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North Korea, South Korea Talk on Hotline; Trump to North Korea: 'My Nuclear Button is Bigger, More Powerful'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: A line of communication back open between North and South Korea.

[07:00:09] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are skeptical of Kim Jong-un's sincerity in having talks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States said, "My nuclear button is bigger than yours."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To call it juvenile would be an insult to children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is speaking to the American people, and trying to project strength.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he is speaking to the American people, I think it's scaring the crap out of them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does he believe the entire Justice Department and its employees are in this deep state?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, he doesn't believe the entire Justice Department is part of that.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: This is a really troubling attempt by our president to undermine the rule of law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's on the president's mind? Sixteen tweets at the start of the new year.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We do begin with breaking news for you, because North and South Korea are talking. For the first time in nearly two years, this border hotline has been set up between the two Koreas. It is now open. Kim Jong-un is reopening the line of communication and hoping to send a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month.

CUOMO: All right. So the question that comes out of that is whether or not the president helped or hurt that situation with his most recent tweets and his most recent response to North Korea's unstable leader, who gave a message that that he had a nuclear button on his desk and is ready to use. Mr. Trump says his button is, quote, "much bigger, more powerful," and his button works.

The tweet was one of 16 in the president's first 24 hours back in Washington, raising questions about where his head is, whether he's focused in the right way or at all.

We have it covered for you. Let's go first to CNN's Paula Hancocks, live in Seoul on the diplomatic breakthrough. Years in the making, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Chris, this is significant, the fact that the first phone call on that hotline was made for a couple of years. It was closed back in February 2016.

So the phone call to start with came from North Korea to South Korea. This is at the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea, 1:30 a.m. Eastern. This is when that phone call came. It was a 20-minute call. We understand there wasn't a huge amount of dialogue. They were trying to make sure that it technically worked, and there were no technical issues on this line.

It's known as the Panmumjom communications channel. And as I say, it hasn't been used since February 2016. The South Koreans have called that hotline twice a day every single day since February 2016 to see if the North Koreans would answer. They never did. But today, they phoned the South.

Now, that we've heard from the transcript, the readout from the South Korean government, is it is short. They have said that, effectively, the South Korea official identified themselves. The North Korean official identified themselves. And that is all we have written down.

They did, though, say that there was no mention of PyeongChang Winter Olympics. There was no mention of any future talks. So really just to sort out the technical issues on that hotline.

But then a second phone call came at 4:07 a.m. Eastern. And the message then was, "Let's call it a day."

Now, this is interesting, because the South Koreans had said, "We'll wait for your next phone call." And then the North Koreans had phoned them to say, "Let's call it a day." That's 6 p.m. local time. So clearly, that was the end of the North Korean day.

So a very interesting couple of phone calls. Not a huge amount of dialogue but significant all the same that it has happened -- Chris.

CUOMO: Context is everything on this story. They hadn't spoken in years on this dedicated channel. Remember, it's an armistice. There is no peace there. So this is not like normal relations between countries.

Paula, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

All right. Let's discuss the implications with Gordon Chang. He's the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

So Gordon, what is your reaction to North and South Korea talking?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": Well, North Korea is going to want money right now. I think one of the things that we would be talking about, were it not for President Trump's second tweet, is that yesterday on North Korea, is that the sanctions are really starting to bite.

And we know that because Kim Jong-un's New Year's address, he gave several hits that his country is hurting and that sanctions were an existential threat to his state. That's a really important message. And President Trump didn't need to step on some very good work that he's been doing.

Also, you've got to remember that Nikki Haley, our U.N. ambassador, spoke in the U.N. of outlining the U.S. position. We'd be talking about that. So right now, the problem, I think, is essentially the United States, in the form of President Trump, stepping on a very good story when we need support from the rest of the world, would become an object of division.

CUOMO: Well, let's get after it a little bit here. Nikki Haley said we won't accept -- the U.S. won't accept a nuclear North Korea, which seems to be, you know, a statement that's a little bit kind of horse is out of the barn. But still, that's their statement. And she said that this is going to be a hardline position for them.

[07:05:10] That takes it to the big question. Do you think that the president's tough talk, Nikki Haley's tough talk, has helped push the situation to where it is right now, which is North Korea reaching out to South Korea.

CHANG: You know, I think so. You know, North Korea doesn't open these channels of dialogue because it feels it wants peace on earth.

CUOMO: Let me just stop you quickly, because I said before that, you know, the president's second tweet didn't help. How do we know? How do we know? I get why people criticize the style of these tweets and his manner? But how do we know that the tough talk isn't working?

CHANG: Well, we know that his policies in general are working. Because sanctions are starting to bite. We're seeing anecdotal evidence, all sorts of things over the last several months, indicating the regime is hurting.

That's a result of President Trump's policy to cut off money flows to North Korea so that Kim Jong-un can't launch missiles or detonate nukes. But you know, the important thing is he needs the help of the international community in this. And he doesn't get it when he mentions things like button size. So that...

CUOMO: Why not? Why does that kind of tweet, as silly as it may sound to people, why doesn't that help with allies?

CHANG: Well, we're going to need to have some pretty tough conversations with the South Koreans in the next few days. Because although it's OK for them to talk to North Korea, it's not OK for the South Koreans to do what they want, which is really to shovel a lot of money into the coffers of Kim Jong-un.

President Moon Jai-in of South Korea has indicated, for instance, that he wants to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Zone, which his predecessor closed in February 2016. So that date of the last communication on the hotline, that's not a coincidence.

Now, we don't want the reopening of that zone, because that does undercut sanctions. This is going to be a very difficult conversation. And it doesn't happen when President Moon Jae-in looks at our president and says, you know, "You're just a 13-year-old." So this is important for us.

Also, with regard to the Chinese and Russians, we're going to have to back them away from North Korea. It doesn't help when they don't respect us. And certainly, what the president's second tweet yesterday did was lessen the respect for the United States in general and for President Trump himself in particular.

CUOMO: So it will be interesting to see what the president says about diplomacy from this point going forward in that region, because he has dismissed it in the past. Now it seems to be critical to everything.

Gordon Chang, thank you very much. Appreciate having you on the show -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. So that diplomatic announcement that Chris was just talking about of reopening communications came hours after President Trump launched that eyebrow-raising tweet, bragging that his nuclear button is bigger than Kim Jong-un's. And that was just one particular tweet.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with the very latest. What's happening there, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. So far, no word from the White House on if the president is going to comment about the latest developments in the communication lines opening between North Korea and South Korea.

Meanwhile, the nuke-slinging war of words between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea has certainly gotten off to a robust start this new year with some of the harshest rhetoric we've heard from the president since last summer.


JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un over the size of America's nuclear arsenal, asserting that his nuclear button is much bigger and more powerful than North Korea's, before threatening that the U.S. button works. Mr. Trump lashing out after Kim Jong-un bragged that the U.S., within range of a North Korean strike, asserting that a nuclear button is always on his desk.

The ratcheting up of tensions raising alarm. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There are potentially millions of lives at stake. Untold death and destruction here. And to me, it's very, very disturbing. No one in the White House knows what is Kim Jong-un's ignition point, where one of these tweets is going to set him off and he's going to hit that button.

JOHNS: Hours earlier, Mr. Trump again mocking Kim Jong-un with the name "Rocket Man."

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.

JOHNS: The president responding after South Korea showed an eagerness to opening up talks with his North Korean neighbor.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: North Korea can talk with anyone they want. But the U.S. is not going to recognize it or acknowledge it until they agree to ban the nuclear weapons.

JOHNS: The tweets about North Korea, two of 16 messages the president sent on a range of unrelated topics during his first day back in the Oval Office after the holiday break. Mr. Trump began the day attacking his own Justice Department as the deep state, referencing a conspiracy theory.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, he doesn't believe the entire Justice Department is part of that.

[07:10:02] JOHNS: The president going after top former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, asserting that she should be jailed over her handling of State Department e-mails, despite the fact that after an FBI investigation, she has not been charged with a crime. President Trump also urging the Justice Department to act in prosecuting former FBI director James Comey, fired by the president last May.

TRUMP: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

JOHNS: Other targets of the president's Twitter attacks, "The New York Times," former President Barack Obama, Pakistan, Iran and the Palestinians, who Mr. Trump threatened not to give future funding if they do not rejoin peace talks.

President Trump also taking credit for a record year of safety in commercial aviation without citing any measures his administration has implemented.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It really doesn't matter what the president of the United States says anymore. Because it is so bizarre, strange, not true, infantile.


JOHNS: The president gets his intelligence briefing today. He's also expected to have lunch with the secretaries of state and defense. These are meetings that will be all the more interesting, given the back and forth between North Korea and South Korea.

Back to you.

CAMEROTA: Yes, they will be interesting. Thank you very much, Joe.

Here to discuss all the headlines and what's going on inside the White House is CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman.

Happy new year, Maggie. Great to see you.


CAMEROTA: OK, so spoiler alert, 2018 is not shaping up to be different than 2017 was.

HABERMAN: Who could have predicted that?

CAMEROTA: It is shocking that the Twitter storm continues apace in just the first day back. We can put it up. Here are the things that the president tweeted about in some unconventional tweets. Kim Jong- un, former FBI director James Comey, former President Barack Obama, former Hillary Rodham Clinton aide Huma Abedin, the Palestinians, Iran, Pakistan, the U.S. Justice Department, which he's referring to as the state deep state, and "The New York Times."

So what's going on inside the White House?

HABERMAN: That's a pretty long list, right? And because it's Twitter, everything ends up sounding exactly the same. His complaints about James Comey, which is now, you know, a 2016-2017 issue. It sounds exactly the same as what he's saying about the protests in Iran.

Everything gets treated with the same level of 140 to 280 character brevity. And everything does not deserve the same thing.

What's going on in the White House, according to a bunch of people I've talked to is he had a very long vacation. He had a very long vacation at Mar-a-Lago, the second one in a row after Thanksgiving where he was not really staffed. He was basically by himself, which meant that he got to act as if he wasn't president. He got to hang out at his club. He got to talk to people who he has known for decades. And now he's back in Washington with many problems and many predictions. 2018 is going to be extremely difficult, legislatively, for the White House.

CAMEROTA: And that means what, that he's anxious when he gets back to the White House, he's relaxed when he gets back to the White House? What's the mindset?

HABERMAN: One of the -- I think the biggest questions to the Trump term so far is does he like the job? I think that is the thing that we all hear people ask repeatedly. And on days like yesterday, where you see, you know, 10 tweets in a row, there is clearly some level of discomfort going on. CUOMO: Can you imagine being the man or woman standing next to him

when he starts tweeting? And they start hitting your phone, and you start reading them? And it's obviously almost a helpless position. And I'm not playing them as victims. Nobody has to be there. They can leave. Their accountability is the American people. If they can't serve its interests, they should get the hell out.

But it is who he is. Not excusing it. This is who he was before he was president. That's who he is now. It's just now, it matters differently. the message about the button. We could all see him having tweeted that 100 times in the past 25 years. But now it matters more.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

CUOMO: That hasn't connected to him, that idea of surrendering the "me" to the "we."

HABERMAN: No, it's not -- that is very well put, surrendering the "me" to the "we." It's also that he both conflates himself with the institutions that he represents and doesn't see them as sort of independent of him. There is very "the state is me." And on the other hand, acts as a bystander. Right? He still acts as if he is, you know, a FOX News viewer who is just, you know, tweeting about what he sees on TV.

There are implications from these tweets. That is why the constant protests of people over the last year of ignore the tweets. They're a planned distraction. No, they're not a planned distraction. He does not tend to plan more than a couple of minutes out. And I don't know how you ignore statements from the president of the United States, especially when it comes to a matter of nuclear war, which he is treating, the criticism has been, pretty unseriously. And it's a pretty serious...

CUOMO: Like somebody who hasn't been informed of the implications.

HABERMAN: That's right. That's right.

CUOMO: It's like someone on my Twitter feed. The president sounds like someone who's going to be late for work because they're watching the show, which is, you know, one of the top...

CAMEROTA: On the one hand, you appreciate that.

CUOMO: I do. Where they're like, you know, forget him. That guy is an idiot. You just take a walk. That's America being strong. That's what I expect here. We're getting it from our president.

[07:15:04] HABERMAN: Right. I mean, look, we know that John Kelly, the new chief of staff, who has -- morale is not great in the West Wing for a variety of reasons. But he has brought a greater level of control.

And one of the things that was interesting, I just mentioned that the president was unstaffed over the last two long trips he took. You know, a year ago people were clamoring to get next to him on the plane down to Mar-a-Lago. They were clamoring to be on these trips. They were clamoring to be near the center of power, which was the president.

Being close to him is no longer seen as a -- as a clear path toward getting something done or getting what you want or influencing him.

What John Kelly has tried not to do, no matter how powerful John Kelly is over the rest of the building and over aspects of the president's life. His schedule, for instance, executive orders and so forth, he has not tried to control the tweets. Well, he has at certain points. But he has not gone, you know, really past where he was early on, because he decided it was a losing battle. It's a losing battle that matters.

CAMEROTA: Against all this, the backdrop of Russia. And we know, I think, we can tell that causes the president some stress and anxiety. And so now, but there's all of this new information coming out, including the -- the men behind Fusion GPS. So people are like, "What is Fusion GPS?"

It's this research form. They have been at "The Wall Street Journal." They're journalists. There are these two men in 2011 started this research firm Fusion GPS, which is now at the crux of what s happening with the Russia investigation and the dossier.

They have just written an op-ed for "The New York Times," as you well know. And it tells us all sorts of information that we didn't know. At least the lawmakers that we've spoken to on the right such as Congressman Jim Jordan are saying they didn't know or pretending they didn't know.

For instance, here's what they say behind Fusion GPS: "We don't believe the Christopher Steele dossier was the trigger for the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August under oath, 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."

As we know from this weekend, that's Papadopoulos. That's George Papadopoulos, who was loose-lipped in April, talked -- spoke drunkenly at a bar to an Australian diplomat who was alarmed that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. And when he saw it come out in this cache of e-mails, alerted his counterparts in the United States. So it's all coming together in a way that makes it much less likely to believe the president saying that it's a witch-hunt.

HABERMAN: Unless you are somebody who is inclined to disregard whatever new information you're hearing and to just believe what the president says. And I guess that the thing that I think about -- two things I think about having read that op-ed.

One is that I think it is a remarkable moment wherein where everything literally has to be sort is of laid out publicly because it is the only way to convince even some people, but it's the only way to convince some people. It is not going to convince everybody. We have seen there is a huge desire to choose your own adventure on

news, on both -- in both parties. This is not just the province of one or the other. And both media environments among partisans.

So I think it's interesting. I think that it's certainly -- you know, ties into what "The New York Times" reported over the weekend. But how many more people that...

CAMEROTA: Just lawmakers. Basically, I think that lawmakers are tasked with having to follow the facts.


CAMEROTA: As we are as journalists.


CAMEROTA: So I understand people's echo chambers. But you know, Jim Jordan can't come on here with as convincing an argument that he has a hunch...

CUOMO: You can all take it in different directions. And you know, even though I grew up surrounded by them, I would question the proposition that politicians are tied into the facts.

I mean, they are in the spin businesses. They're in the exclusion (ph) business.


CUOMO: You pick what facts you want to focus on. Jim Jordan is doing that. There's gray areas. There's disproved stuff. There's unverified stuff in the dossier. And then there's a larger issue that they're attacking. And the president is helping them with that in a way we've never seen in American history and certainly in our lifetime.

HABERMAN: That's right.

CUOMO: And what is that? He is saying that the Justice Department is part of the deep state, which is a phrase that's easy to say but means almost nothing. You have to go and Google it. You'll see. It just leads it down this rabbit hole of where people wanted to go for their own political agendas.

But for the president of the United States to say the Department of Justice, which is now staffed with all his people, is part of a deep state conspiracy against him, that's not just Trump being Trump.


CUOMO: That's not just hot invective, hot talk, him being unprofessional. That's dangerous and wrong.

HABERMAN: It's dangerous for several reasons. Among them, these are people who are tasked with -- this is a major law enforcement. And they are tasked with all kinds of things, including anti-terrorism. And so if you have a demoralization of the folks who work there, because they feel attacked by the commander in chief, that is deeply, deeply problematic. And you see it every day.

And so Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, holds briefings and says, of course, he doesn't mean everybody. And maybe he doesn't. But that's why most people err on the side of not saying things like that. And that is, sounds like a huge, huge problem.

The other thing you raised, by the way, about members of Congress and their responsibility in terms of pursuing the facts.

[07:20:10] One of the things we have seen over the last several months is growing anger at the media from the left, who want to see the president, quote, unquote, "held accountable." I mean, "The Times" and the "Washington Post" has been doing rigorous journalism about the investigation, abut this White House, about regulations, about the way the president's administration has conducted itself.

There -- it is not the job of reporters to stand up and say, "How dare you, sir?" And that is where Congress is actually the only entity that exists to do that. And people are trying to get reporters to do that instead.

CAMEROTA: You make such a great point. I hear it all the time. "Why don't you yell at them? Wring their necks." We present the facts. We look into the facts.

CUOMO: The Fifth Amendment more you hear a lot of that on the left. Obviously, that's a political operation as much as anything else.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

HABERMAN: Thanks, guys.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to you. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So how is the president's taunting tweet raising the prospect of nuclear war? How is it received among these lawmakers that we're talking about? We have the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joining us next. What is he prepared to say? Next.


[07:25:10] CUOMO: President Trump upping the ante, getting into it with North Korea's unstable leader, Kim Jong-un, on Twitter, saying his nuclear button is much bigger and more powerful than the North Korean leader's.

Joining us to discuss the impact of tweets like this is Senator Ben Cardin. He is the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, happy new year. Thank you for being on the show. SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Good morning, Chris. Good to be with


CUOMO: So the headline from the morning of fact is North Korea and South Korea are talking again. That is a big development. It's years in the making. Do you believe that the president's tweeting and posture towards North Korea has helped make this happen?

CARDIN: No. I think it's made it more difficult. We're very happy to see that there's conversations taking place between North and South Korea. What we need is diplomacy between the United States, China, and North Korea to supplement that or to lead that. There, the president's tweets have made it more difficult for diplomacy to work.

We know that the only reasonable solution to the North Korean crisis is through diplomacy. And the president's tweets make that more challenging.

CUOMO: How do we know, Senator? I mean, look, we don't have enough time to sit through and talk about does the president always tell the truth? No. Are his tweets and his statements always delicate and presidential? Of course not. But how do we know that the tough talk didn't move North Korea to the table in conjunction with the sanctions?

CARDIN: We know that Secretary Tillerson was making progress with North Korea through back channels with diplomacy. As he was making progress, the president undercut his own secretary of state by saying why do you bother wasting time with diplomacy? So he's already -- the president has already made it more challenging at times where he could have advanced diplomacy.

Look, the only off-ramp here is for China and the United States have a common strategy as to what is acceptable in starting the negotiations with North Korea. Because China puts the pressure on North Korea to come to the table. That's where you're going to see diplomacy really work. And the president has made that more challenging, both with his tweets and also in his conversations with China.

CUOMO: I want to get to DACA. But why do you think that the Obama administration wasn't able to get North Korea on the phone in this way with South Korea and this administration was?

CARDIN: Well, I think it's the opportunity of the Olympics was one. I think that it's just -- there's a new administration in South Korea. I think a lot of factors have changed since President Obama.

North Korea currently has now a functioning nuclear weapon. We know that. They have a delivery system. We're not sure how effective that delivery system is. Circumstances have changed over the last year.

Now, under President Trump's watch, North Korea has an effective nuclear weapon. We need to deal with that and the best way to deal with that through is a surge in diplomacy. And the president's made that very challenging. CUOMO: All right. Let's take a turn, another tweet that goes to a

topic that is very sensitive back here at home. Put up the president's tweets about DACA, if we can. "Democrats are doing nothing for DACA. Just interested in politics. DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start falling in love with Republicans and their president. We are about results."

Is that true, first of all, that there is no progress on the Democrats' side in terms of trying to negotiate a deal for what to do with these people who are stuck in the lurch because of the rescission of this policy?

CARDIN: Well, nothing could be further from the truth. The president's caused this crisis by giving a six-month deadline that ends in March in which the DACA registered to DREAMers will be. Their future is uncertain.

Some have already felt the consequences of that. The president created the problem.

No. 2, if we had a vote on the floor of the Senate or House, we have the votes to pass a bill that protects the DREAMers. But the Republican leadership is refusing to bring up that legislation.

CUOMO: McConnell is saying he will bring up a vote in January. McConnell says he'll bring up a vote in January if there's a deal that can get done. Is that true?

CARDIN: That was a big "if." What's the deal that they want? What's the cost of protecting the DREAMers. We should be bringing it up just as a separate issue by itself, and it would easily pass. But what the Republican leader is talking about is combining up of other things that may make it more challenging.

CUOMO: Will you give Trump the wall to get DACA done?

CARDIN: Say that again?

CUOMO: Will you give Trump the wall to get DACA done.

CARDIN: A wall makes no sense whatsoever. It's a waste of money. He said that Mexico would pay for it. Mexico is not going to pay for it. It's counterproductive. It causes us problems with Mexico's cooperation on drug trafficking and human trafficking. It is offensive to land owners on our southern border. There's so many problems with a wall. Will we give him additional resources for border security? Yes. Because border security makes sense. That's technology. It isn't a wall.

CUOMO: All right. Senator, one thing we know for sure is that deadline is coming.