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Trump Again Calls Russian Attacks a Hoax; Trump To Iran in Tweet; North Korea Wants Kim Regime Survival; Trump Denies Frustration with North Korea. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 23, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

President Trump, he's lashing out on multiple fronts today as the controversies around him grow more and more toxic.

First, the threat of war escalating with Iran. The president sending a furious message to Iran's president, never threaten the United States again or suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. A quote from the president.

And the walk back on Russia continues after a week of damage control in attempts to calm concerns about -- after President Trump sided with Russia over America's intelligence community. The president is now changing his message once again, calling the entire Russia investigation a hoax.

This as the president is privately frustrated by the lack of progress with North Korea.

And now Kim Jong-un's regime is making new demands on the U.S.

On top of all of that, former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page admitted he informally advised the Kremlin.

Paul Manafort's criminal trial is set to begin this week.

The FBI has a secret tape of the president and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, discussing a payment to a former Playboy model.

And the plot is thickening on an alleged Russian spy here in the United States.

And, remember, we still don't know what happened during the president's one-on-one meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin.

Let's start with our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president is reversing his walk back on Russia. So what's the latest message he's now sending?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, after what could only be described as a week of damage control by this White House, insisting that the president did believe the intelligence community's assessment that Russia meddled in the election, the president is now making fresh calls to end the investigation into Russian meddling in the election and whether or not any Trump officials colluded with anyone from Russia.

The president tweeting this several times this morning, and over the weekend, in all caps at sometimes, Wolf, saying this investigation is a hoax, saying that President Obama knew about it before the election but did not tell the Trump campaign, something that's not true, and also saying that this investigation was prompted by that surveillance of that former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Now, that is also not true, Wolf. That surveillance did not start until October. That is months after the investigation into Russian interference in the election got kicked off and was underway. It was well underway.

Now, Sarah Sanders said this morning that the president was referring to collusion when he said that it is all one big hoax. But, Wolf, to be clear, the president himself is not making that distinction on Twitter. Instead, he is saying that the investigation into Russian meddling needs to be ended now. And he's is also, Wolf, continuing to lash out about the media's coverage of his sit-down with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Writing on Twitter, when you hear the fake news talking negatively about my meeting, remember I gave up nothing. We merely talked about future benefits for both countries. Also, we got along very well, which is a good thing.

Wolf, the reason that the media has been covering his summit in that way is because he did not acknowledge Russian interference in the election when he was standing side by side with the Russian president. And also that two-hour meeting that they had was never fully read out to the media of what was said between the two leaders. That is the reason for that coverage of that sit-down, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there will be a press briefing coming up supposedly at the top of the next hour with the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, right?

COLLINS: Yes, Wolf, that's right. And she's got a bevy of questions facing her. You'll remember she did that one briefing last week where she was asked several times about the president and whether or not he believed Russia was still targeting the United States. There was confusion that abounded over his answer.

Also, they were asked to comment on the indictment of that Russian who is accused of being in the United States to spy and to infiltrate organizations. That is something that Sarah Sanders said she was only looking at then but did not comment any further on that.

So we've got all of these questions, as well as everything the president has said over the weekend. He has been tweeting more -- even more frequently than usual, Wolf, 17 times, I believe, in the last 24 hours or so. So Sarah Sanders is going to have a lot of questions facing her when she does come out to that press briefing room here and what the White House says will be in the next hour.

BLITZER: And there certainly will be a lot of questions. Let's see how those answers shape up.

Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

None of those threats from President Trump, lashing out at Iran's leader. In his latest tweet, the president says, and I'm quoting him now, to Iranian President Rouhani, never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious, close quote.

The president's warning appears to be a response to comments by Rouhani directed at the U.S. that any war with Iran would be the mother of all wars. And in recent days, Iran has also threatened a blockade of oil exports if there are renewed sanctions against Iran.

[13:05:12] Let's go to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us from London right now.

Nick, how is Tehran additionally reacting to President Trump's threat?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, this is a region volatile enough that they possibly aren't going to be tipped over the edge by block capitals. But at the same time, this is from the most powerful technically commander of military forces in the world. And we've seen a reasonably measured reaction from Iran, harking at the point that this is going to unify many Iranians potentially against what they see as an American threat. A senior Iranian commander has also referred to this as psychological warfare.

But to -- fair enough to Donald Trump's point, this was actually a response to Hassan Rouhani's suggestion that they should not pull the tail of the lion, so to speak, and that the mother of all wars could potentially come their way.

On top of that as well, we've heard more of an echo of the hardline from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Just on Sunday, in a speech in California, that potentially fermented that sort of quite strident speech by Iran's relatively moderate president, Rouhani. Here's one of the phrases that Mike Pompeo had to say during that speech in which he refers to some of the discontent felt inside Iran because the money spent on its foreign adventures (INAUDIBLE) is now kind of its regional influential peak for past decade or so. Here's what he had to say.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, thanks to regime subsidies, the average Hezbollah combatant makes two to three times what an Iranian firefighter makes on the streets of Iran. The bitter irony of the economic situation in Iran is that the regime

uses this same time to line its own pockets while its people cry out for jobs and reform and for opportunity. The Iran economy is going great but only if you're a politically connected member of the elite.


WALSH: Now, there is economic discontent on the streets of Iran. The sanctions have caused the currency to slide. But what is the end state they're looking for? Clearly what we're seeing here is the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani being pushed slightly towards the hardliners. And that's, frankly, the opposite of what the U.S. wants. They seem to believe the more pressure they put on, they'll suddenly find a relaxing, more liberalizing of Iran's government. That's sadly unlikely and that could put the region into a more difficult place than where their (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Good point.

Nick Paton Walsh in London, thank you very much.

Escalating the rhetoric to shift the national conversation seems to be a strategy the president uses when he wants to deflect criticism against him.

Let's discuss this and more with CNN global affairs analyst and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot, and CNN political analyst and White House reporter for "The New York Times" Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Julie, there's a lot of suspicion. The president tweets close to midnight Saturday night that he issues this very tough warning to President Rouhani of Iran. How do you see this unfolding?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, the question is whether this threat is being taken seriously by the officials in Iran and certainly around the world because this president has shown that he is willing to use this platform to try to change the subject when he feels that the narrative is not in his direction. You opened the show talking about his continuing walk backs about this -- his performance with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last week.

I think that this is certainly a response to Rouhani, but it also should be viewed in the context of this broader narrative that he doesn't like, that he somehow looked weak on the world stage and is trying to reassert that toughness. And, frankly sort of do what he did with regard to North Korea, where he really ratcheted up the rhetoric. We heard about fire and fury last summer. And then he thinks, the way he sees it, he sort of brought him to the table, brought Kim Jong-un to the table for that summit in a way that made him, Donald Trump, look strong and look like he was driving the process. And I think he is trying to turn the page on this Russia -- on these Russia questions by shifting the focus back to Iran where he would like to do the same thing (ph). BLITZER: You know, I should point out, Max, the tweet was almost

midnight Sunday -- last night, Sunday night, he tweeted and in all caps, to make the point that this is a real warning to the Iranians. You can see it right there. Be cautious. That's the end. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death.

How do you see it?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, if anybody is issuing demented words of violence and death, I would say it's the president of the United States. I mean it's quite a pass we have come to when the leadership of a country like Iran seems more stable and rational than the president of the United States. But, I mean, I agree with what was said. I don't actually think he is planning to attack Iran. I think this is really a ploy to distract attention from the horrible publicity he got for his subservience to Russia.

But this really also, I think, underlines just how extraordinary his conduct towards Putin is because look at what he's doing here. He is threatening Rouhani with death and all -- you know, consequences nobody's ever seen before. And what did Rouhani do, he gave a speech in which he said, you know, if the U.S. attacks Iran, it will be the mother of all wars and likewise if the U.S. makes peace with Iran, it will be the peace of all -- the mother of all peace.

[13:10:13] So this was not some true attack on the United States. It was just some rhetoric. Whereas Vladimir Putin is actually attacking the United States, as we know from his own director of national intelligence, and Trump has nothing to say about that.

Moreover today -- or, sorry, yesterday, Mike Pompeo, you know, gave a tough speech about Iran at the Ronald Reagan Library, a lot of which I agree with. And he was really pointing out the corruption and the human rights abuses in Iran, which he's right to do, but how come Pompeo and Trump and nobody in the administration ever points out the corruption and human rights abuses in Russia? There's a clear double standard here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and a lot of people point that out. And we still don't know what happened at that Helsinki summit in that two hour and 10 minute private meeting that the president had with the Russian leader. President Putin, apparently he's briefing some of his close allies. He's briefed, according to the website, the Belarusian president. He's briefed Belarus on what happened. We're still waiting for a good briefing from the U.S. side.

DAVIS: Right. Absolutely. And Sarah Sanders was -- said this morning in the White House driveway that, well, we've already gotten a read out of the meeting because the president did these interviews last week in which he talked about what was discussed. I mean to the extent that he did do interviews that touch on that, it was so vague and he didn't -- he didn't mention any particular issue. And certainly Putin, both publicly and privately, has seemed to leak out points of discussion in this meeting that he finds advantageous to him. The idea that they discussed potentially a referendum in Ukraine that would decide the status of Ukraine and potentially the status of Crimea, this idea that maybe in Minsk they have a better idea of what happened in that room than we do in the United States. It's kind of amazing.

But also, to Max's point, you know, the administration actually has talked pretty tough, at least some members of this administration, about Vladimir Putin's human rights abuses and violations of international law. What we haven't heard is the president take up those themes himself. And all he seems to be doing is sort of portraying this meeting in a very warm light. As you saw in that tweet, we got along very well and that's a good thing.

BOOT: I mean the irony here, of course, is that's absolutely right, we don't know what happened, and yet Trump was complaining that he's not getting full credit for what happened. Well, how can we give him credit if we don't know what transpired?

BLITZER: Well, do you think his top cabinet members, including the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the secretary of defense, James Mattis, his national security -- do you think they have been fully briefed on what happened?

BOOT: No. I mean they've said that they don't know.

BLITZER: Well, that was last week. But I wonder, since last week, whether they've received that in-depth knowledge.

BOOT: No, but think about this, Wolf, who would brief them, OK? There was no note taker in the room, so they have to rely on Donald Trump, who is not exactly the most reliable narrator. I mean this is a guy who lies on average in public 6.5 times a day and is not going to -- he wasn't taking notes. He doesn't have a complete memory. And he has probably a stake in distorting what actually happened. So unless they're interrogating the translator and getting the full story from her, which I don't even know if she can remember it all, there's no way the U.S. government is going to get the full story. Whereas, in all likelihood, Putin has a transcript and people in the Russian government know exactly what was said.

DAVIS: Right. And I was thinking back to the last time that he sat down with Putin for any length of time, which was in Hamburg last summer. Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was there. He came out and gave us a pretty detailed briefing that did tick down the list of what was discussed and obviously put the United States' spin on what those discussions were.

Sergey Lavrov came out and gave a very different view of what had happened. And even then you had some sort of contrast between what the Russians were taking away from it and what the Americans were. But at least they each had somebody in the room who could convey those points. The president, as Max said, has not either publicly or even to his aides, to our knowledge, been able to give a reliable account of all of the things that were discussed and potential agreements that might have been made.

BLITZER: And the whole Russia investigation, the president tweeted this morning, once again, it's a discredited Mueller witch hunt. That's what he says about that Russia investigation.

BOOT: And that's a disgrace. He's once again taking the word of Putin over the -- our intelligence agencies.

BLITZER: He's going back and forth on this.

All right, guys, thank you very much.

As the president privately fumes about the lack of progress with North Korea, CNN is now learning that Kim Jong-un's regime is making new demands on the U.S.

Plus, President Trump makes a series of false claims about the warrants involving his former adviser, Carter Page, and when the president was first briefed about Russian interference in the U.S. elections.

And John Brennan is the -- clearly the former CIA director. He's now a TV pundit. But now Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is asking the president of the United States to revoke Brennan's security clearance. You're going to hear why.


[13:19:01] BLITZER: Iran isn't the only thing President Trump is tweeting about today. I'm quoting him now, a rocket has not been launched by North Korea in nine months. Likewise, no nuclear tests. Japan is happy. All of Asia is happy.

The fact remain, though, remains that six weeks after the Singapore summit, there's little progress in denuclearization. And North Korea now says it needs the U.S. to be willing to make what they call a bold move to push negotiations forward.

Let's go to our CNN international correspondent Will Ripley. He's joining us from Hong Kong right now.

Will, so what kind of bold move is Pyongyang looking for?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, North Korea, according to my source, Wolf, feels that they've already done enough, although two of the three major concessions that we're talking about happened before the Singapore summit, that being the test -- the freeze on testing of missiles and nuclear devices and also the destruction of what North Korea claimed was the destruction, which we couldn't verify on the ground, of the (INAUDIBLE) nuclear site.

Now, in the coming days, North Korea is expected to possibly repatriate what they claim are the remains of dozens of U.S. service members who died during the Korean War. That is something that President Trump asked for in Singapore.

[13:20:08] But there have been no tangible steps towards giving up their nuclear weapons, no transparency about their missile facilities or nuclear sites. The kind of thing that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Pyongyang demanding earlier this month and he pretty much came away empty handed and was snubbed when he didn't get a meeting that was expected with the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un.

What the North Koreans say, though, is that the United States is asking for too much. And what they want, above any economic incentives from the U.S. or the easing of sanctions, is a security guarantee for their leader, Kim Jong-un. They want guarantees that he is going to stay the ruler of that country. And so what they want is a peace treaty, a formal end to the Korean War, replacing the armistice agreement that was signed in 1953 when the fighting stopped but still kept North Korea technically at war with the South and with the U.S. and its allies.

And they also want a slow, step-by-step denuclearization process that gives them economic benefits along the way, whereas the United States is saying they're not going to lift sanctions until the end of the process. But they are backed up right now, Wolf, by their traditional allies, China and Russia, who have told Kim Jong-un reportedly that they have his back, even if talks with the United States fall apart.

BLITZER: Yes, and remember one thing the North Koreans did before the summit with the president and Kim Jong-un was release those three American prisoners as a goodwill gesture at that time as well. Something the Trump administration, certainly their families, were deeply appreciative of.

Will Ripley in Hong Kong, thank you very much.

Measuring the standard of progress with North Korea is hard to do. Pyongyang has a long and well documented record of cheating on nuclear agreements. One woman can readily attest to this. Elizabeth Sherwood- Randall served as the deputy secretary of energy from 2014 to 2017. She's also the former White House coordinator for defense policy and weapons of mass destruction.

Liz, thanks so much for joining us.


You know, the juxtaposition of the president's tweets is astonishing and creates a very dangerous precedent for would-be proliferators around the world. You have the president saying to the North Koreans, who are known human rights abusers, we give you respect, and indeed he said after the meeting in Singapore that he had given them a guarantee of regime survival, while his -- his message to the Iranians is, you have to nuclear weapons and we'll threaten your regime's survival. So the message to the world is, get your nuclear weapons first, then start negotiating.

BLITZER: You know from your personal experience, Liz, how hard it is to dismantle nuclear arsenal. So what's your assessment, first of all, on the challenges the U.S. is facing right now with North Korea?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: We've known all along this would be a long, hard process. It's been estimated by those who have looked closely at the North Korean arsenal that it could take up to 15 years to get this done. But the elements that are necessary for agreement include stopping production of all of their fissile materials, both uranium that has been enriched and plutonium, dismantling the production facilities that exist for that fissile material, dismantling the nuclear weapons that they already have, and publicly it's estimated that they have up to 60 nuclear weapons, and then dismantling all of the sites that produce those nuclear weapons, along with the delivery systems that they have been proliferating as well. So we've got a long, hard process ahead of us, and much harder than the deal with Iran that the president walked away from, which was verifiably dismantling Iranian capabilities. And that is because the Iranians had no nuclear weapons. And as I mentioned, the North Koreans have a number of them already.

BLITZER: They certainly do. What do you make of the North Korean new demand, as Will Ripley just reported, that they are seeking firm guarantees that the regime will survive, regime survival, and that sanctions against North Korea will be lifted?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: It's not at all surprising. I think the most important thing to note that we have already given up something very substantial, which when you and I talked previously on this topic I said was I thought something we should not do, and that is to cease our military exercises with the Republic of Korea in advantages of any demonstrable progress on denuclearization. We've already given a lot. We need to see the North Koreans make concrete progress on denuclearization before we do anything more.

BLITZER: But isn't the fact that they've not had a nuclear test in nine months, not had a ballistic missile test in nine months, isn't that significant?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Well, it's significant, but let's ask ourselves the question, who has the onus been upon? It has been upon the North Koreans who have violated all agreements that have been reached by the international community, multiple U.N. resolutions, sanctions have been imposed as a result, and they continued both to proliferate nuclear weapons and to test their delivery systems in a way that threatened our allies and partners in the region and ultimately potentially the U.S. homeland. So the onus was on the North Koreans to stop that before we would take any further steps that would ease the pressure that's on their economy and welcome them into the international community.

[13:25:23] The president has given the most important recognition of Kim Jong-un in welcoming him to a summit in Singapore, standing beside him, having our flags flying together. So we have already given plenty. And we now need to see concrete action from the North Koreans.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Liz, what was your reaction when you read that tweet in all caps from the president of the United States threatening -- threatening the Iranians. And I'll read a line from that tweet, with consequence -- severe -- suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before if they continue their threats against the United States.

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: You know, Wolf, my kids have always said to me, if I tweet or text them in capital letters, I'm shouting. So I want to say, I think it's totally unpresidential for our president to be communicating this way, in such an escalatory and bellicose fashion to the Iranians. We don't have the international community united behind us anymore with respect to Iran. And when the president tweets escalatory rhetoric, threatening war, it makes us all less secure.

We have created tensions with our allies. That means they may not stand with us were we to go to war. And, in addition, we've undermined deterrents because the president has called into question our alliance commitments. Therefore, that invited others to mess with us at a very unstable time potentially and were the president to want to take us into war, he would need to have the allies of the United States around the world with us, not standing in astonishment at what he's doing. It's destabilizing behavior that's dangerous for us all of us.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: President Trump making a series of false claims about the warrants involving one of his campaign advisers and Carter Page's ties to the Kremlin. We're fact checking all of that.

Also, why President Trump's attorneys are waving privilege on the secret recording from the president's former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen.