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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With California Congressman Ted Lieu; California Fires; Trump vs. Republican Senator; North Korea Accused of Hacking U.S.-South Korea Military Plans; Obama Release Statement on Weinstein Sex Allegations; ISIS Kills Four U.S. Soldiers, One Possibly Taken Alive. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 10, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news: battling blazes.
Fire crews are fighting more than a dozen major wildfires burning out of control in California. Tonight, the death toll and damage are growing. Thousands of evacuees are staying in shelters, many of them with no home to return to.
"Liddle Bob." President Trump launches a new volley in his war of words with the Republican Senator Bob Corker, dubbing him "Liddle Bob" on Twitter. But the White House says it's Congress hampering the president's agenda, not his public battles with fellow Republicans.
I.Q. test? President Trump fires back at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for reportedly calling him a moron. The president is suggesting he would win if they compared I.Q. tests. Did a White House lunch today do anything to repair their clearly strained relationship?
And stolen war plans? North Korean hackers allegedly stole classified military documents with details of U.S. and South Korean war plans, including a plot to take out Kim Jong-un. What does Kim's regime plan to do with the stolen secrets?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news, the wildfire disaster sweeping across vast parts of California tonight.
And 15 people are now confirmed dead with more missing. And officials say the flames have destroyed 2,000 homes and other buildings. More than 119,000 acres have been charred, many of them in the heart of California's wine country.
Also, the White House is insisting President Trump was joking when he proposed an I.Q. challenge with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with Mr. Trump's suggesting he would win. It's the president's latest public jab at Tillerson since it was revealed that the secretary referred to him as a moron over the summer.
Tillerson had lunch at the White House today, and the president said he had confidence in him.
The White House also says Republican Senator Bob Corker is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. The president responded to Corker's continued public rebuke of his demeanor and actions by dubbing Corker "Liddle Bob" on Twitter. Corker stands 5'7''.
It's the latest barb in the extraordinary public feud between the president and the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
We're covering all of and much more this hour with our guests, including California Congressman Ted Lieu of the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But let's begin at the White House, where President Trump had lunch with the secretary of state just hours after the president's boast of having a higher I.Q. than Rex Tillerson. And all of that went public.
Our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, is joining us with the very latest.
Jeff, the relationship between the president and the secretary of state clearly still strained.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
Strained is a polite way of putting this. A week after reports surfaced that his secretary of state referred to the president as a moron, the president still trying to have the last word here at the White House.
Now, that's only one feud going on here. He's also still escalating that fight with the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson breaking bread today at the White House, a week after their long-simmering feud broke in the open.
The president insisted he had confidence in his secretary of state, brushing aside suggestions he tried to undermine him.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't undercut anybody. I don't believe in undercutting people. Thank you very much, everybody.
ZELENY: No cameras were allowed in the private dining room just off the Oval Office, where the president, his top diplomat and Defense Secretary James Mattis sat for lunch.
The face-to-face meeting didn't answer one of the biggest questions in Washington. How long will Tillerson hang on as secretary of state?
CNN has learned the president was furious after reports surfaced last week Tillerson described him as a moron this summer.
In a "Forbes magazine cover story out today, the president had this to say about the derogatory remark: "I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we will have to compare I.Q. tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president was only joking.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He wasn't questioning the secretary of state's intelligence. He made a joke. Maybe you guys should get a sense of humor and try it some time. But he simply made a joke.
ZELENY: It's not the only fight the president is picking with his fellow Republicans. He escalated with the hostilities today with Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writing on Twitter: "The failing 'New York Times' set Liddle' Bob Corker up by recording his conversation, was made to sound a fool. And that's what I'm dealing with."
Corker now joining the ranks of fellow Republicans branded by Trump. The president was literally belittling the 5'7'' Corker over his weekend interview with "The New York Times" where he bluntly suggested Mr. Trump was unfit for office.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Sometimes, I feel like he's on a reality show of some kind, when he's talking about these big foreign policy issues. We could be heading towards World War III with the kind of comments that he's making.
ZELENY: Meeting in the Oval Office today with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the president addressed Corker's criticism the U.S. is heading towards a third world war.
TRUMP: We were on the wrong path today. All you have to do is take a look. If you look over the last 25 years through numerous administrations, we were on a path to a very big problem, a problem like this world has never seen. We're on the right path right now, believe me.
ZELENY: The fight comes as the president is trying to jump-start his stalled legislative agenda.
TRUMP: People want to see tax cuts. They want to see major reductions in their taxes. And they want to see tax reform, and that's what we're doing.
ZELENY: The rising tension in the West Wing is weighing on many officials who worry the drama will make a tax plan even more difficult to pass. (on camera): How do you think these ongoing fights with Republicans
on Capitol Hill help the president's agenda, tax reform first and foremost?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president's very committed to getting tax reform done. Look, he's calling on Congress to get their job one. They're on another vacation right now.
I think that we would all be a lot better off if the Senate would stop taking vacations and start saying here until we actually get some things accomplished. The president's here and he's committed to working with them to do that.
ZELENY: Now, as for Senator Corker's future, former chief strategist here at the White House Steve Bannon suggested that he should resign, saying on FOX News if he has any honor or decency, he would step aside.
The White House today not going quite that far. They say that's a decision for the Senate and for the people of Tennessee.
Senator Corker, of course, says he has no plans on resigning, but, of course, is not running for reelection, so he's here until the end of 2018.
Wolf, the reason this all matters, Senator Corker heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That is the committee that would confirm or hear a hearing for a new secretary of state should there be one here.
So that ties into Secretary Tillerson's fight with this. One more reason people here at the White House, a lot of officials I talk to are anxious and wish both of these gentlemen, in fact, all three of these gentleman would simply get back to work -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny at White House, thank you.
Let's get some more on the president's very public feud with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Corker.
He said the president is treating his administration like a reality show, could put the country "on the path to World War III."
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill with the latest.
Phil, what we heard from Senator Corker is truly extraordinary. What else are you hearing up on Capitol Hill?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's not going to shock you when I tell you that senators are not exactly rushing to cameras to weigh in on this. And that's not just because they're out of town this week. Look, if you talk to them in candid moments, they will acknowledge -- and I have spoken to several aides over the course of the last 48 hours -- that much of what Senator Corker said, many senators agree with. They are unsettled by the North Korea tweets. They are certainly uncomfortable with the disparate political allies of the president threatening the seats they currently retain.
And there's no question about it. There's a lot of frustration on the legislative side of things about what they perceive to be a lack of focus on the White House's side.
But that doesn't mean that they're going to be following suit any time soon. Every single aide you speak with makes clear there isn't going to be a rush of other senators to come out. In fact, what they would like to happen is for this to just all go away.
As one aide told me, it's a roller coaster sometimes with this administration, but this is the hand we have been dealt. They want to put their heads down. They want to work on tax reform, which is their primary legislative item going forward. And there is no question about it. This fight back and forth, whether it comes from Senator Corker or the president himself, is simply not helpful to that cause, Wolf.
BLITZER: How does the looming legislative battle over the president's proposed tax cuts factor into all of this?
MATTINGLY: Look, it's the big open question right now.
And if you talk to aides, they say they say they don't expect Senator Corker to vote against a tax reform proposal simply because he's in a tiff or a fight with the president. But the senator has already raised concerns about the tax plan. He's made very clear he is a deficit hawk. He doesn't want the tax proposal to add a lot to the deficit here.
So he's already kind of on the edge as they start this process in earnest. The real concern -- and we saw it in health care, where administration officials got crosswise with certain senators -- and anyone you talk to up here would acknowledge that did not help the process that failed multiple times -- is, when it comes down to it, when push comes to shove, if this is going to be a very tight vote -- and in the Senate the Republicans have a very slim majority -- the administration is going to be counted on or should be counted on to help close the deal.
These fights don't help. The lack of trust doesn't help and the lack of focus on the legislative agenda certainly doesn't help. That's why up here right now, everybody, Wolf, anybody you talk to right now from leadership on down just wishes this would go away, just wishes they could move on.
BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California is joining us. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, what impact do President Trump's feuds with Senator Corker, Secretary of State Tillerson have, in your opinion, on America's standing on the global stage?
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for that question.
It has weakened America. Look, we are in dangerous times. We're facing issues from North Korea to wildfires to disaster in Puerto Rico. And we need the president to focus and act like a president, instead of engaging in name-calling and undercutting his own secretary of state.
He has now made it very hard for Rex Tillerson to do his job worldwide, because world leaders can no longer trust Secretary Tillerson, because they don't know who he's speaking for.
BLITZER: So you think he should resign?
LIEU: I think he needs to have a very long conversation with Donald Trump and say that the president needs to either publicly support his efforts at diplomacy in North Korea, or, yes, I think he should resign, because right now on an issue as important as North Korea, if you ask the simple question, does the U.S. support diplomacy in North Korea, no one in the Trump administration can give you an answer.
And that is completely not acceptable.
BLITZER: Well, the president says it's a waste of time, it's failed for 25 years. North Korea today has nuclear bombs. They have warheads, potentially, miniaturized nuclear bombs on warheads.
They have intercontinental ballistic missiles. The diplomacy, clearly, over the past 25 years -- the president repeatedly points this out -- has failed. That's why he says Tillerson's efforts to establish some diplomatic back channels to discuss these issues with North Korea is a waste of time.
LIEU: So diplomacy has not been tried with the current leader of North Korea.
In addition, I serve in active duty in the Air Force. I'm not opposed to war. But I am opposed to war as the first option. We need to exhaust every other option first, including diplomacy, before we even think about war.
And in the case of North Korea, estimates are that 2.1 million people could die, 7.7 million people injured. It would be catastrophic if we used military force.
BLITZER: I will point out, in the final few years of the Obama administration, diplomacy was tried repeatedly with the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Clearly, that went nowhere. He's moving ahead with nuclear tests, intercontinental ballistic missile and intermediate-range ballistic missile tests, and issuing all sorts of warnings. So, clearly, at least until now, diplomacy has failed, but what you're saying is, what, give it another chance?
LIEU: Yes, because we have now leveled the most severe economic sanctions both at the U.S. and the U.N. And we need to give that some time to work, and then we hopefully bring North Korea to the negotiating table.
But we also need to look at the military option. There are no good military options. In addition to nuclear weapons, North Korea has up to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons. They could lob them into South Korea, where hundreds of thousand of Americans are.
They could attack Guam and Japan. We're talking about a large loss of life. So, before the president takes us down this dark and bloody path to war, he needs to exhaust every other option possible.
BLITZER: Let's get to some other issues, a very sensitive issue, the 700,000 or 800,000 so-called dreamers who are here in the United States.
Did the Democratic leadership, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, overplay their hand with the president, who now says he wants legislation that will allow the dreamers to stay, but he wants it's connected with all sorts of other issues, including building a wall with Mexico?
LIEU: The currency on Capitol Hill is votes. And if the president needs votes on important legislation, he's going to have to try to get it through his Republican Party.
But, if he can't, he needs to come to Democrats. And there's going to be a series of votes where he's going to need Democrats. So I don't think Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi overplayed their hand.
I support a clean authorization of the DREAM Act. And I hope that that is what going to happen before the end of this year.
BLITZER: Another political question. Do you support Senator Dianne Feinstein's decision to run for election?
She's a great senator from California. She has a very important position, given her seniority. And I hope that she wins by a very large margin.
BLITZER: What do you tell some of your more progressive or liberal- leaning Democrats out there concerned about some of her positions?
They're also concerned about her age. She's 84 years old. They would like someone more progressive, more liberal, more forceful in opposing the president's agenda to step forward. What do you say to them? LIEU: I have worked with Senator Feinstein. She is one of the
sharpest people in the U.S. Senate. I have no concern about her ability to do her job.
And, in addition, her positions I think match California. And she's going to continue to do a great job as a U.S. senator.
BLITZER: Let's speak about another Californian, Harvey Weinstein.
He's been a major donor for Democrats. In fact, he was a bundler for Hillary Clinton's campaign. President Obama's daughter recently interned for his company last summer.
First of all, should all the Democrats who received money from him either return that money or donate it to charity?
LIEU: That would be up to the individual elected officeholders.
But let me say that if the allegations against Mr. Weinstein are true, then he needs to go to prison. He's been alleged to have committed tape. That is a massive violation of not just women's dignity, but of federal law, as well as state law. He needs to go to prison, if that's what happened, and his conduct is completely unacceptable.
BLITZER: It took five days for Hillary Clinton to respond. She issued a short statement today condemning him. We still haven't heard from President Obama. Should he stay silent on this?
LIEU: I think it's really up to individual members what they want to do.
But the conduct described in "The New York Times" of what Mr. Weinstein did is unacceptable, whether it's in the private sector or the public sector. And we need to have a national conversation on how we not have this happen again in the future.
BLITZER: Did you ever receive political contributions from him?
LIEU: I did not.
BLITZER: OK, Ted Lieu, the congressman from California, thanks very much for joining us.
LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following.
Police are revealing new information about the Las Vegas gunman's effort to set off a huge explosion before his deadly shooting spree.
And we will go live to California for the latest on the wildfire disaster. Tonight, the death toll is climbing and the devastation is growing.
BLITZER: More breaking news in the investigation into the Las Vegas shooting massacre.
New details on the gunman's effort to set off a huge explosion by firing at a fuel tank.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Brian, police now say the killer was using special bullets.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, disturbing information tonight on that ammunition used by the shooter.
Our colleagues Scott Glover and Kyung Lah have from two law enforcement sources that the gunman, Stephen Paddock, fired special incendiary bullets at a 43,000-barrel fuel tank.
The sources say investigators believe that was an attempt to cause an explosion. They say those type of rounds, which are meant to ignite what they hit, were found inside Paddock's room at the Mandalay Bay resort and also near the fuel tank, which is on the western perimeter of the grounds of McCarran International Airport.
Now, I had been told by a source close to the investigation that Paddock fired on those fuel tanks first before he fired on the crowd.
Airport officials have said two rifle rounds struck one of those tanks and one of them penetrated it. But it's unclear if the one that penetrated the tank was of the incendiary variety.
And we have to be clear. There was no explosion. Last week, airport officials downplayed the potential of an explosion being caused by gunfire, noting that jet fuel is designed to withstand a brief exposure to flame before igniting.
Also tonight, these sources telling CNN that investigators recovered tracer rounds from Paddock's room. These bullets are coated with phosphorous and they produce a flame when they're fired to allow the shooter's to follow the bullet's path and to achieve better accuracy.
But these law enforcement sources say there's no evidence that tracer rounds were actually used during the attack. Wolf, those make a big difference when you're firing at night.
BLITZER: And you're also learning new information about the protective equipment that this killer had with him.
TODD: That's right.
According to these sources that spoke to Kyung Lah and Scott Glover, investigators also found survival gear in Paddock's room, including a bulletproof vest and breathing apparatus. Sheriff Joe Lombardo had previously said last evening, Wolf, that he
had personal protection equipment in his room, which led investigators to believe that he might have had an escape plan.
But Sheriff Lombardo did not say what that gear was. Now we're getting from sources, Wolf, he had a bulletproof vests and breathing apparatus. That may indicated that may have planned somehow to exit that room and try to get out of there somehow. But every law enforcement expert you talk to tells us there's virtually no way he could have gotten out.
All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd, with the latest information on that.
We're also following the breaking news in California, the deadly wildfires now burning out of control. At least 15 people have been killed, 2,000 buildings destroyed.
Take a look at these before-and-after pictures from Santa Rosa. An entire neighborhood leveled by the fast-moving flames, and even a fire station was reduced to rubble as winds topping 50 miles an hour fueled an inferno.
CNN's Dan Simon is on the scene for us.
Dan, the scale of this disaster is growing by the hour.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, we learned that authorities are still in the process of actually trying to evacuate people.
That means the fire is still advancing on people's homes. We also learned there are still a lot of people reported missing, 183. Now, that does not mean those people are feared dead. There just could be a problem with the communication.
Meantime, I want to step out of frame here, Wolf. You can see the Coffey Park neighborhood here in Santa Rosa, California, just completely leveled. There is not a house still standing.
We know that some 20,000 people have been evacuated. I actually went to a shelter today. It was totally packed. And the need is great. They still need clothes. They need children's toys, for instance, Wolf.
And, hopefully, fire crews will begin making some progress. The winds have died down to some extent. But this fire here in Santa Rosa still zero percent contained -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Awful, awful situation.
All right, Dan, thank you very much, Dan Simon in Santa Rosa.
Just ahead: Hillary Clinton breaks her silence on harassment and assault allegations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Plus, an ISIS ambush leaves four U.S. soldiers dead. Was one of them taken alive by the terrorists?
BLITZER: More now on the unfolding public feud between President Trump and retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker. The president dubbed him "Liddle Bob" on Twitter following Corker's sharp rebuke of the president.
[18:30:31] The White House says Corker is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.
Let's dig deeper with our specialists and our analysts. And Rebecca Berg, does anyone inside the White House, based on everything you're hearing, besides the president, think this fight with Bob Corker is a good idea?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm not sure, Wolf, that anyone in the White House would have advised the president that this is strategically a wise course of action.
Look, Senator Bob Corker, even though he's retiring, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He has been an advisor, a really important advisor to the president in terms of explaining foreign policy, national security issues that he has needed to get up to speed on.
But this isn't a strategy by the president. And I think that's the important distinction here. It's actually just an impulse. It's always personal when it comes to Donald Trump and people who he feels have wronged him or publicly insulted him or attacked him. And so when he sent out those tweets and continues to send out these tweets, it isn't Donald Trump saying, "This is going to help me strategically." It's Donald Trump being impulsive, rash, angry. And that's what we're seeing here.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, can the president afford to lose Corker's vote when it comes to his upcoming big issue, tax cuts, tax reform?
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No, not really, Wolf. I mean, Republicans only have a two-vote margin in the Senate, so they need his vote. They also need his leadership. He's a senior member of the Republican Caucus in the Senate, seen as someone who can whip votes, seen as an honest broker among his caucus. The president loses his leadership, it'll be that much harder to pass any legislation, including tax legislation.
BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, the president also rekindling this controversy -- controversy he's had with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, after the reports that Tillerson over the summer privately referred to the president as a moron.
In an interview published today in "Forbes" magazine, the president said this: "I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare I.Q. tests, and I can tell you who is going to win." Your reaction?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Twitter feed for THE SITUATION ROOM, who wins the I.Q. test, the president or the secretary of state? I think I know what the result of that would be.
Look, let's step back and look at one question: the transition from campaign where he belittled everybody, to governance. In governance, you need allies. He's alienated the cabinet. That is obviously the secretary of state. Last week, now the secretary of defense.
But the joint chiefs, he embarrasses them in public by saying, "I need plans faster." He embarrassed the intelligence community by saying he didn't believe them on Russia. He fired his FBI director, embarrassed the head of Justice Department. He's alienated the Congress, including Republican allies. He's told the coffee klatch at the U.N. that they are a coffee klatch.
This guy is turning out to be not a campaign success but a presidential failure. If he wants a picture of who's a moron, I'd say look in the mirror. Your responsibility is not to represent your party or yourself. Your responsibility is to further an agenda. Whether it's on immigration reform, failure; health reform, failure; international accords with North Korea, failure. The guy is not succeeding, and he can't figure out a way to look in the mirror and accept it.
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey Toobin, this is certainly not the first time the president has bragged about his supposedly very high I.Q. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I tweeted that Rick Perry should have to have an I.Q. test before getting on the debate stage. Sit back, I'll match my I.Q. I want to match my I.Q. with some of those guys, with all of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's attacked you for being ignorant. He says that if you're president, you'll make --
TRUMP: Let's do an I.Q. test.
And I keep hearing about global warming. Now they'll say, "He doesn't understand." Let's do I.Q. tests.
These so-called eggheads. And by the way, I guarantee you my I.Q. is much higher than theirs, all right?
I guarantee you I have a vocabulary better than all of them, certainly most of them. I know I have an I.Q. better than all of them. I know that.
Governor Perry, very nice guy. He made nasty statements about me, and then I challenged his I.Q., which wasn't nice to do, and I challenged his glasses. What the hell are you wearing glasses for all of a sudden? I said, "The glasses aren't working." I'll tell you what. We have by far the highest I.Q. of any cabinet.
I guarantee my I.Q. is much higher than any of these people. My uncle was one of the great professors at MIT. I mean, believe me, it's good genes. We believe in genes, right? We're allowed to say that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what explains the president's seemingly obsession with a high I.Q.?
[18:35:05] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I mean the -- you know what we really need, Wolf? Is we need a time capsule. And put it in there, just so future generations will really believe this guy was president of the United States.
Because I don't think people are going to believe it, that, you know, these I.Q. insults, in my experience, they sort of fade out around junior high school. And now we have a president of the United States who is not only challenging political opponents but remember, Tillerson's his secretary of state. I mean, that's like a guy who's supposed to work for him who presumably is intelligent. I mean, I just -- you know -- we -- the question is when, like, when do we stop being outraged by this kind of craziness? And I guess I haven't reached the stage yet, but you know, you just wonder when we're getting inured to it.
BLITZER: Yes. Let mem let Phil go ahead. I want you to weigh in on that, as well. Because he often talks about his I.Q. and someone else's lower I.Q.
MUDD: There is a story that we do not speak about in Washington, D.C., and that is a transition from saying, "This man is crazy like a fox" in terms of how he manipulated the American population to view him as brilliant during the campaign, to now looking at him and saying, "He's got a psychological problem." He's got a problem with narcissism; everything is about him. And he's got a problem at looking at everybody else and saying, "I have to prove every time that I'm the smartest guy in the room."
One lesson about life in Washington: everybody here is smart. And when you're dealing with issues like Iran and North Korea, your first responsibility as president is to sit in the situation room and say, "Does somebody have a better idea?" His answer, "No. I'm the smartest dude ever."
BLITZER: Yes, he likes to say he went to the finest school; did go to the University of Pennsylvania.
But in the latest tweet against Bob Corker, he said what he said to "The New York Times," Corker, made him sound like a fool. So he's got that theme there going all the time.
SWERDLICK: Right, that's his spin on events. But I mean, it's a very standard interview technique to record your interview subject. "The New York Times" reporters get that information on the record. Corker was clear about being on the record.
BLITZER: And the president recorded it, too, he office said. Both sides agreed that it should be recorded.
SWERDLICK: Right. Either Corker's going to say what he's going to say, and clearly, he was deliberate in what he was going to say or he was not. That it was recorded is a red herring.
I just want to go back to the I.Q. think for a minute. I also think, Wolf, that it's a tell in the sense that President Trump is fixated on this metric, which first of all, we don't know what his I.Q. is, but second of all, it has nothing to do with his performance in the job. It's only talking about some potential intelligence that he's had before he was ever president.
TOOBIN: And if I can just -- can I just add one brief point? There has never been proof that a higher I.Q. means you're better at any job than anyone else. I mean, I.Q. is a very narrow, somewhat controversial measure of certain kinds of intelligence. But the idea that a higher I.Q. means you're going to be better as president or any job is just simply made up; it's not true.
BLITZER: And a lot of people are pointing out, Rebecca, in that tweet on Corker this morning, "The failing 'New York Times' set Liddle Bob Corker up by recording his conversation. He was made to sound fool. That's what I'm dealing with."
As we know it wasn't set up by "The New York Times." Both sides said you know what? It's an important interview. Let's record it to make sure that the words reported in "the New York Times" are precise. Both sides agreed to that. But a lot of people are saying, you know, the president lets that stand as if it's true, his allegation, which clearly was not.
BERG: And we've seen this before. Whenever the president talks about fake news or the corrupt media, as an excuse for reports he does not like. And that's exactly what he's doing in this case, Wolf, trying to make excuses for what Bob Corker said when, in reality, Corker said what he said, knowing that it would be public, wanting it to be made public, and that looks even worse for the president.
BLITZER: Everybody stand by.
TOOBIN: And also --
BLITZER: Go ahead.
TOOBIN: -- I mean, facts matter. Facts matter. And the fact that he said that, you know, we have the highest taxes -- highest taxes in the world, we don't. I mean, maybe our taxes should go down; maybe they should go up. But we don't have the highest taxes in the world. And it just seems like part of our job should be, at least, to correct things that are just factually wrong.
BLITZER: That's very, very important. All right, guys. Stay with us. There's more. Hillary Clinton now
says she's shocked and appalled by alleged assaults of harassment by Harvey Weinstein. Some are saying, though, her words are too little, too late.
And new details emerging right now about the ISIS ambush that left four American soldiers dead, one of them possibly captured alive by the terrorists.
[17:44:19] BLITZER: There is breaking news in the Russia investigation. The former Trump foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, is telling CNN's Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill he's going to plead the Fifth to the vast array of documents the Senate Intelligence Committee has requested from him.
However, Page also says he still wants to testify before the panel.
Let's get back to our specialists and analysts. And, you know, it's a fascinating development potentially, legally, Jeffrey Toobin. What do you make of it?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think Carter Page is being wisely advised by a lawyer. You know, he is obviously in the sights of the Mueller investigation. And when you're in the sights, you take the Fifth. You take the Fifth.
Now, his idea that you can somehow take the Fifth with regard to documents but without regard to testimony, I don't think that's going to stand up.
The real question here is whether the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are going to start to issue subpoenas and start to think about the question of immunity. That might bring them into conflict with Mueller.
But, you know, the witnesses are really calling the shots here because if they take the Fifth, at the moment, there's nothing that can be done about it.
BLITZER: Yes, there's other developments we're following, Phil Mudd, including a very disturbing development involving North Korea. There's a South Korean leader who now claims that North Korean hackers stole joint military plans involving the U.S. and South Korea, when they breached the South Korean computer network last year.
Potentially, how much damage does that do if these North Korean hackers can infiltrate and get that that kind of sensitive information?
MUDD: This is hugely significant. But you've got to put it into context for a moment. Seventeen years ago, 16 years ago, we're talking about warfare as American special forces and others moving into Afghanistan on a conventional fashion. In that case, even on horseback.
Fast forward to 2017, let me give you three characters of war. Number one, cyber warfare where you're stealing the plans of your adversary and presumably saying, what are their vulnerabilities? Going back years, we've seen a parallel theft by foreign adversaries. What are the plans for construction of things for things like ships and planes?
And then, I'm just starting to understand the breadth of what an adversary can do to an American mind. What we had with the Russians last year in the election was not simply messing around with American election. It was messing around with American culture on issues like race. You put this together, stealing plans, stealing the ways we're going to design military aircraft, stealing information that will allow you to participate in playing with an American mind, that's warfare of the future, it's incredible.
BLITZER: Some of this information supposedly involve some sort of plan to take out Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, very, very sensitive information potentially.
MUDD: Absolutely. And your first question on that is not only how do they defend it, the second question is, is this is the tip of the iceberg? And the third is, how do they exploit it? Is there something they can do to take advantage of what they've just stolen?
BLITZER: The White House just put out a statement, David, that the president was briefed on North Korea by his national security team, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and chairman of the joint chiefs, General Joseph Dunford. The statement says: The briefing and discussion focused on a range of options to respond to any form of North Korean aggression or if necessary, to prevent North Korea from threatening to United States or its allies with nuclear weapons.
Very interesting the president also had lunch today not only with Secretary of Defense Mattis but with Secretary of State Tillerson. No mention of Tillerson in this statement from the White House.
SWERDLICK: Yes. I mean, I think right now, what's clear is that Tillerson is not being viewed favorably by the president. So, on the one hand, you have a meeting where you may need to discuss some issues of national security with him, may need to pass some things up behind the scenes. But it could be read easily as a rebuke to Tillerson that he's not mentioned as one of the brains, in the brain trust that's being --
BLITZER: Rebecca, how do you see it?
BERG: I think the central question right now, Wolf, with Tillerson's relationship with the president is how does this affect the diplomatic option with North Korea? Because this is something that Tillerson has pushed for. That has been his focus as secretary of state. Does this move the president towards perhaps a more militaristic option? Is he listening more closely to his national security advisers who might be advising him specifically on that as oppose to his team that is looking at the diplomatic option here?
So, there could be some real consequences if he is not in a position where he is listening and interacting with his secretary of state.
BLITZER: And the Harvey Weinstein, fiasco, and it is an awful, awful develop -- what we're learning from "The New York Times," "The New Yorker Magazine", this prominent donor of the Democratic Party, all sorts of Democratic Party causes, all of a sudden, we're learning awful things about what he did towards women. Hillary Clinton, today, five days into all of this, Jeffrey Toobin, she finally condemned Harvey Weinstein in this brief statement.
Should she have spoken out more assertively and earlier?
TOOBIN: Well, I think I would quarrel with your characterization of all of a sudden. You know, this was widely known, Harvey Weinstein's really inappropriate behavior with women. The -- Seth McFarlane made a public joke about it at the Oscars in 2013 about Harvey Weinstein hitting on actresses.
I think the real question for the Clintons -- I mean, who cares whether Hillary Clinton gives a statement now. She's a private citizen.
The real question is, why were the Clintons and the Obamas so close to him during the campaigns when they were important? I think this is a real blot on the records of both the Obama and the Clinton families, that they were so blind to this, willfully blind for so long.
[18:50:01] BERG: Although at the same time --
BLITZER: We just got, by the way, let me read it to our viewers. We just got a statement from the Obamas. I'll read it to our viewers right now.
Michelle and I have been disgusted by the recent reports of Harvey Weinstein. Any man who demeans and degrades women in such fashion needs to be held accountable regardless of wealth or status. We should celebrate the courage of women who have come forward to tell these painful stories and we all need to build a culture, including by empowering our girls and teaching our boys decency and respect so we can make such behavior less prevalent in the future.
A statement signed by President Obama and Mrs. Obama. Very strong statement.
Interestingly enough, Rebecca, their daughter interned for the Weinstein Company last summer before she started Harvard.
BERG: So, you have to imagine, Wolf, that there's a very personal sort of outrage with the Obamas here because this wasn't just an abstract question for. Their daughter was indeed working for this company where you had this sort of toxic culture in place.
But I was just going to add in response to what Jeffrey was saying a few moments ago, that on the flip side of this equation, you have President Trump who not only made apologies for Roger Ailes after he was found to have committed some of these same sorts of transgressions at FOX News, but after he resigned in disgrace, he joined essentially the campaign as an informal adviser and continued to advise Trump after that. So, this is a problem across the board.
TOOBIN: Roger Ailes, how about Donald Trump himself?
TOOBIN: Ten women have accused him of sexual harassment. He admitted to sexual assault. So, I mean, you know, let's keep, you know, in perspective who we're talking about here.
BERG: Exactly. I think we have to keep in perspective that we had to wait a few days for these statements but still very strong statements.
BLITZER: All right. There's more news we're following right now. This is significant. There's other important news.
Four U.S. trooped killed by ISIS in Africa. We're now learning new details of the ambush.
[18:56:57] BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning new details of an ISIS attack that kills four American soldiers in West Africa.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who is working the story for us.
Barbara, the U.S. troops clearly were ambushed.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They were ambushed, Wolf, and several days later, still no word from the president of the United States.
STARR (voice-over): Four U.S. soldiers killed in an ISIS ambush in the West African nation of Niger, coming home to their families. Half the 12-man team led by Green Berets killed or wounded in a surprise ambush attack.
COL. STEVE WARREN (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We assess risk before after action. And the military has a very rigorous risk assessment process in place, but it's only an assessment.
STARR: Intelligence showed it was unlikely they would run into enemy forces, officials tell CNN.
COL MARK CHEADLE, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND SPOKESMAN: Had we anticipated this sort of attack, we would have absolutely diverted more resources to it to reduce the risk. And that's something we're looking at right now.
STARR: They were meeting with locals and advising Nigerian forces, but suddenly, they were ambushed by more than 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters. The American troops' pickup trucks were shattered by gunfire. They had only rifles to fight back. The ISIS attackers had rocket propelled grenades and machine guns.
But sergeant La David Johnson, 25, of Florida, was separated from the others. He was found dead nearly 48 hours after the firefight.
The Pentagon's Africa Command does not know for sure if this American soldier was wounded and alive on the battlefield, and if he was even for a brief time in ISIS hands.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: AfriCom is reviewing closely the security procedures.
STARR: The army chief of staff openly acknowledging a full investigation is under way.
MILLEY: They're evaluating the mission, enemy terrain, time, all of that to come up with the appropriate risk mitigation factors.
STARR: A U.S. Special Operations team quickly organized a high-risk rescue mission, ready to move in. President Trump was briefed.
Military officials are now looking into reports that a locater beacon emitted a signal from the area indicating that someone might still be alive on the ground. They are not sure if that signal was really accurate.
WARREN: These are some of our most sensitive operations. The tactics, techniques, and procedures are something that we protect very closely because this is very delicate operation in order to bring back a service member who somehow has been separated from his unit.
STARR: There were no U.S. armed aircraft nearby. French aircraft did arrive on scene, but there was no authorization from Niger to allow airstrikes on its territory.
STARR: The U.S., the French, and Nigerians now all working together to see if they can locate the perpetrators -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thank you very much. A disturbing report.
That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.