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Infight in White House Takes Vulgar Turn; U.S. Detects Ballistic Missile Launch in North Korea. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired July 28, 2017 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: They believe Priebus has proven ineffective in shepherding the president's agenda.

The knifes may be out for national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. Congressional and administration tell CNN that McMaster is at odds with White House officials, cabinet members, and the president himself. Much of the conflict is the delays over Afghanistan. The president has not signed the order for troops.

The war raging in the West Wing has taken a vulgar turn. Anthony Scaramucci unleashed an uncensored interview. He called the president's chief of staff, a bleeping paranoid schizophrenic, and described the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in words we cannot say on television. "The New York Post" ridiculing the president and his administration with this cover page, depicting the White House as an episode of the reality show "Survivor." The cast of characters include Attorney General Jeff Sessions who suffered public humiliation by the president himself.

It is Scaramucci's foul-mouthed assault and the threat to fire the entire White House staff that is grabbing the attention. Scaramucci called it colorful language. He says he will refrain from using it at the White House, but issues no apologies.

Joining us to discuss is Chris Whipple, the author of "The Gatekeepers, How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency."

Chris, thanks for being here with me.

CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me.

CABRERA: First week on the job and Scaramucci does this.

WHIPPLE: Yes.

CABRERA: How does he still have a job?

WHIPPLE: It's unbelievable. I mean, this was a broken White House before the last 48 hours. It's a White House that can't get anything done. It can't enforce executive orders. It can't pass legislation, as we saw last night. It can't prioritize the president's agenda. It can't stay on message. Scaramucci is the latest surreal twist in all of this. The fundamental problem is that Donald Trump, an outsider president,

who has no idea of how to govern, in my opinion, needs an empowered White House chief of staff who knows the ropes, who can execute his agenda, and most importantly, tell him what he doesn't want to hear. This is a West Wing populated by enablers, Priebus and Scaramucci. I include both of them in that category. That's a recipe for chaos.

CABRERA: Speaking of those two, they are at odds with each other. They have made no secrets about that. But, here we have Scaramucci saying this outlandish rant, vulgar as all get out, yet, we see the White House press secretary defending Scaramucci, chalking it up to him being passionate and not defending Reince Priebus. Do you think the president applauds what Scaramucci did?

WHIPPLE: That's the troubling thing. Donald Trump is a disrupter. He creates chaos. We have seen over the last six months he has no idea how to govern. He appears to enjoy the show more than he enjoys the process of trying to get anything done. That's got to catch up with him at some point. You know, this is a White House, as I said, that can't do anything and this has exasperated their problems. Every president learns the hard way to achieve anything, you have to have a chain of command, an empowered White House chief. Scaramucci is reporting directly to Trump. That's a recipe for chaos. Scaramucci is a joke. He's a walking cartoon. A guy completely out of his depth. This way lies disaster.

CABRERA: I hate to cut it short. Great to have you with us.

WHIPPLE: Thank you.

CABRERA: We have breaking news we have to get to. Thanks. We'll be chatting again as the "House of Cards" continues.

WHIPPLE: Glad to be back.

CABRERA: Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CABRERA: Breaking news just in. The Pentagon confirming to CNN the U.S. detected a ballistic missile launch in North Korea.

I want to go to Barbara Starr for the latest.

Barbara, what can you tell us?

[11:34:24] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Ana. The Pentagon telling reporters, a short time ago, they have detected a ballistic missile launch out of North Korea making it just about midnight North Korean time. This had been anticipated. U.S. spy satellites had been watching the area for the last several days, believing there was evidence that the North Koreans were going to do another ballistic missile launch.

What is happening now is U.S. intelligence is assessing every piece of information, all the imagery, all the electronic intelligence from the North Korean missile that it can quickly gather to determine where it went, how long it flew, what kind of missile it was.

Some early indications out of Japan, not confirmed yet by CNN, the North Koreans used a typical trajectory they fired to the east into the Sea of Japan. That still has to be confirmed.

I have to tell you that one of the things in the last 24 hours, the Pentagon was very concerned about is that this could be the second intercontinental ballistic missile launch by them. The long, long range capability was on July 4th. If they have done another ICBM so quickly after the first test, that is going to be something for the U.S. to contemplate. They have already revised the intelligence assessment by about two years that North Korea could have a capable long-range missile by sometime in early 2018. That's only months away. We will see in the coming hours, probably fairly quickly, what kind of missile this was and if this really, again, changes the equation about the North Korean threat.

CABRERA: Barbara, remind our viewers what the U.S. response was the last time when they had that ballistic missile launch, the ICBM on July 4th, a few weeks ago.

STARR: It was. It did spark a great deal of concern. If North Korea has the capability for ICBM long range, that means they could achieve their goal some day of really being able to hit the United States with a missile, with a nuclear warhead. Let's be clear, the missile they fired on July 4th has that theoretical range and capability, whether or not it can actually hit a target with precision at that kind of range, 5,000 miles-plus away. That's a technical engineering question, but perhaps small comfort because North Koreans are rapidly able to demonstrate the capability.

This puts it square in President Trump's pile of decisions to make about what he wants to do if this new missile today does prove to be another long-range missile. U.S. policy by the State Department and the White House has been to focus on diplomacy, to focus on pressuring the Chinese to pressure the North Koreans. But, I remind everybody, it was a few days ago, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff publicly said he was always ready to take military options to the president if it came to that. The general thinking has been, if North Korea takes steps that are considered so imminently threatening to the U.S., so imminently destabilizing to global security, the U.S. might have to contemplate military options to deal with North Korea. They don't want to do it. Defense Secretary Mattis has been very clear, war with the North Korean regime would be utter disaster, utter catastrophe. Tens of millions of people could die in South Korea. The North Koreans, no telling how they would react to that. If, we still don't know, if this ballistic missile that was launched within the last hour proves to be at ICBM, long range, capable of hitting the U.S., it presents the president of the United States with a number of things to think about if North Korea has been able to test launch two of those within a month.

We just want to emphasize, again, we have no official word from the Pentagon, from the Trump administration, about whether it is a long- range missile but there have been a lot of reason to think it was and the only other option really out there is the intermediate range, slightly less but that's a missile that can threaten Japan, South Korea, Guam, a lot of area in the Asian-Pacific region.

CABRERA: Looking at our latest reporting, we are seeing the Japanese are coming out saying they, too, are trying to make an assessment of this missile launch. Possible it landed in the economic zone, which is a bigger threat to that country.

Barbara Starr, you are going to continue to work your sources. Thank you for your reporting.

I want to get reaction from Republican Congressman, Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thank you for joining us.

What do you make of the breaking news?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R), ILLINOIS: It's of concern. North Koreans are way more advanced than we thought. The ICBM missile test surprised me when it happened on July 4th. If this is another one, it's concerning.

One thing to keep in mind, every time they have a missile test, they learn from it, we also learn from it. We can watch trajectories, how they are doing and what they are doing. It makes us better at defending. But this is concerning.

What this does for us is should we double our efforts in the House with the administration to invest in future missile defense, whether it's intercepts or terminal phase intercepts, both of which are important. On those medium-range missiles, that's where the THAAD missile defense system comes in very important because that's what defends Japan and South Korea from intermediate range.

[11:40:37] CABRERA: How confident are you the systems we are developing are keeping up with the missile program we are seeing in North Korea? As you mentioned, this week alone, we saw a huge acceleration based on expert analysis there.

KINZINGER: As of today, we are in OK shape. This is still technology in its, I don't want to say infancy, but still in development stages. We had a successful intercept test a few weeks ago or month ago. We have to continue to stay ahead of this threat. If the North Koreans have figured out ICBM technology and can replicate it and can do it more inexpensively, we have to keep up with it. This isn't partisan. We have to come together to see how to keep homeland and allies safe. That is going to be further investment into this technology.

CABRERA: This is yet another launch just this year. We know there was the one back on July 4th, intercontinental ballistic missile, is what that was determined to be. This week, we heard the message from Kim Jong-Un that they would strike the heart of the U.S. should there be reason to believe the U.S. is trying to take out this regime. What is the message Kim Jong-Un is trying to send with this launch?

KINZINGER: I think he's crazy. He may be saying what he is trying to do in terms in his mind. He's crazy on the world stage. This is taking us to the brink of a war that would not be good for either side, especially for North Korea. If there was a war that launched, North Korea, 100 percent, without a doubt, would lose the war. The problem is there would be mass casualties in South Korea and a lot of American soldiers that would lose their lives that are stationed in the area. This is insanity, doing the same thing over and over. Taking it to the brink that we need to step away from. We need countries like China to get serious about really tough implications to North Korea, whether it's their business, exports or anything else.

CABRERA: You heard Barbara say the launch puts the president directly in the cross hairs on this. In terms of a decision to make, how should the U.S. respond beyond the defense development we discussed?

KINZINGER: I think it's extremely important. I think our military posture is extremely important to make sure we have an option if, in fact, we need to. That is the almost absolute last thing we should do. The last thing we should do is allow them to fire a nuclear weapon at us. Having that posture there, and finding leverage points, pressure points against the Chinese to say, look, you may be worried about mass refugees in your country in the event of a collapse of the regime, but this is making it more and more likely this is going to happen. You have to work with us. They act like they have done everything they can. They have not done everything they can.

CABRERA: It is interesting we were going to talk to you about the new sanctions bill that was passed by the House and the Senate in a bipartisan way. It includes Russia, of course, as the headline, but includes North Korea, yet the president's spokespeople are saying it's unclear whether the president is going to sign this bill. Your thoughts?

KINZINGER: Everything I hear is he is. If he doesn't, his lack of signature or veto will be overridden because we passed it, 419-3. It's override on steroids. We are completely as Republicans --

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: 98-2, 500 members in Congress, total. Five people said no.

KINZINGER: That doesn't happen very often here. I think every indication I get is the president is going to sign it. This would be great and continuing to ratchet up the pressure between North Korea, Iran and Russia.

CABRERA: Real quick, do you feel like the infighting in the West Wing is impacting the president's ability to be effective in his role as president of the U.S. and dealing with foreign crises?

KINZINGER: Yes. I don't know about the foreign crises because he has individual power to make those decisions. Where it's affecting domestic agenda, the headlines are infighting. This is intriguing stuff. Until yesterday when the health care bill failed, he should have been pushing the message on health care. We are taken up by infighting and this weird article. He is doing himself a huge disservice. I think it would benefit the president to get a handle on the message coming out of the White House. That's as gentle as I can say it.

[11:45:16] CABRERA: Speaking of message, what do you make of Scaramucci's vulgar in a reporter interview.

KINZINGER: I read it. It was disappointing. The language was bad. What bothers me most is the willingness to take down people, attack people, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon to a random reporter. It's character assassination that I don't like. We have to get back out here where we can have disagreements and don't have to assassinate people's character. It is what was happening with the Jeff Sessions thing. If you don't like him, fire him. Why put it all over Twitter? This should not belong in the president of the United States. This is the most sacred job in the world. Keep it that way.

CABRERA: Congressman, thank you for your thoughts.

I want to get back to the breaking news in North Korea.

Joining us on the phone is Jim Walsh. He has visited North Korea. He met with North Korean officials many times over the years discussing nuclear weapons.

Jim, thank you for being with us.

How significant is this missile test, given it is on the heels of an intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 4th?

JIM WALSH, MIT INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (via telephone): Ana, I would say each test is unwelcome. It remains to be seen. I want to see some data on the trajectory before we conclude it's an ICBM. Reality is we have had 14 missile tests already in 2017. The North Koreans are on a pace now that would almost double the number of tests they had in 2016 under President Obama. So, no one should be surprised. Whether this test turns out to be a scud or an intermediate missile or submarine missile, it doesn't matter, because I can predict with confidence they will conduct future missile tests and some will be ICBM.

CABRERA: What is the strategy for Kim Jong-Un here?

WALSH: You asked the congressman, and it often comes up, is he signaling? What is his intention? In the old days, under Kim's father, Jung-Il, we debated about missile tests, was it a signal to domestic audience? Trying to send a message to an audience? Under the young son, the pace of testing increased so dramatically, basically, they are not interested in signaling, they are interested in building a missile. It's not about sending messages, it's about getting good at missiles. Their view is, if we can build a nuclear weapon and a missile to carry it, the U.S. will never invade us and we would be able to go into negotiations from a position of strength. In any case, the former being the most important. You might call it the lesson of Libya or the lesson of Iraq. That is, if you are in the U.S. cross hairs, if you don't want to face regime change, you are going to take steps like acquire nuclear weapons to prevent it from happening.

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Is this a sign they are feeling increased pressure that Kim Jong-Un is worried?

WALSH: Well, I think they have been on this trajectory since the young Kim came to power. In other words, right out of the gate he started testing. Long before the most recent sanctions bill that passed, it seems to me this -- it seems like it was a decision that was made four, five years ago.

As to sanctions, you had a chance to talk to the Congressman. I must say, I see a big disconnect between U.S. policy and the problem we are facing. Yes, we can pass sanctions. We have been doing it for more than a decade. The basic disconnect is the North Koreans can build missiles faster than we can impose sanctions that matter. If we keep doing the same thing over and over, that's not going to work out well.

On missile defense, we have been working on missile defense since Ronald Reagan. It's a big mistake to think there's some shiny technology that has yet been proven under wartime conditions, that there's a magic wand that is going to save us from this. That's a really bad bet. I think we have to face this problem head on and not hope it's unproven technology is going to save us from the North Koreans.

CABRERA: Yet, the question what are you going to do. You have to try, right? With this launch now --

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Go ahead.

[11:49:54] WALSH: Yes. I say we need to engage in, sit down and have negotiations without preconditions. That doesn't mean we'll arrive at agreement with them, but able to freeze their program now that is to say no missile tests no nuclear tests which is something we did accomplish in the 1990s under something called the agreed framework, if we were able to freeze those tests and their program would not progress. Now, I wouldn't get rid of the program, but at least a freeze would stop it from getting more capable and more of a threat every day. So I think negotiation has to be part of it. Obviously working with the Chinese, but I don't think the Chinese will cooperate with us if we attack them, ridicule them and sanction them. We need to think how that that a little better.

CABRERA: Interesting you suggest negotiations, given that South Korea, we know in recent weeks, has been repeatedly asking, reaching out to North Korea if they're willing to talk and it appears North Korea is simply ignoring that gesture. Why?

WALSH: Well, I have spoken with North Koreans, in formal -- we won't call them negotiations, in informal meetings and they're interested in talking with the Trump administration. I don't rule that out. The fact the North Koreans haven't responded yet to president moon's offer I wouldn't read too much into that. North Koreans are facing some pressure. People seemed to have missed this, but over the past month they imposed gas rationing in the capital city in Pyongyang, and to the chairman, an embarrassing thing to do. To have gas rationing. I think they're feeling some pinch. And the question is, is there a way to get everyone around the table? I say that this is important first because, history shows that the North Koreans are better behaved when sitting at a negotiating table then without the negotiating table throwing stones. Secondly, to at least keep it from getting worse. I would say, third, finally, you want to talk to the North Koreans. Hold your friends close, your enemies closer. The real danger is not someone will go off are and start a war. The real danger, something small escalates. A mistake, miscalculation, misperception, and if the parties are not talking to each other, that danger is much higher.

CABRERA: Jim, thank you. Stand by.

I want to bring in CNN international correspondent, Will Ripley, live from Beijing right now. He's reported extensively inside North Korea.

Will, what it's your reaction to this missile launch?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Ana, it's surprising given people along the demilitarized zone watching specifically for a launch like this. Pretty heavy rain over the launch site where the State Department observed heavy machinery rolling up in recent weeks. That indicated a likely ballistic missile launch. We don't know where the missile was launched from yet, don't know the trajectory, although Japan has said very close to the mainland of Japan, in the economic zone.

No government reaction yet here in Beijing. Often, we don't hear from the Chinese government right away. But clearly this is yet another embarrassment for them, because every time North Korea launches one of its missiles, remember, launched an international missile on the Fourth of July, the conversation veered right here to China, to Beijing, where they continue to train very heavily with North Korea. North Korea's economy, despite round after round of heavy sanctions, grew by nearly 4 percent last year because of its trade relationship with China. Yes, they have cut off purchase of coal for North Korea. There are reports that, as the gentleman just mentioned gas rationing. Although I was in the country last month and able to get out and see tanks, no issues. Although the price of gas is mostly higher than it's been. I did not witness gas rationing personally. Maybe North Korea has joined the squeeze. Even if they are, officials told me last month they're not worried about it, lived through so many sanctions and hardships and feel the weapons, missiles and nuclear warheads of the ticket to their regime's survival. And the comments last week by the CIA Director Pompeo who justified, in the eyes of Kim Jong-Un, spending massive amounts of resources on getting these weapons.

And, Ana, analysts say within a matter of months now North Korea could be in possession of a nuclear weapon in their arsenal, much sooner than anyone would have predicted even just six months ago. Shows how rapidly they're advancing despite the world's best efforts to stop them.

[11:54:58] CABRERA: Just since February, Kim Jong-Un more tests than his father or grandfather and we learn something more each time. Seems common to launch these missiles on significant dates. Will, anything noteworthy about the timing here? This date?

RIPLEY: Yesterday, 27th of July, Armistice Day marking the signing of the agreement that ending the fighting in the Korean War back in 1953. The 64th anniversary of what North Korea considered the biggest military victory, even technically, a stalemate and both North and South Korea are still technically at war. These holidays are times when they've try tried to show force. You see parades on this particular holiday, 2013 and 2014. And even if they didn't launch a missile on the holiday itself, launched the day after and that sends a defiant message.

CABRERA: Will Ripley, Jim Walsh, thanks to both of you.

Special coverage continues in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:10] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.