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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump: Maybe "Fire And Fury" Threat "Wasn't Tough Enough"; Trump Doesn't Think Iran Is Living Up To The "Spirit" Of The Nuke Deal; Trump: "Russia Had Nothing To Do With Me Winning"; Trump Slams McConnell Failure To Pass Health Bill "A Disgrace" Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 10, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- policy. You know what that means inside government, ain't going to happen. What did the Department of Justice say on Paul Manafort? You can say what you want, a judge told us we had cause to search his home early in the morning because we don't trust the guy who was your campaign manager. The government is going to kill this guy because he doesn't support him.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What's interesting also his comments about Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, about the fact that on July 26th there was an early morning FBI raid on his home.
According to ABC News, they actually went into his home and knocked on his bedroom door, not on the front door, and you do this when you are worried that people are going to get rid of documents.
The president's remarks were that Paul Manafort is a good man, he hasn't talked to him in a long time. That was a very aggression action he said.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He intimated it was too aggressive, like they had gone too far. His words are right there. It's interesting, if I had a campaign manager where the FBI was knocking on the door, meaning they have probable cause or a lot of evidence to get a judge to agree to that.
I think a normal act would be what does Paul Manafort have that I don't know about, the FBI may well be in the wrong. It's another instance in which it doesn't seem like he's trying to get to the bottom of what's happened here. He's really trying to push back against the investigation.
TAPPER: Phil, to reiterate, obviously when you're talking about killing, you're using that as a metaphor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously. People talk about the deep state. When you disrespect government officials who have done 20 or 30 years they're going to say, really? Vladimir Putin sends officers home and you support him before you support --
TAPPER: I just want to underline. Amanda, you were struck by the president's comments on Guam? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. The president does have a win in hand with the sanctions against North Korea but he used that press conference to egg them on. North Korea, we'll see what happens. As an American, not a Republican or Democrat, I don't want to be in the position of waiting to see what North Korea does.
If they do anything, if they fire a bb gun in the ocean, what does that mean? Will we respond, will we let it go? His rhetoric is putting us in a weak position.
TAPPER: And our breaking news coverage continues right now in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We've been listening to the president of the United States speaking on several critically important issues including the crises with North Korea as well as the Russia investigation, the meddling investigation into the U.S. presidential election.
There's lots of breaking news we're following to discuss. Let's get right to our correspondents, analysts, and specialists. Gloria, this was a remarkable 20 minutes that the president responded to reporters' questions.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, we're used to hearing from the president on Twitter these days and now we got to hear from him in his own words and it was remarkable because he was answering a lot of questions in a lot of areas.
Everything on the top of everyone's mind right now is of course North Korea, and the president made it very clear to Kim Jong-un if he does something in Guam, there will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen.
So, he volleyed. He volleyed right back to North Korea today by saying we heard your threat and I'm following up with that. I'm telling you, you better not do it. We heard from his secretary of state yesterday. We heard from the secretary of defense, a little bit of mixed messages.
This message was pretty clear. Aside from North Korea of course, he went into the Russia investigation, maintaining I did not win because of Russia, there is no collusion, and criticized the pre-dawn raid in Manafort's house saying that it was a little rough.
Also, did not seem -- was a little sarcastic in responding to the question about 755 American diplomats being expunged from Russia. He said, well you know, we'll have a little bit of a lower payroll. I believe it was sarcastic, but if you were one of those diplomats, I believe it would be very difficult to listen to.
BLITZER: Certainly, it's no condemnation of the Russian action per se. He was maybe being sarcastic. Jim, on North Korea, the president not only doubling down on his fire and fury statement of the other day, saying, you know what, it may have been too mild. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He doubled and tripled down. He's sticking with it despite yesterday we had several of his senior advisers if not try to walk it back, make it more mild. Secretary Tillerson's comments yesterday, Defense Secretary Mattis, Trump going with it full board, right?
And very specifically and there's that phrase again, Gloria, the likes of which the world has never seen before as a response there. And we are now in a threat per threat tit for tat from country to country. North Korea makes a general threat -- the president makes his fire and fury threat.
North Korea makes a general threat. North Korea makes a more specific threat to Guam. The president says that will bring this other response from the U.S. so that's a dangerous place to be in a highly volatile situation.
[17:05:12] That's one point I would make. I don't think it should be missed. He certainly touched on Russia a number of times, but on Iran, we haven't talked about Iran in a while, the president indicated a major policy change on Iran.
He said repeatedly Iran is not in compliance with the nuclear deal. He then went on to say not with the spirit of the deal, but he said multiple times not in compliance. Is that something the president is going to officially declare? That's to watch going forward.
BORGER: He said we have some time on that.
BLITZER: It was only within the past week or two that the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, signed a document saying that Iran was in fact in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. Every 90 days or so the U.S. has to certify that, they certified that Iran is in compliance and you're right, the president have said that Iran is not in compliance.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: The deal is the deal and the deal prevents them from achieving nuclear weapons capability like getting rid of centrifuges and other capabilities, and they are complying.
It's the IAEA, the International Atomic Association, that is actually determining that and certifying that. He has to certify to Congress. This isn't a spirit kind of thing. It's not gray. It's black or white. They are or they aren't, and they are.
BLITZER: He said he would like to see some sort of negotiated agreement with North Korea. But if the North Koreans were to launch what they threaten to do yesterday, those four intermediate-range ballistic missiles at Guam, he said the reaction from the United States, the world has never seen anything like this before.
KIRBY: So, what bothers me about this, when we should be trying to take tensions down, he's closing off his own decisions. He says he wants to negotiate, then fine, leave a little space for diplomacy. Right now, he's closing down his own options and d himself because his national security team is still trying to preserve flexibility. He keeps trying to take it away from himself.
SCIUTTO: In his earlier comments, he did lay out this diplomatic path for North Korea saying, does North Korea want to enter the world of nations, there will be benefits there, which was interesting. It was in effect keeping that diplomatic solution alive, but now you've returned in these latest comments to the more incendiary.
BORGER: You can't figure out where he is and the American public needs to know where the president is on this and what he's doing is ratcheting in this latest iteration, seems to be ratcheting things up and boxing in himself and Kim Jong-un to a degree, daring him almost whereas earlier in the day he sounded a little less so.
BLITZER: Earlier in the day, he did say his fire and fury statement was mild compared to what it should have been so he wasn't necessarily ratcheting it down. I will say this, David Axelrod, it was unusual for this president in a photo op after his meeting with his national security advisers, the president spent 20 minutes answering reporters' questions, and discussing some of the most sensitive issues facing the U.S. right now.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, that was almost historic in and of itself. We know that he doesn't interact with reporters on a broad range of issues that way.
But you know, the thing about Donald Trump that we've learned and that he is proving again now is he does not turn back, back down, admit error, retreat. He doubles down and he's doubling down here, but he's doubling down in a very, very dangerous game of poker.
He said that he wants to protect the American people and our friends. I have to believe our friends, Japan, South Korea, others in the region, are quite nervous about what they're seeing right now.
He is right when he says that past presidents going back for decades have tried different routes to denuclearize or prevent North Korea from getting nuclear weapons and North Korea proceeded, but the question is whether getting into an exchange of taunts on an adlibbing basis with a very unstable leader is going to lead to the result that we want.
BLITZER: It's an extraordinary exchange. I want to go to Sara Murray over covering all of this for us. She's in New Jersey where the president is spending this working vacation.
Sara, we also heard from the president something I haven't heard from him before, he said the Russians actually got involved in the U.S. presidential election, spent a lot of money trying to defeat him, not necessarily help Hillary Clinton. You heard that yourself, right?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that seemed to be his reference maybe to this dossier that we know has infuriated the president time and time again, thinking that that was somehow a Russian effort to discredit him.
Obviously, the president has a very different twist on Russia's role in the election than U.S. intelligence agencies have had about Russia's role saying that they did interfere to try to discredit Hillary Clinton or at least damage Hillary Clinton with the hopes of bolstering President Trump.
[17:10:11] But it's so striking to see the difference in the way he talks about Russia for instance when obviously the U.S. is having a very tense moment with Russia as well versus the situation in North Korea.
I think as Sciutto pointed out, he's kind of going tit for tat when it comes to North Korea, upping the ante time and time again. That's not how he deals with President Putin and I think you see that in his first response to Putin's move to cut down the embassy staff in Moscow. We see President Trump essentially saying, OK, great, thanks.
BLITZER: You know, it's a fascinating moment and I want to go to Will Ripley. He's our correspondent in Beijing right now. He's been to North Korea more than a dozen times. You heard the president say -- I don't know if we have this clip ready. He said this is not a dare, what he's saying to North Korea. Let me play this clip for you, Will, and then I want to get your expertise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He's not getting away with it. He got away with it for a long time between him and his family. He's not getting away with it. It's a whole new ball game.
He's not going to be saying those things and certainly not going to be doing those things. I read about where in Guam by August 15th. Let's see what he does with Guam. He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before, what will happen in North Korea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say that, what do you mean?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You'll see, you'll see. And he'll see. He will see. It's not a dare. It's a statement. Has nothing to do with dare. That's a statement. He's not going to go around threatening Guam and the United States and Japan and South Korea. No, that's not a dare, as you say. That is a statement of fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Will, very strong words from the president. You've spoken with North Korean officials over these past several years. How is Kim Jong-un likely to respond to that powerful statement from President Trump?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: North Koreans live every day with the collective memory of the Korean war where all of Pyongyang was decimated. It was completely leveled to the ground after that war. Millions of people died on the Korean Peninsula.
So, for President Trump to say that he is going to inflict something even worse than that, something that nobody has ever seen, the North Koreans are going to take these as words of war.
They are going to interpret this as yet another direct challenge, and then we have the question, is this statement that they put out around 24 hours ago, is this statement bluster?
Are they bluffing when they say that they want to launch four missiles and put them in the waters less than 20 miles from Guam and all the U.S. military assets and 160,000 plus American citizens, or are they going to do it?
Because what President Trump's words, how they will be interpreted in North Korea is almost an invitation then or not even invitation but for North Korea to save face at this point, which is very important in Korean society.
They're going to have to move forward with what they have said they're going to do, which is to present this plan to their supreme leader, Kim Jong-un,and then if he decides to sign off on it, we could see if they pull it off and if they actually have the capability.
The most provocative missile test that North Korea has ever conducted. Also very noteworthy, Wolf, President Trump at one point praised Russia and China for passing the U.N. Security Council seventh round of sanctions 15-0.
But then he also threatened China on trade if China doesn't do more about North Korea, saying -- mentioning the 300 plus billion-dollar trade deficit saying, he's very unhappy about that, and that he is going to do something about it, but he might feel differently if China plays ball with the U.S. on North Korea.
Here in Beijing officials are not going to take that well. We know that for quite some time they have been warning the United States and the Trump administration not to conflate those two issues.
For them trade is an economic issue. North Korea is a strategic issue. For China, North Korea continues to be a strategic buffer against South Korea with all of the U.S. military assets there and this kind of rhetoric from the U.S. president certainly isn't going to change China's view that they need to have a strategic buffer on the Korean Peninsula.
BLITZER: Yes, very, very strong words. Jim Sciutto, I know you want to weigh in as well.
SCIUTTO: This is interesting because look at the threat that Trump made. North Korea has threatened not to hit Guam directly. If you hit Guam, it's a U.S. territory. There are military bases there, that's a direct attack on the U.S., you expect a U.S. response.
They've threaten to do something very dangerous and very close but to land four missiles ten miles off the coast. The president has said if he does something in Guam it will be -- so, is the president saying if North Korea conducted a test, albeit a provocative one and too close for comfort. But a test dropping missiles near Guam that the U.S. is going to respond with military action on North Korea that the world has never seen before? This is the danger you are getting into here.
[17:15:11] What exactly is North Korea threatening? What exactly is the U.S. threatening in response? If the U.S. doesn't respond with what the president says it will to what would be a test rather than an actual attack, what does mean about credibility? That why words and precision matter here.
BORGER: Something is not clear.
BLITZER: We're going to get a lot more on North Korea. Rebecca Berg, also some strong words at both of these photo opportunities with the president on the future of Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the U.S. Senate. The president very blunt, saying he's very disappointed in Mitch McConnell because he failed to get repeal and replacement of Obamacare through.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And he also added when asked by Phil Rucker I believe of the "Washington Post" whether Elaine Chao, his secretary of transportation, Mitch McConnell's wife could help mend this relationship, he said he didn't think so, that this was all about Mitch McConnell producing results in the Senate.
But you have to think about this from a strategic perspective. What does Donald Trump want to accomplish and is he helping himself by saying these things about the top Republican in the Senate, really the linchpin in getting his agenda through Congress.
And if he wants to get tax reform done next, if he does want to get health care done at some point, publicly insulting the Republican leader of the Senate doesn't really help him achieve those goals.
You have to wonder what Donald Trump is thinking and if he's coming at this from a strategic perspective or is he just speaking purely out of emotion at this time?
BORGER: Well, you know, strategically, if he's talking to his base, right, criticizing Mitch McConnell is a fine thing to do. Absolutely fine. Our poll today showed that Donald Trump is twice as popular among Republicans as the Republican leadership.
So, criticizing Mitch McConnell, criticizing more than a half a dozen senators in the grand scheme of things, and I'm talking re-election here, I'm not talking getting things done because you're absolutely right about getting things done --
BERG: That is what would really help Donald Trump with his base is if he could get tax reform done, get health care done. The fact of the matter is that Mitch McConnell is still have a great deal of support.
BLITZER: David Axelrod, it was pretty extraordinary. Both of these photo opportunity exchanges with reporters, one earlier before his meeting with his national security advisers and now the one we just heard following that meeting, he had every opportunity to at least state that he still has confidence in Mitch McConnell but he pointedly refused to say so, David Axelrod.
AXELROD: Yes. Listen, I have experience with Mitch McConnell. When I was in the administration we had to deal with him or not deal with him. And you know, whatever Donald Trump thinks, Mitch McConnell is a Wiley Coyote and he knows how to operate that chamber in 1,000 different ways that can be either helpful to the president or unhelpful to the president.
I don't think the president has even the faintest knowledge of what all of that entails, but if he has any hope of getting his legislative program through, then it seems like a very foolish long-term strategy to be in this sort of tet-on-tet with Mitch McConnell.
BLITZER: Pretty extraordi -- yes, very quickly.
BERG: Newt Gingrich in an interview earlier was very critical of the president's approach to Mitch McConnell. Newt Gingrich obviously understands how Congress works and he said the president needs to understand that he's not in the stands as an observer of this game, he is on the field right there with Mitch McConnell, with Paul Ryan. He's a part of this and he needs to take a leadership role.
BLITZER: All right. We have a lot more coming up. I quickly want to go to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
We heard the president speak on several critically important issues, Senator, over the course of these two little news conferences shall we call them with reporters up in New Jersey.
First of all, Senator, I want you to respond to what he just said that if Kim Jong-un of North Korea were to do something in Guam, the U.S. territory there, in the president's words, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has ever seen before. He said that's not a dare, it's a statement of fact. Do you see that as a direct threat?
SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D-MD), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I think the international community looks to the United States for leadership to avoid a military conflict with North Korea that could include nuclear weapons. The president's language gives little hope to the international community that there's American leadership with a game plan that can accomplish those results.
So, no, I think what the president is saying is making the circumstances a lot more difficult for us to be able to achieve our objective in getting North Korea to change course without using military force.
[17:20:07] BLITZER: The president has said that maybe his fire and fury statement of the other day wasn't even tough enough. What's your response to this rhetoric coming from the president, specifically warning the North Koreans in such blunt terms?
CARDIN: Well, we have to get China to change their calculations so they are tougher on North Korea. This language will not be helpful. It will make it more difficult for China to convince North Korea that the United States is sincere in trying to work out a diplomatic answer.
So, I think from any way you look at it what the president is saying is making it much more challenging for us to have a successful end to this crisis. Any military option is going to have severe consequences, and we don't even know whether we can totally achieve our objective by a military operation without large numbers of casualties.
BLITZER: North Korea, as you know, now threatening to take very specific military action. They say if there's no improvement by mid- August, next week, they will launch four intermediate range ballistic missiles to land 20 miles off the coast of Guam.
A 162,000 U.S. citizens live there. The president warned that if North Korea made anymore threats, they will be met with what he calls the fire and fury that the world has never seen before. Do you believe the president has now drawn a new red line?
CARDIN: I think many people think that he has. It's interesting because of North Korea's illegal ballistic missile test, the United Nations Security Council has voted 15-0 to impose new sanctions against North Korea.
What the United States needs to do is use that leadership particularly with China to enforce those sanctions so North Korea changes its calculation. That's what we should be doing rather than the type of language that people are now interpreting as a red line that would require U.S. military response.
BLITZER: If the North Koreans do go ahead in mid-August, next week, and launch these foreign missiles against Guam, landing just a few miles, if they can do it, off the coast of Guam, what should the U.S. response be?
CARDIN: I don't think we should respond to what might happen. I think what we want to do is prevent these types of provocations and violations of international agreements.
The best thing we could do now is to get China on our side and that requires the president to back off on these statements that he's making to work with China, enforce these sanctions, make it clear to North Korea that both China and North Korea understand that it's in their mutual interest to protect their regimes and that China can help in that regard and North Korea does not need nuclear weapons.
BLITZER: Now clearly the president is not backing up those statements. He is doubling down, tripling down on those statements. As you also know, he declined to rule out a preemptive strike, but is there, from your analysis, Senator, a preemptive strike that's really realistic?
CARDIN: I really think it would be very difficult to see how a preemptive strike could work. We know the risk factors within that region within just a few miles of the North Korean border is Seoul Korea where U.S. troops and millions of people reside. We know how close Japan is. We know the conventional weapons that North Korea has. Any type of military activity could be out of control very quickly. I think that's an extremely dangerous posture.
BLITZER: As you know, Senator, diplomacy was tried for the eight years of the Bill Clinton administration, for the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, for the eight years of the Barack Obama administration. Diplomacy clearly failed.
North Korea right now has intercontinental ballistic missiles and the latest U.S. intelligence assessment is they have miniaturized nuclear warheads that could be fitted on those intercontinental ballistic missiles, potentially hitting the mainland of the United States, L.A., maybe even Chicago.
So, diplomacy over all of these years for decades clearly has failed. So why do you believe, if you do believe, that diplomacy might work now?
CARDIN: I believe diplomacy can work if China will be much more engaged in enforcing sanctions against North Korea. That requires the United States international community to work with China.
If China turns the screws on North Korea, North Korea is going to have little option but to come to the bargaining table. There's a way of using diplomacy, but if you give up on diplomacy, then your only option is military, the consequences could be very disastrous.
BLITZER: While I have you, Senator, let me get your quick response to the feud that has developed between the president and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
[17:25:04] Do you think it's appropriate for the president to say he's disappointed in Mitch McConnell because the Republicans failed to get Obamacare repealed and replaced? What's your reaction to this exchange of words?
CARDIN: Two things. First, I think the president should look at his own activities. I have not seen the president reaching out between Democrats and Republicans to try to get a bipartisan agreement on health care which would be in the best interest of the American people.
Secondly, I think Senator McConnell made a mistake when he didn't reach out and let the legislative process work with open hearings and working together with Democrats and Republicans. What we need to do now is work together. That's what the American people want us to do.
The president of the United States needs to be a leader, a player in this. That is bring us together, don't make the type of threats that he's making to Congress or criticisms of the leader.
Come and engage us and encourage us to work together. Democrats and Republicans, be open-minded and work with us in the best interest of the American people. We have not seen that from President Trump.
BLITZER: Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a top Democrat of the Foreign Relations Committee, thanks for joining us.
CARDIN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to quickly go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, the reaction must be coming in from military leaders, what we just heard from the president of the United States.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf. There's a lot of military nuance in what the president has said throughout the day. Now, you'll remember, Defense Secretary Mattis talked about it, he put it on the table first, that if North Korea initiates -- his words -- an attack, that the U.S. would respond.
The president really following up on this theme today with his language against North Korea if they attack Guam. Very focused on if they attack Guam what the U.S. would do.
So, let's consider that for a moment because we've talked to officials throughout the day. What happens militarily for the United States if they begin to see North Korea get ready for that missile launch against Guam. They have not seen any it yet.
But if they put missile on the launch pad, then what happens. You could see a preemptive strike, but as we've just discussed with the senator, very difficult business. That can spin out of control very quickly.
So, if North Korea launches, here's what we do know. Here's what we know that commanders are telling the administration. U.S. satellites would pick up a heat signature within seconds of a North Korean missile launch.
U.S. intelligence and military intelligence would very quickly calculate the trajectory and the aim point, the target point of those four missiles if North Korea launches them.
So, here's the real challenge. Within minutes the U.S. military and intelligence community would know if those missiles actually are headed at Guam and if they are likely to splash down in that 20 miles or so off the coast or possibly hit Guam.
These are the calculations that U.S. military technology can make very, very quickly. What officials have told us today, that decision to shoot down those missiles, not preemptive but in fact the reaction to an attack that the president's talking about today.
That shootdown decision would have to be made within minutes and the U.S. military, in fact, has the full authority to make that shootdown decision itself. Obviously, they would try and consult the president instantly.
But if that's not possible for some reason, the U.S. military might decide to go ahead and make that shootdown decision itself and keep those missiles from hitting Guam.
So, all of this really very well spelled out in military procedure in how they would go about it. I think what we're seeing today is a bit of language really underscoring that.
The president not taking the preemptive option off the table but a lot of language directed at Kim today saying if you do this, here's what will happen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: When you say shoot down those incoming intermediate range missiles if they were moving towards Guam, I take it there is that THAD anti-missile system already positioned in Guam that potentially could knock out those four missiles, do they have that realistic capability?
STARR: Well, what we are hearing is that that THAD missile system on Guam, that's really the last layer of defense. They would be able to have a limited ability to shoot down, whether it's all four, one, two, or three, if they all really came at that same point.
According to what military officials are telling us, they would hope to shoot the missiles down much sooner. They will be able to start tracking them instantly. There are already a small number of U.S. Navy ships in the region, which have anti-missile capability on board.
We will have to watch and see if the Pentagon quietly moves other assets into the region. There is land-based missile defense in South Korea and in Japan. So you have as you move eastward from the North Korean area of the peninsula, as you continue to move into the Pacific, there are several layers of missile defense. It's going to be -- it's going to be unprecedented if it happens, make no mistake. It's going to be very dicey. It's going to be very complicated. But the idea has always been that you would have layers of missile defense, and it doesn't get to the point where it gets to that last point of defense. If it gets to that, Guam has the THAAD. This is why essentially it comes down to making the decision within minutes, just a few minutes if you want to try to shoot it down. Because what officials are telling us is part of when we talk about responses to North Korea, a shoot down of a North Korean missile launch is one of those military options. It would not be preemptive but they hope that it's something they could do within seconds.
Again, you instantly see the heat signature of a missile launch. The missile begins to move off the launch pad. It is instantly tracked by U.S. intelligence all the way and they make a very quick calculation, is it a threat to Japan, to South Korea, to Guam, to Hawaii, is it a threat to the United States? These calculations are made within minutes and the decision comes about what to do about it. So again, if North Korea really lives up to this threat in the next few days, this is what they would face. It will be militarily unprecedented.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, and I've been -- speaking with military experts, as have you, Barbara. They say shooting down an incoming missile like that is one of the great challenges of the United States military. That is not an easy target by any means at all. Barbara, I want to -- I want you to stand by. Will Ripley, who's been as I pointed out several times to North Korea more than a dozen times, Will, I understand the North Korean government has just issued another statement with yet another warning, another threat to the United States. WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a brand new statement, Wolf, coming out just before the President's latest remarks. But I want to just read this to you. North Korean officials are saying the U.S., quote, would suffer a shameful defeat and final doom if it persists in extreme military adventure, sanctions, and pressure. Now, this is issued by state news agency, KCNA, quoting Minister Choe Pu Il, who, it says he's director of the political bureau of the Korean people's internal security forces. The statement also goes on to say that officials, quote, have vowed to mercilessly wipe out the provocateurs, making desperate efforts to stifle the socialist country.
And again, this is new but this is out before this latest press conference from President Trump, because we know that North Korea, when they put out their messaging in response to what the United States says, it often can take up to 24 hours because so many people have to sign off on it. So, this is from yesterday. Now, we are -- still have to wait to see how they're going to respond to what they said today. And I want to throw something else into the mix here, Wolf, because August is usually a very tense month in this part of the world because of the regularly scheduled joint military exercises that are -- that will be happening soon between the United States and South Korea. This is not a response to the tension right now, these military exercises, they happen every year, they are scheduled, but they always enrage Pyongyang. And frankly, they make China pretty unhappy as well.
So, these military exercises will be happening this month, the same month that we have seen tensions near the boiling point, if not boiling over by now. And North Korea threatening perhaps an unprecedented missile test in terms of what they're -- what they say they have the potential to do and very well might do. So, just to add all of that in, you have the joint military exercises regularly scheduled, this new threat on top of the threat from yesterday, and we still have to await for the North Korean response to what President Trump said in New Jersey at that golf resort where he upped the ante yet again, and we saw from North Korea when President Trump ups the rhetoric, they're going to go -- they're going to hit back and do the exact same thing.
So, this is exactly what China, and frankly, others in the region, South Korea, even though they would never say publicly, they'd never speak out against a key U.N. -- the President of the United States, but China, we know from officials here, very, very concerned about this escalation pushing the situation down a road from which eventually there could be no return, this accidental war that could break out. One misstep, one miscalculation, one action that leads to a chain reaction, that's the real danger here right now, and certainly, these words from North Korea, the -- and all of the other things that are happening in the region right now are going to have a lot of people very concerned. This is a very dangerous situation and it seems to be getting more dangerous really by the minute.
[17:35:21] BLITZER: Because in that initial statement they released last night, the North Koreans said they will be watching the speech and behavior of the United States, and if it doesn't change, doesn't improve by mid-August, next week, they will go ahead presumably and launch those four missiles and aim those missiles towards Guam. Here's the question to you, Will, and you spent a lot of time in North Korea, do you see them blinking, the North Koreans? Because clearly, the President of the United States is upping the ante, he's doubling and tripling down. He's by no means easing that rhetoric.
RIPLEY: From every discussion that I have had over the last three years, 13 trips into the country, no. I don't see them blinking here. I think this is -- they're listening to every word that comes out of the White House, and this, absolutely, in their view, justifies all that they've been doing over the recent decades. They've been building up to a moment where they're perfecting their arsenal. They're developing short, medium, long-range ballistic missiles because they know that in terms of, you know, the United States has aircraft carriers, the United States vastly outguns North Korea.
But this asymmetric warfare, having missiles that, you know, don't cost a heck of a lot but can do a lot of damage, that's the North Korean's strategy, the military strategy under Kim Jong-un. They still have a large standing army but he's really banking on his leverage being these missiles, and if they -- and if they feel that absolute force is the only way that they can send a message to President Trump, I mean, this statement says, in black and white, and again, it's only words right now but words can turn into concrete action, they're saying that they're prepared to show their capability, and it seems, from judging by this, that they're increasingly confident that they could pull something like this off, a multiple missile launch, sending those missiles less than 20 miles from Guam, Andersen Air Force Base, Naval Base Guam, and 160,000 plus American citizens on that island, along with more than 10,000 tourists.
BLITZER: Well, Will, do they really want to just show that they're strong and powerful, and willing to live up to the threats from the United States, or do they really want to go to war?
RIPLEY: They -- that's -- this is an important point, Wolf, and I'm glad you asked that. I do not believe that the North Koreans want to go to war. I think that these weapons exist as a deterrent. They want to have -- they want to have an arsenal so that nobody would think about starting military action with them because they would know that the consequences would be catastrophic. And even without nuclear in the equation, the consequences would already be catastrophic because North Korea has scores of artillery along the demilitarized zone pointed at Seoul, about 20 million people in the greater metropolitan area of Seoul, they could -- they could do severe damage. They could turn Seoul into a sea of fire if they wanted to with their conventional weapons in the first strike.
They could kill a lot of people and they haven't done it for many decades. They've had this capability since at least the 1960s to annihilate South Korea and they haven't done it. Even it points in the past. Think about 1993, '94, the Peninsula was at the brink of war. There were meetings in the White House to planning out these war strategies. And even before nuclear was in the equation, U.S. strategists knew that any outbreak of war, another war on the Korean Peninsula would be catastrophic. You think back to 1950 to 1953, around 3 million people died in fighting on the Korean Peninsula, north and south side. Most of those people were civilians.
North Korea tells its citizens that that could happen again, and that's why they have to invest in these weapons. They tell people they have to do without food, without regular electricity, without clean water, because the United States is at their doorstep ready to come back in and slaughter people. That's what they tell North Korean citizens. That's how the regime has stayed in power for all of these decades. And now they can simply quote the words from the President of the United States and tell that to their people as evidence that this war may, in fact, be coming and therefore, they're just going to have to continue to develop these weapons and see what happens. And North Korean officials say they don't want a war, but they also say they will not be underestimated in terms of their military capacity, their resolve, and they're not afraid to use the weapons, they say, even if the outcome would be absolutely devastating for all parties involved.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, the North Korean statement that we just got said the United States would suffer a shameful defeat and final doom. And the officials, the North Korean officials, vowed to mercilessly wipe out the provocateurs, making desperate efforts to stifle the socialist country. More strong words from the North Koreans.
[17:40:01] JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We have to be very careful here, though. To this point, this is a rhetorical escalation, it's not a military escalation. Neither side has taken a military move, taken military action to move either side on the path to war. I mean, statements like this, while incendiary, are straight out of the North Korean thesaurus, frankly. I mean, you know, doomed sea of fire in the U.S., I mean, this kind of thing has been coming out of North Korean state media for months and years predating this.
What is different this time is you have an American President who's willing to go down the rhetorical path more so. But again, to be clear, this is -- we are in rhetorical escalation, we are not in military escalation. Ships have not been moved into positions that they were not in already. Planes have not flown over the Korean Peninsula to a degree or on a path that they haven't flown over already. The exercises coming up later this month, while always a nervous time on the peninsula have been done for months, they're part of U.S. policy. And I just -- I just think that, you know, we have to be careful -- and North Korea, this serves their interest to sort of rile up and the danger of war. We have to be careful about sending a signal out that we are on the doorstep of war.
The final thing I'll just say is this, is that launching missiles, yes, they want to demonstrate their ability, but there's also a risk in launching missiles. Well, for both sides, frankly. But look at it from the North Korean's side. If those missiles are shot down, that's a risk for North Korea because it shows that the threat may not be as great as they advertise to their people and the world. You have a similar risk on the U.S. side that this will be the first real-life test of U.S. missile defenses if this were to happen.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's also a test of back channel communications. And what we don't know -- we heard Rex Tillerson yesterday but what we don't know is if there are, what back channel communications are going on with China, quite frankly, to try and de-escalate all of this, to try and make sure that this doesn't occur, and that none of this has to -- none of this has to happen despite what the rhetoric is out there, despite the fact that each side is ratcheting it up. Maybe you can --
WOLF: John Kirby, how hard is it -- would it be for the U.S. to shoot down four incoming intermediate-range ballistic missiles heading towards Guam?
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET), FORMER PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, it's tricky business. I mean, this is not easy stuff. Barbara is right, it's a layered approach. They're most vulnerable right in the boost phase when you can get the telemetry data that you need, which you got to be close enough to get that shot. You can certainly do it in the terminal phase but they're moving really quick there. And that's -- you don't want to have to take your shot then. And there's other ways to do it as well. Meaning, it is a layered complicated process, but it's by no means a given, and it's not easy. And again, I want to go back to -- I want to piggyback on Jim a little bit. There is still space for diplomacy here. I understand the rhetoric, I get that.
But if you heard Secretary Mattis, even as recently as today, talking about the diplomatic space he still wants to be in. Yes, he's got to be ready. And any shot at a missile that's coming in, that's not a preemptive thing, that's a defensive capability. You have to do that. If they -- if they -- if they do launch missiles at Guam, we can't wait to get them into the (INAUDIBLE), you've got to do something about it. But that's not what the President said. He, you know, he talked about greater than anything we've ever seen and really talked about taking it to the next level and I just don't think that we need to be there right now. There is still room for diplomacy, there's still room for dialogue to work. You still --
BORGER: Do you think it's going on? I mean, that's my question.
KIRBY: I don't know. I hope so. But I mean, I think there is still room for this. And I -- and I hope that they're still exploring that. Again, back to his decisions space, every time he talks like this, he's closing off his own decision space and that's not healthy.
BLITZER: Because he did point out, David Axelrod, the President, that you know what, the diplomacy failed during the Clinton administration, during the Bush administration, and then he had some very harsh words for your former boss, President Obama, diplomacy failed, didn't get anywhere, look where North Korea is right now. He really went after the Obama administration. You heard him. Go ahead and react.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, he always goes after the Obama administration. He tweeted a bogus poll this morning that showed he was twice the President or twice as successful as Obama, according to this online poll by some fly-by- night polling organization. He seems to be obsessed about Obama, but he's right about the fact that we've been dealing with this for decades. We haven't -- the North Koreans have plowed forward. The question is just this, can we intimidate Kim Jong-un? Can we intimidate the Chinese to act on Kim Jong-un? Is constantly ratcheting up your rhetoric the way to a diplomatic solution, or is he making that more difficult? And I think that's the threshold question here.
BLITZER: Rebecca, is the words that the President is uttering, he did it twice today, saying the world will never -- has never seen what potentially could happen, how is that playing with his base?
[17:45:00] REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, certainly, his base likes that kind of rhetoric, Wolf. He advertised himself as a candidate, as someone who would fight back, who would defend the U.S. and who would be strong, who would meet strength with strength. and that sort of rhetoric is certainly strong and maybe too strong is the criticism. So, for his base to see him taking on a dictator like Kim Jong-un, I think that's going to be very exciting for them.
But you do have to look down the road a little bit and think about what are the consequences of this for the President, for the United States, for our ability to negotiate at some point if that's what the President decides with North Korea. And you know, he mentioned the sanctions today, Wolf, that were imposed over the weekend by the United Nations' Security Council, and the President was lauding those sanctions. We have to remember that those haven't had time to take effects, haven't had time to be enforced, so it's worth waiting to see what happens there as well.
BORGER: You know, we're not used to seeing the President be the kind of person who ratchets things up. You're used to seeing a President calm, saying we've got this under control, we're not going to let Kim Jong-un get away with X, Y, and Z, but you know, we're used to strategic patience. And so, what we have here is kind of a reversal of roles here where you see the President being a saber rattler here back to Kim, and you have his Secretary of State the other day trying to kind of ratchet it down. And I think it's a little disorienting in a -- in a way for lots of people, including people in Congress who worry about it.
BLITZER: It's -- yes, you were going to ask --
SCIUTTO: Well, I was just going to say, you know, when you talk about the diplomatic path, this becomes one of those places where the missing positions in government matter, the State Department is missing an assistant secretary for East Asia. There's no nominee for the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. I mean, these are key positions when you're -- well, back or front channels, right? There are lots of folks, there are lots of just people not in place in the infrastructure of government to help diffuse this kind of thing and have those conversations.
BLITZER: And I want to continue our conversation on North Korea because this is a critically sensitive moment right now, but there is this battle going on right now between the President of the United States and the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. I think we have some of what the President said earlier in the day about this criticism that he's leveled against the Senate Majority Leader. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Senator McConnell considered stepping down of authority here? There are some conservative analysts including Sean Hannity say it's time for him to retire.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'll tell you what, if he doesn't get the repeal and replace done and if he doesn't get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done infrastructure, if he doesn't get them done, then you can ask me that question.
TRUMP: We're very proud of Elaine as Secretary of Transportation. As you know, as you said, Mitch's wife, she's doing a very, very good job. I'm very disappointed in Mitch, but if he gets these bills passed, I'll be very happy with him, and I'll be the first to admit it. But honestly, repeal and replace of Obamacare should have taken place and it should have been on my desk virtually the first week that I was there or the first day I was there. I've been hearing about it for seven years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And it follows a series, Gloria, of tweets that the President did earlier in the day and yesterday really going after Mitch McConnell, simply the other day, he said, you know, maybe the President had excessive expectations because he didn't have a lot of experience in politics coming in.
BORGER: I wonder if he got a phone call from Jeff Sessions saying, OK, now you know what it's -- now, you know what it's like. It's as if the President has nothing to do with this. You know, the President is the leader here. He has to get involved and he said to us during the campaign, over and over again, I'm going to get people in a room and I'm going to do this, and we're going to get this passed. And suddenly now that it's not done, he needs to blame somebody else because he's never going to blame himself.
So, Mitch McConnell is the target. And as we were talking about before, short term, it may make him feel good, it may make the base happy because they don't like the Congress at all, they like Trump twice as much as they like Republican leadership. But in the long- term play, if he's got to deal with members of Congress, as Rebecca was saying, he's going to have a difficult time doing it because they know he will not have their back, he will not defend them, he will criticize them publicly, he will take them on as he did Senator Heller on health care, you know, with the RNC threatening him, you know, in his re-election bid. So, you know, I think this doesn't help him with the people he needs to convince to be a member of his team. You know, this isn't a great team building exercise here. Let's put it that way.
BLITZER: But the President, you know, in fairness, you know, David Axelrod, has a point there. The Republicans have been talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare for seven years. He takes office, the Republicans have the majority in the House, have the majority in the Senate couldn't do it.
[17:50:13] AXELROD: No, he does have a point there, but neither he nor they, actually had a plan to do it. And that's the problem, it was a great political tool for the Republican Party for three election cycles. It was a great political tool for Donald Trump. But when it came down to it, as he famously declared, it turned out that health care was a lot more complicated than they realized. Now, you know, you remember to Gloria's point, that he said a few weeks before the final vote, if this goes down, we're not going to own it, we're not going to own it. As if he can just place the blame elsewhere and not be the guy who shoulders it.
And that's what we're seeing now. This has been seen as a great defeat for him. And he wants particularly his base to understand that it wasn't him but them, the unpopular Congressional leadership, the sort of establishment Republicans, who didn't do it. But the fact remains the President of the United States not only didn't have a plan, but he didn't seem to have a clue as to what health care policy he wanted to pursue, and that ultimately is on him.
BORGER: He didn't run with a plan. The plan was repeal and replace as every other Republican talked about, but he didn't say this is my plan to repeal and this is how we're going to do it, and this is -- and this is my plan to replace, here's what we're going to replace it with. So now, for him to turn around and say to Mitch McConnell, I get it, they voted on something that was phony for seven years and ran on it, as David says, but you would think that there would be some sort of responsibility accepted here because he's the President. And he -- you know, if he came up with a legislative proposal that might have been a great idea.
BLITZER: You know, the interesting thing is the reaction coming in from those, quote, establishment Republicans in the House, and the Senate. They're probably wondering what is going on.
BERG: I mean, there is no shortage of frustration, Wolf, on Capitol Hill with this White House, with the way they have operated. I mean, ultimately, Congress does need to pass legislation. There's no question about that, they feel the pressure themselves, they have to run for reelection in the House and Senate before Donald Trump has to run for reelection, and they're going to need something to show voters for this Republican majority in Washington, but they don't see the White House as a partner that they can work with on these priorities. They don't see the President out there selling these big controversial pieces of legislation. They don't see him offering up policy solutions, and if anything, they often see the White House Republicans on Capitol Hill seeing the President and the White House saying things they shouldn't say and messing things up. And so, it is very difficult situation right now, relations between the Hill and the White House. SCIUTTO: You know, this issue before we were talking about McConnell, we were talking about the fate of McMaster, the National Security Adviser, and buried in Trump's comments today where something of a lifeline to McMaster. He said he's a very talented man, a friend, and I like him very much. So, in the midst of this North Korea crisis, perhaps the National Security Advisor will survive another day.
BLITZER: Even though he's getting a lot of criticism from elements out there.
SCIUTTO: Alt-right, et cetera, yes.
BLITZER: A conservative base that don't like General McMaster, the National Security Advisor. He also said something -- I want to get your reaction, John Kirby, he doubled down on his decision to ban transgender Americans from serving in the United States Military. He said he's doing a lot of support, he says he's actually done the military a great favor by making this announcement.
KIRBY: He's wrong. He's just wrong, Wolf. I mean, they're already serving well and honorably. So what are you going to do with them? Now, they've got -- they're building their lives and their careers on this and now they're out? How are you going to manage that? Number two, the chiefs, all of them, and they were -- all of the chiefs that are in office now were in office at the end of the Obama administration, all advised the policy that eventually allowed them to serve openly. Number three, diversity is a strength to the U.S. military. And I got there's people on the right that will say it's not and that this is political correctness. That's bunk. I served for 30 years and I can tell you that diversity in the ranks actually makes your military more effective, more powerful, more innovative, more creative, and more agile on the battlefield. And this takes talent. These people that are in there, they're doing real skills. You take them off and out of the ranks, you're actually hurting your readiness.
BLITZER: Yes, he doubled down as I said on this and he certainly is not backing away very quickly.
KIRBY: I'm just going to say, look, I mean, you also have now -- there's no policy guidance, right? So, he's issued this as edict.
BLITZER: He's the Commander-in-Chief.
KIRBY: Yes. And which he can do, but the Pentagon doesn't know how to actually implement it because there was no thought put into it before he tweeted it.
BLITZER: Admiral Kirby, I want you to stand by.
KIRBY: Wolf --
BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on. Everybody stand by for a moment because we're continuing to follow the breaking news of President Trump, he takes his rather tough talk toward North Korea up a level. We're going to discuss that and more. The former National Security Advisor to President Obama, Susan Rice, shall join us live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:55:10] TRUMP: -- North Korea that are good (INAUDIBLE) act together where they're going to be in trouble like you nations ever have been in trouble in this world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Not a dare. President Trump isn't backing down from his threat of fire and fury as he bounds to retaliate if North Korea fires missiles towards thousands of Americans on Guam. Tonight, the President is speaking out about his standoff with Kim Jong-un and more. Blaming Obama.