Return to Transcripts main page


Steve Bannon Says Trump Tower Meeting was Treasonous and Unpatriotic; Trump Taunts Kim Jong-Un on Nuclear Button Size; Fusion GPS Pushes Back on Dossier Leading to Russia Investigation; North Korea Reactivates Hotline With South Korea; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 10:30   ET



[10:30:19] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We have a lot to talk about this morning.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We do. Needless to say. To say the least. We're joined now by CNN political commentators and former members of Congress, Jack Kingston and Steve Israel.

Guys, thanks so much for being with us.

Congressman Kingston, if I can start with you, we just had an interesting conversation with Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio about Steve Bannon's comments. Steve Bannon in an interview for a book coming up by Michael Wolff quoted in "The Guardian" this morning really went after Donald Trump Jr. and the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had at Trump Tower with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. You know, Steve Bannon called the meeting unpatriotic and treasonous.

I'm interested in your take on this, as someone who was a part of the Trump campaign, an adviser to the Trump campaign. To have Steve Bannon, a guy who at one point was in charge of the campaign, later on make this comment about Donald Trump Jr. What's your take on it?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's a surprising comment. I don't think it's going to ultimately help Steve Bannon because it doesn't give him much credibility. He's had plenty of opportunity to speak out against this meeting. He'd had opportunities probably during the campaign to say things and do things about it at that time.

I do think, though, he's wrong. If it was treasonous, there would have been a thousand people in front of him that would have said that and would have already been building the case. So I think it's a matter of him throwing out a grenade at perhaps people he doesn't like within the Trump Organization.

I'm not sure why he's speaking out now and why he didn't do anything about it then if that's what believed.

HARLOW: And Congressman Israel, a fair point?

STEVE ISRAEL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. You very rarely throw a grenade if it's going to create casualties among your friends. And Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are friends. Steve Bannon was the architect of the Trump campaign.

Look, what you're hearing and what you just heard from my former colleague Jim Jordan, and friend, Jim Jordan, is not a desire to get to the truth. It's a desire to get past the midterm elections.

Happy New Year, folks. It's a new year but also a year of a midterm elections. So everything that's done now, particularly with respect to the investigation of the Trump administration and potential collusion, money laundering, whatever it is, everything is done through a political prism and the prism of survival.

Democrats need 24 seats to take back the House. And Republicans are going to do everything they can to avoid this lingering over them, going into this midterm.

BERMAN: All right. Guys, we're going to take you through a lot of issues right now because we're lucky to have you here. The president also made news about things that he wrote overnight about buttons, nuclear buttons. Whose button is bigger. You know, his or Kim Jong- un. It should be said neither, as far as we know, has an actual, literal nuclear button.

HARLOW: Button.

BERMAN: But beyond that, Eliot Cohen, who's a former Defense official, worked for many people including George W. Bush under Condoleezza Rice. He wrote, "Spoken like a petulant 10-year-old, but one with nuclear weapons for real at his disposal. How responsible people around him or supporting him can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me."

So, Congressman Kingston, to you, you know, do you agree with that statement?


KINGSTON: No, I don't.

BERMAN: Do the president's comments make America less safe? Go ahead.

KINGSTON: I don't. We have so many armchair advisers from State Department circles who know how to run the world. If they were just in charge, the world would be a wonderful place. But we've seen in North Korea failed attempts by Republicans and the Democrats, trying to get the Kim Jong-un family under control. And you can't do it easily. Nobody knows the crystal-clear path.

I think what the president is doing is giving the rhetoric right back to him. At the same hand, working with the international community, trying to get China, trying to get Russia onboard. And he's trying to get Tillerson and South Korea to try diplomatic solutions, as well.

So I think what the president is doing is right, and I think these were the same people who were appalled when Ronald Reagan said, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall. They're always the same armchair academic types from think tank who have all the little crystal clear solutions and they get approval from their own small circles, but they're not out there in the real world.

HARLOW: Let's turn to the Russia investigation. So a number of developments on this front, Congressman Israel, this morning. You've got the Fusion GPS owners and they commissioned the dossier -- the Steele dossier on Russia, coming out and saying, like our reporting has said, that that did not spark the FBI's investigation into Russia. That, in fact, it nearly corroborated other reports, including one they say, and this is new, from someone inside of the Trump camp.

Add on to that "The New York Times" reporting that it was Papadopoulos, this guy on the Trump team, speaking in a booze-filled night in London with an Australian diplomat. Australia turns around and tells the FBI all of that, about having the Russia -- having the -- that Russia has Hillary Clinton hacked e-mails.

[10:35:08] Do those things undercut Republicans' claims? Some Republicans' claims that this is all a witch hunt? Because Congressman Jim Jordan certainly doesn't seem to think so.

ISRAEL: Well, of course they undercut it. And this is my fear with respect to the House Intelligence Committee investigation. Remember, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, had to recuse himself for the investigation, for alleged and in my view, quite clear biases. And now you have an investigation, you have plenty of witnesses who should be called, who the Republicans are not calling. They are afraid of the truth.

You have the political imperative of ending this investigation in Congress. And then using the end of the investigation by the House Intelligence Committee as a cudgel to try and defuse or deflate the Mueller investigation. All of this adds up to, at the end of the day, and I spoke to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, a House Intelligence Committee report that is likely to have dissenting views, that is likely to say that day is night and night is day. Starkly different interpretations.

And the hope that the Republicans will retain the majority in the midterm and be able to further squelch any kind of investigations going forward.

HARLOW: We should know that Nunes has been investigated by Ethics on that and cleared and is back in his role. Conaway thinks -- I mean, two guys think they're running the Russia probe there, but he has been cleared of that.

ISRAEL: Exactly.

HARLOW: Gentlemen, appreciate you being here.

ISRAEL: Right. Fair enough.

HARLOW: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Happy New Year, guys, appreciate it.


HARLOW: A diplomatic breakthrough. North Korea calls South Korea twice last night. What was said, what does it mean for the future of diplomacy and the hopes of de-escalation? We'll talk about it next.


[10:40:35] HARLOW: So overnight, North and South Korea reactivated a hotline that the two nations have not shared in almost two years.

Our Alexandra Field is in Beijing.

This is very significant. Is it a breakthrough, though?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's symbolic, but if we break down the conversations themselves, they weren't exactly substantive, and it's still not clear what the next step is, or whether there will be another step.

But, Poppy, let's not undervalue the fact that they did at least talk, which again hasn't happened for two years. South Korean officials say that every day for the last two years, they have called North Korea twice a day, the phone goes unanswered. Now on Kim Jong-un's orders, North Korea placed the phone call, South Korea picked up the phone. Officials in the South tells us that they spoke for about 20 minutes about the technical issues, the communication link itself.

Then there was a follow-up call also placed by North Korea later in the day. On that call, the North Korean officials told South Korea that business for the day had concluded. So that's that. South Korea went on to say that there were no discussions about future talks or about a North Korean delegation going to the Winter Olympics, which will be hosted next month by South Korea.

That is of course what precipitated this call on that hotline that's been dormant for so long now. On New Year's Day, Kim Jong-un announced that he was hopeful that a North Korean delegation would be able to attend the games. That's certainly something that the South Korean president has pushed for, it's something he has advocated for. He sees this as an opportunity really to promote peace on the peninsula.

South Korea has extended an invitation for high-level talks on the issue to take place on January 9th. North Korea has not responded to that invitation. And just because they made the call today, Poppy, John, it doesn't mean they'll necessarily follow up. We'll have to see.

BERMAN: Alexandra Field for us. Thanks so much, Alexandra. Palestinian leaders responding to the president's threat to cut aid.

These officials say Jerusalem is not for sale and that we will not be blackmailed. President Trump wrote that the United States is getting no appreciation or respect and that he has taken Jerusalem off the negotiating table. Israel responded to the president saying that it puts Palestinians on notice and that if the Palestinians refuse to negotiate, the Israelis say they will incur a price.

HARLOW: Also in Iran, a seventh day of protest underway right now. Today's rally is different than the previous days. These are pro- government demonstrators that you see. Previous demonstrations have been anti-Rouhani regime.

This morning, the president is once again backing those anti- government protesters. Here's what he writes, "Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time."

BERMAN: I want to talk more about these situations all around the world.

Joining us, CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger and CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General, Mark Hertling.

David, if I could start with you, it sounds pedantic but it's not here because we're dealing with such serious things. There are no actual buttons involved here in this discussion. And the president in some ways trivializes what is a very serious issue.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, he does. There isn't a button. For the president, there is a briefcase that follows him everywhere. A card he carries with certain codes on it. And then a communications link that's got to get verified to Strategic Command.

So there is a process here. Once they've authenticated that it actually is the president, there's really no legal way to interfere with an order to go to a launch, though Bill Perry, the former secretary of Defense under President Clinton said a few weeks ago that if he was faced with an order he thought was unwise, he might find an illegal way to slow it down.

HARLOW: Right.

SANGER: On the North Korean side, there's no ability right now to launch on warning. It takes them a while to fuel up their missiles and in fact that's a huge vulnerability for Kim Jong-un and he knows it because that's the moment when the United States could do a preemptive strike.

HARLOW: One of the things that's interesting here, General Hertling, is the timing. I mean, this message, this tweet about button size from the president seeming to stoop to the level of what Kim Jong-un put out there the previous day, comes at a moment that could really signify progress. A moment when this communication channel between North and South Korea reopens again for the first time in two years.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, indeed, Poppy. That's the thing that's important. What's happening between the Koreas right now is critically -- it contributes to the dynamics of all of this.

[10:45:08] The question has to be asked, why was that communication channel opened last night? And you see probably some of the effects of sanctions against North Korea. They want to reopen something called the Kaesong Industrial Zone where South Korea actually invests in an area that's in North Korea to provide some additional economic sufficiencies to that country. So they're looking to reopen that.

You have the Olympics, which North Korea doesn't want to see South Korea get a gain. And there's a new president in North Korea that seems to have been open to these kind of conversations. So, yes, all of these things certainly contribute to the potential for increased diplomatic action. And the tweets, truthfully, in my view, did not contribute hopefully to expanding that opportunity.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, David Sanger, though. We had Jack Kingston, former congressman from Georgia on, who said that President Trump tweeting about buttons is akin to Ronald Reagan standing in Berlin saying, you know, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

I think a lot of people will bristle at that comparison, soaring rhetoric on the one hand versus, you know, 280 characters or less on the other. But thematically, is the president -- President Trump -- pressing buttons here that contribute in some ways to the progress that General Hertling was just talking about there on the border?

SANGER: I wouldn't see it that way. The Ronald Reagan reference was fundamentally about human rights in the Soviet Union at the time. And while there was a brief reference to that in the tweet, where he suggested that Kim Jong-un was presiding over a starving and broken country, which he is, the move on to buttons suggests that the president, at a whim, could destroy North Korea. A point he made at the U.N. and a point that he made in his fire and fury comment.

I don't think anyone doubts that the United States has the capability to go destroy North Korea. Clearly, we've got 1500 deployed nuclear weapons and they have maybe 20 or 30. Maybe 40. So it's not really a question of that. It's a question of setting the tone and as you said earlier, whether or not you stoop down to that level.

But there is an interesting point that I think we have to pick up from the general's very insightful comment about the timing of this opening. One way to view the opening is that Kim Jong-un is feeling the pressure of the sanctions. I think he is, and that's been a successful part of the Trump initiative. The other way to look at it is that he's trying to put a wedge here between South Korea and the United States. And he's likely to be successful at that if the president is viewed in South Korea as veering toward war.

HARLOW: We only have a minute left, but, General, to you, just quickly, you -- whether it comes to the tweet about the Palestinians and aid, whether it comes to how he's talking about Iran or North Korea and the buttons tweet that will go down in history, you say these are, in your words, meat cleaver communications that in all seriousness just sort of embolden our enemies.

HERTLING: Yes, I did say that, Poppy. And here's the other thing that I would say. And it's an interesting commentary by the good Congressman Kingston about the comparing of these -- this dramatic conversation. You know, a smart guy once told me that when you're dealing with foreign countries, it can never be transactional. You have to -- in fact, he gave me a method of calling it the rule of five.

Whenever you're trying to make amends with another country, you have to consider five other countries which might influence it. When Reagan gave his speech in the -- at the Berlin wall, all of Europe was watching and saying, this was soaring rhetoric. When you're talking about what's going on in North Korea right now, the five other countries that you have to consider are Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan.

None of those countries took the Twitter feed very well. And I'm sure you could probably say they were also condemning what the president said regarding the button.

BERMAN: David Sanger, General Hertling, thanks so much for being with us, guys. Really appreciate it.

Got a lot of news. We'll be right back.


[10:53:20] BERMAN: Two-time NBA All-Star, former Boston Celtic Isaiah Thomas gets a hero's welcome in his long-awaited debut in Cleveland.

HARLOW: Coy Wire has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, my friend.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy and John. This "Bleacher Report" presented by the new 2018 Ford F-150.

Isaiah Tomas stepped on to the court for the first time as a Cavalier and the people of Cleveland said, feel the love, man. Listen.





WIRE: After an emotional departure from Boston, being shipped away as part of this off-season's biggest blockbuster trade, Thomas scored 17 points in just 19 minutes of play in his debut in Cleveland. He had missed the first 36 games of the season due to injury. But now NBA fans have finally caught a glimpse of just how good LeBron James' new super team may be.

All right, how much money do you think the Buffalo Bills' fans have raised for Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton and his wife Jordan's charity? Listen to this.


ANDY DALTON, CINCINNATI BENGALS QUARTERBACK: So here's the latest update. We're up to over $170,000 and 7,000 donors. Again, we are blown away by everybody that's donating. Thank you to all the Bills' fans. Thank you for anybody who's just supporting our foundation.


WIRE: Now the Daltons' foundation helps sick and physically challenged kids in Cincinnati. And Buffalo fans are showing Dalton love because when his Bengals beat the Ravens Sunday, it meant the Bills are going to the playoffs for the first time in 17 seasons. Most donations have been in the amount of $17.

Buffalo finally making the playoffs has sent Bills' fans into a frenzy. CNN's Wolf Blitzer was rocking this T-shirt to work this week. And CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles posted on Instagram.

[10:55:04] "I've never met this man, don't know his name, but when I told him the Bengals won and our Bills were playoff bound, he started on a dead sprint right for me, picked me up and gave he a huge bear hug. Oh, yes, let's go, Buffalo, playoff time, baby."

All right, just 36 days until the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. And imagine, a life-long dream coming true. And being able to tell your dad, I made it.

That was the case for Bobby Butler of the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals, calling his father over during practice to let him know he will represent our nation on Team USA's hockey team in South Korea. One of the many feel-good stories we're bound to share with you as the games approach.

BERMAN: Look at that. A proud, proud dad. And congratulations to both of them. Wonderful, wonderful story.

Thanks so much, Coy.

HARLOW: Thanks, Coy.

WIRE: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right, treasonous and unpatriotic. How the president's former chief strategist is describing that Trump tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians. We're on top of this. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Kate Bolduan. Topping the hour with breaking news.

President Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, describing the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a whole group of Russians during the presidential campaign as treasonous and unpatriotic.