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Outlook for Hurricane Maria; Puerto Rico Devastated by Storm; Rescues Continue in Mexico; Additional North Korean Sanctions; New Sanctions Press Conference. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:24] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A busy and important hour ahead. President Trump, who two days ago threatened to totally destroy North Korea if it didn't halt its nuclear missile programs, is meeting this hour with the leaders of Japan and South Korea. The White House promises a big announcement. Here's a hint.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will -- we will see. But I think we're making a lot of progress in a lot of different ways. Stay tuned. Stay tuned.


KING: Plus, the special counsel's sweeping request for White House records. An investigation that began with questions about the Trump campaign now clearly includes a sharp focus on the Trump presidency.


CHARLIE ROSE, CBS: Do you believe the -- Mr. Mueller is exceeding his jurisdiction?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think -- I think that's -- that's for others to say. What I can assure you is that we're fully cooperating with the special counsel and we'll continue to do that.


KING: And remarkable, heroic rescue efforts continue after Mexico's big earthquake, while Puerto Rico now bracing for the herculean challenge left behind by Hurricane Maria.


GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: To get the island full power, it's probably going to -- we're looking at over a magnitude of months, as opposed to weeks or days. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: To the president's big announcement at the United Nations in just a moment. We begin with Hurricane Maria. At this hour, Maria still a category three storm ripping across the Caribbean. Winds whipping up to 115 miles per hour.

The storm battered the northern coast of the Dominican Republic today. Maria expected to dump up to 16 inches of rain on the island, which is already saturated from Hurricane Irma.

Puerto Rico also still getting pummeled with rain, even after the eye of the storm has moved on. Local officials and residents, horrified by the devastation they're finding.


JENNIFER GONZALEZ, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT COMMISSIONER: Yes, I went out with my neighbors to see how far we can reach. And there's a lot of power lines on the floor. (INAUDIBLE) are over the bridges. The whole infrastructure is damaged. It will take long until we can recover. But we -- we're going to be strong and we will rise and be strong again.


KING: Now, when she says the whole infrastructure is damaged, she's not exaggerating. Puerto Rico's energy grid took such a severe blow from the storm, restoring power to everyone may take months. The governor says the entire system is down. No one has power. And everyone is on high alert for flash flooding, mudslides and storm surge.

President Trump says the U.S. territory is, quote, absolutely obliterated and he vowed to visit the island himself.


QUESTION: Will you visit Puerto Rico?

TRUMP: Yes, I will.


KING: I will, the president said there. The president's already approved a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico.

Let's head straight to the CNN Weather Center where Chad Myers is monitoring the latest from the storm.

Chad, what can you tell us?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Still 115 miles per hour, John. So still a really healthy storm here. Although the hurricane hunter aircraft had been flying through it and not finding it any stronger today. And one reason is because it is now passing exactly over Irma's old path, and the water may be slightly colder because it's mixed up by Irma. There you go, 115, moving northwest at nine miles per hour.

So far, so good. This is a three-day cone. Missing everything except the eastern Turks and Caicos. Even missing Bermuda. And for that matter, turning to the right finally, maybe even missing the northeast part of the United States. Maybe. Because that's five days out. Farther than that would be seven or eight days out. And that's not even a forecast, that's a guess.

There is the category three storm, north of the D.R., moving up toward the Turks and Caicos and eventually, possibly, out towards the right. So it's making the x right now.

And part of the problem, John, is that when Florida loses power and the power lines go down, trucks from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee all converge in one spot. You see thousands of them on the highway. There's not a highway in Puerto Rico. It's going to take a long time with the bucket trucks they have. And then a few possibly on ferries. But that's laborious. This is going to take a long, long time.

KING: And we'll keep in touch as it does. Chad Myers for us in the Weather Center.

As Chad just discussed, we're getting a better look now at some of the devastation left by Maria in Puerto Rico this morning. Streets swallowed by floods. Boats, overturned. Debris, everywhere, including in the water. The entire island in the dark.

Let's bring in our Nick Paton Walsh in the capital of San Juan.

Nick, give us the latest on what you're seeing.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is extraordinary to see how badly San Juan has been affected by that storm. And even here in the center, as traffic begins to get back to life, and as that car passes, you can see someone who's tried to put up a Puerto Rican flag. This should be really a bustling commercial center. But the key thing, John, is the absence of electricity, of power, potentially four to six months.

[12:05:25] The hum of generators of people trying to get their businesses going, but, you know, stepping aside from the immediate signs you can see here of devastation, there is the raw fact that business, jobs, schools, hospitals will be affected by these power outages very substantially. That's going to massively impact daily lives.

And people here, frankly, taking stock of the damage, often coming up to us to ask us basic information about when the airport might be open, how strong was that storm yesterday. And still here I think people coming to terms with quite how devastating this really has been.

Our journey from where it made impact on the eastern coast, landfall about 6:30 yesterday, through here to San Juan, again, went down Highway 3, absolutely remarkable to see whole forests churned by the force of the winds. Wind turbines, their propellers snapped off. Even a landslide in one place. A huge volume of water dumped on Puerto Rico in a very short period of time.

Much calmer weather today. The winds still an evidence of times. But really I think a -- of people here taking stock of exactly the basic necessities they came to rely on every day when they woke up no longer being here for the first time this morning.


KING: Remarkable pictures. Nick Paton Walsh for us in San Juan. A long, long rebuilding task ahead there in Puerto Rico. We will keep in touch. We'll staying on top of that story.

Let's move on now to Mexico City and the very grim scene. The death toll from that devastating earthquake rising to at least 250. Rescue workers continuing to put their lives on the line as they try to locate possible survivors under the rubble.


KING: Incredible moments. You see it right there as a woman is pulled to safety. At least 50 people have been saved from under the debris so far. At a collapsed elementary school where more than two dozen died, it remains all hands on deck. Emergency works and volunteers working through the night, scrambling to save a 12-year-old girl they believe is still alive, with fears of an additional collapse, workers using beams and pullys to try to shore up that heavily damaged structure.

Let's bring in CNN's Miguel Marquez. He's right there on the scene.

Miguel, any indication the rescue workers are getting close to freeing this trapped girl?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is 48 hours now since this earthquake hit. We have been out here for the last 24 hours. And it appears to be very much the same. I am whispering because we are in a period of silence. You can see people with their hands, with their fists in the air, informing everyone in the neighborhood to be quiet. They believe they know the exact location of at least one person, that 12-year-old girl that you talked about. It is not clear whether there is one or more people alive in whatever pocket she may be in. They are working in the building from several different locations at the same time trying to access her from a different -- from different location without causing collapse of the building.

They did pull somebody out today. Unfortunately, it was an adult at the school who had died in the earthquake. So the death toll here is now at 26 with several still missing. And there is still hope that -- there's still hope that they will find her alive and possibly others alive. The work here continuing.

I will say that just in the last 24-hour, there is clearly much more professional, much more serious effort going on right here at the school.

John. KING: We'll keep in touch with you, Miguel, throughout the hour. We'll respect the need for silence there at the moment and move on, but we'll keep in touch throughout the hour. Hopefully we get some positive news as things develop. Appreciate the reporting right on the scene there. It's fascinating to watch the heroes there trying -- trying to save lives.

Up next, North Korea says President Trump is all bark and no bite.


[12:13:23] KING: Welcome back.

We're expecting to go live any moment now to the United Nations. The president has a big announcement to make with the leaders of South Korea and Japan. A bit earlier this morning, a preview.


QUESTION: More sanctions on North Korea?



Any comment on Paul Manafort?

TRUMP: We'll be -- we will be putting more sanctions on North Korea, yes.


KING: Again, we expect that announcement momentarily. Those fresh sanctions just part of the urgent business. The world still very much trying to reckon with President Trump's threat at the United Nations General Assembly to, quote, totally destroy North Korea if it won't give up its missile and nuclear programs. Trump's words rattled many. But not, it seems, North Korea's top diplomat.

Back home, we have a saying, the dog barks but the caravan continues, Re Yong Ho (ph) told reporters in New York last night. Quote, if he was thinking he could scare us with the sound of a dog barking, that's really a dog dream.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Abby Phillip of "The Washington Post," CNN's Phil Mattingly, Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker" and "The Atlantic's" Molly Ball.

We're waiting for this announcement. It's important. Not only is the president making it, but he's going to make it with the leaders of Japan and South Korea. There have been tensions from time to time between and among the key allies here. We'll get to North Korea's belligerent, colorful rhetoric in a moment. That's predictable in many, many ways.

What can the president do to ratchet up sanctions when even his own team has said, the United Nations keeps ratcheting up sanctions and you get limited results, if any results?

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, that's what we -- that -- that's what remains to be seen, right?

KING: Right.

BALL: I mean a lot of the backdrop to the sort of saber rattling we've heard is this feeling that sanctions have failed or that sanctions have gone as far as they can and that something new is needed. And that the problem has to be solved. And this is the conversation that you've heard from the administration a lot is, we can't just keep the status quo of tension. We've got to solve this problem. Sanctions, historically, have not achieved that result.

[12:15:16] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the deal (ph) in the room obviously is China. And it's how far they can go related to sanctions that would have a negative impact on China and their economy. Obviously the president had been out on Twitter threatening some very drastic things related to how China would be impacted by North Korean sanctions.

It is a dangerous game to play. It's a very thin line to walk as far as how far you can go. That's why the president's team says there's limits to what they can do. That's why you saw the past administration work a lot behind the scenes, try and take it easy publically on China because they thought that was the best way to get China to work on North Korea.

I think there's obviously a lot of frustration. There's obviously a lot of sense that everything they've done up to this point hasn't helped enough. How far is the president willing to go with a unified front with the leaders of Japan and South Korea as it relates to China? That will dictate kind of how meaningful today actually is.

KING: And it's interesting in the sense that a president of the United States, standing in the well of the United Nations, using words like "totally destroy," it did rattle people. It did rattle people. So the pressure on the administration was to go, wait a minute, we know you're looking at your military options, but shouldn't you exhaust every last diplomatic effort, then exhaust a few more diplomatic efforts before you start talking about things like that? At least here it seems like a smart play by the administration to say, OK, here we are with our two key allies, Japan and South Korea. We're going to try again. We're going to try again. Kim Jong-un, you should listen to us because we're running out of patience.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and I think that there's some indication that the administration believes that they need to get people's attention and really force the issue even more on China's plate, and also on the plate of others, like Russia, for example. So that kind of accounted for the rhetoric in his speech on Tuesday.

But today signals that the plan is continuing as predicted. We are in a diplomatic phase right now. We're getting more sanctions. More of the things that the State Department has wanted to do as it relates to North Korea. And we're not really, you know, in any substantive way talking about military options except to the extent that the rhetoric that the president is using is designed to get people's attention, at least in some measure.

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": And, I mean, there's a contradiction at the heart of this strategy, if we can call it a strategy, because it does sort of go from one -- from diplomacy to harsh rhetoric. You know, you want the world to see this as a collective problem, right? That's what the U.N. is designed for. It's designed for everyone to come together and see North Korea's threat as not a problem to Donald Trump and to the United States, but as to the whole world, from a proliferation problem, from a problem that everyone that's in the -- that's within range of North Korea's missiles.

What Trump did in that speech was he personalized it. He made it himself versus rocket man. And a lot of foreign policy officials will say, well, that's exactly the opposite of what you want to do when you go before the U.N. You want to make the case that this is the world's problem and the world needs to step up and solve it.

So you see a little bit of a setback today where he's actually meeting with some of our allies to sort of collectivize the problem again. But, to me, that's at the heart of this.

The other thing about China is, they don't see it -- the issue the same way as we do.


KING: Right.

LIZZA: They don't see North Korea as the same kind of threat that we do and they see the United -- they see North Korea and the United States as maybe not equivalent threats, but as problems and rivals that they need to deal with. And if Donald Trump says, you know, China, do x, they obviously don't respond very well to that.

PHILLIP: And they also think they've done enough. I mean I think they don't -- they reject the notion that they are the solution to this problem. And I think that -- they don't respond well to this idea that it's on -- it's on them. That they are the ones that are responsible for hurting their own economy in order to deal with North Korea. So there is a little bit of an impasse here and it's been long standing that we want China to do more and we think that they can do -- can do a lot. And China says, I think we've done enough.

KING: Right. And they don't teach it this way in the school of foreign service, but to your point about the mixed signals and the contradictions, the president seems to do that on purpose. He likes the unpredictability of it. He likes confusing people and he likes people guessing about what is he going to do next.

Part of it is, to your point about China, China wants the United States to stop having so many joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan. Dial back "locked and loaded" and then -- then perhaps we can get back to diplomatic conversations. But the administration has been very clear, including this morning. Here's the vice president saying, yes, we hope diplomacy works. But if not, we are ready.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, let me just say that we have options. I mean there was some talk two or three weeks ago, but some commentators, the most powerful military on earth doesn't have the ability to take action to defend our people. That's wrong. We have military action (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it was -- I think it was Steve Bannon who actually was quoted as saying that.


PENCE: We have options.


KING: That's Norah O'Donnell rightly pointing out it was Steve Bannon who had left the White House or was on his way out of the White House when -- that was the interview that got him fired --

LIZZA: Yes. Yes.

KING: I think got him fired.

Where -- and you would presume he had access to the briefings. And if you talk to anybody over the last 25 years, yes, the United States has overwhelming military force. It can punish, totally destroy, to borrow the president's term, North Korea, if it so wants to.


KING: But what does North Korea do when the planes start flying overhead and the missiles start forming? Most people think they will launch an overwhelming artillery attack on Seoul and kill tens of thousands, if not more.

[12:20:13] LIZZA: And Bannon wasn't just making that up. I mean Bannon is actually someone who's -- he knows a bit about military history. He's sort of an amateur military historian. He had access to NSC meetings even after he wasn't a principal on the NSC. He was at the heart of the White House. So he was watching that debate from the inside. So you want to take someone like that seriously when they say that the options are awful.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And also I think it's interesting, that kind of underscores the importance of the three leaders standing together today, right, because if military action were taken, those would be the two countries that would be most impacted by it. It's also worth noting that despite the rhetoric of the president just the other day, if you listen to his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, talking about while, sure, we have military options, absolutely we can wipe anybody we want off the face of the map, the repercussions of that, for some of our closest allies, are almost too extreme to consider right now. That dynamic will always be there. And to your point, Steve Bannon wasn't wrong with what he said in that


KING: Right. He wasn't wrong.

And you see the room right there. There's Secretary of State Tillerson, Ambassador Nikki Haley. The vice president's in the room as well. The Japanese and the Korean delegations are in the room. We're waiting for the president of the United States to come in and to make an announcement.

He himself -- the treasury secretary there as well. The president himself giving us a bit, more than a hint, saying this would be some form of new sanctions. The question is, on whom, how tough? The national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, as well.

But the president seems ready and the fact that they're standing, I would assume, means the leaders are going to come in momentarily.

Not the first president to confront this, but from the Trump administration's standpoint, and they are right about this, the ICBMs, North Korea has made advances much faster than anybody expected in their ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile with potential to reach the United States. North Korea says -- there's a dispute in the scientific community -- about how good they are at this right now, but North Korea has shown some evidence they're getting better, if not to the finish line, of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead that they could put on top of one of those missiles.

So this was a problem in the Bill Clinton administration. It was a problem in the George W. Bush administration. A problem in the Obama administration. It is now, as you can listen to H.R. McMaster, if you listen to the people around the president, they believe this is a crisis that's at the cross roads.

LIZZA: And, look, if you are North Korea, you're looking at the history of the United States' attempts to denuclearize rogue regimes. And you're looking at three big examples. You look at Iraq. You can look at Libya. And you can look at Iran.

Well, Iraq, we overthrew. Libya gave up its nuclear weapons. A few years later, we overthrew the regime. Iran signed a deal and now Trump wants to pull out of it. So if you're North Korea looking at that history, that's going to greatly influence whether you want to engage in diplomacy with the U.S. and our allies or not.

KING: And let's listen to the president of the United States taking the table right there. And we'll listen for a minute. I think he's about to start speaking.

TRUMP: Today I'm announcing a new executive order to sign that significantly expands our authorities to target individuals, companies, financial institutions that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea.

As I outlined at my address to the United Nations General Assembly, North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile development is a grave threat to peace and security in our world. And it is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal rogue regime.

The brutal North Korean regime does not respect its own citizens or the sovereignty of other nations. Our new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea's efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to human kind. The order enhances the Treasury Department's authorities to target any individual or entity that conducts significant trade in goods, services or technology with North Korea.

And I'm very proud to tell you that, as you may have just heard moments ago, China, their central bank has told their other banks -- that's a massive banking system -- to immediately stop doing business with North Korea. This just happened. Just reported.

In addition everything else, what we will do is identify new industries, including textiles, fishing, information technology and manufacturing that the Treasury Department can target with strong sanctions -- and Secretary Mnuchin is representing the Treasury Department. He's here today -- to prevent sanctions evasion.

[12:25:05] The order also includes measures designed to disrupt critical North Korean shipping and trade networks. For much too long, North Korea has been allowed to abuse the international financial system to facilitate funning for its nuclear weapons and missile programs. The United States has had representatives working on this problem for over 25 years. They have done nothing. That's why we're in the problem that we're in today, in addition to frankly other countries not doing what they should have done.

Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now. Our new order will give the Treasury Department the digression to sanction any foreign bank that knowingly conducts or facilitates significant transactions tied to trade with North Korea. And, again, I want to just say and thank President Xi of China for the very bold move he made today. And that was a somewhat unexpected move and we appreciate it.

New authority in this area applies to any activity that occurs following my signature on the executive order, which I have actually just signed. Foreign banks will face a clear choice, do business with the United States or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea. And they won't have so much trade.

This new order provides us with powerful new tools, but I want to be clear, the order targets only one country. And that country is North Korea.

The regime can no longer count on others to facilitate its trade and banking activities. Many countries are working with us to increase economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea, but I continue to call on all those responsible nations to enforce and implement U.N. sanctions and impose their own measures, like the ones I am announcing today.

I must tell you that this is a complete denuclearization of North Korea that we seek. We cannot have this as a world body any longer.

In just a few minutes, Prime Minister Abe, President Moon and I are going to discuss what more we can do working together. We've had a very, very close relationship. I think our nations have become closer because of this. I know it's going to be a great meeting.

Our alliance with South Korea and Japan has never been stronger than it is today. We share a commitment to creating a world where strong and independent nations honor their people, respect their sovereignty, respect the sovereignty also of other nations and promote peace.

Thank you very much and I'd like to ask, to start off, President Moon to say a few words, please.

PRES. MOON JAE-IN, SOUTH KOREA (through translator): And quite recently we are see the provocation coming from North Korea. And the Japanese people must have gone through a huge -- a big shock. And I really understand that they be concerned -- huge concern the Japanese people may have because of these provocations. So I'd like to express that I have -- relate -- feel for the compassion for the Japanese people in this regard.

The three leaders have met at the G-20 Summit in July in Germany and we issued a joint statement. And through this joint statement we also set a firm foundation for close coordination from us three countries. Based on which, we are coordinated closely with the international community to impose sanctions and pressure on North Korea.

And through the U.N. General Assembly that the three leaders have come together, that we all had -- made speeches at the General Assembly and (INAUDIBLE) we met with leaders of the major countries at the bilaterals and we were able to enhance the understanding about this -- the sanctions. And we will (INAUDIBLE) urge the international community about this situation. And I think this is an outcome that -- that we've come -- that the three countries have made.

President Trump just talked about the executive order to which the U.S. is going to be implementing sanctions on -- against the DPRK. And also there is a major announcement made by China to take actions on the DPRK. I'm very confident that such moves will contribute to complete denuclearization of DPRK. And (INAUDIBLE) appreciation to President Trump.

[12:30:10] And I'd like to say that Korea will closely coordinate with the United States.