At Mar-a-Lago, Trump tackles crisis diplomacy at close range

Updated 10:47 PM EST, Mon February 13, 2017
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:09
Trump, Abe respond to N. Korea missile test
President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
PHOTO: Richard Drew/AP
President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Now playing
02:17
Trump claim to world leaders met with laughter
PHOTO: CNNMoney
Now playing
06:22
How Trump's tweet sparked #WhyIDidntReport
President Donald Trump points to the crowd after speaking to law enforcement officials on the street gang MS-13, Friday, July 28, 2017, in Brentwood, N.Y.
PHOTO: Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump points to the crowd after speaking to law enforcement officials on the street gang MS-13, Friday, July 28, 2017, in Brentwood, N.Y.
Now playing
01:46
Trump's I'm-joking-but-not-really strategy
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15:  U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to members of the White House Press Corps prior to his Marine One departure from the South Lawn of the White House December 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to members of the White House Press Corps prior to his Marine One departure from the South Lawn of the White House December 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:20
Trump often says he's 'the least racist person'
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:00
Trump on Manafort: I feel sad about that
PHOTO: Pool
Now playing
01:22
Trump on Cordray: He was groomed by 'Pocahontas'
Now playing
05:58
Baldwin: This face behind Trump startled me
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:01
Trump responds to op-ed: 'Gutless'
PHOTO: CNN Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:18
Why Woodward's book matters
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:13
Dean: Trump acts 'frighteningly dictatorial'
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08:  U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House May 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. After two and a half years of negotiations, Iran agreed in 2015 to end its nuclear program in exchange for Western countries, including the United States, lifting decades of economic sanctions. Since then international inspectors have not found any violations of the terms by Iran.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House May 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. After two and a half years of negotiations, Iran agreed in 2015 to end its nuclear program in exchange for Western countries, including the United States, lifting decades of economic sanctions. Since then international inspectors have not found any violations of the terms by Iran. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:31
Woodward book reveals 'crazytown' White House
PHOTO: CNN Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:03
Trump's latest Twitter tirade lashes at media
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump waits to speak during a memorial service at the Pentagon for the 9/11 terrorist attacks  September 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump waits to speak during a memorial service at the Pentagon for the 9/11 terrorist attacks September 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:57
Trump warns of violence if GOP loses midterms
PHOTO: Photo Illustration: Getty Images/CNN Business
Now playing
01:40
Trump: Impeach somebody who's done great job?
PHOTO: Fox News Channel
Now playing
01:19
Trump on Sessions: What kind of man is this?

Story highlights

The launch wasn't expected

It presented Trump with one of the first breaking national security incidents of his presidency

(CNN) —  

The iceberg wedge salads, dripping with blue cheese dressing, had just been served on the terrace of Mar-a-Lago Saturday when the call to President Donald Trump came in: North Korea had launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile, its first challenge to international rules since Trump was sworn in three weeks ago.

The launch, which wasn’t expected, presented Trump with one of the first breaking national security incidents of his presidency. It also noisily disrupted what was meant to be an easygoing weekend of high-level male bonding with the more sobering aspects of global diplomacy.

Sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he’d spent most of the day golfing, Trump took the call on a mobile phone at his table, which was set squarely in the middle of the private club’s dining area.

As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.

News of Pyongyang’s launch had emerged an hour earlier, as Trump was preparing for dinner in his residence. Officials had concluded the Musudan-level missile flew 310 miles off North Korea’s eastern coast before crashing into the Sea of Japan.

For the new commander in chief, the launch was his first brush with the hermit regime’s saber-rattling, which along with heated rhetoric from the young leader Kim Jong-un has spooked the country’s neighbors. During his pre-election intelligence briefings, Trump requested supplemental information about North Korea from US intelligence officials. National security analysts have identified the nation’s nuclear program as one of the imminent threats facing Trump as he begins his tenure in the White House.

In his talks with Abe at the White House on Friday, the North Korea threat weighed heavily. Abe said during a concluding news conference that he and Trump had agreed to “strongly demand” the country “abandon (its) nuclear and ballistic missile program.” They departed a short time later for Florida.

On Saturday evening, as the two men walked through Mar-a-Lago’s ornate wrought-iron doors on their way to dinner, neither responded to questions about the launch from reporters.

Swanning through the club’s living room and main dining area alongside Abe, Trump was – as is now typical – swarmed with paying members, who now view dinner at the club as an opportunity for a few seconds of face time with the new President.

But as he sat down for the planned working dinner with Abe, whose country is well within range of North Korea’s missiles, it was clear his counterpart felt it necessary to respond to the test. The launch occurred just before 8 a.m. on Sunday morning in Japan.

Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon left their seats to huddle closer to Trump as documents were produced and phone calls were placed to officials in Washington and Tokyo.

Presidents always travel with secure communications equipment, even when they’re on vacation. A Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIFF, also comes along. The tent-like structure can fit inside a hotel room and allows a president to conduct sensitive phone calls without the risk of being detected by recording devices.

At Mar-a-Lago on Saturday, it had not been immediately clear whether Trump utilized that equipment, but White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday he had.

“The President was briefed in a SCIFF prior to dinner,” Spicer told reporters Monday. “They were reviewing the logistics for the press conference … President was subsequently briefed in a classified setting.”

On Saturday night, the patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents.

01:27 - Source: CNN
North, South Korean leaders to meet again
PHOTO: Nicolas Asfouri/Pool/Getty Images/AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS
Now playing
01:27
North, South Korean leaders to meet again
PHOTO: Airbus Defense and Space
Now playing
01:44
New images show N. Korea dismantling test site
PHOTO: CNNI
Now playing
00:40
Pompeo dismisses N. Korea's 'gangster' comments
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Handout/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:56
Kim Jong Un snubbed Mike Pompeo, source says
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09:  National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:34
Bolton: US has plan for denuclearizing N. Korea
PHOTO: Planet Labs Inc.
Now playing
01:25
Satellite images show missile plant construction
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:14
Susan Rice: Kim Jong Un beat Trump at summit
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
PHOTO: From Rodong Sinmun
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
Now playing
02:14
Will North Korea restart nuclear tests?
PHOTO: Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:00
Will Kim Jong Un ever give up his nukes?
PHOTO: Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
02:27
What's bringing Kim Jong Un to the table
Now playing
01:51
Who is Kim Jong Un?
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:43
Connolly: Trump comment on Kim 'jaw-dropping'
Now playing
02:31
Moon: The masterful dealmaker
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
PHOTO: CNN
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
Now playing
01:26
Trump: Kim Jong Un very open and honorable