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Trump Mocks Kim Jon-un, Says My Nuclear Button Is Bigger; Fusion GPS, Russia Dossier Corroborated By Someone In Trump Camp; Trump Urges Justice Department To Act On Comey And Ex-Clinton Aide; Firm Behind Trump/Russia Dossier Speaks Out; Fusion GPS Founders Say Russia Dossier Evidence Raised About Money Laundering; Trump's Tweeter Tirade. Aired 11-12mn ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 23:00   ET


[23:00:10] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN TRUMP, ONE YEAR LATER SPECIAL REPORT: This Trump, One Year Later, a CNN special report. After 348 volatile days in office, President Trump kicking off 2018 by lobbing twitter grenades right into global hotspots including nuclear armed North Korea. I'm Jim Sciutto.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN TRUMP, ONE YEAR LATER SPECIAL REPORT: I'm Pamela Brown. The President is also fanning fears of interference in the Russia investigation. We're covering it all this hour. Breaking tonight, the President is mocking the threat of a nuclear war with North Korea. In a stunning new tweet, he boasts that his nuclear button missing with is bigger and more powerful than the one Kim Jong- un claims to have on his desk. And Mr. Trump says his button works. Also breaking, the founders of fusion GPS who commissioned the infamous Russia dossier, they say they were shocked by evidence in the dossier of extensive and dubious ties between the Trump camp and Russia that raised questions about money laundering.

They say the dossier was taken so seriously, because it was supported by information from someone inside the Trump camp who was apparently working with the FBI. This as the White House is defending the President's claim of a, quote, deep state conspiracy against him right inside his own Justice Department. Mr. Trump is slamming Justice Department officials for not taking action against former FBI Director James Comey or former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, the president is suggesting Abedin belongs in jail. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Thank you so much Pamela. We're joined now by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, thank you for taking the time tonight. Among many tweets today, the President's tweet on North Korea bears repeating. I would read it again here, "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and food starve regime please inform him that I too have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his and my button works," exclamation point. General Clapper, beyond the colorful language once gain in the tweet here, is the President of the United States making a nuclear threat to North Korea?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: I think he is. And I just think it's very disturbing. In one sense it would be amusing if it weren't for the gravity of the subject. When we're casually back and forth, by whatever means, kind of dueling banjo, who has the biggest male appendage, it's almost a manhood thing, when there are potentially millions of lives at stake, an untold death and destruction here. And to me it's very disturbing.

The figure that Kim Jong-un uses, he has a button on his desk, I take that not literally. But the problem is that by whatever means that he calls out his strategic forces to launch missiles, he doesn't have anybody to push back, unlike President Trump. I find that very disturbing. Certainly no one in the White House knows, what Kim Jong- un's ignition point is. Where one of these tweets is going to set him off and he is going to hit that button. And there are, as I said, all he has surrounding him are sycophants, yes men who spend all their time dutifully writing down his every utterance in their notebooks.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this question. What is your level of confidence in the advisers around the President, not just their qualifications but their ability to hold back the President's impulses on something like this?

CLAPPER: Well, I have put a lot of faith and trust in the likes of Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillerson, General McMaster, General Kelly, who I hope and trust would be a restraining influence, should the President act impetuously on something as serious as this.

SCIUTTO: I was able to reach out to people inside the relevant departments including the defense department tonight, and I heard genuine concern. It's not the first concern that I've heard from people involved in U.S. Defense policy. But particularly tonight, one saying that the President has effectively closed the door on diplomacy here, another saying he is itching for a fight. I wonder if you find that kind of a concern with basis.

CLAPPER: I do. I think what heightens that concern is the fact that people in the Pentagon, in the know, who are in the government, in which I am not, have that concern. That is very worrisome.

[23:05:00] SCIUTTO: You have been in North Korea in 2014, negotiating the release of American hostages there. You had some uncomfortable conversations at the time with North Korean officials.


SCIUTTO: I wonder tonight based on your work as a former director of national intelligence, those interactions on how are North Korean officials receiving this Presidential statement. We should be clear, this is a Presidential statement. How are they receiving this tonight?

CLAPPER: This was over three years ago, and I was struck by the overwhelming sense of paranoia and the siege mentality that pervades certainly the North Korean elite, the regime leadership. And so, you know, I can only imagine what we're seeing now with these tweets just heightens that paranoia and that siege mentality. That is why I worry about Kim Jong-un just going to that button. BROWN: And exactly, you know, one year ago today, let's look back at

what President Trump tweeted. He said, "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen." Ok. If you look back after that tweet, North Korea has conducted 25 missile or nuclear tests, CNN is reporting another test could happen as early as this week. Director Clapper, if you were in this administration, if you were advising this administration, what would you tell them to do right now?

CLAPPER: Well, for one, I think he is fallen into the same trap as previous administrations have, where we huff and we puff but we never blow the house down, because people realize what the implications of doing that are. So I would temper, and it's kind of late now, cooling the rhetoric. I still like what Secretary Jim Mattis did, six or eight missile tests ago, where he simply said, we note the North Koreans have launched a missile, we have nothing further to say. I think this is one case where the less said, the better. This is certainly no way to encourage any diplomacy or negotiation, which there is no other way out of this situation, there's no other option but that. I wish the tweets he has used could, for example, could encouragement of dialogue between the north and the south. That would be a great way to relieve tension. And I wish he would use the power of those tweets. And they are powerful for a purpose like that.

BROWN: But clearly he is just ratcheting up the rhetoric, and you have to wonder, I would like to hear from you, based on this tweet tonight, what is the threat to national security? Do you think it's changed because of this tweet?

CLAPPER: I'm inclined to agree with former chairman Mike Mullen, who said we're probably closer to some sort of an encounter, military encounter with the North Koreans than we have been for some time.

BROWN: Because the tweets like this?

CLAPPER: Because of statements like that. Having said this, being very old, I was around in 1976 for the tree cutting incident, where North Korean soldiers came into the DNC and killed two of our shoulder soldiers with axes. I was a young staff officer at the Pacific Command headquarters at the time. And the sense of imminence of war was more palpable then than it is today. The problem today is mostly rhetorical rather than physical, which it was then. That is a concern, because if we're not careful, we'll talk ourselves into a very serious confrontation.

SCIUTTO: I don't want to over or underestimate the risk. Because the President has made outlandish claims and threats via twitter and elsewhere before, particularly to North Korea. As you said, this is a paranoid regime, they're worried about their own survival.

CLAPPER: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Is the concern that the words of the President could lead to a miscalculation on the part of North Korea? CLAPPER: That is precisely what I meant by backing ourselves into a

rhetorical trap here where there's no other option but the war. This would be cataclysmic. I mean the death and destruction that would accrue, the fire and fury wouldn't be just limited to North Korea. It would be a terrible circumstance in the south. And I have to think, having spent time in the Republican of Korea, what is going through the minds of South Koreans when they see this back and forth between Kim Jong-un and our President over something of this magnitude.

BROWN: And in a case like this, it's almost as though he is taunting him to press the nuclear button, saying, hey, mine works, by the way.

[23:10:04] SCIUTTO: Exactly, which is not what you necessarily want two nuclear armed powers to do. Just tonight, a new op-ed in "The New York Times" by the founders of the fusion GPS, the firm that did the Russia dossier, defending the dossier. They wrote, we told the senate judiciary committee in August that our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously, because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources including one inside the Trump camp. This of course according to FBI here, was there a source for the investigation inside the Trump camp?

CLAPPER: That is new to me, I hadn't heard that when I left a year ago. Our issue with the dossier is we could not, in the time we had, in a month, to do the intelligence assessment that we finished in January, did not have time to verify or validate the second, third order sources that were used to compile the 17 documents in the dossier. That is not to say they weren't valid. Just that we couldn't do that. So as a consequence, we did not include the dossier as an organic part of the intelligence community assessment that we rendered about Russian interference in which we had very high confidence. Even then, there were some things in the dosser that were corroborated in our report, notably the intense animus that President Putin has personally for Hillary Clinton, and their determination that they wanted Trump to win the election.

So there are things in those 17 documents that were corroborated separately, with high confidence in the intelligence community assessment. But not all of it.

BROWN: And was it corroborated before or after, in other words did you already have some of this information, then you received the dossier, you thought, oh, well, this corroborates what we already have?

CLAPPER: Exactly, Pam. That is kind of the sequence. I personally didn't learn about the dossier, I'm late to this movie, until about the second week of December, is when I first even knew about it. It was around, it had been for some time before that.

SCIUTTO: The President likes to say, as do his most ardent supporters, to describe it as the now-debunked dossier, to dismiss it, in effect. For our viewers who might not be following the Russia investigation day to day, is that a true statement?

CLAPPER: No, it's not. Some has been corroborated. And some of it has not been. That is kind of where things were left when I left the government on the 25th of January.

SCIUTTO: To be clear, the dossier was not the seed that launched the entire investigation.


SCIUTTO: Counterintelligence investigation.

CLAPPER: No. There were other factors that I think were the stimulus for the investigation and the revelation about George Papadopoulos, which was not a name on my radar scope when I left, may I think also was another factor. I don't think there was one thing that individually prompted the --

SCIUTTO: And that is a claim that is gotten a life of its own, it's repeated by the President, repeated by his supporters as fact when in fact we are hearing from the man who led the intelligence agencies says it's not a fact.

BROWN: I know you may not be able to answer this but I'll ask anyway. You mentioned his personal animus towards Hillary Clinton. Is there anything you can shed light on in terms of what else has been corroborated?

CLAPPER: That animus, and the determination of clearly favoring, as a consequence, favoring Trump to win the presidency.

SCIUTTO: Fascinating interview, Director Clapper, thanks very much, both on the Russia issue and on the North Korea issue.

Coming up, what prompted the President's boastful tweet about his nuclear button? More, much more, in our special report just after this.


[23:17:37] BROWN: We're following breaking news tonight. The President is shattering just about every diplomatic norm imaginable in a series of twitter attacks, including a stunning boast of his nuclear button is bigger and her more powerful than Kim Jong-un's. Let us bring in our experts right now, I am going to you first Admiral Kirby. You heard Director Clapper say that tweets like the President put out tonight moves us closer to war. Your reaction?

JOHN KIRBY, MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST, CNN: I couldn't agree more with Director Clapper about that. He hit it on the hid about the risk of miscalculation. In foreign policy, clarity and credibility are everything. It's hard to get clarity and credibility in a tweet, as blunt as the President is, you don't know how these words will be misinterpreted overseas. We don't know how Kim Jong-un's decision making apparatus is constructed. Tweeting like this with the bellicosity and threats could lead us to misinformation or wrong assumptions and lead to us war.

BROWN: And we know that Kim Jong-un is someone who wants to stay in power and his image is very important to him. A tweet like that taunting him, hey, my nuclear button works, yours doesn't, will provoke him to act and say.

KIRBY: I think it's an excellent question. I think we need to remember that Kim Jong-un and the North Korean establishment views, to the best of our knowledge, views United States as an threat as a nation state that is designed to wipe them off the face of the map. So when they hear those things, we might think that is just Trump being blunt or Trump being Trump. To them, they most likely hear that as a no-kidding direct overt threat to their very existence. Again, that does nothing to de-escalate the tension. It closes down maneuvering space, Kim Jong-un's maneuver space but also Donald Trump's maneuver space.

SCIUTTO: You worked inside the Bush administration and also the Trump administration early on. When I hear from people inside the relevant departments here, in this case the defense department, talking about a President itching for war, closing the door to diplomacy, those are not normally folks who panic at a Presidential tweet. The fact is here is the President making an official statement via twitter, in effect a nuclear threat here. How consequential do you think this is?

[23:20:11] CHRISTIAN WHITON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISER: It's a consequential but not in the way that some people are afraid of. It's not actually escalating toward nuclear war. I would pay more attention to what foreign leaders are taking from this, and they see a President who is reacting incidentally to a threat of nuclear war that was started by North Korea. It was North Korea threatening South Korea, our treaty ally where we have 25,000 troops and tens of thousands of American citizens and reacting to that. And approaching this different league in the last several administrations who followed all the rules, performed all the diplomatic niceties and gotten nothing.

SCIUTTO: We're not talking about rules for the sake of rules. We're talking about rules designed by multiple administrations, Democrat and Republican, to avoid a war, right? The rules aren't there for etiquette, right? They're there to avoid people getting killed.

WHITON: The claims were this sort of direct talk, this plain talk was going to lead to war, that was used against Ronald Reagan who talked about tearing down the Berlin wall that was said to be extremely provocative, when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire.

SCIUTTO: Ronald Reagan made statements that no one could win nuclear war.

WHITON: That is right. That is a key point. President Trump is not really threatening nuclear war. He is demonstrating to all the leaders in charge which is that North Korea is adequately deterred. There is not going to be a nuclear war with North Korea, because North Korea knows that would be suicidal, likewise there is not going to be a general war, because we are adequately deterred by the North Korea conventional course.

SCIUTTO: John Kirby, you have been a bureaucrat in the state department, you've served in the navy. Your response? KIRBY: I understand where Christian is coming from. I disagree,

though. I do think that that tweet was very much about threatening nuclear war, when he talks about the button and being bigger. There's no other button he is talking about but nuclear war. While it's true that Mr. Trump inherited a much more dangerous situation on the peninsula than anybody previously, and he is not wrong when he complains about that, and I have given his national security team great credit for the work they did, to their credit they have gotten China to do more, no question about it.

Although China still has a ways to go. But he keeps undercutting his team's own efforts with these tweets. They're unnecessary. And that is where I guess I disagree. I don't really think of them as being useful diplomatic tools. He is hurting his own team's good efforts and they've worked hard on this problem.

BROWN: It does makes you wonder, you just heard Secretary Tillerson talking about wanting to talk to North Korea, being open to that, then you see tweets like this. If rhetoric likes this makes diplomacy impossible at some point.

KIRBY: It comes down to foreign policy. What's different about the cold war and today is we don't have the same situational awareness of the way decisions are made in Pyongyang than we did in the cold war in terms of what was going on in Moscow.

BROWN: And Jeff I want to bring you in, because you look at the President's twitter feeds since the New Year began, he has threatened nuclear war. He has blamed President Obama on the Iran front, vowed to cut funding to Pakistan and the Palestinians, attacked the Justice Department and urged it to go after his political opponents, went after the media and Democrats, and took credit for zero commercial aviation deaths in 2017. Is there something prompting this? What is going on here?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That was before lunchtime today, more than 15 tweets today. I think we're seeing a couple of things. I was talking to officials at the White House and these are taking some of them by surprise. He is been pent-up, in the words of one official, he is been at his retreat in Florida for a couple of days now. There's the possibility something else is going on here. He knows more about the Russian investigation through his attorneys and other things about what may be coming. So is there a mood swing coming here? We're not sure. It's so interesting, I was thinking back when I was in Seoul and he was giving a speech about the threat and such a different message than he is giving online. So many Republicans in town want him to talk about legislation agenda. He barely mentioned that today. The deep state thing is the focus. Something has changed in the last 24 hours.

BROWN: We were talking about that as the headline and all of a sudden the North Korean stuff. His own justice department, his own Attorney General who he appointed, he is calling them the deep state.

SCIUTTO: Just in the last several hours, Christian, tweeting about Pakistan, a difficult ally if you want to call it an ally, frenemy, perhaps, difficult relationship through multiple administrations, the Palestinians, Jerusalem, the negotiations there, also North Korea. Practically, realistically, does any good from a foreign policy perspective come out of tweets like this from the President of the United States?

[23:25:16] WHITON: Absolutely. You're seeing changes in the world, all of these were foreshadowed in the new National Security strategy that was released in the last month. The tweets against Pakistan is a fundamental realignment of foreign policy in favor of India. That was started by previous president but is really coming into its own under this presidency, in counterbalance and encircle China, even though it's not called that. The tweets about the Palestinians that is a fundamental shift. We're moving away from the idea that solving the Israel/Palestinian dispute somehow solves all the problems in the Middle East. That opposites is actually probably true and it is almost impossible to solve Israeli Palestinian disputes without (inaudible).

SCIUTTO: To be clear, it's a nice explanation for what the President was trying to do there, but the fact is, the words, he is talked about cutting off funding to the Palestinians. Is that part of a negotiation strategy?

WHITON: It's a signal that we are fed up with the Palestinians' unwillingness to negotiate seriously. That also prompted the decision timing on Jerusalem, I understand. Again, this idea that we just need to find the right combination of carrots and sticks, that is a 40-year failed policy that is failed to solve the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. The third is the fundamental change on North Korea. Things tend to not get done in an election year so the President is focused on foreign affairs.

BROWN: All right. Thank you to our panel.

Ahead, breaking news on the Trump/Russia dossier and the Trump camp insider who was apparently working with the FBI. And the President's lawyers talked with the special counsel team. So what did they learn? We'll be back.


[23:30:35] SCIUTTO: We're back now with our special report. Breakdown news, the founders of the firm behind the infamous Trump/Russia dossier are speaking out tonight. My colleagues, Manu Raju, Evan Perez, and of course Pamela here too. Manu to begin, this editorial in "The New York Times" from fusion GPS, there are a few headlines here, but one claiming the FBI had a source inside the Trump camp, that is a remarkable headline if true.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It is. It's one of several headlines in here. It's undoubtedly going to give fuel to the fire particularly of Democrats who are pushing to go keep these Russia investigations going. One of the things that they mention in this op- ed, the fusion GPS founders say there are things they presented to congress which the Republicans on the committees has refused to investigate, namely the Trump organizations, any financials ties they had with Russians, what they consider shady business dealings with Russia, they even raise the prospect of possible money laundering, saying they should go after the deutsche bank financial records. What we have heard separately from this, and they allude to in this op-ed, is that the committee has not subpoenaed these records from deutsche bank, it has not gone into that area of the investigation, even as the house committee in particular looks like it's very likely an issue on its own, going to finish its investigation soon and come to a different conclusion between the Democrats and the Republicans on the committee. So undoubtedly it's going to lead to a lot more tension and infighting within these various committees.

SCIUTTO: The dossier, for folks at home who haven't been following this every single day, this is a document prepared by a former British intelligence agent which alleged a broad campaign of Russian influence in the election, which is now the accepted assessment of the intelligence committee, but in addition to that, that some in the Trump camp were in fact helping the interference, as well as, as you mentioned, bank records that would show financial entanglements between Trump and the Russians. As you look at this, the intelligence committee, your reporting is that it's really splitting along partisan lines here now, is it not? At least from the house side.

RAJU: Yes, absolutely. And one of the issues that is been challenging for these investigators, they've been trying to interview Christopher Steele, the man behind the dossier. They've been unsuccessful, both the house and the senate side. When Glenn Simpson, who was one of the founders here, of fusion GPS, went before three committees on Capitol Hill, he really gave them a lot of information, a lot of details in which frankly the committees are not well- resourced enough to investigate fully. They don't have the staff, the investigators really to dig in, because he could have gone in a whole bunch of directions. Which is also interesting in this op-ed, they really say they've been investigating this matter for a year, and they said the Steele dossier was really just one component of Trump's record overall.

SCIUTTO: And that is something that Director Clapper just said to us, he said this was not the spark that led to the investigation, it was one of many. And he also said, just to be clear, you'll hear this at home, you'll hear this from the President, "the debunked dossier," you heard the Director of intelligence sitting here a few minutes ago, saying in fact portions of the dossier were corroborated and supported by resources.

BROWN: Right. Absolutely, I mean he basically said no it hasn't discredited in fact they already had certain intelligence that when he saw the dossier, the dossier had corroborated what the intelligence community already had that is according to Director Clapper. You know Evan, we had reported a couple of weeks ago on this meeting between Mueller's team and White House lawyers that really carried a lot of weight because it came after the witnesses interviews in the White House. You've learned that the meeting happened. What can you tell us?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The meeting occurred a few days before Christmas. This is something that the Trump legal team was really looking for, because they were hoping that they could get some kind of sense of not only where Mueller's investigation is going, but really more importantly, I think for keeping the President calm, is to sort of give a sense of whether or not this is going to end soon, whether the cloud of this investigation is going to end soon, is going to be lifted soon from the President.

And so what we've seen in the last a couple of weeks since this meeting is, you know, we've seen continued optimism, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow have given interviews to the media in which they've said they're still optimistic that this investigation is going to wrap up soon and that the President is going to be cleared. But you're no longer hearing it's going to be done by Christmas, by New Year's, by any date in particular. They know there's a lot more work to be done. And I think that they are aware. They still I think are optimistic for the President's sake, but they are not anymore thinking this is going to be done like this.

[23:35:22] BROWN: You know it is interesting. You look at all the President's tweets today and the attacks against various entities and he is not going after Robert Mueller.

PEREZ: He is not. And that impromptu interview he gave to "The New York Times," he says he expects Mueller to be fair.

BROWN: Right. I think he is buying into his lawyers' arguments, what they're telling him.

PEREZ: Exactly, I think his legal team is doing what they can to keep him calm and it is working.

RAJU: For now.

BROWN: If it doesn't wrap up, exactly.

SCIUTTO: Did he take a shot at the DOJ today.

BROWN: He did, but he didn't go after Robert Mueller.

SCIUTTO: Stay tuned, as they say. We are join now by Congressman Ted Lieu, he is a Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. Thank you, Congressman, for joining us tonight.


SCIUTTO: You've been listening to our conversation here, the founders of fusion GPS, the research firm behind the dossier, defending the dossier in "The New York Times." they write, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously, because it corroborated reports the bureau receives from other sources including one inside the Trump camp. We heard from Director Clapper who said very much the same, corroborated by other sources, in fact not discredited. There was that line there that caught our attention, including a source inside the Trump camp. Do you have knowledge that there was a FBI have a source inside the Trump camp during the campaign?

LIEU: I don't have direct knowledge of that. What I do know, whether or not Congressional committees took action with this dossier, we do know special counsel Mueller has it, and he has all the information and he would know and he has a lot of information that nobody here knows. I expect more indictments will be coming this year.

SCIUTTO: The other point they made in here as Manu was referring to, they warned investigators on the hill to look into deutsche bank in particular, a European bank, of course, in Germany, the allegation being that deutsche bank served as Trump source of financing when other banks wouldn't deal with him for real estate deals from Florida to Toronto to Panama, in your investigation, Intelligence information you seen, have you seen evidence of questionable business dealings between Trump and Russian entities?

LIEU: Well, let me say, I am disappointed that Republicans in both the senate and the house have not done a very good job in pursuing all the different leads that they could in this Trump/Russia investigation. But special counsel Mueller has. That is why he has in fact subpoenaed documents from deutsche bank. We need to make sure to protect the independence of special counsel Mueller's investigation and let it go where the facts lead us.

BROWN: You said earlier in the interview that you expect more indictments this year. What led you to say that and who are you talking about?

LIEU: I'm a former prosecutor, and my view is that the guilty plea of Michael Flynn and his cooperation agreement is a game changer. Special counsel Mueller would never have agreed to a one-count guilty plea if he didn't expect Michael Flynn to give him information so he can indict other people. You wouldn't do that kind of plea agreement and agreement to cooperate. That is why I expect we'll see more indictments coming this year.

BROWN: But who are you talking about specifically?

LIEU: Normally you wouldn't have a guilty plea and an agreement to cooperate with a big fish to get people under him. You would try to get people at his level or above him. And there's only a few number of those folks. We'll see what happens in the coming months.

BROWN: All right, Congressman Lieu, thank you so much.

LIEU: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Of course one of those people is the President himself. Thank you very much, Congressman.

Still ahead, the President's first twitter tirade of 2018, his motives, and the fallout as well.


[23:42:42] BROWN: We're back with our special report, "Trump, one year later." We are following multiple breaking story. I want to bring out our panel in, let us start with Timothy Naftali, CNN Presidential historian. On the heels of my discussion that Jim Sciutto and I had with Director Clapper on this tweet from the President tonight, basically taunting Kim Jong-un about his nuclear button. Here is what Director Clapper had to say in response to that tweet. Let us take a listen.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: I'm inclined to agree with former chairman JCS Mike Mullen who said probably we're closer to some sort of an encounter, military encounter with the North Koreans than we have been in some time.

BROWN: Because of a tweet like this?

CLAPPER: Because of statements like that.


BROWN: Your reaction, Tim?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, CNN: Well, you don't joke about nuclear weapons. And the President's tweet was irresponsible. It was unprecedented. I can't imagine any previous President joking this way about nuclear missiles. Imagine John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis using that kind of language with Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. Whether this brings us closer to war or not, I don't know. But Mr. Clapper's argument was also about misconceptions and miscalculations. And what you don't want to do when you have this tense situation between two nuclear powers is for the resolve of one side to be not understood by the other. And that would lead to a miscalculation. The President should not be tweeting about nuclear war. We can send messages like that without tweets. And we can do it in a more professional way. It was very unfortunate he did that today.

BROWN: Jason Miller, your response to that? You heard Clapper say this moves us closer to war. You heard Tim say you shouldn't joke about nuclear war, especially with a regime like North Korea.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think this moves us closer to nuclear war and I don't think the President was joking. I think we have to take a step back and look clearly as what Kim was doing today which is trying to divide South Korea from the U.S., saying that he wants to sit down and have some sort of talks with South Korea, also saying he has a button on his desk where he can launch nukes and hit anywhere in the United States.

[23:45:02] And so while much of the world is then running around, scurrying around, trying to figure out are these talks real, are they sincere, the President is sending a very strong message that we're strong in our resolve and no, we're not going to sit down and have talks.

SCIUTTO: I got to ask you, you talk about a split between the U.S. and its allies here. In fact, South Korea, public statements from South Korea saying they don't want war without their permission. You've heard this from South Korean leaders, concerned about the President's bellicose public statements. You have a split there in fact between the U.S. and its allies.

MILLER: Nobody wants war, we make this very clear. President Trump doesn't want war. No one in his administration wants war. We all know what the consequences would be if there were war and how many tens of thousands of South Koreans would be dead right off the top. But we also know that these -- this, quote unquote, olive branch, although I don't know how you can call it an olive branch if Kim is saying he can hit the U.S. with nukes, this is not sincere. He does it a couple of times a year. Keep in mind, North Korea is in a really bad place, these economic sanctions are having a serious impact. It is 15 degrees in Pyongyang right now. They've moved a lot of their soldiers to agriculture and food production type duties. They're begging for relevance. President Trump is sending a very clear message that if you're going to say there's a chance of this, we're not going to back down because our military is stronger.

SCIUTTO: I'm sorry. The President of the United States said my nuclear button is bigger than yours. What is the clear message? Is the message that our nuclear weapons outnumber you, we're going to flatten you?

MILLER: Strength is a very strong deterrent.

NAFTALI: Is that the language that the President should be using?

MILLER: This is where I think we have a little bit of a disagreement here. Because clearly what happened with the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, didn't work. The problem with North Korea has only gotten worse over the years. And so President Trump is clearly trying something different. He is sending a message that we're not going to back down, we're not going to fall with these games and fake olive branches. He did exactly that today.

BROWN: So there's nothing wrong with a new administration trying something different, but you said nobody wants war here. When the President sends out a tweet like this, how does he know if there's a button that exists on Kim Jong-un's desk, that he won't press it and say, look, mine works too? This is a paranoid regime that is power hungry. How does he know they won't react with action?

MILLER: The only thing that Kim is going to react to is self- preservation. I think this is a very clear signal.

LAURA COATES, CNN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ANALYST: Frankly I'm surprised that you can be so forceful about understanding the logic of Kim Jong- un, which has baffled many an administration, trying to figure out the best protocol. I think normally people understand that bravado is counterproductive to diplomacy. You have two competing forces who are exercising bravado in a way, and frankly I don't think it's mutually exclusively to say either you're moving us closer to nuclear war or his statement was egregious or problematic.

In fact both things happened today. When you have the President of the United States taunting another regime, talking about famine, talking about the opportunities that people did not have in North Korea and in South Korea, and it's a day I think after Kim Jong-un even mentioned these things, what you have here is an exercise of untimely bravado that is going to be counterproductive. I don't think it serves the American people. And frankly the administration at all.

BROWN: Let me bring back Tim. As Jason pointed out, he believes that this is a showing of strength. It is true, we heard Admiral Kirby say this earlier, that the President inherited a dangerous situation with North Korea and what has happened previously, any sort of efforts haven't worked. In your view, what would work?

NAFTALI: I would like to know what the end game is here. I want to understand what challenging the manhood of a paranoid foreign leader, how that brings us closer to a safer peninsula. I'm all for showing strength. Under no circumstance should the United States ever allow another country that threatens us to doubt our resolve. But I don't understand where this is supposed to go. The key issue here is whether we will accept North Korea as a nuclear state that has to be deterred or whether we're going to force them to denuclearize. The problem with trying to force them to denuclearize is that we are posing an existential threat to a paranoid regime. I worry about the consequences of putting Kim Jong-un in a box. Maybe the President knows something, maybe the intelligence community knows something about internal disputes in Pyongyang that leads them to be optimistic that if we put this man in a box, he'll crumble. But I'm not sure of it, and that is a really big risk to take.

[23:50:15] BROWN: Go ahead, very quickly though.

MILLER: Regime change and denuclearization are two different things. I think we have to push for denuclearization. We can't have talks with the North Koreans until they actually make progress on that front. The only thing he is going to respond to I think is strength.

BROWN: All right. Thank you so much with our panel. Stay with us for more of our special report and the President's view of his power to influence the Justice Department. We'll be back.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Another target for the President today in his twitter feed, the Department of Justice. We're going to give our panelists one final question tonight. Laura Coates, where does the Russia investigation go in 2018?

COATES: Well, it certainly isn't going to be ending anytime soon. We have a trial coming up for Paul Manafort and Gates. You can be guaranteed that his investigation will continue to be patient and also very opaque.

[23:55:02] SCIUTTO: Does the President get his wish this wraps up quickly?

MILLER: Oh, I don't think it's going to wrap up quickly. I think unfortunately the people who the President refers to as the deep state and the partisans are going to do their best to keep it going. But I think the key to the White House here to be successful is to stay on offense with their agenda, not get distracted with all this stuff going on. Paul Manafort has Manafort problems. General Flynn has General Flynn problems. None of this though is yet attached to President Trump. As long as they stay focused on their agenda I think we'll be in good shape.

BROWN: All right. Timothy Naftali, final word with you.

NAFTALI: I anticipate the President will continue to try to move the credibility and undermine the law enforcement community and to weaken Americas trust in our justice system, because he fears what Mueller will find.

BROWN: Everyone has a different view.

SCIUTTO: And we're going to keep following it here. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. We're going to be back tomorrow night at the same time, 11:00 Eastern Time, Pamela Brown here with me, the news continues next on CNN.

BROWN: Have a great night.