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U.S. Troops in Niger Collecting Intel on Terror Leader; North Korea: Take Hydrogen Bomb Threat "Literally"; Trump: Media Unfairly Portrays Me as "Uncivil". Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired October 26, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:31:50] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Look, the questions about what happened in Niger haven't gone away. In fact, they have only grown. We do have new details.

Military officials are telling CNN that the troops were gathering intel on a suspected terror leader who had a codename Nailer Road (ph). That's when they came under fire.

CNN's David McKenzie is live in Niger. CNN is the first U.S. network on the ground there, because you have to be where the story is if you're going to cover completely.

David, thank you for being there. What do we know?


That's right. U.S. officials saying that this high value group that the American soldiers were trying to gather intel on what is a key member of this group, with that code name Nailer Road, and that he was involved in previous attacks in the region. Particularly in neighboring Burkina Faso. That really points to the seriousness of the terror threat to U.S. assets and the assets of allies in this region.

You know, coming into this region again after some time, you really get a sense of the vastness of it, Chris, and the difficulty of operating in this terrain. There are some 800 U.S. soldiers on the ground here, something some legislators have been surprised at. But when you think that they're dealing with a threat that encompasses the continental U.S. geographically in the Sahel, you really get a sense of what they're up against.

Now, this group of soldiers was in this advise-and-assist role with Nigerien soldiers. One key question here, Chris, is whether they had the right intel going in because it was perceived to be a low threat mission, but it appears that there was some kind of coordination potentially on the ground between villagers and this terror group that caused this ambush, that caught the Americans by surprise, and tragically left four dead.

Now, locals here in the capital will tell you that they know that this region of instability, which is just a few hours away from where I'm standing, has been area when Nigerien soldiers have been attacked multiple times in recent months, really points to the terror threat in this region and what American soldiers are here to do -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, David. Thank you very much for all the reporting from there.

So, let's bring in retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. General Marks is a CNN military analyst.

Great to see you, Spider.


CAMEROTA: So, let's talk about some of David's new reporting, and that is that they have been seeking, people on the ground have been seeking to arm these drones before this ambush. So, obviously, they felt as though they needed more backup somehow, and that they that hadn't been authorized yet. What do you make of that?

MARKS: Yes. Well, the conditions on the ground clearly were permissive, that would allow these troops to conduct these operations before and during the discussion to try to up arm and provide more what we call quick reaction capability. If these soldiers were to get in contact like they did, immediately, what you want to do is call for fire that comes over the shoulder, artillery fire within seconds or minutes, or drones that can be on station while you're conducting an operation, providing surveillance.

[06:35:01] And if they're armed, they immediately start -- you reduce that targeting cycle and it becomes very -- you know, very targetable intelligence you have. You can bring fire immediately. Very precise fire to allow you to break contact, reassess the situation and get out of there because you're overwhelmed. Those conditions were being worked. Obviously, the conditions were such that that was not a requirement before they launched this mission. So they were surprised.

CAMEROTA: But what would be the hold up in arming those drones? I mean, why not just give permission for that?

MARKS: Well, you are there at the invitation of the Niger government. So, we have to get their permission. Clearly, those discussions are made and we come in and we say, look, you want us to be here, we want to do some advise and assist missions, here's what we would like to do and I'm sure they said, we don't want to arm any of the drones. Let's conduct operations that will allow us to assess the environment, get you set for the environment so you have the right kit, and then if we have to go to the next level of arming them, we will. That was the process.

CAMEROTA: David, I know you're sticking around for us because obviously there are still many more questions including the most haunting one and that is of course what happened to Sergeant La David Johnson.

Do you have more on how they found his body a mile away?

MCKENZIE: Well, what we do know is that the Nigerien authorities here, Alisyn, have been very quiet through this unfolding situation of trying to learn what exactly happened. That is partly because of the political sensitivity of this moment that while U.S. soldiers have been here for some time, of course, suddenly out in the American eye that they are actually here and doing this dangerous work. So, very little information coming from the government.

I just want to touch on one thing that General Marks mentioned. The drone situation here is a politically accepts active one. It is unclear whether any armed drone would have made any difference in this particular ambush.

It's also worth remembering that the French forces here are very robust. They do have armed drones and, of course, those jets scrambled to the scene. They were unable to engage because of the fear of friendly fire.

So, it's not quite the case that we know it could have made a difference. But it does show the American forces are trying to ramp up their response to the terror threat here, that is potentially growing, as we see a more regional terror threat rather than one aimed at specific countries -- Alisyn.


MARKS: Can I pull on the thread that David just provided?


MARKS: The fact that the French have armed drones, the United States does not have armed drones, is a really distinction we need to talk about. Clearly, French has a long historical presence in Niger. They created this relationship that allows them to have armed drones.

We don't have it. We want to play catch-up in that regard. And I don't know what our relationship is with the French in order for us to bring that type of direct fire.

CAMEROTA: Well, the Senate Armed Services committee has a briefing today. So, perhaps tomorrow we will know more.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here.


CUOMO: All right. Another foreign issue is watch is what is going on on with Kim Jong-un? Will he make good on vowing to test a hydrogen bomb aboveground?

CNN's Will Ripley in North Korea once again. What is he being told about how series this threat is? A live report, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:42:25] CUOMO: North Korea amping up its threat to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean. Senior North Korean officials tell CNN's Will Ripley exclusively that the world should take the warning, quote, literally.

Democrats in Congress now stepping in. Diplomacy appears to be breaking down.

CNN is the only U.S. TV network in North Korea.

This is Will Ripley's 16th trip there. He joins us now live from Pyongyang.

What is the word on the ground, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems, Chris, more likely than ever that North Korea is going to go through with this threat that was made at the United Nations General Assembly last month to detonate a nuclear device aboveground, perhaps over the Pacific Ocean. It would be the world's first thermonuclear detonation and atmospheric detonation since China did it back in 1980.

It may seem counter intuitive to all of us. Why would North Korea want to do something that could be so dangerous on so many levels?

But the sense that I get from discussions with officials here is that they believe very differently about nuclear weapons than we feel in the United States. They think nuclear weapons will keep the peace, that by proving to President Trump, who they feel they just can't talk to, they think words won't work. They think if they demonstrate by detonating a nuclear device aboveground, they have the capability to strike the U.S., that that will provide peace and stability. That that will stop the U.S. from, in their view, bullying them.

But, of course, the fear -- the deep fear amongst many officials who are watching the situation on Korean Peninsula, including officials in Washington who I met within just in the last week is that this action could trigger a series of events -- a response from the United States, from President Trump that could go down an extremely dangerous and perhaps irreversible path.

And, so, you hear people saying that the possibility of an all out military escalation is perhaps closer now than it has been in quite a long time. The North Koreans also displayed to me swagger. They feel if there was a nuclear war with the United States, they feel they could not only survive it but perhaps emerge victorious. Perhaps the most troubling thing told to me just today, they also feel if there was going to be a chance that they would lose, they would try to take down as much of the world as they could with them.

That is the mindset here, that if there is going to be a world without North Korea, it's not a world worth living in. But, again, this threat to detonate a nuclear device is not to try to trigger a war, they say, but in some bizarre way to keep the peace by demonstrating to the Trump administration their abilities -- Alisyn. [06:45:04] CAMEROTA: Listen, Will, it is chilling stuff. It is so

helpful to have you on the ground in Pyongyang to give us all of this context. Thank you so much for that reporting.

So, President Trump touting his intelligence, his memory and, of course, blaming the media for portraying him as uncivil. What do your media mavens make of all of this? We ask them next.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am. You know, people don't understand. I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person.

You know, the fact is, I think -- I really believe -- I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person. One of the great memories of all time --


CUOMO: All right. There is the president blaming the media for portraying him as uncivil as if what we do isn't just repeat his words to you, often words that he says to you directly, by the way.

[06:50:03] All right. Let's discuss what this is really about. We got Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES", and Bill Carter, CNN media analyst and author of "The War for Late Night When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy."

All right. Gentlemen, it's good to have you here.

This was not the headline for me. Him blaming us, tell me something I don't know. But the way he that describes how it is that we're portraying him wrongly. Can we play it again? Can we play -- just play the whole thing again. I want people to just focus on how the president of the United States chooses to substantiate how he is being misportrayed. So, play it again, please?


TRUMP: Well, I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am. You know, people don't understand. I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person.

You know, the fact is, I think -- I really believe -- I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person. One of the great memories of all time --


CUOMO: I'm waiting for his hand to come up and pull back this mask and it be Alec Baldwin holding an Emmy in his hand. Brian, him attacking the press, look, his base is going to believe it.

That's it. He's divided the country along that line. That's fine. That's his lot, politically. We will see how it turns out.

A 70-plus-year-old man qualifying how he is being misportrayed by describing himself as a college student. Have you ever heard anything of that?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think that some of the elements of President Trump's bragging, exaggerating personality which were humorous during the campaign, which were enjoyable, which were mocked by us, they're not as funny a year later.

CUOMO: That is still pretty funny.


CAMEROTA: I take issue with that.

CUOMO: But I don't think he meant it to be funny, but there is an absurdity worth seizing on on because I think he undermines it.

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Ii think in a way he is being a little funny. But I think it also speaks to the personality disorder that he has which Tom Coburn mentioned. The guy does have a personality disorder. Intelligence people don't go around saying, hey, look how intelligent I am. They're not worried about it.


CUOMO: I don't know that he has a disorder. I just think it's an odd thing to say.

CAMEROTA: OK, I'm going rogue and I'm going to take the other side. Because I do think in personal experience that in person Donald Trump is more connected and less bombastic and is more civil.

CARTER: I agree with that.

CAMEROTA: OK, in person, one on one.


CAMEROTA: But on TV, he's the one who pumps up the bombastic.

CARTER: Because he is performing, Alisyn. He is performing.

CAMEROTA: That's right. This is my point, is that the media -- there is actually a disconnect between the person you meet one on one in the room, and the person that you see on your TV screen, for sure, there's a huge --


CARTER: He's uncivil in public. He shoves the guy out of the way. Who does that? (CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: He's pumping himself up. He is facing something that is real but not taking responsibility for who is doing that different persona, which he does play a different persona on TV.

STELTER: And some of that is magnified because he is watching so much television coverage of his presidency, not liking what he is seeing, lashes out. It's a vicious cycle that goes on and on.

CARTER: Right. But he's the one making up names. He's the one saying women look bad or their menstrual cycle or whatever, and he picks on people because they're not tall. He's making up -- he's doing that. It's not us doing it, he's doing it.

CAMEROTA: Of course.

CUOMO: We have never had to take out of context, add to or take away from statements from this particular president in order to create news. It is all what he actually says, very often to you.

CAMEROTA: It's on videotape.

CUOMO: And, look, those of us -- I've been around the Trump family and Mr. Trump most of my life. I am not surprised by anything that he says or does. I have never seen him be any different than what he is right now. Alisyn has a different experience.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I have.

CUOMO: But I have only been around him privately. And I'm not -- this is who he is. He believes what he said. Everything he just said, he believes. It's not an act.

CAMEROTA: I agree with that.

CUOMO: He believes that you should remember who he was in college and that is a great reflection on of why we are being unfair to him.


CARTER: He says he has one of the world's great memories. He constantly thinks he doesn't remember. He doesn't remember that from high school? There are a lot of things that prove --

CUOMO: He has always been a feel guy. Donald Trump, this is a compliment that he deserves, he has been known in the highest circles of New York politics for a man that could pick up the phone and call you when you're in a pinch and tell you how to get out of it, tell you how it's misunderstood, tell you where you have it wrong, where people will be against something, even when he has no connection to that body of evidence, to that group of the population.

[06:55:04] He's got great feel, that's what he is doing now.

Uranium One, that's your Watergate. This Russia investigation, oh, it's important because Clinton motivated the whole thing, you know?

STELTER: I'm alternate reality.

CUOMO: I'm going after Wall Street because they are coming after you. And I know because they're my friends and I can go after them.

He's got great feel. And that's what he's doing now.

CARTER: Even if you don't think he's intelligence, I do think he's intelligent. He's very savvy.

CUOMO: Very savvy.

STELTER: But if he is that savvy maybe he should come out of his safe space on Fox News. He is only getting interviews to his friends, not even to the journalists on Fox News, but to his friends on Fox News. His interviews are becoming -- they're not interviews. We need a new term for what he is doing.

CUOMO: But the savvy man stays in the same space the plays to his base. Fox News wants to play state news, let them play as far as -- if you're Trump --

CAMEROTA: Yes, but I think Brian is onto something. He has changed from the campaign. One thing that was so effective is that he was so accessible. He would call in all the time, everybody could interview him. And that has changed.

STELTER: With real journalists, not anymore.

CAMEROTA: Brian, Bill, thank you very much.

STELTER: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Up next, new information about possible connections between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. We have the details next.