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Tillerson Talks Iran, North Korea & "Moron" Comment on CNN; Tillerson: NK Diplomatic Continues until "First Bomb Drops"; Tillerson: U.S. Trying to Stay in Iran Nuclear Deal; Tillerson Suggests WH Could Devise Second Iran Agreement; Tillerson Responds to Corker's Castration Comment; Aired 2-3 p ET

Aired October 15, 2017 - 14:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour in Washington, and U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, discussing a broad array of topics on CNN's "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper. Refusing to confirm nor deny calling the president a moron.

Tillerson also said the U.S. is trying to stay in the Iran nuclear deal and the secretary reaffirmed diplomacy is the president's goal with North Korea.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts. And which we are. And we will -- as I've told others, all the diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.


WHITFIELD: Here now is more of that interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You said recently that Iran is in technical compliance with the deal. But President Trump said on Friday, that the Iranian regime has quote, "committed multiple violations" of the agreement.

So, which is it? Is Iran in technical compliance or has it committed multiple violations?

TILLERSON: Well, the answer is really both, Jake. Under the nuclear agreement, JCPOA, that is a multilateral party agreement, there have been a number of technical violations. Carrying too much inventory, heavy water, having materials that are used to construct high speed centrifuges.

But under the agreement, and this is part of the weaknesses and the flaws, Iran has a significant period of time to remedy those violations and so they have remedied the violations which then brings them back into technical compliance.

I think though that demonstrated pattern of always walking right up against the edges of the agreement are what give us some concern as to how far Iran might be willing to go to test the limits from inside the agreement.

Our response to that has been to work with the other parties and demand that we'd be much more demanding of the enforcement of the agreement, much more demanding inspections, much more demanding disclosures. And that is what we are shifting since we have taken our seat at the table of the joint commission.

TAPPER: OK. President Trump decertified the deal on Friday, but he did not withdraw from the deal as he could have. Did the president want to withdraw unilaterally before people in the administration, such as yourself, Secretary Mattis and others, successfully persuaded him to pursue what might be described as a middle course?

TILLERSON: What the president wants is a more comprehensive strategy to deal with Iran and its totality. I think for too long and certainly the last administration really defined the Iranian relationship around this nuclear agreement.

This nuclear agreement is flawed and has a number of weaknesses in it. And so the president said throughout his campaign even, he said, I'll either reform the agreement, I'll renegotiate the agreement. Basically saying I'll either fix these flaws or we'll have to have a different agreement entirely.

I think his decision around the new policy is consistent with that. So now, we want to deal with the nuclear agreements, weaknesses. But we really need to deal with a much broader array of threats that Iran poses to the region. Our friends and allies and, therefore, threats that they pose to our own national security.

The policy itself has three components. And I think it's important that people understand this. The president describe these in his speech. There is the nuclear agreement, which we are going to undertake an effort to see if we cannot address many flaws in the agreement, working with partners. There may be a second agreement. Maybe it's not within the existing agreement, but we might undertake a secondary agreement.

But then there's a much broader array of threats from Iran's ballistic missile programs and support of terrorist organizations in the region. Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, these are all very threatening organizations.

And the destabilizing activities in Yemen to support the rebels, the Houthis, to support the rebels in Syria, the Assad regime. Everywhere you look in the region, Iran's activities destabilize the region and threat.

But the third element of this policy and the president touched on it in his address is, this is not about the Iranian people. This is about the regime in Iran. This revolutionary regime that ever since it came to power has been intent on killing and harming Americans and harming others in the region.

We do not hold the Iranian people accountable for that, so our effort is to support the moderate voices in Iran. Support their cries for democracy and freedom and hope that one day the Iranian people will retake control of the government of Iran and restore it to its rich history of the past. Reintegrate and become a fruitful member and trade commerce in the region. So that is really the end game here. But that's a very long game and we realize that.

TAPPER: Before the senate not long ago, your counterpart at the Pentagon, Secretary Mattis, was asked if he thought staying in the agreement was in the best interest of the United States. Not a question about whether or not he wanted to improve upon the deal or add a secondary deal as we just discussed, but whether or not the U.S. should stay in it or leave. And he said staying in it was his course.

It sounds like you agree with that as well that you would not want congress to immediately impose sanctions that would end this deal.


TILLERSON: I do agree with that. And I think the president does as well. That's why he took the decision he took. But look, let's see if we cannot address the flaws in the agreement by staying within the agreement, working with the other signatories, working with our European friends and allies within the agreement.

But that, as I said, that may come in a secondary agreement as well. So we want to take the agreement as existed, as I said, fully enforce that agreement, be very demanding of Iran's compliance under the agreement and then begin the process of addressing these flaws that we see around not the absence of addressing ballistic missiles for instance.

The concerns we have around the sunset provisions. The phase out of the agreement. We know what that looks like. We're seeing this in the past in the '90s with North Korea agreements that ultimately phase out. What happens has put us on the road where we are today with North Korea. We don't want to find ourselves in that same position with Iran

TAPPER: Speaking of North Korea, you talk about working with European allies. As you know, our European allies are very concerned about the stuff that President Trump took on Friday.

I want to show what you the German foreign minister had to say, quote, "My big concern is that what is happening in Iran or with Iran from the U.S. perspective will not remain an Iranian issue, but many others in the world will consider whether they themselves should acquire nuclear weapons too, given that such agreements are being destroyed." And I guess the question there is, as voiced by the German foreign minister, why should North Korea believe anything that the United States has to say if the president has shown his willingness to walk away from agreements about nuclear weapons?

TILLERSON: I think what North Korea should take away from this decision is that the United States will expect a very demanding agreement with North Korea. One that is very binding and achieves, the objectives, not just of the United States. But the policy objectives of China and other neighbors in the region. A denuclearized Korean peninsula.

We intend to be very demanding in that agreement. And if we achieve that, then there'd be nothing to walk away from because the objective will be achieved.

The issue with the Iran agreement is that it does not achieve the objective. It simply postpones the achievement of that objective. And we feel that that is one of the weaknesses under the agreement. So we're going to stay in. We're going to work with our European partners and allies to see if we can't address these concerns, which are concerns of all of us.


WHITFIELD: Meanwhile, President Trump again spending the weekend at one of his golf clubs. He and Senator Rand Paul hitting the links in Sterling, Virginia today. This comes just a day after Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham spent the day at the same golf course.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joining me now.

So, Ryan, what do you know about this kind of quality time the president is having with these republican leaders?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, there's no doubt it's about building a relationship between the president and these two key senators, but it's also about getting some work done. It's expected that the senators and president talked at length about some of the key legislative issues that are in front of both the senate and the White House. So goals like tax reform and health care and path forward.

And these two figures in particular are also important. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Rand Paul has been a pretty consistent ally of the president. Someone that's not willing to criticize him very often, as can you see them golfing today at the president's private golf course in northern Virginia. But he's also been a pretty key impediment to any of the legislative goals that this White House has. He's consistently been an opponent of any health care reform plan and he's also signaled that he's concerned about the tax reform plan as well.

Lindsey graham, also an important player. Not only is he powerful in the senate, but he is popular. He also wants to work with Donald Trump but also hasn't been afraid to criticize him at times when he thought it was necessary. So it's clear here, Fred, when you see the president out on the golf course with these key senators that he is at least trying to build some sort of a better relationship with republicans in the senate.

WHITFIELD: And so, Ryan, President Trump also spoke with Senator Mitch McConnell yesterday and he'll meet tomorrow to discuss the agenda for this fall. What more do we know about that?

NOBLES: Well, the president can build as many relationships as he wants with rank and file members of the senate. But if things don't get better with Mitch McConnell, then it's very unlikely that they're going to be able to pass some of these key pieces of legislation that they hope. And yet they talked on the phone yesterday. It's expected that McConnell will come here to the White House this week and meet one on one with the president.

Today on CBS, Lindsey Graham talked about Mitch McConnell and how important he is to get anything done in Washington.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mitch McConnell is not our problem. Our problem is that we promised to repeal and replace ObamaCare and we failed. We to promise to cut taxes and we've yet to do it. If we're successful, Mitch McConnell's fine, if we're not, we're all in trouble. We lose our majority --


GRAHAM: -- and I think President Trump will not get re-elected.


NOBLES: And aside from all the personality spread there is a key problem when we talk about all these pieces of legislation and that is that it's difficult to get 50 senators who agree to the fundamentals of the piece of legislation. What exactly is in the bill and perhaps that is what McConnell and Trump will talk about this week. How can they put together a package that will get the necessary votes to get out of congress?

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan nobles at the White House. Thanks so much.

All right. Lots to discuss here.

Joining me right now, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, CNN national security analyst and contributing editor at Atlantic Media's Defense One. Good to see you. And Ilan Goldenberg, former senior staff member of the senate foreign relations committee. Good to see you too. Two best names on television today. Beautiful names.

All right. So, Gayle, let me begin with you. I want to start with Tillerson's comments. That the U.S. wants to stay in the nuclear deal with Iran. Can the U.S. add -- alter the deal and add new sanctions without the whole thing collapsing? GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: But stay tuned, right? I mean, the whole idea was to decertify without destroying, right? To find a way to keep the campaign promise that the president had made multiple times, right? To really satisfy this idea that the president had seen the deal as a disaster.

But also to keep America in the deal, which the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, many other on the president's national security team thinks, by and large, was in America's national interest. The question is what comes next and with whom are you going to move to the next stage of whatever this is.

Can congress pass anything? Does the administration actually want them to? And how will the world see what the American actions really are?

WHITFIELD: Right. And not only that, we just heard Tillerson say that, you know, this country, this president, wants to work with European allies. But if that's the case, then why decertify or not recertify before working with the allies who are all now saying, we don't like the fact that the U.S. appears to be trying to make changes.

LEMMON: That's the question, right? I mean, the world has seen this. And I think the real question to me is whether by finding this way to decertify without destroying it, while you know, well, you can keep the deal intact, but is American credibility intact? And I think that is the question.

Because domestically, it makes sense and actually even talking with folks inside the United States military who are on the front lines of the war in Syria, some of the fight in Iraq, they will say that Iran revolutionary guard is causing all kinds of problems. That Iran is not an actor that is doing things that are in the best interest of stability in the region.

But with that said, how will Europe see this deal? How will North Korea see this next step that America has taken to kind of walk this middle ground? Stay in the deal while also decertifying it.

WHITFIELD: So, Ilan, for starters, we know that Germany has said that backing out of the nuclear deal could, in their view, lead to war. So, why should the U.S. think that it can make these changes unilaterally and then others eventually be on board?

ILAN GOLDENBERG, FORMER SENIOR STAFF MEMBER OF THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I think if you want to make those changes, this is probably the worst way to go about it. I think that's one of the biggest problems. Now, have the worst of all worlds. We've created a situation. We've artificially generated this crisis by not certifying the nuclear agreement.

We've alienated our European partners, but at the same time we've also shaken the confidence of the Iranians with the nuclear -- in terms of the nuclear agreement. And ironically, the president could have done all of this without even sending it to congress and could have taken a much firmer line.

Instead what he's done is sort of create a lot of bluster, but really a weak response over all. I mean, this murky approach where we're walking away, but we're not walking away. It just creates confusion, it hurts our credibility with countries like Iran, Russia, China and others. And still imperils the agreement.

Look, before we had this agreement, really, we are facing two choices. Iran was only a couple of months away from a nuclear weapon and we were at the point where we are going to have to choose between military action, major conflict, or allowing Iran to get a nuclear weapon.

The agreement has put this palm in a box for a number of years and given us flexibility and opportunity to work on all these other challenges like Iran in the region, like the question of explorations of the agreement.

And instead of doing that, we're creating this massive distraction and going back and re-litigating the same problem that we had already addressed two years ago.

WHITFIELD: And, Gayle, and back to Iran has responded saying in fact that it's accusing the U.S. of dumping billions of dollars' worth of arms into the Middle East and creating what it called a tinder box.


So, is that of response, you know, to the Trump administration really warning or signal of some sort?

LEMMON: No. I think what that is, is really a conversation that's been going on for some time. Actually breaking out into the open, right? If you look at Syria battlefield and the fight against ISIS, you have everybody fighting ISIS in theory. But U.S. backed forces coming up increasingly against ever closer to regime and Iranian backed forces.

So this kind of tension between the two sides has been going on for quite some time with very few people paying attention. And I think what this does is now spill that all right out into the open.

WHITFIELD: All right, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and Ilan Goldenberg, thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

We've got so much more of the conversation between the secretary of state and our Jake Tapper.

Did the secretary in fact call the president a moron?

Plus, his response to a top republican's controversial comment this week.


TAPPER: Your cattle -- you have a cattle ranch. You don't want to say anything about the senator calling -- suggesting you've been gelded before the world? That's not anything that bothers you?

TILLERSON: I checked. I'm fully intact.




WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was pressed on a number of issues this morning on CNN's State of the Union with Jake Tapper.

Tillerson once again refusing to deny that he called the president a moron. He also tackled questions about military preparations for North Korea. The president's tweets and allegations Trump is undermining him.


TAPPER: Secretary Tillerson, you were in China, we were just talking about the North Korean problem. You were in China trying to resolve the dispute with North Korea in a diplomatic way. President Trump tweeted, "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary of state that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with little rocket man." And then he sent a second tweet saying, "save your energy, Rex. We'll do what has to be done."

If I were a Chinese official or North Korean official, seeing these tweets, while you are there trying to negotiate and try to solve this problem, I might think, secretary Tillerson doesn't really speak for President Trump.

TILLERSON: Fortunately, Jake, President Trump and President Xi have probably one of the closest relationships the president has with the head of state. If you're aware they've had two major face-to-face meetings. The summit at Mar-a-Largo. A very comprehensive bilateral and at Hamburg. The president speaks to President Xi on the telephone frequently. I think they've had seven or eight calls.

I have a very close relationship with the state counsellor of China who reports directly to President Xi on their foreign policy. So rest assured that the Chinese are not confused in in way what the American policy towards North Korea or what our actions and efforts are directed at. So --

TAPPER: Do tweets like that undermine you?

TILLERSON: Well, I think what the president is doing is he's trying to motivate action, on a number of people's part, in particular the regime in North Korea. I think he does want to be clearer with Kim Jong-un and that regime in North Korea that he has military preparations ready to go and he has those options on the table. And we have spent substantial time actually perfecting those.

But be clear, the president has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He's not seeking to go to war.

TAPPER: So he doesn't think it's a waste of time?

TILLERSON: No, sir. He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts. Which we are. And we will -- as I've told others those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.

TAPPER: The relationship that a secretary of state has with a president is one of the most important relationships in the world. World leaders need to know that you speak for him. And that he has faith in you and that you have faith in him.

NBC news reported that you were frustrated with President Trump over the summer and you called him a moron during a meeting at the Pentagon. You've dismissed the question as petty. But this is literally one of the most important relationships in the world, the one between you and President Trump. Is it true? Did you call him a moron?

TILLERSON: Jake, as I indicated earlier, when I asked about that, I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. I mean, this is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo and they feed on it. They feed on one another at a very destructive way. I don't work that way. I don't feel that way. And I'm just not going to dignify the question.

I called the president Mr. President. He and I have a very, very open rank and candid relationship. I see him often. Speak to him nearly every day. I'm in the oval office a number of hours every week. We have a very open exchange of views on policy.

At the end of the day, he makes decisions, I go out and do the best I could to execute those decisions successfully. And he understands at all times what we are trying to achieve to implement his foreign policy.

He has a symbol of very I think unconventional team. He, himself, is an unconventional president. And he's assembled an unconventional cabinet. I'm an unconventional pick for secretary of state.


TILLERSON: But that's because he does not accept the status quo with the many threats that we're confronting in the world today and he is going to take forcing action and often times the tweets or decisions he takes are intended to cause this forcing action to get off of the status quo to force people to take action and move to a different place.

So whether it's the decision on the Iranian agreement that was announced, to force action to address this defective agreement where there's decisions on forcing North Korea to move to a different place of engagement, all of those are steps the president is taking to force action. He is not going to accept the status quo. The American people elected him to change the status quo. And that's what he's doing. TAPPER: Ever since you called it petty, I've been thinking a lot about it. Because I'm a reflective guy and I understand the media makes mistakes and the media always could improve.

But here's the thing, either you didn't say it. In which case there are a whole bunch of administration officials telling the press and telling the president that you did. And that's a serious problem. Or you did say it, and look, you're a serious guy. For to you say something like that suggests a real frustration with the commander-in- chief.

So when you don't answer the question, it makes people think that you probably did say it. But either way, whatever happened, it is serious. So, can you please clear it up?

TILLERSON: As I said, Jake, I'm not playing. These are the games of Washington. These are the destructive games of this town. They're not helpful to anyone. And so my position on it is, I'm not playing. I'm not playing. You want to make a game out of it? I'm not playing. It's simple as that.

TAPPER: I'm not making a game matter. I mean, I'm just trying to see clarity. Because saying that if I said that my boss was a moron, that would be a serious issue. And my boss doesn't control nukes.

I'm willing to move on. But I just want to be clear. You still haven't denied you called him a moron. And a lot of people are going to watch this and think, he probably said it.

TILLERSON: I'm not dignifying the question he with an answer, Jake. I'm a little surprised you want to spend so much time on it when there are so many important issues around the world do deal with.

TAPPER: I want to ask about Senator Bob Corker, who said something about you and he was referring, he's a friend of yours, he has tremendous respect for you, he speaks highly of you all the time.

He says that you're one of the best things about the cabinet. And he's dismayed, he thinks President Trump is constantly undermining you. This is a republican of senate foreign relations committee. He said the president has quote, "castrated" you before the world stage. That's his word, not mine. What's your response to that?

TILLERSON: Well, as I indicated earlier, Jake, I think this is an unconventional president. He uses unconventional communication, tools, he uses unconventional techniques to motivate change. And for people that had been around Washington a long time, this is a place that you know better than I, you've been here longer than I have, this is not a place that likes to change.

It actually enjoys the status quo. The last thing anyone likes to do in this town is make a decision, because when you make a decision you're suddenly accountable for that decision.

TAPPER: True. TILLERSON: And so the president is out trying to motivate people to change. Whether it's on health care, whether it's executive action he recently took, to motivate that change, whether it's on executive orders around immigration, to motivate that change. Or whether it's under the action he took under the Iran deal on Friday. It's to motivate a change.

People in this town get very nervous and get very uptight about having to address serious issues by making decisions. So the president is simply trying to do that in his very unique style. And he is very unique. I don't think there's any doubt that anyone sees him as anything other than the most unique president we've certainly ever seen in modern history that we can -- we have recorded history.

TAPPER: Hard to dispute that.

TILLERSON: But, again, I would say I am fully committed to his objectives. I agree with his objectives. I agree with what he's trying to do. How he wants to use his own skills tactically to push things toward change. I'm there to help them achieve those.

TAPPER: You is a cattle ranch. You don't want to say anything about the senator calling, suggesting you've been gelded before the world, it's not anything that bothers you?

TILLERSON: I checked. I'm fully intact.

TAPPER: I did not expect that answer.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me now to talk more about this, Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times." And Davis Swerdlick, CNN political commentator and an assistant editor for "The Washington Post." Good to see both of you this Sunday.



WHITFIELD: All right. So, Lynn, you first. Tillerson clearly didn't want to go there saying it's the game in Washington that he just doesn't want to play.

But how much of this is really about Tillerson's conflict of trying to honor the public service part of his job and his loyalty to the president who does not like being criticized?


SWEET: Well, I do applaud Jake Tapper and how he artfully worded the follow-up question and I also think that Secretary Tillerson did come prepared with a self-deprecating answer to try and deflect the question.

So I think what this does is really to set the stage now for this next chapter on the Tillerson drama, where he's saying -- basically, he's saying maybe -- even if he called him a moron, I kind of don't care that much about it, which I think is instructive because we learned from the interview today that to you take the way he framed it. That he's unconventional, he says unconventional things. So maybe by calling me a moron it somehow helps the diplomatic goals that I share with the president.

OK. That is an interesting approach. It doesn't strike me as one that is conventional. But as we know, as Tillerson said, everything, everything is unconventional now. And probably the least of Tillerson's problems may be that he got caught calling the president a moron.

Quick distinction, he said he calls Mr. President to his face, Mr. President. He didn't say, and deflected, whether or not he insulted him behind his back.

WHITFIELD: Right. Because the issue reportedly was never about whether he call him that in his face. But you know, kind of behind his back which reportedly is what's so enraged the president, too. Even though later he would learn about it before the rest of the world would.

So, David, again, not denying that he called the president a moron, and saying he's not being undermined by the president's tweets and statements. Did this secretary of state just demonstrate that he does feel or is undermined by the president while trying to reiterate the president's logic and approach and style?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Fredricka, I'm not sure if he said that he was undermined, but I do think that he has this persistent problem that he didn't clean up in that interview with Jake, right. For one thing, like you said, he did not give a clean denial of that statement.

He had two chances and both times he said he wasn't going to dignify that question, but that question is low hanging fruit. If he didn't call the president a moron, all he has to say is, I never said that and I'm tired of being asked about that. He came nowhere near any kind of answer like that. The other problem I think --

WHITFIELD: But of course, if he did that and it turns out he really did, then he would be called a liar, so there is so much more at stake.

SWERDLICK: Right, which suggest that there is a reason why he can't just completely deny that. The other problem for him and I think Jake touched on this in his follow-up question is that Secretary Tillerson is a serious guy. He didn't have previous government experience.

My own view is that was not a good choice for secretary of state, but you're talking about someone who was a CEO of giant are corporation. He was at Exxon for 40 years. He's an engineer. He's an empiricist.

That he comes in and now is working for someone who in a lot of ways, President Trump, is just an amateur across the board. You have a situation where he has to sort of bite his tongue in these situations and try and find that middle ground where he is not completely going against the president's line.

But at the same time, trying to maintain his own credibility and maintain that he is in fact engaging in this robust diplomacy with China and North Korea. He did an OK job of that, but I don't think we've heard the last of this issue.

WHITFIELD: And then Lynn, you know, some of what Tillerson said really made you put the brakes on because usually a secretary of state does want to emphasize the importance of diplomacy. While we heard from Tillerson, yes, diplomacy, but then when he said, you know, until the first bomb drops, does this serve as warning or threat? Perhaps answer to trump who also said Tillerson could be a little tougher?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Well, yes, yes and yes. So, it is good cop, bad cop, bad cop, good cop. Today what you saw was Tillerson trying to explain a little more on why these two seemingly conflicting statements can co-exist at the same time.

This is a little tricky. Actually, I think Secretary Tillerson did a pretty good job of trying to thread that needle saying we will have diplomacy backed up by this tough talk. I don't see them necessarily as mutually exclusive.

If you want to do what the Trumpian policy of keep everybody guessing, Secretary Tillerson today did talk enough about diplomatic initiatives, talked about reaffirming our commitment to NATO.

He talked a lot about diplomatic stuff going on to make you think that despite the talk of the president on the tough talk he is still conducting diplomacy. If Trump says he has to be tougher, we heard it today where he talks about even the potential of dropping a bomb.

So, in the sense Tillerson accomplished a lot in this interview including giving that little dose of self-deprecating humor when it came to the castration question.

WHITFIELD: OK. Lynn Sweet, David Swerdlick, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

All right. Meantime, extremely concerning out west in California, the death toll now is rising in the California wildfires as firefighters struggle to get the upper hand against fires that have ravaged that parts of that state for more than a week now.



WHITFIELD: The death toll from the raging wildfires in California has now risen to 40. This as a new fire in the Santa Rosa area has forced thousands more people to evacuate.

CNN's Dan Simon is live from Kenwood, California, just east of Santa Rosa. So, Dan, tell us what you are seeing there.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Still a lot of active fire. You can see this fresh fire behind me. You can sort of the smoke off in the distance. It's very smoky out here. You can see some of the ash coming down.

Matter of fact sometimes it actually looks like we're in the middle of a snowstorm with flurries. This is quintessential Sonoma Valley. You can see the vineyards behind me and you could see this mansion or more like castle in the background.

That is part of Letson (ph) Winery. We have seen a number of firefighters in the area trying to do a structure protection, make sure no more homes or businesses go up in flames. Yesterday, Fred was a difficult day. We saw a number of homes in the Sonoma area go up in flames.

A lot of evacuations there as well. Today, hopefully it will be a different story and that's because the wind has completely died down. We are no longer in a or under a red-flag warning.

So, hopefully fire crews will begin making some progress. We have already seen signs of progress. The tubs fire, which has been the most destructive fire in the Santa Rosa area, containment now up to 60 percent. This is no longer a wind-driven fire, but still a lot of fuel out there. A lot of fuel left to burn so hopefully fire crews will begin making some progress.

WHITFIELD: Let's hope so. All right. Dan Simon, thank you so much.

All right. This week, NFL owners and the players union will meet to discuss the anthem protest and whether a policy change is to follow. A former NFL player joins me to discuss, next.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. This week, NFL owners and the players union will meet to discuss whether the league should create a rule about players standing for the national anthem.

Some players on the San Francisco 49ers today knelt during the away game against the Washington Redskins. The video there, a long line of New Orleans Saints taking a knee before the anthem at their home game against the Detroit Lions and then standing during the song.

In a letter to NFL teams, this week, Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote, "Everyone involved in the game need needs come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country.

[14:45:11] The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified.

Joining us now, former Minnesota Vikings player, Chris Kluwe. Chris, good to see you. So, thus far, you know, no changes being mandated on NFL players standing during the anthem but reportedly the league could reaffirm current policy which could subject players answers teams to fines and other discipline for failing to stand during the anthem. Again, the meeting will take place today. What do you see on the horizon potentially or this week, I mean?

CHRIS KLUWE, FORMER MINNESOTA VIKINGS PLAYER: Well, I think the NFL wants to have their cake and eat it too. That they want to be seen doing what they think is the right thing from a PR perspective, but they don't actually want to let players speak out on an issue of importance.

Because the thing to keep in mind is that protests are not meant to be convenient. Protests are meant to draw attention to an underlying flaw in society, a systemic flaw and in this case, it is police brutalities against African-Americans.

And the protests are not about disrespecting the flag. They are not about anything other than American citizens asking to be treated the same way as other American citizens.

And to that end, players absolutely should protest, should continue protesting and if the NFL is serious about addressing this issue, then they should take a knee alongside with the players during the anthem and say we are not going to stop until this inequity is addressed.

WHITFIELD: From the point of view of many protesters, they would say, you know, protest is designed to disrupt, help effect change. If there is a change in which protests can be respected or honored among NFL players, will that be considered a defeat if there is no bigger change effected especially with the social injustices. Will that be a defeat?

KLUWE: Yes. It will absolutely be a defeat because the problem is that you have owners like Jerry Jones talking about how players shouldn't disrespect the flag at all. Jerry Jones managed to fix racism by kneeling one time in front of the camera. Hooray, America is solved.

But that's not actually the case, the case is that what Jerry Jones is doing is A, donating financially to President Trump, which continues to uphold these policies that are driving these problems.

And then B, he is trying to keep his players from addressing the nation in a way that it is both respectful and peaceful, which seems to be the common complaint about protests is why aren't you being peaceful and respectful? Taking a knee during the national anthem is about the most peaceful protest you could possibly do.

WHITFIELD: So, critics say that this is a disruption. That protests, taking to the knee, but then also, you know, the question as to whether this makes players more determined. So, in your view, disruption or more determined?

KLUWE: It is definitely a disruption for white supremacists who were watching the NFL, which apparently the NFL feels a need to keep as market share and I personally don't understand it because white supremacists will never be happy with what people do because they are committed to white supremacy.

So, I think the players again should absolutely keep on protesting because they are raising awareness of an issue. The thing is this is an issue that we as the country need to address.

Because we have not addressed this issue throughout the entirety of our society. I mean, this country was built on slavery. We tried to deal with that with the civil war. We kind of made some strides forward. We had segregation. Kind of made some strides forward.

But if you look at statistics, African-Americans are far more likely to be the victims of police brutality than white Caucasian people looking like me. Until we address that, until American citizens can walk down the street and be treated as American citizens, no matter the color of their skin or racial identity, gender, religion, whatever, then we have work to do, and we have to do it.

WHITFIELD: Do you believe that out of this meeting should come some potential responsibility on behalf of the NFL to help convey the message, purpose of why some of these players have been protesting, that it is not disrespectful to the flag but instead their mission is to call attention to social injustices in this country? Do you believe the NFL should help in relaying the messaging of the intent behind the protest?

KLUWE: Yes. I think that would be a great thing for the NFL to do. If they are committed to address social change because the NFL does have a very large platform that reaches many millions of American every single week.

And if the NFL were to say, OK, here is a problem, here is how we will address it. We are going to raise training standards for police officers. We are going to hold police officers more accountable.

Because by and large, most police officers are doing a fine job, but the problem is that ones that aren't are really putting a stain on the rest and those ones have to be held accountable. Otherwise, you don't have justice.

[14:50:03] You just have a series of laws that apply to one people and a series of laws that apply to another people. In South Africa that was called apartheid. So, if the NFL wants to address this, then yes, they absolutely should be raising their voice and getting that message out that this is about the systemic oppression of American citizens.

WHITFIELD: All right. Chris Kluwe, we are going to leave it right there. Thank you so much for being with us.

KLUWE: Yes, thank you.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Harvey Weinstein is now at the center of a new investigation thousands of miles from Hollywood. London's Scotland Yard is looking into allegations of sexual assault against Weinstein from two women.

[14:55:08] CNN's Brian Stelter joining me now from New York. So, Brian, what more do we know about these latest accusations?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: These are coming out of London. They are part of a police investigation there. In the meantime, there is a police investigation in New York City as well. The NYPD and DA looking into whether it is possible to open or reopen cases involving Weinstein and actually bring charges.

Meantime, the company he co-founded is in corporate limbo. It's trying to stay afloat, but it may not be able to and Hollywood continues to try to shun Weinstein. Not just the academy expelling him yesterday, now there are two more meetings of two more organizations also looking to make public statements condemning him.

Really trying to distance themselves from Harvey Weinstein and his behavior. The story goes on and it keeps getting worse for Harvey Weinstein.

WHITFIELD: And not just him. Just think about all of the jobs, the people who fill those positions within his company that now hang in the balance as a result, complicit or not, right?

STELTER: Yes, indeed.

WHITFIELD: All right. Brian Stelter, thank you so much. We have so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. Stay with us.