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Trump: "Madman" Kim will be "Tested Like Never Before"; Survivor Anticipates "Renaissance" after Maria; Volunteers Join Frantic Search and Rescue Effort; Trump Campaigns Today in Alabama for Luther Strange. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Insults and threats flying back and forth between the U.S. leader and the North Korean dictator this morning. President Trump throwing the latest punch just a few hours ago, he wrote, "Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his own people will be tested like never before."

BERMAN: This morning, came just hours after Kim lashed out at the president calling him a mentally deranged person, saying he would pay dearly for his U.N. speech and then sent everyone racing to their dictionaries, calling the president a dotard. But even more significant, North Korea now threatening that it may test a hydrogen bomb on or over the Pacific Ocean.

Let's start with that. Joining us now at the Pentagon, CNN's Barbara Starr and here in New York, CNN global affairs analyst, Elise Labott.

Barbara, first to you, a hydrogen bomb test on or over the Pacific -- that seems like an extremely provocative move.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very provocative. Good morning to both of you. And the question, of course, is what would the U.S. do about it, could the Trump administration, could the Pentagon even detect a test like that before it happens. If Kim was to put hydrogen bomb warhead on a missile and launch it. It is possible, officials tell us. They would not know that that warhead was essentially a hydrogen bomb. So there's a lot of concern about what Kim is threatening, what he is doing. This threat coming from the North Korean foreign minister saying there might be a hydrogen bomb test on or over the Pacific. This after all this exchange of rhetoric between both leaders saying Kim Jong-un firing his own rhetorical shots in language perhaps only he can use.

And let me just read some of what he had to say to everyone, Kim saying to he, President Trump, "He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country, and he is surely a rogue and gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician. I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK" -- North Korea. "Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation. I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire."

Behind the scenes, what U.S. officials will tell you, is Kim, as always, bound and determined to keep himself and his regime in place and that is what is driving him now. John, Poppy?

HARLOW: So, Elise, a few notable things. One this is believed to be the first time that this was a direct sort of statement, not just from the North Korean state news agency, but from Kim Jong-un. I'm interested in what you think the significance is of that. And then this also comes on the heels of the president at that photo op yesterday in the U.N. General Assembly meeting, saying when asked is dialog still possible with North Korea. He said why not.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, look, that is the first time that Kim Jong-un - you ever saw a statement coming from him. Usually statements are kind of talking about the dear leader, if you will. And I thought it was really extraordinary, as it shows that President Trump is getting in his head and that this rhetoric is becoming personal between the two men. And I don't know whether that - you know, I think it is much more rhetoric.

I mean, surely the president shouldn't be talking about testing Kim Jong-un because you don't want to test, you want things to deescalate and surely Kim Jong-un is not going to, you know, tame the U.S. leader. So I think this is -- it's getting a little hyperbole at this point but certainly it's, obviously, becoming personal between these two leaders.

I think they've met their match in terms of brinkmanship.

BERMAN: Well, certainly in terms of the thesaurus.

Let's bring in our military analyst, Cedric Leighton, retired Lieutenant Colonel. Cedric, if you can hear me right now, it's interesting. Elise said just rhetoric, but this rhetoric has an impact when you're talking about figuring out how to deal with this nuclear situation. Does it limit your options if the president is calling the North Korean leader a madman, and the North Korean leader is calling the president a frightened dog, does that limit the number of things they can do to find a solution?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it does diplomatically, John, and I think that one of the key things here is that this rhetoric does paint both sides into a bit of a corner. Because what you're looking at is you're looking at a way in which these folks are going to the brink in terms of the rhetoric. They are ratcheting things up basically beyond a 10 at this point when they're talking about each other and theoretically to each other.

[10:05:00] But they're doing it, of course, through public media and they're doing it in a way that clearly shows that they want to get inside each other's heads. They want to actually probably develop something that allows them to work political positions for their own domestic consumption and both have domestic constituencies. So that is something that I think is really serious in this case because I think it increases the risk of a miscalculation and that to me is the most dangerous part.

HARLOW: So, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon, what predicament situation, position, does all of this rhetoric back and forth put General Mattis in?

STARR: Well, Defense Secretary Mattis is very much verbally at least focusing on diplomacy and saying that the State Department really will continue to lead on the diplomatic front on the sanctions front that we've seen with the Treasury Department. Mattis has long said that conflict with North Korea would be a disaster, a catastrophe the likes of which the world hasn't seen in decades.

That does not mean that there are not military options that as they see this rhetoric, they continue to recalibrate the military options. But the big problem remains, how could you get in and out, you know, whether it's U.S. missiles, U.S. aircraft, how could you get the U.S. military to conduct strikes inside North Korea faster and get out faster than they could launch a counter attack against South Korea. That remains one of the key issues, one of the key problems that -- to which by all accounts there's no easy answer and the fundamental problem right now is, nobody really knows what element of any of the this rhetoric would, in fact, set him off on a military path.

BERMAN: And Elise Labott on top of North Korea the U.S. dealing with Iran right now. Iran showcasing a new long ranged ICBM, very proud of this missile. Not part of the nuclear agreement per se but clearly trying to sort of thumb their nose publicly at the United States right now.

LABOTT: Well, and that's what the United States, the Trump administration, has been saying, that this nuclear deal did not address those other threats, the missile threats, the terrorism, the support for terrorism, the human rights, and they're trying to deal with this in a total comprehensive context. And so, when you have these decisions that President Trump has to make, about the nuclear deal, they're looking at the whole panoply of issues related to Iran. Their allies are saying, listen. You need to deal with Iran technically in compliance of the nuclear threat and you need to separate the two. And so, you kind of have a little bit of a showdown between the U.S. and the Europeans and Russia and China, who are working on this deal together.

HARLOW: Colonel, the question has been asked, the number of people around the president in his cabinet, but I'll ask you this as well, does it complicate things for the United States on a diplomatic front with North Korea that the president is threatening to pull the U.S. or not just certify the Iran nuclear agreement in less than a month?

LEIGHTON: Right. I think it does Poppy, and the reason that it complicates things is that it -- actually involves a degree of uncertainty. It introduces this element of uncertainty into the diplomatic as well as the political processes in all of the countries involved, and North Korea is watching what is going on with Iran. They see that there was an agreement. They believe that in many ways this agreement was a sign of weakness on the part of Iran as well because it limits Iran's ability to do things from a nuclear standpoint. So, because of that, they think that that reduces Iran's independence. North Korea doesn't want to have its independence reduced at all.

BERMAN: Clearly not. Now threatening testing a hydrogen bomb on the Pacific, clearly not wanting its independence tested.

Cedric Leighton, Barbara Starr, Elise Labott, thanks so much for being with us.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

BERMAN: Other major story this morning, Hurricane Maria is still dumping rain on Puerto Rico. Two full days after the direct hit caused so much damage.

HARLOW: Power out across Puerto Rico, the entire island. Almost all the cell towers, 95 percent of them are down. A lot of the extent of the damage, all the flooding, largely unknowable at this point, we're learning more by the hour. Maria's rains now reminiscent of what we saw from Harvey in Texas, more than 40 inches falling in some parts of Puerto Rico. The governor there tells CNN 13 people have died as a result, 700 more were rescued from the floodwaters since Wednesday.

BERMAN: Maria is still a Category 3 storm. It is hitting Turks and Caicos with a storm surge higher than most of the Islands themselves. We're also getting our first look at pretty incredible images of a rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard of the British Royal Navy. You can see a woman and two children saved off the overturned hull of a boat off the Puerto Rican coast. They are OK but the Coast Guard says the children's father died on the boat.

CNN's Leyla Santiago, who has been in San Juan for days right now, joins us with a look at the progress trying to pick through the damage. Leila, what are you seeing?

[10:10:06] LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is one example of what the roads look like right now. A lot of debris on the road, much of the road flooded. And you know, the rain has kind of come and gone. Right now it is actually sunny. You do feel like you're on a Caribbean Island. But it's been on and off. When we got here, it was raining and we did see some flooded areas on the way here, but, you know, more rain is expected, more relief is expected.

Rescue efforts currently underway. They have been working through the night, firefighters, national guardsmen, rescue teams in general trying to get to people who are in flooded areas, but some areas you just can't get to according to the governor. There are areas that they have not been able to reach, be it by road, by phone, by text, and that is causing a lot of concern.

When I had been talking to neighbors in this area where I am right now, Gitano, the first few questions are, is there water, which happy to report in this area, one of the neighbors with a very big smile on his face, said yes, there is water. It had just come back this morning. Is there power? No, there is not power anywhere on the island. Any power comes from a generator right now. And then is there a signal? Can anyone get out to their loved ones? Such a frustration, especially to all audience right now in the U.S., not able to reach people here on the island to just check on them, to see if they're OK, to ask that one question, are you OK.

HARLOW: Leyla Santiago in San Juan, thank you for that reporting.

And joining us now on the phone is Angie Mok. She is a long-time resident and a property manager in San Juan who came through Maria with some optimism intact. Angie, thank you for being with us, how are you doing?



MOK: Yes.

HARLOW: You've come through this and you've said, despite all of this destruction, you think there will be a renaissance, why?

MOK: Well, the area right now is a very hard - destruction, lots of damage and water damage. Right now, in my building, we don't have water nor electricity because the generator already (INAUDIBLE). So it's totally dark. Right now, -- the government start cleaning up. So far, I hope the electricity or at least the water because the -- the generator have water.

BERMAN: Angie, have the authorities given you any timeline as to when some of the resources and the utilities will be restored?

MOK: I didn't hear you. What did you say?

BERMAN: How long do you expect it will take to get some of your resources restored, whether it be power or water or some of the necessities to get through?

MOK: Well, the last time in my area, at least in Condado area, because we are in the hotel area of Condado. They have priority, and today we had already electricity. We never had problem with the water because we had generator. But this time, I've seen the damage was bigger, so maybe it's going to take longer. So we hope it's going to be soon. As long as we have the generator, my building is going to work at least going to have something. But in most of the building, they have problem and there's no electricity so -- so no water because there is no electricity. That's the problem.

HARLOW: Angie, we're wishing you all the best. Thank you for talking to us. We will let you get back to it. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. Rescue crews in Mexico City racing against the clock and now the weather as well. Raining there causing havoc with heavily damaged buildings now on the verge of collapse.

HARLOW: Also President Trump jumping in and flying down to Alabama today. Why? Because of a Senate race that he's gotten very involved in. And in an effort to curb the spiraling opioid crisis one of the largest pharmacies in the country, CVS, announcing it will put a cap on the number of opioid pills people can get there.


[10:18:41] HARLOW: Happening now, officials say at any moment the building damaged by that horrible earthquake on Tuesday in Mexico City could collapse. Survivors believed to possibly be still in the rubble.

BERMAN: Rain is soaking the buildings, making them heavier, more dangerous, holding back rescue crews, the Mexican president says as many as 10 of the collapsed buildings could still have people alive underneath. CNN correspondent, Rosa Flores, live in Mexico City for the very latest. Rosa, what are you seeing?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can't begin to describe the emotions, John and Poppy that are being felt here on the ground. There are families here right behind us, just feet from here who have been here since Tuesday, more than 60 hours of agony waiting to see if their loved ones will emerge from this rubble. I want you to look over my shoulder because this is the building that officials here believe could collapse at any moment. That, of course, news that these families do not want to hear at the moment.

Now, in the past 15, 20 minutes, we've seen the fists go up high for -- that moment of silence, so that first responders can listen and hear for signs of life. But as you mentioned, there is a big setback overnight in the efforts here because of the rain that pummeled over Mexico City. It made this structure more unstable because of the weight that was added because of that water.

[10:20:11] Now, we've seen rescuers up there on the rubble with rescue dogs in the past 30, 40 minutes. And then we don't see them at the moment right now. So this is just a wait and see, but Poppy and John, as you know the families here living a tremendous agony and these families say they're asking for us to be patient, but agony feels no patience. It only feels pain. Poppy, John?

HARLOW: Of course it does. Rosa Flores, thank you so much, from being there from the start bringing us these stories. Again the president of Mexico saying there could still be people alive in 10 of these buildings.

Joining us now is Roberta S. Jacobson the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. She joins us from Mexico. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.


HARLOW: There is hope, right? There is hope from the Mexican president there may still be people alive in 10 of these buildings. How is the recovery effort going from your vantage point?

JACOBSON: Well, first of all, thank you for allowing me to be with you. There's always hope. These teams that work on rescue, search and rescue, always have hope. We've seen people pulled alive from buildings days after. But we know that window closes at this point more quickly.

The team that got here from Los Angeles Fire Department, Los Angeles County Fire Department, the heavy search and rescue team, has been out going to sites, using the dogs, using their special equipment. They'll be deployed as often and wherever the Mexican government directs them along with other international teams and they, of course, continue to have hope. They wouldn't keep working if they didn't. They have experience in this sort of thing. They know that rescues are still possible.

BERMAN: You have to have hope, when dealing with a situation like this. Ambassador you mentioned the team from Los Angeles. What other U.S. assets are now on the ground and how are they helping?

JACOBSON: Right. Well, what we have is USA ID's office of foreign disaster assistance deployed a DART Team, Disaster Assistance Response Team immediately. They got down here and began coordinating the deployment of the search and rescue team from Los Angeles which was brought here by D.O.D. aircraft, so everybody is involved.

We have two more planes that are arriving today from D.O.D. The first arrived about an hour ago in Oaxaca, in the south because the kinds of things that were needed at this point from the D.O.D. stores were actually needed in the south, where the earthquake occurred on September 7th. So that plane is landing in Oaxaca with all sorts of supplies that are needed down there. Second plane will be landing this afternoon and that will bring more supplies. That will be directed either to Mexico City or down south where the supplies are needed, in close coordination with the Mexican government.

We're also looking at what more we can do and where we can be of more assistance, so that we can respond to the needs, whether those are, you know, search and rescue right now, we think we're covered with an extraordinary team of the most sophisticated heavy equipment. But also are there other goods that are needed, whether those are temporary housing, food, water, et cetera.

HARLOW: Ambassador Jacobson, thank you so much. And as we talk to you, we're looking at -- we were looking at the images of the heroes working these 36-hour long shifts, bucket by bucket, pulling the debris out so carefully trying to save these lives. Ambassador, thank you and good luck.

JACOBSON: Thank you very much for having me. One final note is that each of our countries had been hit by natural disasters and in each and every case we've offered the other the aid that we can.


JACOBSON: Aid that's appropriate and I think that speaks volumes for both of our countries and our leaders.

BERMAN: All right. Ambassador Jacobson thanks so much for being with us. JACOBSON: Thank you.

BERMAN: Coming up for us, Alabama getaway. President Trump heads to Alabama today, putting his own political reputation at stake in a key election.


[10:28:49] For President Trump more is less and strange is more. We're talking about the tight Senate runoff in Alabama. That was very good.

President Trump hoping that Luther Strange, the man on the left of your screen, gets more votes next week than the man on the right former State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. Strange has filled the seat since Jeff Sessions took over the attorney general job.

HARLOW: The president tweeted his support for Strange again this morning, writing, "Will be in Alabama tonight. Luther Strange has gained mightily since my endorsement, but will be very close. He loves Alabama, and so do I."

The two candidates had a fiery debate last night, Strange played up his connection over and over to the president. Listen.


SEN. LUTHER STRANGE (R), ALABAMA: Who does the president support? The president supports me. We've developed a close, personal friendship. We both come from the same background, the same mission, the same motivation to make this country great again.


HARLOW: Joining us now from Montgomery, Alabama, is political reporter Bill Britt, who knows everything and I mean everything, about this race. It's really nice to have you. You've written some fascinating things about it. He was draping himself, Luther Strange, in the president last night, effective strategy?

BILL BRITT, ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, no, it doesn't. Thank you for having me on.

I don't find it surprising at all. He might as well said, if you love Trump, you're going to like me.