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Trump Tweets Threat to Iran; White House Blames Iran for War of Words; Trump Ramps Up Distraction; Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired July 24, 2018 - 06:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[06:31:55] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, President Trump says he is not concerned about fallout from his all caps tweet warning the Iranian regime not to threaten the United States. Iran's foreign minister responded with some of his own all caps. He said, quote, color us unimpressed.

Want to bring in CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier and Jason Rezaian. Jason, of course, spent more than 17 months in an Iranian prison.

You have a unique perspective on this, Jason. And you also were at, I believe, the speech in Simi Valley from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo where he took on the Iranian regime.

So give us your sense of where we are this morning.

JASON REZAIAN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think we're not very far from where we started a few days ago. Tough rhetoric between Washington and Teheran is absolutely nothing new. But I think that -- that President Trump's all caps tweet is an important reminder that we have got to be cautious. We've got to be careful. And the response from Teheran I would say fortunately has been somewhat measured. So that's probably a good thing.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Kimberly, how do you see it? I mean does this -- do these kinds of tweets back and forth alarm the national security team? Does it feel like it moves into, you know, a different deaf con state or is this just Twitter diplomacy at work?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I have to agree with Jason. I think that Iran is proceeding cautiously. It's a very different actor than North Korea. I think what the Trump administration is trying to do or Trump himself is to create that same good cop/bad cop scenario. In this case, maybe the good cop would be the European countries that are still trying to engage with Iran and trying to gin up this tension to maneuver Iran.

The problem is unlike North Korea where the strategy worked, Iranian leaders have a lot of different pressures on them. It's not that monolithically led country. So they have to respond to everything from the National Guard force to religious clerics who don't want to be seen as kowtowing to the White House.

BERMAN: To that point, Jason Rezaian, Hassan Rouhani, the president in Iran, he is really doing a political juggling act here, correct?

REZAIAN: That's absolutely right. If you look at the quote that was talked about so much the last couple of days, he said the mother of all peace or the mother of all war. And I think that that's a very good indication of the delicate balancing act that he's having to play and has been having to play for quite a long time. And I think that there's really nothing to be gained for Iran right now to get into a war of words that might escalate with the United States. So, you know, I think he also has great, great problems at home with the economy, with the environment and a lot of hardliners saying, hey, you know, you went out and made this nuclear deal. Where are the benefits? There aren't any. So, yes, I think you're right, it's a -- it's a tough spot that he's in.

CAMEROTA: In this latest round -- this latest war of words, Kimberly, Iran started it. I mean Iran said something that President Trump perceived as a sort of veiled threat or at least a ratcheting up of rhetoric. And so, you know, President Trump doesn't let those things slide. And so, I mean, what do you -- what do you think the response is to his response? Was that appropriate?

[06:35:15] DOZIER: Well, they know that what's coming are a series of sanctions that are going to snap back in place and that the U.S. has just told Europe that, no, it won't give European countries across the board waivers for a lot of these sanctions. So, in a sense, they feel like they're responding in kind.

The next thing that they could do, physical escalation, would be cutting off the Strait of Hormuz, something like that. I don't think we're anywhere near that yet. But this is sort of an opening salvo rhetorically.

BERMAN: President Rouhani actually has said those words out loud, though. He's mused about the possibility of closing the Straits of Hormuz. But to Jason's point before, that seems to be internal politics to try to sort of assuage the conservatives in his country. And as to who started it, I do think the Iranians look at this and say, hey, we played diplomacy before. We've tried diplomacy before, Jason, and what did that get us? We had this signed deal with the United States that the White House just backed out of, so this is on them, not us?

REZAIAN: Yes, it hasn't gotten them very far. But, you know, I think we've got to look back and realize that this is a 39-year back and forth that's been going on between Teheran and Washington. There's been a lot of downs and a handful of ups. And I for one think that this is hopefully something that we're able to work through patiently, cautiously until a brighter day.

CAMEROTA: We like your optimism, Jason, and particularly from where you sit, from what you've endured in Iran, you have somehow preserved your faith in humanity.

REZAIAN: I think you kind of have to.

BERMAN: Kimberly, from a military standpoint, we've seen the rhetorical back and forth here. But you've got sources all up and down the U.S. military and international military. Any signs that anything has changed in terms of military disposition over the last several days?

DOZIER: No direct indications right now, just the normal, you know, trolls watching each other, waiting to see if somebody is going to try to get in someone else's territory, get in someone else's face to create an incident. But, at this point, the sides are circling each other weary.

CAMEROTA: So, Jason, look, Kimberly laid out that obviously Iran is not North Korea. But President Trump is taking, it seems, a page from his own play book where ratcheting up the rhetoric with North Korea worked, to his mind, and allowed for this, you know, historic summit and sit down with Kim Jong-un. Could this play out like that?

REZAIAN: Well, I think that's obviously what he's playing for, leaving that possibility open. I would say that, you know, in both North Korea and Iranian Revolutionary rhetoric, if you want to call that, you know, standing up against America is a basic tenant going back decades. So I think it will be a hard sell for Iranian politicians, especially clerics, to say, you know what, let's give this guy a shot, let's sit down and talk to him, especially after the U.S. has abandoned the nuclear deal.

BERMAN: I will say, as Kimberly has pointed out, this is the case where Donald Trump, the president, might be more willing to at least negotiate than say John Bolton, his national security adviser here, who's had long-standing views on this subject.

Kimberly Dozier, Jason Rezaian, great to have you with us this morning. Thanks so much.

REZAIAN: Thanks.

DOZIER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, we have an important update for you now. We have some new information about how many of those parents who were separated from their children at the border have been deported now without their children, without ever being reunited. An important update, so stick around.

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[06:42:46] BERMAN: New satellite images indicate that Pyongyang has begun dismantling a key missile test site. Now, this could be an important step after it seems that progress in the negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea had all but stalled.

CNN's Will Ripley joins us now. Will, of course, was the first foreign journalist to visit North Korea's satellite control center. He interviewed the scientists in charge of the facility that we now believe, based on these images, Will, is being dismantled, at least to an extent.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it is a symbolic step towards denuclearization, but the analysts are pointing out it's a pretty small step, given the fact that the Sohae launch site has been used to launch satellites with liquid-fuel technology. They launched back in 2012. That launch, by the way, scuttled very short- lived denuclearization deal that the Obama administration negotiated with Kim Jong-un shortly after he came to power.

But North Korea has now moved on from the liquid fuel missiles that you have to roll out, that sit on the Launchpad for days that could be easily spotted from spy satellites, to these solid fuel ballistic missiles, the kind that they roll out on mobile missile launches, that can be launched with very short notice. The kind of missiles that we've seen launched repeatedly by North Korea in recent years.

So the Sohae launch site, significant, symbolic, but kind of old news for North Korea. They've now moved on from liquid fuel to solid fuel and there is no indication this morning that North Korea has done anything to dismantle their solid fuel sites. In fact, all indications are they continue upgrading those facilities.

So while this is a confidence-building measure, analysts say it is an important step, there's still a long way to go before North Korea's nuclear threat is neutralized. And so President Trump and his administration still have their work to do as the negotiations move forward, John.

CAMEROTA: I'll take it, Will. Thank you very much for that update.

So we now have an idea how many parents who were separated from their children at the border may have already been deported. The Trump administration has revealed these new numbers. It's 463 parents of separated children, those children aged five and older, are no longer in the U.S. meaning the parents are no longer in the U.S. but the children are. The U.S. government maintains that any parent deported alone had the opportunity to bring their child with them but immigrant advocates questioned whether parents fully understood that, whether the Trump administration fully explained that. A federal judge has ordered all separated children to be reunited with their families by this Thursday.

[06:45:09] BERMAN: Pay attention to that.

Robert Wilkie is the new secretary of veteran affairs. The Senate approved his confirmation 86-9 on Monday. The move gives the department its first permanent leader since March. The president previously tried to replace the fired Secretary David Shulkin with White House Doctor Ronny Jackson, but Jackson withdrew his nomination in April after allegations of misconduct at the White House medical unit.

CAMEROTA: Well, "The New York Daily News," an institution in New York City since 1919, has cut half its newsroom staff. The papers new parent company, Tronc, told employees in an e-mail that it's, quote, fundamentally restructuring "The Daily News." Editor in chief Jim Rich was among those out the door. Shortly before the layoffs were announced, Rich tweeted this -- if you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you. "The Daily News" has reportedly lost more than $90 million over the last three years.

It's a sad day in journalism, you know? Local news plays a really important fundamental part in keeping local governments in check.

BERMAN: Yes. It's a loss. It's a loss for the city. It's a loss for the state. And it's a loss for readers. If you don't want this to happen, go buy newspapers. You know, give to your public radio station. Support these organizations the best you can because when they're gone, you will miss them.

So what is President Trump's mindset as he continues to distract from that strange meeting he had with Vladimir Putin? Why did he all of a sudden threat on the revoke the security clearances of former intelligence chiefs? And how does he think it's all playing out? Maggie Haberman with the inside scoop, next.

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[06:50:47] CAMEROTA: OK, so President Trump apparently lashing out after returning from his widely-criticized summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. In the last 24 hours, the president has threatened Iran in a tweet and threatened to revoke the security clearances of intelligence officials who are critical of him.

Joining us now to help us understand what's going on inside the White House is CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman.

So, Maggie, how much do you think what we're seeing is connected to what went wrong in Helsinki where the president was criticized after being on the world stage seeming to side with Vladimir Putin?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there are a couple of things going on here and I think that one is about moving away from Russia and seeming like he's strong and this is a president who, as a candidate we know, always looked for the nearest punching bag when he was under attack. I don't think it is unrelated to what is going on with Michael Cohen's case. His former lawyer whose audio recordings of them talking, as we understand -- and we reported on this on Friday, and I've been told mixed things about what the president's reaction was. I don't think that he was pleased. I don't think this is a story that makes him comfortable. And I think the collective mass of this is contributing to why we have him doing an all caps tweet at Iran at 11 at night.

BERMAN: So talk more about that because we've been sitting here discussing the fact that he wants to turn our attention away from Russia. You're suggesting it might just be that he's really upset with what's going on with Michael Cohen?

HABERMAN: I think it's both. I mean I think that they're -- and neither story is actually a great story for him, right? So I think he's happy to turn it away from both aspects. But, yes, Russia, they have been struggling to turn the page on this for a week and the president would undo it and then he would undo what he had undone. I mean he was -- I don't think we have seen him fish tail like that on a topic in a very long time.

I do think he was eager to get away from it, but I also don't think that you can completely decouple it from what is happening with an aspect of legal probes and to people connected to him.

CAMEROTA: So, I mean, look --

HABERMAN: And I don't buy into the, everything is like a plotted distraction thing. And so I think that --

BERMAN: So you always tell us that. You always tell us we read too much into this notion it's a grand strategy.

HABERMAN: I mean -- well, to be clear, I think some things are -- I think some things are strategic. I think what was done yesterday at the podium, and I know we will get to that in a little bit was strategic.

BERMAN: Yes.

HABERMAN: But I think this Iran tweet at 11:00 p.m. at night in all caps was less about -- you know, this really was basically throwing a ball into the air, but I think he threw that ball for a number of reasons. I don't think it was just one.

CAMEROTA: It's hard to get past what happened in Helsinki. It's hard to get past the blaming of America, the America's stupidity --

HABERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: The America's foolishness on the international stage. You know, I mean, it's just stunning what the president did. And I'm just wondering, inside the White House, are people talking to him about this? Is there a course correction?

HABERMAN: It's funny. On the airplane back on the way back from Helsinki, his mood was sort of up and down but he very quickly realized there was a problem because the coverage was, as he put it, so negative and so unfair. And they realized they had to deal with it.

People have said to him, this is a problem. But very few people are actually -- I mean there are -- that's not fair. There are a couple of people who have said to him this was a problem, why this was a problem. But it often involves kind of walking him, at least in part, through how he sees the landscape, not the landscape as it actually is.

I don't think he -- I think he still doesn't entirely understand the problem with what he did. I don't think he understands the problem with standing on a stage with Vladimir Putin and blaming the U.S.

The people who I do think understand that are voters. And I've been a little perplexed. In the criticism that you have seen of what he did, you have had more people talking about -- and that includes Democrats, that he appeared to be condoning or equalizing or normalizing Vladimir Putin, as opposed to the fact that he turned around and he blamed his own country for how it had behaved. And that seems to me like something that voters in the fall could understand.

BERMAN: Yes, we've been talking about the polls a lot and we had a disagreement yesterday. I just wanted to come in today and say --

CAMEROTA: And apologize.

BERMAN: I did -- I did want to apologize. I've actually --

CAMEROTA: What did you do wrong?

BERMAN: Well --

CAMEROTA: I don't even remember.

BERMAN: Look, you look at the polling, the NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" polling out and the president's approval rating has ticked up a point after the Russia thing from June.

HABERMAN: Yes. Yes.

BERMAN: You also look at the approval rating among Republicans and it's at 88 percent, which is very high, and he looks like he's keeping his base. But as Alisyn pointed out yesterday --

CAMEROTA: Brilliantly.

BERMAN: As Alisyn pointed out yesterday, brilliantly --

CAMEROTA: That's nice.

[06:55:01] HABERMAN: Very subtle, too, by the way.

BERMAN: You know, it could be that the Republican sample inside these polls is shrinking if you listen to Harry Entos (ph) and Nate Silver, they've been looking at this data (ph). I mean it's down.

CAMEROTA: It's 27 percent of the country.

BERMAN: But it's few -- but that's -- but that's actually smaller than it was. It was up around 29 percent. And that could account for as much as 10 percent in the approval rating here. So it could be that Republicans are fleeing here.

HABERMAN: It could be. And I think that more will be revealed as we go forward. I think it's hard to know.

I think it's also important to bear in mind when we're talking about how the White House is dealing with this, one of the things that was striking last week was the degree to which Trump sort of pulls people into his unreality bubble of how he sees things. And there was a huge chasm between what that was like and what, you know, the national security aspects were, the national security intelligence community people were experiencing and viewers were experiencing.

BERMAN: Right. I want to talk much more about the security clearance issue and how that was rolled out. Sarah Sanders, you know, read from a sheet when she was behind the lectern, which indicates that was a deliberate strategy. I want to get Maggie's inside scoop on all of that.

Much more when we come back.

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[07:00:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they politicized their public service.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was a bit speechless. I think this was real abuse of the clearance system.