Return to Transcripts main page


Top General Says He Would Resist Illegal Nuke Order; Charlie Manson Dead at 83; Late Night in the Age of Trump. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 20, 2017 - 10:30   ET



[10:31:53] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This is getting a lot of attention. The top U.S. nuclear commander says he would push back nuclear strike orders from President Trump but only if those orders were illegal.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's General John Hyten, and he made these comments over the weekend at security conference.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is with us.

And, Barbara, you know, this is one of the most respected preeminent four-star generals, but what would make orders illegal? I mean, doesn't the president have ultimate authority on this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very sensitive question. The president of the United States, any president, has the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. It has worked that way for decades. But the question is, what if that order was illegal? Because the U.S. military has the legal obligations to not obey illegal orders.

What makes an order illegal? If you're not following international law. If your choice of weapons outstrips the threat you are facing. Nuclear weapons can kill millions of people. Is there a threat that requires that kind of firepower?

General Hyten bringing this all out in public. It's not so much what he said, but it's the fact that he's even discussing it. Have a listen.


GENERAL JOHN HYTEN, COMMANDER, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: I provide advice to the president. He'll tell me what to do. And if it's -- and if it's illegal, guess what going to happen?


HYTEN: I'm going to say, Mr. President, that's illegal, and guess what he's going to he do? He's going to say what would be legal, and we'll come up with options. The mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is. And that's the way it works. It's not that complicated. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So coming up with options behind the scenes a lot of people will tell you here at the Pentagon that there's a number of conventional non-nuclear options that could be used against a threat like North Korea that the president would not have to turn to nuclear weapons in some sort of deterrence or preemptive strike. That would be very, very dire by any stretch.

But again, General Hyten bringing it all out in public. He knows that there's a lot of concern in Congress, a lot of concerns from the allies, about how all of this might work given President Trump's rhetoric on the subject, so he is putting it out there for everybody to hear.

Back to you, guys.

BERMAN: All right. Fascinating.

Barbara Starr, thank you very, very much.

Joining us now is CNN military analyst, retired lieutenant general, Mark Hertling.

General, let's just put that question to you. Barbara Starr thinks that it is more interesting in a way that he set it at all than exactly what he was saying. How significant that he chose to say this?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't think it was significant at all, John, to be honest with you. I -- the context of the conversation at a security conference in Halifax, General Hyten was being asked about additional restriction on his use of nuclear weapons being debated within Congress. And he was basically saying, I don't need that. We have procedures and processes in place, and then as I understand it, he got a follow-up question, what if you received an order that is illegal, and he said quite for simply we don't follow illegal orders. And the reason why? We don't.

You know, we talked about this during the campaign when there were discussions about continued waterboarding or bombing terrorist families or stealing oil from countries, those are all illegal orders.

[10:35:07] And the military will not execute illegal orders. We take that as part of our oath, not only to support and defend the Constitution, but to obey the president and the orders over us according to regulation and that uniformed code of military justice. So as Barbara just said the law of the land warfare plays a part in this and General Hyten was just answering some people within that security conference about what he would do.

HARLOW: I wonder if you think, General, the president will take it that way? Because as we -- we know how the president responds to anyone questioning his authority or speaking out against him. Now if the president read it that way, what do you think that could mean for General Hyten? We haven't seen any tweets or any comment from the White House but how do you think the president will read it?

HERTLING: Well, I fail to get into the president's mind and I don't even want to go into that particular space. But he might take it the wrong way, but that's unfortunate because he needs to know, and I think he already does, probably Secretary Mattis, , General Kelley and General McMaster have already told him that the military only obeys legal orders.

And there's a -- there's plenty of precedence for this, Poppy. I mean, this goes back to World War II when there were a bunch of generals in Hitler's army that were court-martialed for obeying illegal orders and murdering a lot of people. And that's what General Hyten is basically says -- saying. The American military does not do that. We abide by the law of the land warfare and we obey legal, moral and ethically correct orders.

BERMAN: I think we need a better understanding, though, of exactly what a legal order would be.


BERMAN: And an illegal order. Because, again, the president of the United States is the one with the sole authority to launch a nuclear strike, correct? Especially a first strike.


BERMAN: It wouldn't necessarily be illegal, General, if President Trump or any president woke up in the morning and said, you know what? I think that we need to launch a first strike on North Korea.


BERMAN: Would that be illegal?

HERTLING: That would be illegal. Unless there were some type of provocation or some intelligence that would show, John, using that example, that there was the potential for preemption of a major nuclear strike by North Korea. So in other words if North Korea had three nuclear weapons on the launch pad ready to launch and we anticipated where they were going, then yes, a preemptive strike would certainly be legal. And General Hyten would probably know all of that intelligence before anybody in the White House knew about it.

HARLOW: But, General, how do we -- how do we know that? Let me just ask you because we've seen all these tests.


HARLOW: And they've been able to do these on these mobile devices, they no longer have to take days to set up these warheads for the test. So -- I mean, how would it be determined that a threat was actually imminent or that it was just, you know, another test?

HERTLING: Yes. There are warnings on that, Poppy, and in fact General Hyten also made a comment at that conference about having Secretary Mattis in his headquarters at the time when North Korea launched a rocket. And even Secretary Mattis, who is a retired four- star, said, wow, you sure have great situational awareness, you can see them on the pad, you can see when it's launched and you can see where it's heading based on data and statistics.

So General Hyten, as the head of the Strategic Defense Command, knows those kind of things. He gets good feel for them. And truthfully there are other defensive measures. You certainly wouldn't launch a massive preemptive strike against one missile that you know you could probably intercept with other devices and destroy.

So, again, part of the legality that the lawyers actually put a part in is, is it not only correct, but is it proportional for what you're about to receive? If you're going to issue a $500 fine for a quarter problem, you've got some problems with proportionality and legality. All of these things are practiced by senior commanders. And it might surprise you if I told you I have been in situations in combat where we have had to take orders that were given to us and go back to our commanders and said, hey, the lawyers say this might not be legal to do these things.

BERMAN: Right.

HERTLING: So therefore we can't do them. Those kinds of things don't get reported.

HARLOW: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you.

HERTLING: You're really welcome. Thanks.

HARLOW: He and his cult terrorized people across Los Angeles with a gruesome string of murders in 1969. Now Charles Manson is dead at the age of 83. A report ahead.


[10:43:41] HARLOW: Nearly 50 years after the murders that shocked the nation, notorious cult leader and killer Charles Manson is dead. He died in a hospital in California. He was 83 years old.

BERMAN: He of course was behind the murders of seven people in the summer of 1969 including the pregnant actress Sharon Tate.

Our Stephanie Elam live in Los Angeles.

This life so notorious, filled with so much controversy -- Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Definitely. You think about that, Sharon Tate was 8 1/2 months pregnant as well. It was said that Charlie Manson really wanted to terrorize the nation with these murders. And that's exactly what he did.


VINCENT BUGLIOSI, MANSON TRIAL PROSECUTOR: Manson may be the most famous, notorious mass murderer ever. ELAM (voice-over): The summer of '69 was marred by gruesome murders

that shook the nation. Five people killed at the home of Hollywood star Sharon Tate and another couple murdered the following night.

Manson was the mastermind behind the brutal killings, the leader of the clan that carried out the unthinkable. He was convicted of conspiracy and murder in 1971 and infamously went down in history.

CHARLES MANSON, LED CULT OF MASS MURDERERS: I do a lot of things underworld that you guys don't see.

ELAM: Manson was born in Cincinnati in 1934 to a single teenage mother.

MANSON: She got out of my life early. I spent the best part of my life in boys' schools, prisons and reform schools because I had nobody.

[10:45:05] ELAM: After marrying twice and spending half his life in prison, 32-year-old Manson made his way to Berkeley in 1967. He established himself as a guru in the Summer of Love and was quickly sharing a home with 18 women.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get these kids, these children, coming into Haight-Ashbury, and here is Charlie Manson saying how much he loves them and he wants to take care of them. He took full advantage.

ELAM: Manson's passion for music translated into an obsession with the Beatles' 1968 song, "Helter Skelter."

BUGLIOSI: For Manson, it meant that the Beatles wanted to have a worldwide revolution, blacks against whites.

ELAM: Aiming to launch the fabricated war, Manson directed his disillusioned clan to kill. On August 9th, 1969, four Manson followers invaded the Hollywood Hills home of actress Sharon Tate, where they massacred five people. The 26-year-old starlet was eight and a half months pregnant. The next night the clan brutally murdered Los Angeles couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. At both homes they left behind shocking murder scenes.

BUGLIOSI: When those words "Helter Skelter" were found printed in blood at the murder scene, that was tantamount to Manson's fingerprints being found at the murder scene.

ELAM: After evidence in the cases mounted and a high-profile trial, Manson and four followers were convicted of nine murders and sentenced to death in 1971, which was downgraded to life in prison when California banned the death penalty.


ELAM: So when Manson died, he was serving out nine life sentences. And he did try to get out of the jail. He attempted parole 12 times and all 12 times he was denied -- Poppy and John.

HARLOW: Stephanie Elam, thank you for the reporting from Los Angeles this morning. We appreciate it.

President Trump changing the face of late-night television. His late- night tweets, stunning comments giving a lot of new material to those comedians every single day.

Brian Stelter takes us inside "THE LATE NIGHT IN THE AGE OF TRUMP," after this.


[10:51:38] HARLOW: "LATE NIGHT IN THE AGE OF TRUMP," let's just say it has been transformed.

Brian Stelter digs in in a new CNN special report that airs tonight. Look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be crazy one.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "THE JIMMY KIMMEL SHOW": Every day there's something nuts.


SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Wait, how long does this wall have to be?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: He's the most mocked man in America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the problem with the media.

STELTER: Monopolizing late night.

MEYERS: It's hard not to feel like you're being redundant.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Kim Jong-un as rocket man.

KIMMEL: Kim Jong-un, rocket man.


STELTER: Dominating "SNL."

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Such a nasty woman.

BILL CARTER, AUTHOR, "THE WAR FOR LATE NIGHT": He's like a mind producing raw materials.

STELTER: He's blowing up scripts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a really great job.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The face of the news.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So much faster.


STELTER: Making and breaking careers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a little kind of Churchill. Excuse me.

STELTER (on camera): Would you say you're on a mission to take him down?

CHELSEA HANDLER, HOST, "CHELSEA": I would like to see him brought down to the ground, preferably in handcuffs.

COLBERT: You're turning into a real (EXPLETIVE DELETED) dictator.

STELTER: Has late night gone too far?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disrespectful of the office of the presidency? I think so.



BERMAN: All right. The man behind this special, the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter is here with us now.

And, Brian, it seems to me that this is the main fodder for every late-night host every night.

STELTER: Totally. You know, we talked before election day about the idea of Trump TV, that maybe if Trump he didn't win he'd go and launch a network, well, instead he's launched these guys' careers. You know?

HARLOW: I know.

STELTER: Stephen Colbert was having a little bit of a tough time in the ratings race before election day, now he is the undisputed star of late night. Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, these men, and they are almost all men, have had their careers revitalized and energized by President Trump.

HARLOW: A few things, though. Chelsea Handler, who you interviewed for this special.


HARLOW: Has actually sort of walked away from her show to focus on being an activist.

STELTER: Yes. She says she wants to be an activist.

HARLOW: So -- right, and you know the president has in part to do with that. And in addition Jimmy Kimmel, in many ways, wasn't he on the cover of "New York" magazine or "Rolling Stone" or something the other week calling him the conscience of America?

STELTER: Right. Saying he's the new Walter Cronkite, which is a little bit of a joke.


STELTER: But there's some truth to that at the same time.


STELTER: That these comedians are channeling the liberal angst of the country, the anti-Trump feelings in the country, and they're expressing that in some ways better than Democratic politicians do. You know, Kimmel and Meyers and Colbert have all called President Trump to resign at various point this year. Now they're kind of joking, but they're also kind of serious.

BERMAN: If you're a Republican voter or a Trump voter, do you have anywhere you can go for late-night comedy?

STELTER: You know, the short answer is no. That there aren't really alternatives to the Trump skepticism we see on late night. In this doc tonight, we went inside the writers' room, for example, of the late -- the "Daily Show with Trevor Noah" and we saw how they had to rewrite those scripts right up until airtime because the Trump news cycle, as you both know, continues all day and all evening long. So they're having the same --


HARLOW: We do that in this show.


HARLOW: We rewrite a lot of this show in the middle of the show. And that's what happens.

STELTER: Yes. That's right.

HARLOW: But do you have any evidence, do we know if -- what they are doing on late night is moving the needle in terms of affecting voters' habits, minds, voting habits?

STELTER: I think what -- my sense of what it's doing is further pushing folks off to the polls, off to the sides, you know, as opposed to the middle.

[10:55:03] And if you talk to these writers and comics privately they'll kind of admit to you, we're worried we're only preaching to the choir and not -- not reaching anybody that isn't already persuaded. BERMAN: Does it work for all the late-night hosts equally or some

getting a bigger bump than others?

STELTER: I would say Colbert overall has been the biggest beneficiary. We started this documentary on election night when Colbert thought he was going to be celebrating Hillary Clinton's win with a special late, late night show and instead had to deliver the President Trump news.

BERMAN: Brian Stelter, this will be fascinating. The special, it airs tine, "LATE NIGHT IN THE AGE OF TRUMP," 9:00 Eastern, only right here on CNN.

All right. We've got a lot more news developments in the Russia investigation, developments in the Alabama Senate race. Stay with us.