Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

Trump Officials Meeting On North Korea Options; Russia And China Leave Trump Out On North Korea Solution; Forty Plus States Push Back On Full Voter Fraud Probe Request. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 4, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:12]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Pamela Brown in for Kate Bolduan on this Fourth of July.

On the day the United States celebrates 241 years as a nation, North Korea might have taken its anti-American saber rattling to a new and more ominous level. National security, military and diplomatic officials from the Trump administration holding an unplanned July 4th meeting talking about options after North Korea claims it successfully fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

The projectile landed about 200 miles off the coast of Japan as you see here on this map. Of the 11 missile tests North Korea had conducted this year this one is the most concern to the U.S. Because if what the North says it true, it would mean a North Korean weapon could potentially reach the mainland.

CNN's Ryan Browne following the latest developments from the Pentagon. So Ryan, what more can you tell us about this meeting, and the options that are being weighed?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Hi, Pam. Yes, this meeting is being conducted for several reasons. One is to assess whether or not this actually was an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Again, Pacific Command which oversees U.S. military forces in the region initially labeled it an intermediate range missile, but North Korea is making this claim that's in fact an ICBM, which is potentially capable of reaching the mainland United States.

So this is the first thing the Pentagon want to do is assess, look at the data that they have from the missile to determine whether or not North Korea now has this improved capability.

But again, if that is the case, there is a series of options that could be under consideration, diplomatic sanction-type options that have been pursued in the past, attempting to get countries in the region to enforce sanctions more strongly.

There are also military options, some as simple as just boosting the U.S. military presence in the region with more ships or troops, in an effort to kind of allay the concerns of the U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea.

So all of these things potentially under consideration, given that the U.S. is still trying to determine exactly what North Korea fired yesterday.

BROWN: And as you point out, they haven't reached a conclusion yet. Basically, they are looking at the intelligence, North Korea has said that it did launch this intercontinental ballistic missile.

But the big question is, when something like this happens, and the fact that this is of such big concern, how close could the North Koreans be toward actually landing a missile on the U.S. mainland -- Ryan.

BROWNE: Well, that's the question and military analysts are taking a real close look at this. They have that North Korea has made progress. This missile fired yesterday flew longer than any previous missile test North Korea has conducted about 37 minutes according to Pacific Command.

Now so they are monitoring. They are seeing this kind of this increased skill set being developed within the North Korean missile regime, but again this is something that it's very hard to make a determination whether or not they'll have that actual capability to reach the United States.

It's something that the United States plans for. They conduct missile defense system tests in kind of planning for this threat, worst case scenario. But again, it will be very hard to determine whether or not North Korea has reached that threshold.

BROWN: All right, Ryan Browne, thank you for bringing us the latest.

Well, it didn't take long for President Trump to fire off a response to the missile launch. On Twitter, he asked if Kim Jong-un, quote, "has anything better to do with his life."

And added that "maybe China will do something to, quote, "end this non-sense once and for all." All this is happening as Mr. Trump is preparing for an enormous test of his diplomatic chops this week at the G20 Summit in Germany.

CNN learning that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin will have an official full pledged sit-down meeting and this will be the first time the two presidents meet face to face.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is following all of this from the State Department. So Michelle, let's talk about North Korea first. The president leaning hard on China to resolve this.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He has been. I mean, there have been a lot of meetings between the two sides over the past few months. Serious meetings where they're trying to find this cooperation and common ground to try to counter North Korea. But when we hear from the president, it's often in these tweets that sometimes sure sound like they're counterproductive. I mean, saying that, you know, this time perhaps China will do something.

It was just a few weeks ago he was saying what China was doing wasn't working. So this isn't exactly helpful to the process, but he does have a point there.

I mean, China has been slow to do the kind of action that the United States and others would like it to do to add more pressure on to North Korea. It hasn't changed North Korea's behavior obviously. So this is again something that they're going to have to sit down and talk about at the G20 meeting.

BROWN: And of course, as all of this is going on, Putin weighed in on the Korean, North Korean crisis with the Chinese president today. If you look at the statements released it seems like the two leaders were trying to box the U.S. and President Trump out.

[11:05:09]KOSINSKI: Yes, I mean, they're talking about cooperation that they will do on this, and talking about dialogue and wanting things to progress that way. The U.S. has taken a much harder line. It wasn't that long ago that they were talking about the military options still being on the table.

That's always going to be the case. But for the U.S. to be talking about it so openly and saying that if China doesn't do anything, the U.S. is willing to go it alone, well, now you have this dynamic between Russia and China.

China not exactly pleased at the U.S.'s rhetoric and its approach over the last few months. So you have China and Russia saying that they're going to work on this problem.

That does put the United States in a bit of an odd position to try to be the leader on this, and that's one of the many challenges that President Trump and his team are going to face moving forward on this because it really hasn't had the solution.

BROWN: All right, Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much for bringing us the latest from the State Department.

Joining me now to discuss all of this, CNN intelligence and security analyst, Bob Baer. He is also a former CIA operative, also with us CNN military and diplomatic analyst and former State Department spokesman, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Bob, I want to start with you. Let's start with the surprise meeting by the Trump administration. What are some of the options that are being weighed right now, as we heard, the U.S. has said look, we will go this alone if need be. So how would that happen? What are they considering?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it would have to be a military action of some sort, or blockading North Korea, which is sort of for me difficult to believe they'd go that far alone without Chinese help.

The North Koreans are capable of marching South. We have troops there. They would be in Seoul, in no time at all. So there's been a lot of reasons we've not used true military, you know, power against North Korea, and also because North Korea is so unpredictable.

The Chinese have a very difficult time corralling them. They've tried, the North Koreans detest the Chinese. This is really a dilemma for this administration.

Because if in fact this was an ICBM, the North Koreans are making enormous progress and they will be able in a couple of years to hit the mainland. Whether they get a miniaturized nuke and put it on the end of an ICBM is another question. I just don't know the answer to that.

BROWN: John Kirby, I've got to ask you, what do you make of Trump's response on Twitter asking if Kim Jong-un has anything better to do with his life, especially considering the seriousness of this potential test?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what Kim's priorities and his goals are.

Look, he has been racing towards developing this kind of a capability and potentially the chance to nuclearize an intercontinental ballistic missile. So that he has the ultimate bargaining chip in any process of negotiation going forward.

Number two, to preserve the safety and the security of his regime. When the president says he doesn't have anything to do, this is his life and exactly what he's trying to do to preserve the regime's survival and give him the ultimate bargaining chip at whatever negotiating table might be reached someday.

BROWN: And it's clear Kim Jong-un has been testing Trump, Bob. In fact, he has launched more tests than his father and grandfather. What is his confidence level in your view right now to pull off more of these dramatic tests?

BAER: Well, first of all, I agree with Admiral Kirby. He is absolutely right. This regime is looking at its own survival. On the other hand, they are looking at Washington. What they see is a weak president.

You know, Twitter is not going to deter Kim Jong-un. It's just not. This president to them doesn't look serious. He looks vulnerable. They will continue to press and it looks to them that they're going to get their way.

The president has been blustering and threatening, and they have not backed down. I know the North Koreans. They are a tough bunch of people, and it's going to take a lot more to get them to get rid of these ICBMs and stop developing nuclear weapons. BROWN: John, of course, we know Russia and China, the leaders of the two countries met, and if you read their statements, they are clearly trying to box the U.S. out when it comes to the response to North Korea. That seems like a big development.

KIRBY: Yes, I read through the statement just before coming on. It's curious in so many ways not the least of which is that they seem to be trying to take this mature high road when it comes to diplomatic solutions to the North Korea challenge.

Which is an odd for them to both say they want to do when A, China has had enumerable opportunities to put influence on Pyongyang and do it in a constructive way and decided not to. Why?

Because they don't want to see a reunified Korea that's friendly to the west so they're hedging a stable but potent North Korea kind of keeps the west at bay, and Russia are doing this because it's opportunism.

[11:10:07]They see a chance. I think Bob is right, they see a chance to poke the United States here, a country that they see is divided and sort of diminishing in its influence and they're jumping on the band wagon.

The other thing the statement does is gives parity to the DPRK. They talk about the DPRK's regards need to be considered. No, they don't. Not in this case. They shouldn't be considered at parody level as an equal right now.

That's exactly what Kim wants and why he's racing towards this capability and then the third thing is they talk about freezing U.S. and South Korean exercises and of course, the THAAD deployment.

Again, this would be a huge concession to the North. It would give Kim exactly what he wants and would only further destabilize the peninsula. Look, we have a treaty alliance with South Korea. We have actual security obligations that we have to meet.

THAAD is a purely defensive system. It poses no threat, offensive threat to anybody and these exercises that we do with the South are critically important to keeping those skills and those deterrence capabilities up.

BROWN: And Bob, of course, the G20 Summit is this week. President Trump will be having a formal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What does he need to do amidst the concern here to sort of flex his diplomatic muscles?

BAER: Well, he has to come to an agreement behind closed doors. We just did an arms deal with Taiwan which has annoyed the Chinese to no end. Our policy on Russia is unclear. The Senate vote in tightening up sanctions, all these questions are part of the horse trading that's going to go on here.

And the president has to realize there's long established interests with these countries and we simply cannot flaunt those standards and agreements and understandings and not have -- and have them ask them to help.

With the Chinese, they are absolutely crucial to getting this up because a lot of the parts for the ICBMs are coming from China itself, and in order to close that down, we're going to have to give the Chinese something. I'm not sure what that is, but an arms deal with Taiwan is not going to help.

BROWN: All right, Bob Baer, Rear Admiral John Kirby, thank you.

Coming up, dozens of states expressing concern over President Trump's Voter Fraud Commission, and its request for personal information on millions of voters. This as Democrats get behind a bill that would lay the groundwork to remove the president if he's deemed mentally unfit to serve.

Plus the budget is signed, the beaches are open. But Chris Christie is not backing down. Why he says this might be a big deal if he were sitting next to a 25-year-old blond.

And the Vatican stepping into the middle of a dispute surrounding a terminally ill boy. The offer from the pope that could give new hope to the parents fighting to save their dying child. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:23]

BROWN: A majority of states won't be sending your voter information to a White House panel on voter fraud. Secretaries of states who are Democrats and Republicans for more than 40 states and the District of Columbia are expressing concerns and pushing back on the request made the Commission on Election Integrity with some states flat out refusing outright to provide any information.

Among other things the commission asks for names, addresses, party affiliation, felony convictions and whether the voters lived overseas. Many states say it legally cannot provide all of this information. Others express concern about how the information might be used.

Joining me now with more is CNN White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, as I look through the list and read the CNN article about this, what struck me is that even some red states are pushing back against this request.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. You know, we've seen some fiery pushback from some of the secretaries of state from some of these Republican states, including from particularly fiery response from the secretary of state of Mississippi, who said, quote, "My reply would be they can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from."

There's also been a lot of criticism, of course, from Democrats, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe saying, "I have no intention of honoring this request. This entire commission is based on specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November." The White House, though, is pushing back on a lot of this criticism both from Republicans and Democrats. The president on Saturday took to his favorite medium of course, to Twitter, to say, quote, "Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished voter fraud panel. What are they trying to hide?"

I just spoke a little bit ago with the vice president's spokesman, Mark Lauder, the vice president, of course, is chairing this commission. He is pointing out what the commission is asking for, they are not asking for any private information.

The letters that were sent to these states are largely the same and they list a number of pieces of information that this commission would like to get from some of these states.

But the letter does point out that they would only like this information if it is indeed publicly available and so that's where there seems to be a little bit of a disconnect at least between this Voter Fraud Commission and some of these states that are pushing back.

You know, we've had some of these states pushing back and saying we're not going to provide any private information. We're only going to provide publicly available information, and that in effect would be it appears complying with this request.

But nonetheless, as you point out there has been a lot of criticism of this in part driving from the intentions of this commission, number of states pointing out that voter fraught is not as widespread as the president and some of the members of this committee have tried to portray.

You'll remember, of course, the president soon after coming into office said he believes several million people had voted illegally in the 2016 election.

BROWN: Right, and in the confusion you sum this up, Jeremy, but some states are eagerly complying with this it seems and other states say it's illegal to hand over this information. So how does that square?

DIAMOND: Yes, that's right. You know, there seems to be two things happening here. One of them is concern from some of these states over states' rights and not having the federal government involved in elections, which is supposed to be something ruled by the states.

And then another part of this is the politics of it, right. Some of these states particularly the Democratic states taking an opportunity to point out that this commission was set up on a flawed premise.

The premise that the president believes millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, something for which of course there is no evidence at all and the White House has not put forth any evidence to that effect.

BROWN: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.

[11:20:08]And joining me now to discuss CNN senior political commentator, former Senator Rick Santorum, and Basil Smikle, executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. Great to see you both.

Senator, I want to start with you. Good morning. This effort seems over before it even began. Does this hurt the president's credibility on these claims of voter fraud?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I mean, look, I think the letter was very clear. They're asking for whatever information that can be provided publicly to the commission so they can begin the process of looking through this data and determining the extent of voter fraud.

Look, the bottom line is that the system, if you don't have a voter I.D. law in your state, the law is pretty much an honor system. We're just trusting people that they are who they say they are and that they're going to vote properly or not vote more than once or not vote for other people.

That's not a way to conduct an election, and what the president is saying is when you have a system that is basically an honor system, there's a penchant, a potential for fraud and we want to examine it to the extent we can whether fraud was committed.

BROWN: But what about Senator Chris Cobach, who is overseeing this, his own state of Kansas pushing back, the guy who was in charge of this.

SANTORUM: Yes, I don't understand what the pushback is. The letter says as your reporter just reported, please give us all the information you can that's permissible, that's public. They're not asking for any private information. If this information is available in a public forum in your state please provide it to us. If it's not then don't, and so I don't really see the rub that a lot of these secretaries of state are having with it.

BROWN: Let's ask Basil because Basil, you run the Democratic Party in New York.

Right.

BROWN: What's the problem here if as the senator says they're asking for publicly available information? What's not legal about that?

BASIL SMIKLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, part of the problem is this question of intent, because it's not that the president has just said at this very moment that there may be issues of fraud. He is actually made that claim throughout his entire campaign, and against evidence to the contrary.

And so there is a concern and our governor has said that we will not comply with this because it does seem intrusive and the fact is that there were reports of voter intimidation last year.

So if the president and the White House can't come up with a better reason for why they need this information, I think it's incumbent upon secretaries of state governors, political parties and again, this is bipartisan.

This is not just a Democratic issue, that the administration has to come up with a better reason for why they need this information, and we have to tell our voters in our state why we're handing over this information to the federal government.

If you're a Democrat because there are concerns about vulnerable populations, yes, I think this voter intimidation does carry a tremendous amount of weight, but if you're in a red state, you're going to be concerned about states' rights and the federal government's intervention here.

So I think there's a lot that the Trump administration has yet to discuss with the public about why this is actually necessary.

BROWN: Because so far, Senator, the president has only tweeted without any proof to back it up this claim that millions of people voted illegally. So what is your response to Basil that the White House needs to put forward evidence to back these claims of widespread voter fraud before states hand over the information?

SANTORUM: Yes. I guess, I would say this. It's been very, very difficult as we've seen to prove voter fraud because, well, let's just use an example, say for example in the city of Philadelphia, which was my home state.

We do know that on Election Day there's money put out on the street on Election Day to, quote, "encourage" people to vote. Both sides will put that money out there.

Let's say that someone went and they got a list of people who were let's say deceased or people that had moved and they were going to organize something to have some folks go up and claim that they were that person and vote. How would you catch them?

So I mean, unless you were actually there and you caught them in the act, how would you catch them? Because you wouldn't know who came in, I mean, the voters -- the people at the poll wouldn't know.

It's impossible to catch voter fraud unless you catch it at the moment it's occurring and that's not happening. There was a study done by, in New York by the New York Bureau of Investigation, they went in and actually had 63 people go out and actually try to vote in an election.

And 61 of the 63 fraudulently voting for dead people, people who moved, et cetera, and 61 of the 63 people were able to vote. One of them was caught only because the person who showed up was the son and tried to vote was trying to vote for the son of the person that was checking them in.

Otherwise everyone was able to vote. That's the problem with an honor system. You can't -- it's almost impossible to prove fraud, but it's very easy to commit.

SMIKLE: It's impossible to prove it in part because it doesn't exist in this notion that political parties are throwing money -- BROWN: There have been in some cases, just not widespread.

[11:25:11]SMIKLE: Yes, very, very few and significantly not significant actually in statistically not significant in a lot of these studies, so having said that, look, I think when you are looking at, as the senators talked about individual states and their voting laws.

Even the Supreme Court has stepped in and said you know what? Particularly states like North Carolina, your laws are too restrictive. The movement isn't toward more restrictions, it's actually toward fewer restrictions to allow more participation.

So this idea that the parties are engaged in just throwing money on the street and getting voter rolls of dead voters just doesn't exist.

BROWN: All right, really quickly, I want to switch topics while I have both of you gentlemen here with me. Basil, about two dozen Democrats are backing this bill that aimed at evaluating president's mental health and ousting him if he's unfit to serve.

Basil, constitutional scholars have come out and said that this is completely unrealistic. It is premature at this point. What is the point of this?

SMIKLE: You know, I saw that story. I'm not sure what the point of it is. I'll just tell you this really quickly, I was at a rally in Queens, New York, on Saturday, about 400 people came out on a morning on a holiday weekend, Deputy Chair Keith Ellison was there and spoke, I spoke.

Those are the folks that really care about policy and what the Democratic Party will do about being an economic and social justice organization. That's what I think most voters care about and what the party needs to focus on.

If these individuals want to sort of take up this as an issue, there perhaps is a philosophical or legal sort of scholarly investigation into whether or not this is useful, but the truth of the matter is the voters aren't looking at that right now and I want us to be more focused on that.

BROWN: Right, so Senator, are the Democrats playing right into President Trump's hands with this effort in your view?

SANTORUM: I think this is overplaying their hand and dangerous. Dangerous talk, period, and as Basil pointed out look, the problem here is the Democratic Party in their fixation on beating up on Donald Trump is ignoring the problems of ordinary Americans.

The headlines in the paper today are how increasing number of states that don't have insurance carriers to offer insurance in the individual market anymore. This is the problem that's confronting America.

We should be focused on trying to get a health care bill passed that actually can repeal and replace Obamacare with something that will work for more Americans.

That's what Donald Trump and the Republicans are going to focus on here in the next few weeks and I really believe particularly if they listen to our nation's governors that they can get this done.

BROWN: All right, Senator Rick Santorum, Basil Smikle, thank you both.

Coming up, the pope's hospital offering to take in a terminally ill child at the center of a legal dispute. Why the Vatican is stepping in despite acknowledging there is little hope, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)