Return to Transcripts main page
North Korea Claims New Missile Can Hit U.S. Mainland; Trump on North Korea: 'We Will Take Care of It'; NYT: Trump Revives Obama Birther Conspiracy Theory. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired November 29, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A missile was launched from North Korea. We will take care of it.
[05:59:13] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could effectively reach the mainland of the United States.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we have to go to war to stop this, we will.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senate Republicans clear a major hurdle toward passing their tax bill.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It's a challenging exercise. Think of sitting there with a Rubik's Cube trying to get 50.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: They made a political decision that they were going to do it alone. Whether they will or not, we will find out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A new report raising questions about President Trump's credibility and fixation with conspiracy theories.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): Just because he's now the president has not changed the fundamental conduct of Donald Trump.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, November 29. How did that happen already? Six o'clock here in New York. Here's our starting line.
North Korea claims the entire U.S. is now within reach of their missiles after it launched their most powerful test yet. The new intercontinental ballistic missile flew higher and longer than previous ones. And the North claims it can deliver a heavy nuclear warhead.
President Trump offering a measured response to this aggression, saying, quote, "It is a situation that we will handle." Mr. Trump's tone was quite different than in previous threats of fire and fury and calling North Korea's leader "Little Rocket Man."
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So while the president is dealing with that in somewhat mild fashion, there's some more incendiary reporting going on, raising serious questions about his credibility or even his grasp on reality.
"The New York Times" reports President Trump is once again reviving baseless conspiracy theories, like President Obama not being born in the U.S. This comes as the president appears to be spinning a new reality, ignoring facts and his own admission on that "Access Hollywood" tape.
The Senate Republican tax bill, though, good news there, clearing a major hurdle after the Budget Committee passed the measure, paving the way for a full vote on the Senate floor this week. Are the concessions that are being made to get the bill through benefiting the rich more than the middle class? That's the big question we'll take on today.
We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Paula Newton live in Seoul, South Korea, with our top story -- Paula.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Chris. You know, it wasn't that long ago that we thought about North Korea being able to hit Guam, Hawaii, the West Coast unthinkable. Now apparently, they could hit with a missile exactly where you're sitting anywhere in the U.S. mainland, including the East Coast.
The Hwasong-15 missile went 2,800 miles into the air, further into the sky than others had gone. It was also in the air longer than any other missile had been in there. And the North Koreans saying that this brings them very close to what they are calling nuclear completion.
The South Korean military responded immediately, as this launch happened, with what they call a precision missile strike. What was the purpose of that? It was a simulation. They hit the same target three times in the water to say to North Korea, "Look, if we have to, we can respond."
What is crucial here, though, is something that Alisyn mentioned, which was this heavy payload. They underscore that, the North Koreans, to say that, look, "We can miniaturize a nuclear warhead, and we may do that."
Our own Will Ripley who you know, you've spoken to many times, he's been to Pyongyang several times. A North Korean source telling him that, look, what will come next is an above-ground nuclear detonation. Many people wouldn't bet against that right now.
And this, as you can imagine, is an incredibly tense time on the ground here in South Korea. You know, they would prefer to see dialogue. They've got an Olympics, a winter games happening here in less than three months. They want to move more towards the negotiating table.
And in terms of those military options, Chris, we can say it altogether right now, like a chorus, there are no good military options -- Chris.
CUOMO: All right, Paula, appreciate it. If the missile can reach here, I'll take one for the team.
CAMEROTA: Thank you.
CUOMO: I hope it hits hits me. I will deflect it from hitting you. The loss to the nation would be too great.
CAMEROTA: You are Superman. It's true.
CUOMO: No, I think I'd just be missed less.
All right. So the president's response to this test is starkly different than this tough talk the last few months. Why? What's it about? The president calling the leaders of Japan and South Korea after this latest provocation. What do we know about the message?
CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with more -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. That's right.
The president did get on the phone with his counterparts in Japan, as well as South Korea to talk about the threat, the options what to do about this latest provocation.
But as you said, in many other ways, the president's public response to this is what you might call predictably unpredictable in that it was muted, understated, not anything like the rhetoric we've seen from President Trump when talking about North Korea in the recent past.
So let's just listen to what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As you probably have heard and some of you have reported, a missile was launched a while ago from North Korea. I will only tell you that we will take care of it. We have General Mattis in the room with us, and we've had a long discussion on it. It is a situation that we will handle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Now the president did use the situation in a tweet to talk about what he said was another reason why Congress and the White House must come together to get a funding bill to keep the government from shutting down.
This, interestingly, also comes not long after the president's huge trip to Asia, an opportunity he had there, and he used it to talk about the fact that the United States had done very well behind the scenes working on the North Korea threat. [06:05:09] Chris and Alisyn, back to you.
CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. Thank you very much.
Joining us now to discuss all of this, we have CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger; and CNN military analyst, Major General James "Spider" Marks. Gentlemen, great to have you here to walk us through all of this.
David, how does this test, this new test change the equation?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Only marginally but an important margin. So they've now demonstrated that they can cover the entire continental United States. We don't know what kind of payload was on it. You heard the discussion of whether it was a heavy payload, whether or not they can make a miniaturized weapon. That would affect the range. But the fact of the matter is, if they can't do it this year, they're going to do it next year or the year after.
They don't want to enter into any kind of negotiation or any kind of discussion with the United States until it's clear they've got all the capability they need and that it is irreversible. You can make countries give up some weapons. You can't make them give up the knowledge of how to go build them. And in this case, I doubt we're even going to get to the point of getting them to give up many of the weapons.
So then you have the question, can they be deterred conventionally the way we deterred the Soviet Union and then Russia many years? If not, what else does the president need to do? And why is it that a president who spoke about fire and fury and Little Rocket Man and made all those threats has decided, at least for now, not to take these launches out on the pad when...
CAMEROTA: Well, because it was a mobile unit. So we didn't -- correct me if I'm wrong, we don't know where to take it out.
SANGER: That's right. The mobile unit meant that we didn't have very much time. And they're doing this in a very smart way of rolling these things out at the last moment. There was a huge amount of chatter two or three days before this that led to a lot of people suspecting that there would be a launch. They only launch from a few places.
They're making it harder and harder for the U.S. to do a preemptive strike. And they're launching them closer to Pyongyang. And the message of that is "If you do a strike, you're going to kill a lot of people. and you're going to be the first ones to do it."
CUOMO: And this -- you know, you have the duration of about an hour when the president was informed and the military can act quickly. But I mean, look, let's put this in the same set of assumptions. So let's bring in the general here in terms of what can you do about it?
You see measured talk from the president of the United States. What does that reflect in your mind, General, in terms of what the possibilities are. And then we have Senator Graham, who says we're headed towards war and it's North Korea's fault. In terms of what the United States can do/should do about these launches, the military perspective, what can you tell us?
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What this really tells us is that the options that are available to the president, our president and our allies, has now narrowed.
In advance of what we've seen today, we have always had the option of trying to impose some form of economic sanctions, albeit we have a very checkered record in terms of success in that regard. We certainly have diplomatic options that are available. We could recognize Pyongyang. We could go forward to the U.N. in the conflict on the peninsula.
Bear in mind, it's still -- we're still at war on the peninsula. There's just an armistice.
All of those options now are essentially put on the back burner. Because by the time, as David indicated, by the time we were to impose options other than war, other than a military solution to try to correct this, the capability that the North would have would be a missile with a nuke that's weaponized and can reach the United States.
Now, whether they can increase the number in their arsenal, whether it's just a matter of building more, I don't know. But this capability certainly is critical in terms of our understanding, and the North wants to and will negotiate from a position of strength. They're not going to talk about anything else until they've achieved that position. But they can't go to war with this capability. They can't fight with this capability.
The United States can handle it. Sadly, the only way that we can handle it right now is, if we would choose that we're not going to live with a North Korea that has a nuke, is to take it out militarily. And we understand the down side of that.
CAMEROTA: So David, let's analyze the president's measured tone. Because there has to be a reason for it, since he hasn't exercised that in the past. So should we assume that there are back-channel diplomatic talks happening? I mean, is that why he would have a measured tone yesterday?
SANGER: Well, there have been back-channel efforts. And I was with Secretary Tillerson in China a few months ago where he said for the first time that he had two or three channels open. It was the first thing the president tweeted out, it was "Don't bother, Rex. These guys only understand one thing. You're wasting your time."
I think during the course of the trip and so forth, he's been persuaded that doing this as a one-on-one between him and Kim is really a dumb way to go about this. And he, I thought, yesterday had a very measured, almost Obama-like, you know, "We'll deal with it. We've got this under control." He was going out of his way to play it down. [06:10:18] And interestingly, it was Defense Secretary Mattis who
actually described that this was a significantly greater accomplishment on the part of the North Koreans.
CUOMO: Let's demonstrate the difference, the contrast between how the president used to discuss the stakes and now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
I will only tell you that we will take care of it. We have General Mattis in the room with us. We have had a long discussion on it. It is a situation that we will handle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Went from like you know, Queens, New York, to like, the queen of England in terms of its sophistication. Now General, does that reflect that, for all the talk and bravado, the military options are limited and very severe, and they would have severe implications, so the idea of going to them is something that you really have to be very reserved about?
MARKS: Yes, you know, Chris, that's right. It's almost like, "Hey, I'm walking here" to "Excuse me, I didn't mean to get in front of your cab."
That the United States can handle this situation. And they can handle it with allies. But the way that it can handle is a realization that the international community has to acknowledge and raise a hand and say, "We're not going to accept a nuclearized, weaponized North Korea."
The fact of the matter is, is North Korea has essentially reached that state. You can't put that genie back in the bottle. And oh, by the way, even if we were able to alter that, nuclearization -- and there is a market in terms of how that knowledge is transferred and moves around the world. So if North Korea were to lose it and agree to it, which they frankly are not going to do, they can always reopen that -- and get that genie back out of the bottle again.
The options right now to handle it are militarily. And those, as we've discussed, will include South Korea having to acknowledge that they're going to end up losing a lot of citizens, because they become a target immediately.
CAMEROTA: Wow. All right. Obviously, we will be following this throughout the program. General Marks, thank you very much. David Sanger, thank you for all the analysis.
CAMEROTA: So back here at home, President Trump reviving the conspiracy theory that he had already personally debunked, raising new questions about his own ability to tell the truth and realize the truth. We take a closer look at what's going on next.
[06:16:30] CUOMO: All right. As President Trump face's North Korea's nuclear threat, and working with world leaders on a solution, there are growing questions about his grasp of reality.
"The New York Times" reports the president is peddling conspiracy theories again, this time behind closed doors, once again casting doubt on the authenticity of former President Obama's birth certificate.
We're joined by CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza. Here is an excerpt from the "New York Times" piece for context: "In recent months, advisers say, Mr. Trump has used closed-door conversations to question the authenticity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate. One senator who listened as the president revived his doubts about Obama's birth certificate chuckled on Tuesday as he recalled the conversation. The president, he said, has had a hard time letting go of his claim that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States" -- Brownstein.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.
Look, state the obvious. It's a deeply disturbing report. It is an extension, I think, of what we have seen in public, where we have seen the president willing to say things that are flatly untrue on a regular basis, starting with the crowd at the inauguration.
And as troubling as the report about the president, I think, is the report about the reaction. The chuckle, I think, is very revealing there. Because Republicans essentially are trying as hard as they can to look the other way to ignore all of the questions that the president has engendered about his fitness for office, to try to pass this agenda, as we're seeing this week with the tax cut.
But I would just point out that, in the ABC/"Washington Post" poll a couple months ago, we're now to two-thirds from -- it was only 60 percent. We're now at two-thirds of Americans say they do not believe he has the temperament and judgment to seven effectively as president. And as we saw in Virginia, voters who were dissatisfied with the president have been willing to take that out on other Republicans.
So they may think that they are kind of strengthening themselves by trying to avoid all of these issues and still kind of keep their head down and advance the agenda. But ultimately, if they are seen as not providing a reasonable check on a president that many Americans have doubts about, I think that will bite them in 2018.
CAMEROTA: Chris, just to recount for everyone what the president has said about these conspiracy theories. I mean, the beginning of the birther thing that he really brought to light. You know, he made it sort of in the foreground to how he has worked his way, it appears, back in a circle to this. So listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So he could have been born in Kenya and gone over to the United States, and everybody wants to be a U.S. citizen.
PIERS MORGAN, BRITISH JOURNALIST: Do you accept that what he produced is valid?
TRUMP: I don't necessarily.
MORGAN: But do you believe he probably was born in America?
TRUMP: I'd say he might have been.
Do you know who questioned his birth certificate, one of the first? Hillary Clinton. You do know that, don't you?
President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.
I think I did a great job and a great service not only for the country but even for the president in getting him to produce his birth certificate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary Clinton.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: OK. So he had worked his way around to saying he was born here, period. You know he never said he was wrong, that Donald Trump himself was wrong. But now since is the inauguration, behind the scenes he's reneging on that.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. He only did -- he made that -- I remember when he made that statement, the middle of September last year.
[06:20:05] The reason was, Alisyn, is he was coming under huge pressure, because it became an issue. Like this guy has a legitimate chance to be president of the United States. Shouldn't -- shouldn't we raise this question and get a real answer to it? He then gave that response.
That response was 100 percent political. I don't think -- I remember watching it. It was very clear to me that Donald Trump was reading the words someone told him to read, which he doesn't do all that often, candidly.
But he doesn't like being wrong. He is convinced he is not wrong. You couple that with the fact that this is someone who, for his entire adult life, has been telling himself the story of himself, right? Donald Trump tells the story of Donald Trump every day to anyone who will listen. And that story is that he's winning all the time, that everyone else is weak, that he was always proven right, that the phones in the Trump Tower were wire tapped, that there were Muslims celebrating on 9-11, that Ted Cruz's father may or may not have been involved in the assassination of JFK. I mean, there's...
CAMEROTA: Go on.
CUOMO: Please don't.
CILLIZZA: That's -- right, that's the point here. Is this is not inconsistent with who he is. In fact, it is entirely consistent with who he is. We shouldn't be surprised. As surprising as it is that he holds these views, we shouldn't be surprised. Because everything we know about him would suggest he is trying to re-litigate not just the "Access Hollywood" tape but now also president -- excuse me, President Obama's birth certificate.
BROWNSTEIN: And it's not just -- it's not just -- I think it's not just his sense of self, right, that we're talking about here. We're talking about a larger political project, which is about delegitimizing sources of information that he thinks can hurt him.
You know, there have been polls showing what percentage of Trump voters in Alabama believe the allegations against Roy Moore, you know, being very low. And I think that the president, I think, is -- there is no foundation that is fixed enough that he doesn't want to destabilize it. In terms of something like the "Access Hollywood" video. And it is basically you can see over and over how, on matters of public policy, not just things relating to his personal history, he is essentially arguing for a set of facts that have no connection, no support in reality. And I think that every time he pulls down a pillar of something -- of something people think they believe, he makes it easier to do it again the next time.
CUOMO: You said that the chuckle drew your eye.
CUOMO: The fact that they're in private drew my eye. Here's why. It's one thing when he projects a message onto the base or to the American people. You get that. And I think it winds up checking a lot of the box of politics and what he thinks works in terms of persuasion.
In private, I think, it is a much more acute sense of where his head is. And he is now on the phone with China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, trying to create an alliance to stop a mad man who is launching as many missiles as he can.
I wonder if, Chris Cillizza, this doesn't wind up coloring the perception of his authority with people. If you know he's talking crazy about things that many might dismiss as small. Who cares about the "Access Hollywood" tape? Who cares about the birther thing? It's so absurd. But if you're on the phone with the man and you don't know him and you have to negotiate these types of very sensitive and profound issues, how can it not affect your take on his judgment?
CILLIZZA: Absolutely. And his unpredictability. And if what he says he means. I think the reason he's saying these things in private, Chris, is because he believes them. CUOMO: That's my point. So that when you find out that he's saying
these things in private...
CUOMO: ... and it's not done just to embarrass an Alisyn or a Chris or galvanize his base, it's much more worrisome, isn't it?
CILLIZZA: Yes. Absolutely. I thought two things. One, the "New York Times" report last night that he is telling a United States senator this about the birther thing and then on the "Access Hollywood" tape that he had also told -- we don't know if it's the same or a different U.S. senator.
Can you imagine how a United States senator is receiving that information? The chuckle, I would hope, is a nervous laugh, and an "Oh, gosh, I can't believe this is happening." But...
CUOMO: Or choking on his conscience.
CILLIZZA: I mean, the fact is he believes that it's not just that he thinks these things. It's that he believes them to the extent that he is willing to spread them around in private conversations with senior other elected officials. That to me speaks to it's not a political play.
I think we have a tendency to see everything he does as "Well, it's just some genius strategy that we can't see." It's just him saying stuff. I mean, I really believe that.
BROWNSTEIN: I don't agree with that. I think it is an effort to -- I think it is an effort to kind of undermine the basic concept of truth.
But beyond that, I think that you see this week how difficult it is for Republican senators who have raised concerns about President Trump's temperament to find some way to deal with it.
[06:25:07] Because all the ones who have done so -- Corker, Flake, Sasse, et cetera, McCain -- they may be all poised to, nonetheless, vote with the president on what has been the lifeline for the first year of his presidency. They do not have an effect. They have not been willing to bite the bullet and impose any consequences on the president to enforce the judgments that they are -- you know, Jeff Flake gives a lot of speeches, but he gives his votes to the president when he needs them. So what does that mean? How -- how do these concerns manifest in any tangible way?
CAMEROTA: Ron Brownstein, Chris Cillizza, thank you.
CUOMO: All right. We're talking about the GOP tax bill. And to be clear, the president got some good news on its progress. It made it out of committee. Now that just means that it's going to get a real- deal vote on the floor. Can the Republican leadership get the votes they need? Not so simple. We'll explain next.