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President Trump Tweets about Iran Protest and Pakistan; Twelve Killed in Anti-Government Violence in Iran; Kim Jong-un Says Nuclear Button Always on His Desk; Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 1, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:15] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning, everyone. And Happy 2018 to you. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. John Berman has the morning off, deservedly so.

It is the first day of the New Year and the last day of the president's holiday in Mar-a-Lago. He is due back in Washington tonight with spending bills, immigration, trade battles all on the front burner and Iran very much front of mind for this president.

This morning he writes, quote, "Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food and freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. Time for change."

Let's go to Sara Murray. She's in West Palm Beach where the president is enjoying the final few hours of this working vacation.

So many messages from him on Iran yesterday during these protests, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. You know, look, as you said the president is on vacation for a few more hours before he heads back to Washington, D.C., but it's clear that at least today and last night foreign policy has been the top of his mind. You saw his tweets this morning on Iran and then last night he was asked about North Korea and Kim Jong-un's nuclear threats.

The only thing the president said about that, though, is we'll see, as he was headed into a New Year's Eve celebration. And that's of course fitting with this president. He likes to keep any of his foreign policy plans pretty close to the vest. He has said time and time again that he prefers to be unpredictable -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And what is also a bit -- you know, at least a bit unknown what he means this morning is what he just wrote on Twitter about Pakistan. He's taking to Twitter. He's writing about Pakistan. Pakistan is responding. Do we know where this came from?

MURRAY: That's right. He's been very critical about Pakistan this morning. I want to read you the tweet. He said, "The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan with little help. No more."

And Pakistan's Foreign minister has already tweeted out that they will have a response for President Trump shortly. But it's unclear exactly what prompted this. And this is a sharp departure from the president's rhetoric on Pakistan just a couple of weeks ago when he was saying publicly that he thinks that Pakistan has now suddenly begun to respect the United States more than it used to. So obviously his view on that has changed rapidly. Unpredictable indeed -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And we'll see how Pakistan's Foreign minister responds. He said that response is coming any moment.

Sara Murray in Florida for us, thank you very much.

Iran's president meantime issues a warning to his own people about those anti-government protests as they've grown more deadly. State- run media now reports at least 12 people have died since the demonstrations first began on Thursday. In a national address last night, President Hassan Rouhani says anyone committing violence will, in his words, "pay the price."

Our Arwa Damon is following all of the developments for us this morning.

Arwa, huge protests on the streets. President Trump, as Sara just outlined, responding to them many times over. What is Rouhani saying?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is warning against chaos. He is saying that those elements, those individuals who are taking to the streets, who are trying to not necessarily just express their opinion, but also carry out acts of violence, civil disobedience, they will be dealt with. But at the same time President Rouhani is acknowledging a reality. He is acknowledging that people have legitimate grievances when it comes to the economy.

He is acknowledging that they have a right to go out and express those grievances, but at the same time, he is also going a bit further and alluding to something that he says is the ploy of foreign agents. He had some very harsh rhetoric directed towards the United States, directed towards President Trump.

What's interesting to a certain degree about these demonstrations that we're seeing throughout the entire country is not necessarily their size, but it's how widespread they are and there isn't a real leader. There isn't a real group that is in charge of all of this, and there aren't real demands. We know that people are upset about the economic downturn, the rising food and fuel prices we've been hearing chants especially over the last few days such as "death to the dictator" and "we don't want an Islamic republic."

We're hearing something from some of the protesters that is actually quite rare and that is calling for the supreme leader to step down, but at the end of the day, it's unclear exactly what it is that these protesters want or if there is in fact even a single demand -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Indeed. Arwa, reporting for us on that. Please keep us posted. Thank you so much.

[09:05:03] This morning we're also getting very mixed messages from North Korea. North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un stating in this end-of- the-year address, "The entire continent of America is within reach of our nuclear attack. They must never forget the nuclear button is placed on my desk at all times." At the same time, he went on to say that he would only use nuclear weapons if North Korea is threatened, adding, quote, he does not intend to use nuclear powers.

Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us this morning.

And, Barbara, I am so glad you don't have this holiday off because we have so much to get through here. I mean, reading these messages as they were coming through last night, it's bizarre. It's perplexing. How are U.S. officials taking it?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they're always very careful about trying to read too much into anything Kim Jong-un says because the most predictable thing about him is his unpredictability, isn't it? I mean, he says these things and nobody's really quite sure what he means. I think that nuclear button comment is really fascinating because he travels around the country, so wherever that button may be on whatever desk it's on, it would indicate that maybe he's not always with it, in the same exact location.

Now, of course, let's just compare for one second the president of the United States always travels always with military personnel in reach that can provide him with the nuclear launch codes. It's essential to U.S. nuclear security. If Kim really just has a button on his desk, it suggests something very different in North Korea. I think he's probably taking a little license there with his language.

Every indication that he would maintain very strict control over his nuclear launch capability or at least one can only hope so. So you look at all of this and you have to sort of take it with a grain of salt. He's making a lot of statements. He is using his usual bellicose language. I don't think we go into 2018 perhaps any different than we left 2017.

HARLOW: I mean, he did call on his nation to ramp up the development of these ballistic missiles, of nuclear warheads, et cetera, while at the same time prefacing that by saying, you know, but I won't use anything unless I am threatened. Why?

STARR: Right. So what's the threat?


STARR: I think U.S. intelligence would always tell you that he feels his biggest threat would be a threat to his regime, a threat to his family, a threat to him remaining in power. Not even necessarily the United States. He's pretty savvy of the theory goes about keeping an eye on what the U.S. may be up to, but if he feels that his regime is threatened, the thinking is that is the thing that would make him lash out. So that would kind of be the first thing to watch. Does he feel a

threat to his regime either from the U.S., South Korea or from even inside the country. Yes, he's going to continue in 2018 to keep working on his missile and warhead and nuclear program, continue testing all of that. He's making some statements that the program is complete, that the program is in place, but U.S. intelligence would tell you that he still has a way to go after this whole long list of missile launches over the last many months.

He still has a very long way to go to ensuring that he can deliver a weapon to a target with precision. Now that's a Western way of approaching it. For Kim, it may be good enough just to know that he can launch something and hope to hit something. That's a very unsettling prospect for the U.S.

HARLOW: Indeed it is. As we enter the new year with this very much still front of mind for many Americans and for this administration.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Happy New Year and thank you.

STARR: Happy New Year.

HARLOW: All right. Let's bring in our analyst, CNN global affairs analyst David Rohde is here and our military analyst, Mark Hertling, retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army.

Gentlemen, nice to have you both here. Let's begin with Iran because this is, I mean, you know, front and center right now as well as North Korea.

David, to you. The president of Iran points his finger, Rouhani is pointing his finger at outside forces, namely the United States, one would imagine, and saying, quote, "Our progress and development has angered our enemies," but he's also conceding, look, there are issues here, there is real economic pain you're feeling. You've got 13 percent unemployment in Iran, you've got measures that have been put in place that's going to make fuel a lot more expensive, food a lot more expensive. How significant are these protests, David?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think they're quite significant. As Arwa said, what's most interesting is how many place this is occurring. It's in cities across the country. It doesn't appear to be a single leader, and I think it shows the economic pressure that the Iranian people are under.

I think this is a very large challenge for Rouhani particular he's trying to balance himself, he's trying to portray himself as more moderate. You know, is he actually going to deliver for the people that elected him president of Iran?

[09:10:04] HARLOW: One of the interesting things is, you know, whether or not -- one of the interesting arguments, General Hertling, is whether or not this bolsters the Trump administration's push to pull the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal. If you ask Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who's a big Iran hawk, who wants us out of that deal, here's how he put it yesterday on "Face the Nation." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The Iranians are watching us and North Korea. North Korea is watching us in Iran. Now the Iranians are watching the way he engages with North Korea and vice versa. So we've got a chance here to deliver some fatal blows to really bad actors in 2018 but if we blink, God help us all.


HARLOW: What do you make of that assessment?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm not in agreement with Senator Graham on this, Poppy, and primarily because this is principally started out as an economic revolt in Iran, but now it's geared more toward freedom and oppression. The people are rising up against what they see as a pushdown of -- certainly gathering strength based on mob violence and what they're getting in terms of the revolt, but to say that these are going to connect, I don't agree with it.

There are connections certainly between Iran and North Korea. They have exchanged insights on missile programs. So, yes, there certainly could be a requirement for solid and stable foreign policy in this regard. But I think it's interesting that the administration is bolstering the revolt, and at the same time banning the citizens from coming into the United States. So it seems to be a little bit of a two-edged sword and I don't agree with Senator Graham and the things he's saying.

We can certainly have some strategy which affects North Korea and Iran, if we play this smart, but right now they seem to be a little bit disjointed.

HARLOW: Well, David, I think the argument that Senator Graham is making partly overall is that Iran is watching to see if the U.S. acts on North Korea, and North Korea is watching to see if the U.S. acts on Iran. And the argument being made elsewhere in that interview by Senator Lindsey Graham, David, is that look, the Trump administration can use these protests to argue that the -- what they would see as leniency because of the Iran nuclear deal economically and the lifting of those sanctions of that money coming in to Iran has not trickled down to the people.

Fair argument?

ROHDE: Yes, but the problem with the logic of what Senator Graham is saying and the White House is saying is that President Trump is enormously unpopular inside Iran and inside North Korea. All the rhetoric, all the talk of war, all the talk of invasions actually, you know, hurts the possibilities for change. It's sort of like the Russian or Chinese government sort of cheering on protests against police violence in the United States.

These are domestic, you know, protests. They're not -- you know, the United States doesn't help by creating an opportunity for all these protesters to be seen as American agents. So this bellicose rhetoric of the U.S. particularly in the case of Iran I don't think helps change there. The goal of the Iran nuclear deal was to incorporate Iran more economically with the region.

HARLOW: Right.

ROHDE: And to get average Iranians to want a better life. That's actually happening.

HARLOW: General, to you. On North Korea, this has certainly made headlines when he said it yesterday and continues to this morning, the former Joint Chiefs chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen. Here's what he said on the prospect of U.S. war with North Korea. Listen.


ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We're actually closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea, and in that region than we've ever been, and I just don't see how -- I don't see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point.


HARLOW: General, that is a sober assessment. How do you see it?

HERTLING: I agree partially with Admiral Mullen. He's got a very good finger on this particular issue but I would say there is still the potential for solving this diplomatically. What we're seeing is hyperbole on both sides. Barbara Starr covered it quite well when she said, you know, there's a disconnect between what the North Koreans say they potentially could do and what Kim Jong-un could possibly do.

It certainly doesn't match up. They are certainly a nuclear power but they don't have the capability to launch those missiles yet but they're getting there. So I think there is quite a bit of time left. And one of the things that is continuing on reading Admiral Mullen's statements from his State of the Union address was the fact that he also talked about the potential for misguided or unintentional actions.

And I think that's one of the biggest challenges we see. It's very easy, as many people have said in the past, to get into a war, but the policymakers and the military officials should really be judging more what would it take to get out of it and what are the effects. What does this look like, if it happens, and another war on the Korean Peninsula would be catastrophic in terms of not only the region but also loss of life. I think that has to be considered and diplomacy needs to continue to be applied.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: General Hertling, thanks very much. David Rohde, thank you. Happy New Year, guys.

Ahead, defining month for the president as he gears up to push an aggressive agenda forward. His former chief of staff, Steve Bannon says January is his best chance to make good on those big campaign promises. Also, an ambush overnight in Colorado, one deputy killed, several wounded after a man fires more than 100 rounds from his apartment widow. New details this morning.

And ten Americans killed on a plane in Costa Rica including a family of five from New York.


HARLOW: Nineteen days left in President Trump's first year in office, as he heads into the new year with a packed agenda from hopes of an infrastructure deal to maybe, just maybe something on health care. The Russia investigation continues to loom large overall.

Let's discuss with CNN political analysts, Julian Zelizer and Amie Parnes, and Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of "The Chicago Sun Times." Thank you for all being here. No one looks hungover or particularly tired. So, we appreciate that.

[09:20:12] Amie, let me begin with you. I mean, the president does have big plans for 2018 as I just outlined. He comes in with a big win legislatively for Republicans on tax reform. But the drip, drip, drip of Russia, huge "New York Times" piece this weekend on George Papadopoulos, someone in the campaign called the coffee boy.

Actually, turns out he was very involved with the campaign on some foreign policy issue namely on Russia and the back story about how this dossier came to the attention of the FBI. He's in the middle of all of it. How does that weigh in on the president's goals?

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It does because the entire -- all of 2017 it kind of hung over his White House, and he was able to score a win at the end of 2017, but there are constant questions. Every time the press saw him we were constantly asking him about it.

I think he goes into that. He has a huge legislative agenda, 2018 midterms hanging over. They want to continue to move off that momentum and continue to score legislatively but it's going to be hard, further indictments may be coming down the line, and also interview probably with Mueller's team, all things coming in the weeks and months ahead.

HARLOW: Lynn, the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, speaking, a fascinating interview and he talked about why this month, why January is so big for the president, from deciding how hard he's going to go on China, is he going to slap tariffs on China.

You know, how hard is he really going to press on trade, what's he going to do on DACA, is he going to hold Democrats feet to the fire and say if you don't fund a border wall, I'm not budging. A lot else for him, right, infrastructure, et cetera. Bannon says this is make or break. Do you think this month is make or break?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": No, I don't. We get a little too dramatic sometimes in Washington, like this is the day! This is the vote! And it's just not always true. This is an unfolding story, because, one, there's unknown factors that happen all the time.

We've seen that last year. No one predicted the hurricanes and the devastation left behind that that would be something that President Trump would have to grapple with. So that aside of the things -- no, the only thing right now with a deadline looming, and with a real-life consequence every day, is the situation dealing with DACA, which impacts the category of people in the United States, youth in the country, illegally, through no fault of their own, they're called DREAMers.

Every day they're threatened with deportation and the protections they may have may soon disappear under the revocation of the Obama orders that Trump has signed.

HARLOW: Right.

SWEET: So, that's what matters, and infrastructure bill is nice, but you can impose artificial deadlines, but in terms of make or break, so it slaps over into February. It doesn't matter.

HARLOW: It's a good point. I mean, they have until March to act on DACA, and a lot of folks, you know, from both parties want to come to some decision on this.

SWEET: Absolutely, that is a real deadline.

HARLOW: But Julian, to you, Bannon also said in the interview, talked about in the interview and we know from the Axios reporting that he's demanding of the president if the president listens on DACA not to budge unless he gets some action and some support in Congress on ending family migration or the president calls chain migration.

And this is what allows green cardholders to bring family members over to the U.S. more easily in front of other people who are in line to come to the United States from other countries. Politically will that fly?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Because I think the president is thinking of another deadline. For him the deadline of the year is November, midterm elections. If some kind of deal is made and every kind of deal over the coming year will always have an eye toward that midterm and to just concede to Democrats on DACA will not play politically. He needs something --

HARLOW: Really?


HARLOW: I mean, you have 83 percent of Americans who want a deal on DACA done. That's not just Democrats.

ZELIZER: He doesn't care about the 83 percent. He cares about that base. He wants them to turn out in the midterms and he needs some kind of evidence that he's still fulfilling that goal.

HARLOW: But Amie, he also wants Republicans to maintain control of the House and the Senate.

PARNES: He does.

HARLOW: I mean, especially the House for him in terms of the chatter about potential -- you know, some Democrats talking about potential articles of impeachment. So, doesn't he need some sort of movement on DACA?

PARNES: He does. I think he'll try to work with Democrats on it, but they don't want to give him a win especially going into 2018. They're standing pretty hard on this. They really want to win back the House and Senate, and the people I've spoken to are kind of standing firm on that. They really don't want to make him look good this year at all. So, I think that's going to be interesting to watch.

HARLOW: Although we have Representative Debbie Dingell from Michigan, a Democrat coming on the show a little bit later and she wants to work with the president. So, maybe she's a standout. Interesting interview with John Kelly, the chief of staff, he rarely gives interviews.

[09:25:09] He talks to Peter Baker in the "New York Times," Lynn, and let me read you part of what he said "The norms and conventions are exactly what he, the president, ran against and in his view are why we're in this fix. He doesn't intentionally make decisions that are opposite, say of what a previous president would make. He's got a view of what's better for America." What was your takeaway from this?

SWEET: My takeaway is it struck me as disingenuous because every other statement, let me put it more totally. It seems that President Trump is fairly consumed with undoing whatever President Obama did. Just look at how he frames his decisions. He doesn't say here's a policy and here's why I'm executing it.

Here's how I'm fixing a disastrous Obama policy. If that's what he really means to do, then maybe Chief of Staff Kelly is saying it in a smarter, more cogent way than the president is because look at the vehemence that Trump has when he writes about the former president in his tweets and what he says. That doesn't square with what he told the "New York Times."

HARLOW: Let's talk about the attacks on Special Counsel Bob Mueller because as Amie noted we know that this investigation continuous and what is ahead is what we don't know. Julian, the former head of the FBI, James Comey, writing "Here's to hoping 2018 brings more ethical leadership focused on truth and lasting values."

Read that how you'd like. There is interesting analysis in the "New York Times" about how it is, well it's created a rift, we know, in the Republican Party. Some Republicans say stop attacking Mueller. This guy has an impeccable record. Other Republicans say this is a witch hunt. This is a hoax, et cetera, et cetera.

But the analysis that struck me is the argument that this could recast Democrats as the true friends of law enforcement, not Republicans, for a long time to come. How risky is this for the Republican Party right now to continue these sustained attacks on Mueller?

ZELIZER: I think it's risky for congressional Republicans and potential candidates for the presidency down the line. The Republicans have really tried to capitalize on the law and order idea, and slogan, and here you have a president who, from day one, has been doing a lot to often discredit intelligence and law and order, law enforcement institutions, and with the Mueller attacks really going full throated against that, so there are some Republicans who will back away.

Others, though, have participated, and are OK with this, because rather than trying to fire Mueller, there seems to be an agenda to discredit him. So, when this comes to Congress, if it comes to Congress, people won't really have belief in the report.

HARLOW: Amie, don't you think that Democrats also have to be really careful about focusing too much on the Russia investigation, heading into the midterms? Because it's hard to run on an anti-platform.

PARNES: Right.

HARLOW: It's hard to run -- some argue the president ran on that but to run on Russia, Russia, Russia, and Trump, Trump, Trump, and all the things they deem as bad instead of running on an actual platform.

PARNES: Right. I've written extensively about this. They're trying to find a leader, trying to find a message. They haven't been able to find one yet. They've been kind of successful on the anti-Trump thing, but I think coming out of Alabama, they learned that you have to find the right candidate.

You have to have a good message. The candidate has to connect with the electorate, and so I think they're going to try to kind of formulate that a little bit better and they're going to push back on taxes and say look what he did to Obamacare and the mandate and I think they're trying to find their way there and they'll take some of his policies and spin it their way to kind of formulate that message.

HARLOW: We'll see if it works. Thank you, guys. Nice to see you. Happy New Year, Julian, Lynn And Amie.

A Colorado sheriff's deputy dead after a gunman ambushes several officers last night. Next what the gunman's roommate told deputies hours before the shooter opened fire. Stay with us.