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North Korea and South Korea Reopen Communications Channel; President Trump Tweets about North Korea and U.S. Nuclear Capabilities; Interview with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a president who just tweeting out utter madness. Off script doesn't even begin to describe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a tweet the president blasting the DOJ for being part of what he calls the deep state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His tweets are going to be taken as official policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not good to address complex interview engagement issues on Twitter.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know. I want to see it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, January 3rd, 8:00 in the east. We begin with a diplomatic breakthrough on the Korean peninsula. So it turns out North and South Korea are talking on a border hotline. It has happened twice. This will be the first time in nearly two years that the two sides have been talking. Kim Jong-un reopening the communication line after offering to send a North Korean delegation to the Olympics that will be in South Korea.

CAMEROTA: This comes as President Trump again raises the prospect of nuclear war or at least escalates the rhetoric with North Korea. He taunted Kim Jong-un in a sort of juvenile fashion, tweeting that his nuclear button is much bigger and more powerful than Kim Jong-un's and it works. The tweet was just one of 16 from the president's first 24 hours back in Washington, raising some questions about his mindset and mental state.

So we have all of this covered for you. Let's go first to CNN's Paula Hancocks like in Seoul. Paula, what is the latest?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, we know North and South Korea have now spoken at that hotline in the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. The dialogue was limited we understand, but it is the fact that they spoke which is significant.

We understand the first phone call was at 1:30 a.m. eastern time. This call lasted about 20 minutes. The transcript that we were giving was effectively North Korea called, the South Korean official identified themselves and then the North Korean official identified themselves. This is the Panmunjom communications channel. It's the first time that North Korea has picked up the phone or used that phone since February, 2016. So it's significant.

We also know that it was almost like a technical test, we understand from the South Korean side. The PyeongChang Winter Olympics were not mentioned. This is what Kim Jong-un had said, that he was willing to send a delegation to South Korean to those Olympics next month. Future talks were not mentioned at any point. South Korean had suggested next Tuesday for high level talks in order to figure out and iron out the details of having that North Korean delegation here in South Korea.

But then there was a second phone call at 4:07 a.m. eastern just after 6:00 p.m. local time where the North Koreans effectively said let's call it a day, almost as though they did not want the South Koreans to just be sitting by the phone waiting for them. So what we know, this is new, is that the South Koreans will try and phone them at 9:00 a.m. local time tomorrow, 7:00 p.m. eastern tonight, and then 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. They have been phoning them twice every single day since February, 2016, when that hotline started to become dormant. So that is significant.

We're also hearing that the governor where the Olympics are going to be held is already making preparations in how to accommodate the North Korean delegation. He's trying to figure out whether to send a cruise, whether there should be a plane, whether they should come across by land, by he is making plans, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Paula, fascinating reporting from there. The idea that they have been calling that hotline every day twice a day and that it went unanswered until today, thank you very much.

So that diplomatic announcement coming after President Trump launched a new tweet bragging that his nuclear button is bigger than Kim Jong- un's, and that was just one of the eyebrow raising tweets. CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with all the very latest. What is new, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. The war of words now reduced to a measuring contest between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea getting off to a robust start this new year with some of the harshest rhetoric from North Korea we've heard from President Trump since last summer.


JOHNS: 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. is 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, an untold death and destruction here, and to me it's 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.

[08:05:00] JOHNS: The president responding after South Korea showed an eagerness to opening up talks with its North Korean neighbor.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE 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 message 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.

JOHNS: And president going after top former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, asserting that she should be jailed over her handling of State Department emails 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 and commercial aviation without siting 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 meets today for lunch today with his secretaries of state and defense along with the vice president. That meeting has the potential for some added drama given the back and forth with North Korea. Chris and Alisyn?

CUOMO: All right, Joe, appreciate it. Thanks for setting the table.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza. D. Gregory, happy New Year, good to see you again, my friend, thanks for being on the show. So what do you make of the big headline about North Korea and South Korea opening lines of the communication again, and of course the big button tweet that got everybody's attention?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think the positive part about all this is that any sign that sanctions have worked, any sign of U.S. strategy with South Korea that is keeping the North talking, keeping the North opening up, I think that is significant. I think that's the only play here. You have someone who we know for sure is unstable and unpredictable in the North and repressive and oppressive, so anything that can be done to achieve the goal of dismantling that nuclear program is something that we have to pursue. And I think the Trump administration has done that, thoughtfully at times, certainly effectively with sanctions as Gordon, our colleague, Change, has been talking about throughout the program this morning.

The rest of it, the Trump piece of it is what is so confounding, because the easy thing to say is what is he doing? I can't believe that Secretary Mattis is saying this is a good idea and it is going to have certain results if you are tweeting about the North's leader this way. What I worry about more generally is American leadership to me is about going big. It's big, it's strong, it's inclusive. President Trump is going small and trashy, and I don't see that working over the longer term. You may not see it right away, but I think that countries around the world are seeing that and the repercussions are beginning to be felt.

CAMEROTA: And Chris, I want to talk about that, what David just mentioned, which is that Gordon Chang, a North Korean expert, he's written a book on it, did say that the sanctions are working, they have teeth, and that's a success story. And yet President Trump by tweeting out the more juvenile tweet steps on that, and that's what we are always confounded by.

So instead of saying Kim Jong-un is now answering that South Korean call for the first time in two years, that is monumental. But it ends up -- I don't know if it's self-destructive or what, but it's by all accounts, all of our experts, not helpful to add these tweets to the equation that appears to be working.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: That's right. Let's imagine, Alisyn, he only sent 15 tweets yesterday and he left off the tweet about the big red button that's bigger than Kim Jong-un's. This morning he could very credibly tweet, great news, North Korea and South Korea talking about, sanctions are working! Exclamation point. That's a really good story for him. Whether or not his sort of tough stance is a direct result of that or not, still that is a good news story for him and for the world.

[08:10:07] But because he sent that 16th tweet, he always sends that one extra tweet, it is now colored by this sort of measuring contest debate and whether or not -- and I think the answer is not -- this is a good way to deal with someone, as David points out, who we know is a unstable dictator pursuing a nuclear arsenal. I think Donald Trump, one of the stories in the first year as president is that he has been his own worst enemy often politically and from a policy perspective. I think this shows that 2018 is a lot like 2017.

GREGORY: And he is also not strategic, certainly it's been strategic about how they have approached North Korea as an administration, to give them credit, but I don't think Trump is strategic. I think he just goes from punch to punch, and very much like he did in the '80s, full page ad complaining to Reagan about America getting ripped off in the world and being made to look bad. And I do think in this case it's important that America not get separated strategically from South Korea and South Korean thinks we can do our own deal with North Korea because that could hurt the overall effort.

CUOMO: Right. Now, this is a metaphor, but it is an opportunity for a little bit of insight into president existence. We have a Pete Souza who was the presidential photographer obviously for President Obama, and he has a picture of the desk, but the picture up of the desk, the red button that is actually on the president's desk. You see it down there. It's to call the valet, which is what the president uses to get whatever he wants. Supposedly President Trump uses it because he drinks a lot of diet coke.

CAMEROTA: So that is not the nuclear button?

CUOMO: That is not. And if there were a second one, imagine how daunting that would be if you have two buttons and you get them confused. The red button is just a metaphor, but it was an interesting opportunity to show the desk.

One of the things that we know whether people like it or not is that President Trump's tendency, his inclination is to think about himself. He does not surrender the me to the we. So isn't that, David, the threading of -- are his White House tweets, are they White House policy? Yes, because he's the president. Is his mind on policy when he tweets? Very often the answer is no.

GREGORY: Right. Maggie Haberman I also thought had really great insight about an hour ago where she said the president has been on vacation, he's talking to people, he is outside of the bubble of being president where I think he operates a lot of the time. It was Ron Klain who worked for Vice President Gore and has been a big Democratic strategist and a really big thinking said there is no Trumpism. There is not as much of an administration as there is him. And that is something to really consider.

So when he, as president, separates himself from a tradition of American leadership, again, I say he goes small and he goes trashy and he goes cranky. I don't think that's effective. I think it can really hurt the United States over the longer term, and we are not going to see that immediately. If you look at "The New Yorker" piece about how China has handled Trump, there is a migration away from the concept of U.S. leadership to other powers who are asserting themselves in the world, like China.

CAMEROTA: So Chris, isn't this lunch with Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, going to be interesting today? You could also say who knows what his backchannels were producing, what the by-product of whatever he's been working on while the president was undermining him in tweets saying don't even deal with North Korea, but here we are. Something has shifted and something has worked in terms of at least the Korean peninsula talking, and we know Rex Tillerson is a short- timer, so what's going to happen at this lunch?

CILLIZZA: I was going to say I feel like every Rex Tillerson story is, is he leaving or not, is he going to be fired or not? I think there has to be for someone like Rex Tillerson who was the head of Exxon Mobile, for Jim Mattis, a longtime military man, there has to be a level of frustration, David touched on this, with Trump's lack of strategy. Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador must feel similarly. There's clearly a concerted effort to, yes, be tougher on North Korea and to send them a clear, tough signal. But then the president, who is the person everybody really listens to, goes off and does his own thing that is kind of tough but also odd and speaks to some of his insecurities about how he's always the best, the biggest, et cetera, et cetera. There has to be a level of frustration that exists within that upper echelon of government officials that they are trying to execute an actual strategy, in much the same way we have seen top administrations execute strategies in the past, but the president of the United States is not even close to onboard.


DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me just say very quickly, in crisis, presidential decisions are lonely decisions.


GREGORY: They are consequential. We can't forget that. We are talking about all the bluster right now. Absent an acute crisis, that's something to think about and be frightened about.

CUOMO: That is true. All the tweets have been done on the sides of situation. They haven't been what wind up dictating the ultimate action. We'll see what happens.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, Chris Cillizza, thank you both very much.

So, some Democratic lawmakers suggest that the chairman of the House Intel Committee is actively sabotaging the Russia probe. So, we will speak to a Democrat on that panel and see what he thinks, next.


CAMEROTA: Today is the deadline for the Department of Justice to turn over documents related to the Christopher Steele dossier to House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. This as the man who started Fusion GPS, that, of course, is the firm behind the dossier, they have given us a lot more information in a "New York Times" op-ed that is out today. Let's discuss all of it with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of

Connecticut. He's a member of the House Intel Committee.

Congressman, good morning.


CAMEROTA: We know so much more about the timeline and the motivation of the dossier and how it all came to pass and what was happening at the same time with George Papadopoulos. So, I don't know if you had the chance to read this op-ed by the founders of Fusion GPS, this research firm. But let me just read a portion of it for our viewers.

Here's what they say. We don't believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, 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. They, of course, are referring to the George Papadopoulos information whereby in April, he was in London, he was reportedly drunk, he was loose-lipped and talking to an Australian diplomat who was so concerned about learning that Russia had some sort of dirt on Hillary Clinton.

[08:20:13] They then shared it with their counterparts and they shared it with the FBI.

So, my question to you, you know your Republican counterparts have been trying to besmirch the dossier, say that that was the basis for the Russia investigation, and as of today, we now know, no, it wasn't.

HIMES: Yes. Well, that's right. I mean, let me state the obvious. You know, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a very careful organization, very focused on abiding by the law, on doing good work.

They know that whatever they produce is likely to appear before a judge and receive all kinds of scrutiny. So, the idea that the FBI -- and this is idea, of course, that sadly Republicans are trying to promote and that Fox News and the usual Greek chorus of right-wing defenders are trying to promote, is that the FBI was just picking on the dossier, chose this dossier as the basis for an investigation that we now know and recall "The New York Times" story of last week I guess it was where George Papadopoulos talking to an Australian seems to know about Russian interception or stealing, I should say, of compromising e-mails for Hillary Clinton.

So, yes, the whole case, which was never much of a case falls apart when you add facts to it.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, the question is, what does your chairman, Devin Nunes, do with all of this?

HIMES: Well, you know, my hope is he sets it aside. I mean, this is at least the third round of Chairman Nunes dedicating himself to a defense of the president. It started with his midnight run to the White House to apparently elicit information that suggested that Donald Trump was being wiretapped and, of course, we got that famous tweet. That turned out not to be true, and then we went out, we moved on to this idea that somehow there had been improper unmasking. That's when senior officials, of course, want to see who the U.S. person identity is behind an intercept where it's being blacked out for civil liberty reasons.

You know, I was in the interviews in which we examined that and there's absolutely zero evidence that Sam Powers or Susan Rice or anybody else improperly unmasked, and now, we are on this war that Chairman Nunes has initiated with the Department of Justice and with the FBI all around this idea that the dossier -- which, by the way, you know, there may very well be errors in the dossier, it is not finished intelligence, it's a collection of information that would not pass muster with the CIA or FBI, but there are still open questions in the dossier.

But the point is that, of course, the FBI did not rely exclusively on that dossier in order to open the investigation. So, again, this is just a third installment of attempts to distract and delegitimize those who were working on trying to understand what Russia did to us in the election and whether there was any U.S. person participation in that attack.

CAMEROTA: Is Chairman Nunes blocking your efforts and other Democrats' efforts to try to get information for the Russia probe and interview more people?

HIMES: Well, I don't want to go that far. And again, I hope where we -- I have no personal animus against Chairman Nunes, I actually like the guy. I hope that he drops, you know, third installment of distraction, and I hope we can go back to Washington and say, hey, it's in everybody's interest, including in Donald Trump's interest, that we get one solid comprehensive report finished.

And that, you know what, I'm sure it's going to mean that the Democrats want to see more witnesses and that Republicans are seeing, but that should be something we can negotiate, because it's very much certainly in the American peoples' interests, but in everybody else's interests to get one solid comprehensive report here where the Congress is speaking with one voice on what Russia did to us.

This is serious business, and what we can do to prevent it happening in the future. So, no, I don't want to go so far as to say he's blocking us, but, you know, we do have a list of people we still believe we need to interview, work that needs to be done and this investigation should not be ended when there are still very many and significant open questions.

CAMEROTA: Listen, you keep saying it's in everybody's interest to have one comprehensive report that everybody can read and I think that's because you know there are reports that there will have to be a Democratic report and a Republican report because there's, you know, never the twain shall meet, the Republicans on the committee see it one way and they have whatever set of facts they want to use and that the Democrats see it quite differently and you will have to issue two reports. What's the likelihood of that?

HIMES: Well, I mean, shame on us if that's the outcome, shame on Congress, right? I mean, let's recall. This, of course, has become very politicized and sadly, the chairman bears his share of the blame for that. But let's remember, that this was a Russian attack on the very core of our democracy.

[08:25:07] It doesn't get much more serious than that.

And so, if Congress can't produce and speak with one very clear voice -- and, by the way, it's not just Republicans and Democrats, it's the House and Senate, because remember, the Senate is doing their own independent investigation that tells the American people what happened.

If this evolves into a Republican and Democratic -- can you imagine if the Republicans and the Democrats had different views over what happened on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor? Shame on us if that's where we end up. My hope is again --


CAMEROTA: But do you think we're all heading in that direction? I mean, just help us understand what the conversations are. Do you sense there are some talks that you are heading in that direction?

HIMES: Yes. You know, three weeks ago, when it sort of -- remember, the week before Christmas, the House Intelligence Committee investigation did eight interviews in one week. You can't do eight interviews in one week, and we all feared and the press reported that there was going to be an attempt to end this investigation by the end of the year.

Mike Conaway, and let me again compliment Mike Conaway, who is running the investigation for the Republicans, said, no, let's do it right. So, look, I don't want people to think that this thing is ruined. The reality is there are some good Republicans, good Democrats who really want to see this thing done comprehensively. And my hope is that after the break, we can come back and agree on a time schedule and a way forward so that we have one report on one of the most serious things that has happened in our country in a long time.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, one last question, are you comfortable with Devin Nunes' involvement, the level of involvement after he did go to the White Souse and shared some sort of sensitive information. I know the ethics committee cleared him, but knowing his relationship with the president and what he had done, are you comfortable with his involvement today?

HIMES: Well, you know, so far, he really hasn't been involved. In other words, I think I have been in just about all of our witness interviews and whatnot, and the chairman hasn't been involved. What has happened he is operating parallel investigations off to the side, you know, into the dossier, in which he sort of doesn't inform us. So, what needs to happen here is he needs to stop that, rejoin the

investigation now that he had been cleared and see beyond the defense of the president in favor of all of us coming together to produce a report that is rooted in the facts and that will tell the American people what happened and how we can prevent it from happening again.

CAMEROTA: OK, Congressman Jim Himes, we look very forward to seeing what happens when Congress is back from break. Thank you for being here.

HIMES: Thanks, Alisyn.


CUOMO: All right. So, President Trump went on a tweet storm on his first day back at work. What does it say about where his head is and this idea that he insists on that there's a deep state conspiracy against him? Let's debate it, next.