bed and we invite you to come on and just tell us straight up, do you believe or do you not that climate change is real?

Coming up next, more on our breaking news, reports that North Korea now has the ability to fit nuclear warheads inside of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. New CNN reporting moments away.