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Trump vs. Cruz; Interview With Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson; Nuclear Backlash; North Korea Claims to Have Tested Hydrogen Bomb; Trump Goes "Birther" on Ted Cruz. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 6, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: North Korea shakes the ground and shocks the world.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Nuclear backlash -- the world reacting in emergency fashion to North Korea's claim that it has successfully tested the most powerful weapon every made, the hydrogen bomb. Is the U.S. ready, as long as this isn't another one of Kim Jong-un's ridiculous lies, of course?

Blame Canada. Donald Trump going back to his birther roots to attack Senator Ted Cruz and question whether Cruz is eligible to be president. Today, Cruz responds right here on THE LEAD.

Plus, anger and fear after gangs of young men, many described as appearing Arab, are accused of raping, sexually assaulting and robbing women on New Year's Eve, dozens of them. Was this a coordinated attack?

Hello. And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with the shocking development from North Korea rattling the world, literally and figuratively, with the announcement that the rogue nation has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. If this claim is indeed true, if, the communist regime now has its hands on something that is thousands of times more powerful and more destructive than an atomic bomb.

This was the announcement on North Korean television in which the spokeswoman called the U.S. a brutal robber and quoted North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, saying he will -- quote -- "make the world look up to his strong nuclear country with the noise of the first hydrogen bomb."

The White House this afternoon saying that the latest intelligence has not yet provided any evidence that this device was indeed an H-bomb.

We have correspondents here in Washington, D.C., as well as China and in South Korea, tracking this alarming development.

Let's first bring in chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, what do intelligence experts think? Does North Korea really have

a hydrogen bomb, or are they just bluffing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Much more likely the latter. That's what the White House says, initial analysis that this was not a successful hydrogen bomb test. I have spoken to nuclear experts today who shared that assessment.

This largely comes down to size. This nuclear test was nothing nearly as big as a successful hydrogen bomb test would be. It is still possible though that North Korea took a step towards a hydrogen bomb, or even more worrisome, towards making a bomb small enough to put on top of a missile, threatening even the United States, but these are still unanswered questions.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): North Koreans cheered in the streets following their government's bold announcement of a first for the isolated nation, a successful test of a hydrogen bomb, many times more powerful than the atomic bombs Pyongyang has already developed.

This man telling a reporter his heart is happy and he wants to dance. Pyongyang released photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signing the order for the test, while international monitoring work to determine the exact power of the blast.

W. RANDY BELL, THE COMPREHENSIVE NUCLEAR TEST BAN TREATY: Signals were detected on numerous seismic stations. And these signals were immediately made available to all of our member states.

SCIUTTO: But by this afternoon, the White House was already undermining North Korea's claim.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The initial analysis that's been conducted of the events that were reported overnight is not consistent with North Korean claims of hydrogen bomb test. There's nothing that's occurred in the last 24 hours that's caused the United States government to change our assessment of North Korea's technical and military capabilities.

SCIUTTO: Still, the detonation at an underground facility is the fourth by North Korea since 2006, all in gross violation of international law and prior nuclear agreements with the West.

Most nuclear analysts share the administration's doubt that North Korea has developed an H-bomb. However, some are concerned that Pyongyang appears to be making worrisome progress in its nuclear program, including the possibility of advancements in building a device small enough to deploy on a missile. And North Korea has developed a missile capable of reaching as far as the West Coast of the U.S.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: If you can add a little hydrogen isotope to your basic atomic bomb, you can have less material in it, make it smaller and this would help North Korea fit it on the warhead of a missile. That's what they're going for. It doesn't look like they got there.


SCIUTTO: As always with North Korean nuclear tests, they are intended to send a message and this one to multiple audiences, one to a domestic audience. The North Korean regime derives a lot of legitimacy from its military power. Certainly a message to the West, led by the U.S., one of defiance, but also a message to its old ally China that it is not going to listen to Beijing as much as it has in the past.


And, Jake, that is truly worrisome for all involved, because the prospect today is that no one, no outside country has influence over that regime. And that's truly worrisome.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

The test, whatever it turns out to be, brought condemnation from around the world. Reaction in the region ranged from shock to surprise to fear.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Seoul, South Korea.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The condemnation is flying in from across the region, across the world, as you can imagine. South Korea's President Park Geun-hye calling it a clear provocation, saying it threatens people's lives. She is calling on a very strong response from the international community, from the U.S., from the allies.

But, of course, it is a question what can that response be, given that the strong responses we have seen during the previous and after the previous three nuclear tests have not stopped Pyongyang so far?

But we know that Japan has sent two aircraft into the area of the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea, which is just east of North Korea, where they believe any radioactive material would have been blown, given the wind direction. They're going to collect that dust. They're going to analyze it and find out if that gives any clues, obviously, that the amount of kilotons that have been used would suggest how big the explosion was.

But, of course, they don't know what the underground casing is like. They don't know the format of this underground tunnel that it has been tested in. So that makes it very complicated as to whether or not they can ever definitively say, yes, this was or this was not a hydrogen bomb.

But there are a number of ways they can try and test this. And if it is a hydrogen bomb, it is a huge jump in capability for North Korea.


TAPPER: Paula Hancocks reporting from Seoul, South Korea, thank you.

North Korea's alleged hydrogen bomb test is generating a global ripple effect of sort, Japan unnerved by this latest move. That country, of course, is a frequent target of North Korea's previous threats, while some 50,000 American soldiers are stationed in Japan. Even closer to North Korea, of course, is China. And China felt the shock from the test, literally.

CNN correspondent Will Ripley is in Beijing.

Will, China obviously one of North Korea's biggest allies. How is China reacting to this latest news from Pyongyang?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Publicly, Jake, they're certainly condemning this, along with so many other countries and agencies around the world.

They're calling for high-level talks. But this really puts the Beijing leadership in a difficult spot. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a high-level representative to North Korea back in October. Of course, China provides a significant amount of economic aid, a huge trading partner for North Korea, keeping that economy going.

There's going to be a lot of pressure now from around the world for China to clamp down, to penalize the regime for conducting a test, something that, aside from not vetoing previous U.N. sanctions, China really hasn't done. They continue to stand up for North Korea.

But they're certainly furious about a test such as this. And unlike 2006, 2009 and 2013, the previous three nuclear tests, when China was given a heads-up by North Korea, this time they were blindsided just like everybody else. Very troubling for the leadership here, wondering if they will even be able to play their hand.

TAPPER: Very troubling indeed. Will, you have personally spent a great deal of time reporting in North Korea.

What is your gut feeling tell you about North Korea's alleged H-bomb test?

RIPLEY: During several visits last year, I talked to some officials in Pyongyang about their nuclear program.

And the impression I get, one, they're certainly very proud of the developments that they have made, not only in the miniaturization they claim of nuclear warheads, but also the development of missile technology launched from either submarines or from launch sites throughout the country.

In spite of the fact that there are millions of people going hungry, they continue to invest very aggressively in that program. They have lots of raw uranium in mines in North Korea ready to use. And so this test just two days, by the way, before Kim Jong-un's 33rd birthday, one projects power to the North Koreans, rallies national pride, solidifies their leader's strength, again, just 33 years old, pushing the button of a growing nuclear arsenal, but also what the North Koreans truly want.

And we hear this in Pyongyang time and time again, is to sit down at the table with the United States and talk about lifting sanctions and normalizing relations -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley in Beijing, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Senator Ron Johnson. He's on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's also the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Senator Johnson, thank you so much for joining us.

First, how credible are these claims that North Korea tested specifically an H-bomb, a hydrogen bomb?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Well, I don't have any particulars or specific intel in terms of how credible, but I think we need to take very seriously.

This is alarming, to say the least, particularly when you realize that North Korea has relationships with another rogue regime, the number one state sponsor of terror, Iran, who we also know have nuclear ambitions.

So, if they have got an H-bomb, a hydrogen bomb now in their possession, combine that with ballistic missile technology, and a lunatic for a leader, this is alarming.


TAPPER: And what does it mean specifically, do you think, for the security of the United States?

JOHNSON: It threatens it.

But, again, this isn't our only security threat because of the feckless nature of President Obama, and I would say Secretary Clinton's foreign policy. The reset with Russia, that hasn't worked. We certainly see China pushing and pushing and building islands and certainly being -- you know, engaging in provocative actions with its neighbors.

And we see Russia and Iran gaining greater influence in the Middle East. This is a less safe, less secure, more dangerous world seven years into President Obama's administration.

TAPPER: So, we know now that President Obama's White House spoke with China. Our U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, says that the U.S. will be pushing consequences for North Korea in the U.N. security committee.

What else do you think President Obama should be doing in response to today's news?

JOHNSON: Well, why don't we heal our economy so that we can be strong economically, so we can be strong militarily? We have to stop hollowing out our military.

We have got to change our strategy from peace through withdrawal to actually peace through strength. That's going to be across the board strength, economically and militarily. But we will probably need a new commander in chief, a commander in chief that actually does believe that America's a phenomenal force for good in the world, won't apologize for America, will project our goodness and our strength to really keep the world a safer place, rather than a more dangerous one.

TAPPER: Well, just to play devil's advocate here, sir, President Bush, George W. Bush, he took a much tougher tack with North Korea. And all that resulted with that was their first detonation of a nuclear device in 2006.

President Clinton engaged with North Korea. President Obama's been pushing sanctions. What exactly works? You talk about there needs to be strength. I imagine you believe George W. Bush projected strength. That ended up with North Korea having a nuke.

JOHNSON: Again, North Korea's been a vexing problem on a bipartisan basis for multiple administrations.

What actually worked with North Korea were the specific sanctions of top officials. We should probably reengage in those in a more robust fashion. But, again, I'm talking about the threats around the world, whether it's Russia's aggression or China's aggression or Iran's aggression.

All these things are brought about by appeasement, lack of strength, lack of resolve. Let's face it, there are not countries that respect us, that fear us anymore. Our enemies don't fear us and our allies don't believe that we can be relied on. That puts the world in a very dangerous place. It makes America less safe and secure.

TAPPER: Senator Ron Johnson coming to us from Wisconsin, thank you so much, sir.

JOHNSON: Have a good day.


TAPPER: He's been called unstable. He's been called a lunatic, a megalomaniac, so why did Kim Jong-un launch this possible nuclear test now? And what could his next move be? We will talk about that after this quick break.


[16:15:46] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's continue with our world lead. North Korea claiming it successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb, potentially far more destructive than the atomic bomb, and, of course, we're familiar with what atomic bombs did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If confirmed, this would be the fourth nuclear test by the hermit kingdom since 2006 and the most powerful to date.

Let's bring in Jamie Metzl. He's a former member of President Clinton's National Security Council and State Department official. Also with me is Chris Hill, former ambassador to South Korea under President George W. Bush and author of the book "Outpost: Life on the Front Lines of American Diplomacy."

Gentlemen, thanks so much for being here.

Mr. Ambassador, let me start with you.

You know this regime well. You've negotiated with them. You've been to Pyongyang. How significant a step would this be for North Korea, assuming this was true, it was actually an H-bomb?

AMB. CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: Well, if it were true and, of course, preliminary indications are that it's not, but if it were true it would suggest they are much further along than anyone thought and that the next step would probably be some miniaturization of a warhead and putting it on top of the -- on top of a missile.

So, I think the problem is sooner or later we are going to face a North Korea with a deliverable nuclear weapon. And I think we're going to have a very serious problem. And I'd like to also say even if it's not successful, you know, a lot of tests -- I mean, the purpose of testing is to test.

And so, if it's unsuccessful, they will have learned a lot. And they'll be back again the next day trying to perfect it. So we have a big problem here.

TAPPER: Precisely.

Jamie, let's talk about this test. You were just in North Korea in October. People are trying to figure out what Kim Jong-un is thinking. He did not warn anyone about this test ahead of time. Unlike the way he's done in the past. They issued warnings. They apparently did not communicate any of this to China ahead of time.


TAPPER: What's going on?

METZL: Well, there's two audiences for this explosion as I see it. First is domestically in North Korea. Kim Jong-un doesn't need to convince anybody, but it's good to project strength internally. The second thing is that the North Korean regime is inherently weak but they are projecting strength.

And everybody saw what happened in the First Gulf War. And Saddam Hussein didn't have nuclear weapons, and Kim Jong-un's making a statement don't mess with me.

But the interesting thing is that even if this is a hydrogen bomb, and I agree with Chris Hill that it's unlikely that it is, but we'll know more in the future. It doesn't really change in any massive way relations with the United States, Japan or South Korea. The relationship that it changes significantly is the relationship between North Korea and China, because China has all of the cards of the international community and influencing North Korea.

And North Korea is betting that China isn't going to put too much pressure on the DPRK, on Pyongyang, because China's strategic interests are more focused on countering the United States than dealing with any particular problems in North Korea.

TAPPER: Mr. Ambassador, you tried to work with Kim Jong-il, the father who detonated a nuke in 2006. Do you think Kim Jong-un, the son, is more dangerous, more erratic than the father?

HILL: Yes, I think he is. I don't think Kim Jong-il was ever particularly devoted to the negotiating process, but he certainly would hear it out and certainly valued his relations with the Chinese and even the Russians.

I think today, we're dealing with a very impetuous kid, essentially, who really doesn't understand these issues and is no doubt as Jamie suggests trying to project strength in North Korea. You know, even these hideous dictatorships have their own politics.

But this is someone you can't rely on and rely to be wise when we have an issue like this. So, I think there's much to be concerned about with this third generation Kim.

TAPPER: Jamie --

METZL: And you know we're in trouble when Kim Jong-il is the good old days.

TAPPER: Right. Exactly.

HILL: That's right.

TAPPER: Jamie, do you think North Korea has the ability to directly hit the United States with a missile containing a nuclear payload?

[16:20:05] METZL: I don't think they have it now. I think it's quite likely that if things don't change, if things go along linearly from where they are now, within a decade or so, they very likely will. But I don't think that they're likely to launch an attack against the United States. What they're trying to do is change the strategic calculus of the region.

And I think, again, that having these nuclear weapons changes China's behavior perhaps more than anybody else's.

TAPPER: Jamie Metzl and Ambassador Chris Hill, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

HILL: Pleasure. TAPPER: In our politics lead today, Donald Trump dusting off one of

his favorite lines of attack, questioning rival candidate Ted Cruz's citizenship, his eligibility to be president.

And Ted Cruz just talked to CNN. His response to Trump coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our politics lead now: Donald Trump burst on to the modern political scene by questioning where President Obama was born. The president, of course, was born in Hawaii. But that did not stop trump from claiming otherwise, a suggestion not only that the president was other than an American but that he wasn't eligible constitutionally to be president.

Now the Republican front-runner is reviving that molden oldie to question the eligibility of his closest Republican rival senator Ted Cruz.

Just like the snow in Iowa, CNN is blanketing the presidential race, covering all the candidates. But I want to start right here in Washington, D.C. with CNN national political reporter Sara Murray.

Sara, Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother, but Trump is making claims about his possible ineligibility and what Democrats might do to challenge it.

[16:25:05] He also claims that Cruz once held a Canadian passport, is that true?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: That is not true. The Cruz campaign is saying, look, Senator Cruz never had a Canadian passport, he never applied for a Canadian passport. And in the past, Cruz has said, I was 4 when I left Canada. I didn't even realize that I was a Canadian citizen.

But that, of course, that is not stopping Donald Trump from fanning the flames on this issue.


MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump taking aim at Ted Cruz's citizenship.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are worried that if he weren't born in this country, which he wasn't, he was born in Canada, and he actually had a Canadian passport along with a U.S. passport until just recently. I mean, like within the last couple of years. The problem is that if the Democrats bring a lawsuit, the lawsuit could take years to resolve.

MURRAY: Questioning whether his Canadian roots disqualify him for the presidency. TRUMP: I hope that's not going to be a problem for him, but I've been

hearing a lot about it. So, it's certainly a concern I guess for the party. But I hope that's not the case. I'm not involved in that, but a lot of people are bringing it up.

MURRAY: Cruz responded Tuesday with this clip on Twitter, showing Fonzie from "Happy Days" actually jumping the shark.

A scene that gave rise to the pop culture expression for something has turned absurd to grab attention.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, listen, from my end, I'm not interested in getting into the circus sideshow in politics. These are serious times with serious challenges.

MURRAY: Cruz, whose father is Cuban and mother was born in the United States, moved from Canada to Texas at age 4. He had dual citizenship in the U.S. and Canada, but renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014 and posted the letter online.

CRUZ: As a legal matter, the question is quite straightforward and settled law that the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural born citizen.

MURRAY: Most legal scholars agree.

Today, Trump is claiming it's others who are raising the issue, but it's the billionaire businessman who has a history of birtherism.

TRUMP: Barack Obama should give his birth certificate.

MURRAY: And he's flip-flopped on Cruz. In 2014, predicting the citizenship question would be an insurmountable barrier for the Texas senator.

TRUMP: Well, I would say that he can't be president. If you're not born in this country, you can't be president.

MURRAY: But saying this just a few months ago.

TRUMP: I hear it was checked out by every attorney and every which way, and I understand Ted is in fine shape.

MURRAY: Declaring it a nonissue as he and Cruz were in something of a bromance on the campaign trail. That friendly embrace coming to an end as the Iowa caucuses loom and Cruz is on the rise.


MURRAY: Now, I think that Democrats are kind of reveling in this moment. White House press secretary called it ironic that Republicans are fighting over where Ted Cruz was born after they spent so many years talking about where the president was born.

Of course, Jake, as you pointed out he was born in Hawaii.

TAPPER: He was born in Hawaii. Interesting.

All right. Sara Murray, thank you so much.

I want to go now to Dana Bash. She just today rode with Cruz on his campaign bus. She's in Spirit Lake, Iowa, right now.

Dana, you asked Senator Cruz directly about Donald Trump clearly raising these questions about his eligibility. What did Ted Cruz have to say?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can imagine, Ted Cruz is keeping with what he's done for the past weeks and months, trying to keep on his message, not take the bait when it comes to Donald Trump and what he's trying to do to Ted Cruz.

So, he was no different today. Listen to what happened.


BASH: You may have heard that Donald Trump is bringing up the fact that you were born in Canada, and saying that if you're the Republican nominee, it could be held up in the court for two years.

You're a constitutional scholar. You've argued before the Supreme Court. Why do you think on the legal basis he's wrong?

CRUZ: Well, look, the legal issue is straightforward. The son of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural born citizen.

BASH: But it's never been tested. You know full well because you've done it on other issues.

CRUZ: Listen, the Constitution and laws of the United States are straightforward. The very first Congress defined the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad as a natural born citizen. And, by the way, many of those members of the first Congress were framers at the constitutional convention.

At the end of the day, this is a nonissue, but, you know, my response is as you and I were talking about just a minute ago. I tweeted a link to a video of Fonzie jumping a shark.

You know, I'm not going to engage in this. And the reason is simple, there are far too many serious issues facing this country. Last night, North Korea claims to have tested a hydrogen bomb.

What the American people are looking for is who's prepared to be commander in chief, who has the seriousness, who has the judgment, who has the knowledge, who has the clarity of vision --


BASH: But button this up, though. Just on the issue of the passport.

CRUZ: What passport?

BASH: Donald Trump is suggesting, saying that you had a Canadian passport.

CRUZ: It's not true.