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Putin Unveils New Weapons Systems Days Before Election; Source: U.S. Considering Preemptive Strike on North Korea. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 2, 2018 - 16:30   ET



[16:32:57] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our world lead and growing threats of a nuclear confrontation with two U.S. rivals, Russia and North Korea. NATO today slamming Russian President Vladimir Putin's elaborate display of new weapon systems that he claims would render U.S. missile defense, quote, useless.

Meanwhile, sources telling CNN that President Trump is considering military action against Kim Jong-un if North Korea successfully builds a nuclear weapon capable of striking the United States.

I want to get right to CNN's Barbara Starr. She's at the Pentagon for us.

And, Barbara, how seriously is the Pentagon taking Russia's show of force?


Russia already has a nuclear arsenal larger than the United States' arsenal and Vladimir Putin is making it clear he is not stopping there.


STARR (voice-over): Vladimir Putin boasting to parliament days before the presidential elections in Russia.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Russia still has the greatest nuclear potential in the world. But nobody listened to us. Listen now.

STARR: But his message was for Donald Trump, showing video animations of what he calls new weapons he claims could get around U.S. military defenses.

PUTIN (through translator): The Ministry of Defense in collaboration with the aerospace industry has begun an active phase of testing a new missile system.

STARR: One video even showing warheads raining down on Florida, the president's home away from the White House. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Actually, that's one

of the stunning aspects of the demonstration yesterday. That he would actually use an absolutely recognizable part of the United States to show where the targeting was. Clearly, he wanted to us see that.

STARR: Putin claiming the Russians now have a nuclear powered cruise missile that can maneuver between mountains, a massive underwater nuclear drone. Russian video showing it attacking an aircraft carrier and city coastlines.

And an intercontinental ballistic missile can reach anywhere in the world. The U.S. believes Russia's weapons are largely in development, some already crashing in testing.

[16:35:06] Putin insists Russia is more than battle ready.

PUTIN (through translator): As a matter of fact, every single weapons system discussed today easily surpasses and avoids an anti-missile defense system.

STARR: The White House insisting U.S. is not surprised.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Putin has confirmed what the United States government has known all along, which Russia has denied. Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade.

STARR: All of this as the White House is also watching to see if North Korea resumes weapons testing with the Olympics over.

CNN has learned the latest assessment is the regime has used the quite months around the games to improve its missile guidance but it's still struggling with the technology that would allow a nuclear warhead to get to a target.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: North Korea is ever close to being able to hold America at risk. I said there was a handful of months.


STARR: And U.S. officials told me today, if it actually did come to war on the peninsula, there isn't even a good solid estimate as to how many casualties there could be -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Thank you so much.

Joining me now is the former director of national intelligence under President Obama, General James Clapper.

General Clapper, thanks so much for being here.

So, you saw the Russian presentation.


TAPPER: How significant an advancement is this? How much have they actually achieved? How concerned should the U.S. be?

CLAPPER: Well, it's I think indicative of what they've been researching as a White House statement indicated. It is not necessarily I guess as a new public revelation. But certainly, these are developments we were aware of along with the weapon of vengeance. The long range torpedo with a nuclear warhead as well.

To me, this was more about Putin's swagger than, and he was doing this for messaging purposes, more than anything else. I mean, Russia has, does represent an existential threat to the United States. And between the two of us we could blow each other up several times already.

It also reflected I think Putin's paranoia about missile defense. Even though he understands, the Russians do, I'm sure, the -- how limited our defense is now. It is not designed to thwart an all out nuclear assault from Russia.

TAPPER: Do you know what really struck me when I listened to Putin's remarks was how insecure he sounded. Because, you know, the idea of -- they didn't listen to us when we said this. We have this. You'd better listen now.


TAPPER: It sounds like something a 13-year-old would say on a playground.

CLAPPER: It is. And it is almost like rhetorically hitting the spoon on the high chair, demanding attention like my kids would do. A certain amount of that doesn't feel like he's getting respect. Kind of the Rodney Dangerfield complex maybe.

And I also think it is good to put it in perspective the fundamental weaknesses that Russia has. Their one claim to great power status is their nuclear capability. Always has been. If you look at some of the other dimensions of Russia right now, the picture is not too good from Putin's standpoint because of their economic challenges, their dependence on getting things out of the earth, oil and metals and minerals. And the fact Russia's GDP is about equal to that of Australia's.

Russia's population which by the way is declining, not a good trend for them, but 145 million people. And there are about 26 million people in Australia, their GDPs are about the same. So, that's one reason why Russia touts their nuclear capability as well as, of course, continues their attempts to undermine our system and their sort of softer information warfare.

TAPPER: Are we closer to war with Russia and with North Korea than we were, say, a year ago?

CLAPPER: Well, contrary view, I don't think so. I think this is just a pattern. It has more to do with Putin's demand for attention. And also, don't forget, he is playing to a domestic audience as well. An election is coming up there on 18th of March. Another part of the speech that didn't get a lot of play. He was

rather candid about acknowledging their considerable economic challenges and the number of people in Russia that live in poverty conditions, which he also acknowledged.

TAPPER: CNN has learned that senior security officials inside the Trump administration believe a nuclear-armed North Korea represents an unacceptable threat, which could prompt the use of military force by the U.S. Those pushing actions say beyond the threat to the U.S. is a concern North Korea would share nuclear and missile technology with Iran, Pakistan, Libya, maybe even Syria.

[16:40:07] We've seen some of the cooperation between those two.

I know that you have said that we, the United States, need to get used to the idea of a nuclear North Korea. What do you make of the senior national security officials talking about the strike to take out these nuclear weapons?

HAYDEN: Well, if it were up to me, which is not, but I think that's a huge gamble. If we were preemptively attack North Korea, I just find it kind of interesting that people are espousing a preemptory nuclear attack are people who haven't experienced war or combat. I think we ought to really think twice about that because you're putting a lot of people at risk.

And to Barbara Starr's point, we don't have reliable figures on what the casualties would be. But every sophisticated war game has ever been done, the casualties range into the millions.


TAPPER: What about the risk of North Korea selling to Pakistan, Libya, Iran, Syria?

HAYDEN: Well, I doubt they would have much of a market in Pakistan. That's obviously where the origins of North Korea came from Pakistan, specifically A.Q. Khan. I think they would be more likely to sell components, particularly duel use where it is hard to track them. And the recent reporting about some connection with Syria, with chemical weapons, yes, they can move precursors, chemical components that in and of themselves are innocent. So, they will continue to do that because North Korea is going to make money any way they can.

TAPPER: General Clapper, always good to have you here. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: So, we haven't heard a peep on Twitter from President Trump about Putin, though he's definitely been tweeting. What's he weighing in on? That's next.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [16:45:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the record right now, do you have a workable ICBM that's powered by nukes that you've tested successfully?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA (through translator): All of those tests were successful. It's just each of these weapon systems is at a different stage of readiness. One of them is already on combat duty.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Chances are, Russian President Vladimir Putin will not get a nickname from President Trump for those comments, unlike the way little rocket man did. I'm back with my political panel. So President Trump has actually been praised for not responding to Putin's braggadocious behavior, as the president might say. Do you think that that's the right thing, just let it happen and don't say anything?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Absolutely, I think so. The idea that Russia has nuclear weapons that are pointed at the United States is also not a good thing. And I think, look, when President Trump does something good, when he doesn't escalate something that doesn't need to be escalated, I will give him credit for it.

TAPPER: Although we have to say, Abby, as General Hayden pointed out, like it's very unusual for the Russians to actually have like Florida on a map on their cartoon illustrations of their bombs dropping. I mean, that's -- it's pretty stunning.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it seems almost like they're trying to provoke a reaction from the President which is not surprising. But you know, kudos to the President for not saying anything. I think we -- I think Vladimir Putin believes himself to be someone who knows how to psychologically play his opponents, and he may have been trying that now. The next step for this administration, and for this White House, is to get on the same page about what the actual policy is toward Russia and how they are actually going to deter or respond to the provocations that are not the just about nuclear weapons but are also about the cyber warfare that we're dealing with right now.

JEN PSAKI. CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, this is about one thing, and it's about the presidential election coming up on March 18. And the biggest enemy, the best (INAUDIBLE) for Putin (INAUDIBLE) we know what the conclusion will be is to hate the United States. And that's exactly what's he's doing now. He is being a strong man against the United States. Sure, Trump can be applauded except that the backstory here is that he loves Putin. He loves strong men, he loves dictators. And so, I don't know if we should give him too much credit, it's fine that he didn't respond to it. This is about Putin's domestic politics, but I don't know if this shows a newly restrained Donald Trump.

ANDERSON: I don't know if I would say I think President Trump loves Vladimir Putin. I think President Trump loves the idea that he won the presidential election and hates that he didn't win it fair and square. And I do certainly think that this president has been -- has played footsie with some strong men or some leaders that don't adhere the same democratic norms we do, but I'm not yet ready to say that I think loves Vladimir.

PHILLIP: I just think Trump has been very clear that he likes the fact Vladimir Putin has praised him. He also in some ways admires Vladimir Putin's strength. He thinks Putin played Obama, that Obama was weak in the face of Putin and that he and Putin can be on the same level, that they share certain kinds of approaches to the problems of the world. So maybe not on a personality level. I think he does think that he and Putin have enough things in common, that that can be the foundation of a foreign policy toward Russia. But a lot of people who deal with this more than I do and who are professionals and who are pros disagree. They simply don't view it that way. They think Putin is on a very basic level, has different values than the United States and we should treat minimum way, that he is an adversary.

TAPPER: Was there ever a time that you can remember, Jen, when you were working for President Obama that Putin did something and President Obama was almost tempted on take the bait just because he was insulting the United States or doing something personally provocative.

[16:50:13] PSAKI: Not that I can recall, and primarily because that wasn't Obama's personality. I would say an example that comes to mind was you know, the Iranians especially during the Iran deal negotiations, often tried to provoke the United States. Death to America, you know, they escalated as much as they could for their own politics. Trump may understand, I'm sure on his team understand that this is all about Putin's domestic politics. President Obama would have understood that as well. But you know, look, they had moments when they worked together on things also which nobody talks about much.

TAPPER: I want -- I want to get into perhaps the most significant showdown that the President has had this week, and that is with Actor and Comedian to Alec -- Alex Baldwin we called him but it's Alec Baldwin. Baldwin -- the Hollywood reporter asked Baldwin, how much longer would he portray President Trump on SNL? Baldwin responded, "Every time I do it now, it's like agony. Agony." At 5:42 this morning, President Trump tweeted, "Alex -- not Alec Baldwin, he got it wrong of course -- who's dying -- that was also misspelled -- mediocre career was saved by his impersonation of me on SNL now says playing Donald J. Trump was agony for him. Alex -- it's not Alex, it's Alec -- it was also agony for those who were forced to watch. You're terrible, bring back Darrell Hammond, much funnier and a far greater talent." Of course, Baldwin responded. He wrote, "Agony though it may be, I'd like to hang in there for the impeachment hearings, the resignations speech, the farewell helicopter ride to Mar-a-Lago, you know, the good stuff that we've all been waiting for." Why? Why? I mean, I'm looking to you like you have an answer for me. You do -- you do have an answer.

ANDERSON: I don't have an answer to that. Darrell Hammond was great on SNL. That's the improvised statement. TAPPER: You do agree though that -- you agree that Darrell Hammond

was better on SNL?

ANDERSON: Yes. Although I would say if I'm thinking about favorite presidential portrayals, Will Ferrell's George W. Bush is pretty strong. That's pretty far up there.

PHILLIP: I have no idea why the President would be tweeting about Alex Baldwin at 5:30 in the morning. It makes no -- I have no idea.

TAPPER: But it's one of these things that people don't even talk about it like that's so bizarre. It's so strange. Now, SNL didn't really ever make fun of President Obama but if they ever had, I can't imagine he would have ever taken the bait, right?

PSAKI: Or any other president, aside from President Obama.

TAPPER: Right, I mean, George W. Bush never did it to Will Ferrell.

PSAKI: Not that I recall. And Will Ferrell was probably I agree the best presidential impersonator. He was funny. He made fun of him. He you know, poked at things that the American public poked at him about. But George W. Bush wasn't getting up at a press conference and talking about it which there wasn't Twitter then so that may be the would have been the example.

TAPPER: No, I don't -- I don't think he ever would have done it. It is -- does the show like a remarkable -- a remarkably thin-skinned?

PHILLIP: Yes, and clearly there's not enough on the President's schedule to occupy his time that you know, this is the sort of thing that passes on his desk first thing in the morning. Maybe he's practicing for the correspondents association dinner. He will be there this year.

TAPPER: He's going to be there. He is going to be there, we're told. Yes.

ANDERSON: Well, and this the sort of thing that I've heard in focus group after focus group from base Republican voters that they love Trump. They think he's done great. They think the economy is doing well, but they wish sometimes he would lay off the Twitters. And I think it's exactly this kind of thing where you know, it's not a Twitter battle against you know, an adversary that has make -- you know, that there's -- where there's any sort of policy implications going after someone on the Hill. This is just a celebrity. This is pre-presidency Trump that I think even a lot of Republicans wish had not shown up at 1600 Pennsylvania.

TAPPER: Thanks one and all for being here. Have a wonderful weekend. Grounded, how Georgia just punish the company that employs over 30,000 people in their own state. We'll be right back.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: And we're back with the "MONEY LEAD." Georgia's Governor just signed a bill ending a lucrative tax break for Delta Airlines, one of the state's largest employers. Georgia's Republican- controlled government targeted a $50 million tax break for jet fuel after Delta end a discount for NRA members in the wake of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting last month. Delta CEO trying to shake it off today telling employees in a memo "We are supporters of the Second Amendment just as we embrace the entire Constitution of the United States." A top Georgian Republican responding "I feel for Delta, at the same time, we didn't really feel like we started this."

In our "SPORTS LEAD" today, Olympic gold medallist Aly Raisman is done being patient. She's been patient. She's been demanding accountability from USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, and now she's suing. In addition to suing Doctor Larry Nassar who molested her and hundreds of others, she's filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics alleging they knew Nassar was molesting her and her teammates and did not conduct a full investigation into the scandal at the time, saying, "I refuse to wait any longer for these organizations to do the right thing. It is my hope that the legal process will hold them accountable and enable the change that is so desperately needed. You might remember just last month, I spoke with Aly Raisman after her emotional victim statement that she gave at Nassar sentencing and I asked her about the leadership of the U.S. Olympic Committee.


ALY RAISMAN, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: I think that they have no character. I think that they're not good people and they have not done the right thing for a long time so I just don't -- I just don't think they care.


TAPPER: USA Gymnastics said they will not comment on the lawsuit. Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning for CNN "STATE OF THE UNION." Among my guest, Ohio Governor John Kasich. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern on Sunday. That's it for THE LEAD, I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great weekend. I'll see you Sunday morning.