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Trump Issues New Warning to North Korea; Trump: There's a "Possible Military Option" for Venezuela; Trump Thanks Putin for Expelling American Embassy Staff; WH: Trump "Sarcastic" When Thanking Putin for Expelling Diplomats; Trump Continues to Criticize McConnell on Health Care. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 11, 2017 - 20:00   ET



We begin tonight with more startling headlines from President Trump.

[20:00:00] In just the last four days, he's threatened North Korea with fire and fury, said fire and fury weren't enough of a threat, said American forces are locked and loaded, and late today, he said even more.

Appearing this morning outside his New Jersey golf club, the president went before reporters. When he was over, he raised the possibility of U.S. military action in Venezuela and renews his warnings to North Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump, that I can tell you. Hopefully, it will all work out. But this has been going on for many years. It would have been a lot easier to solve this years ago before they were in the position that they're in.

But we will see what happens. We think that lots of good things could happen, and we could have a bad solution. But we think lots of good thing can happen.

REPORTER: What would be a bad solution, sir?

TRUMP: I think you know the answer to that.

REPORTER: When you say bad solutions, are you talking about war? Is the U.S. going to go to war?

TRUMP: I think you know the answer to that.


COOPER: joining us now from the White House where the president said he'll hold a press conference on Monday, CNN's Jim Acosta.

Certainly, a lot of news coming out of the press conference today, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. And you heard the president say to reporters when asked whether the U.S. is going to war with North Korea, he said, I think you know the answer to that. Actually, Anderson, we don't know the answer to that because the president did not answer that question. Earlier in that exchange with reporters, he said, well, hopefully, it will all work out.

Obviously, things have to work out, because we can't go to nuclear war with North Korea. Yes, the president is going to be busy over the coming days. He is going to hold a news conference he said here at the White House on Monday that. That is certainly interrupting this so-called working vacation for the president.

And then later on this evening, Anderson, actually maybe happening right now, he's scheduled to have a phone call with Chinese President Xi about North Korea. Obviously, that's a critical relationship, a critical part of solving the problem with North Korea, because China is seen as having some kind of leverage over Pyongyang, although they haven't shown much of that lately and the president has shown a lot of disappointment in China not being able to address the situation.

One call the president has not made, Anderson, from what we understand from hearing the president this afternoon, he's not spoken with the governor of Guam. That is despite the fact that government there in the U.S. territory has been handing out bulletins to the residents on the island on what to do and what not to do in the event of a nuclear blast. And so, for all these questions we're seeing the president take over the last couple of days, White House officials are telling us the president wants to have his message carried the day over other senior officials like the secretary of state and the secretary of defense and so on.

But I think tonight, Anderson, this message coming out of the White House that's coming from the White House is continuing to create a lot of uncertainty around the world.

COOPER: Yes, and it certainly seems, despite comments by Tillerson and Mattis, which are perhaps more measured or preplanned, the president continues to kind of double and triple down on the comments he made yesterday.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. He's making it very clear to Kim Jong-un that he's going to go tit-for-tat when it comes to this kind of belligerent rhetoric. The problem is, is that it is rattling U.S. allies across the world. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said this is no time for this kind of rhetoric. Russia and China are also urging the United States to lower the temperature and the question is whether or not the president is capable of doing that.

He is going to hold a news conference on Monday. But, Anderson, my guess is, from observing what has transpired over the last couple of days, the White House is seeing some kind of political benefit of the president going out and engaging in this kind of tough talk. So my sense is, Anderson, we're going to see more of that on Monday. COOPER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's go next to Barbara Starr for more on North Korea and perhaps Venezuela as well.

Barbara, the president was asked if he ordered change in military readiness. Has there been any change that we're aware of?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: None that we're aware of, Anderson. In fact, Pentagon officials are telling us at this point, no need to send additional forces to the region. That everybody is ready, that they have missile defense on Guam that could shoot down the North Korean missiles if they come that way. They have ships at sea, aircrafts, troops in South Korea always on a high state of alert. So, they feel that they are ready, that they are ready to defend against a potential missile attack that North Korea has laid out, the possibility of, if it were to go beyond that. If the president were to decide to order some type of preemptive attack or something broader, then it would be relooked at, of course.

And right now, tonight, as we're talking, of course U.S. intelligence keeping a very sharp eye out for any moves by the North Koreans towards a missile launch. As of now, they don't see it.

COOPER: Yes. And there have been no evacuations of military personnel from the region -- or civilian personnel I should say.

STARR: Right. There's no indication of moving civilians off of Guam. The Guam government, the governor seemed pretty calm about the whole thing, issuing those bulletins, communicating with his citizens on Guam. They have a pretty active program there.

[20:05:01] COOPER: I also want to play what the president had to say about Venezuela option.


TRUMP: We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor. This is -- you know, we're all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away.

Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they're dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.


COOPER: So what's the Pentagon saying about this? Is military intervention seriously being considered?

STARR: You know, on a Friday night in August in Washington, this caught the Pentagon by more surprise than almost anything else. They did come up with a statement. So, let me read part of that to everybody.

And a Pentagon spokesman telling reporters, I refer you to the White House to characterize the president's statement. The Pentagon has not received any orders with regards to Venezuela. The military conducts contingency planning for a variety of situations. If called upon, we are prepared to support whole of government efforts to protect our national interests and safeguard U.S. citizens.

OK, let's unpack that quickly. There are U.S. citizens in Venezuela. If it came to a dire situation, the military always is there to protect U.S. citizens abroad. There's no indication it's at that point right now.

But there is something much more concerning here to many people tonight, the president may have played directly into the hands of the Venezuelan president, President Maduro, who is facing stiff opposition, violent opposition in his own country, backed by his own military. President Maduro, to put it politely, has long claimed that there will be a U.S. invasion, that there will be a U.S.-backed coup attempt against his government.

There is a lot of concern tonight that Donald Trump may have played right into the hands of a very unpopular Venezuelan president -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Barbara Starr, thank you.

I want to bring in our military and foreign relations panel. Retired Brigadier General Tony Tata, author of the thriller "Besieged", also, former senior National Security Council officer, Peter Feaver, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, and CNN global affairs analyst, Kimberly Dozier.

General Tata, what do you make of the fact that despite all the rhetoric coming from the United States, and obviously the very real concern here, that the current U.S. military posturing does not seem to have shifted, or changed, nonessential personnel aren't being recalled from the region?

BRIG. GEN. ANTHONY TATA (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Right. Well, Anderson, I think what you're seeing is the very deliberate and synchronized application of the elements of national power against North Korea. So, you've got military power that's -- so, we're doing shows of force. We have carrier strike groups going back and forth. We've got airplanes flying over.

You've got diplomatic powers, so we get a unanimous Security Council vote for sanctions against North Korea. And you've got information power. And the president making a statement, fire and fury and those kinds of things, is a very deliberate and clear message to Kim Jong-un and North Korea.

And then when you have the secretary of state and the secretary of defense both saying something similar, the secretary of state being a little more diplomatic, and the secretary of defense being a little more direct, but all buttressing what the president said, that's all power information.

And then the second order benefit is, you know, just on CNN an hour ago, you had an analyst laying out all of our offensive capabilities and all of our defensive capabilities. I can promise you that the North Koreans that have televisions are watching that, because we get this second order benefit of the president saying, hey, we are strong as well. And, you know, how many missile tests should we allow North Korea to take? How many nuclear weapons should we allow North Korea to have? And how much threats should we allow against the United States from this rogue regime that's has expressed intent and now has the ability to harm our nation?

I think the president is right to synchronize these elements of power. And as you mentioned, there's been no combatant evacuation. There's been no deployment of troops. So, right now, I think it's in the application of elements of power stage --


TATA: -- where we are trying to leave the golden bridge for Kim Jong- un to walk across into the land of diplomacy.

COOPER: Kim, Kim Dozier, I mean, do you see a strategy behind the president making a particular kind of comments and then the secretary of state and secretary of defense sort of following it up with -- I don't know if more measured is the word or -- but slightly coming at it from a different angle?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, simplistically, you've got a good cop, bad cop scheme going on. But I think what you're also seeing, as to borrow the synchronization example, is the synchronization of the national security team around whatever President Trump says.

[20:10:00] They are learning to use his willingness to use bellicose rhetoric to their advantage, by having Tillerson message that there is a way out of this but having Mattis back up some of the president's threats, the message is meant to sort of break this logjam in North Korea.

Everything the U.S. has tried to do over the past couple of decades hasn't stopped them from moving forward on nuclear development, nuclear weapons development. The last time we saw some sort of break in this was back in 2003, after George W. Bush called them part of the Axis of Evil, then you saw Six-Party Talks leveraged by China.

I think that's what they're trying to produce right now is enough pressure on Beijing that they'll take this so seriously, they go to Pyongyang and say, you're running out of chances here.

COOPER: Peter, how much of the U.S. language on this is, do you think, directed towards China?

PETER FEAVER, FORMER SENIOR NSC OFFICIAL: I think a lot of it. They clearly have a diplomatic strategy, and that requires that China ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.

I'm not sure I agree with your other guests that they have a cleanly synchronized messaging strategy. I think this White House is still struggling to get everyone singing on the same sheet of music, even if they're singing different parts. And they don't have a Ben Rhodes kind of figure who in the Obama administration delivered talking points for everyone to speak, that were tightly coordinated.

We're not seeing that yet, and the evidence of that is things like the Venezuela comment, which was distracting and then interrupting whatever was the focus of the message on North Korea.

DOZIER: I've got to agree. Maybe it's not synchronization, but they're pivoting a little faster than they have in previous weeks. I think they're getting better at reacting to him, and pretending they planned this all along.

COOPER: Colonel Francona, what's interesting is a lot of the threats that the president has been making is talking about threats. In the previous days, it was North Korea shouldn't make any more threats against the U.S., and there were questions like, well, did he mean just rhetorical threats or was it actual action?

He now has made it clear that it was -- they shouldn't speak any more threats. And then even today he sort of made it, well, Kim Jong-un himself should not make any direct threat.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Yes. You know, we've seen a whole change in the rhetoric coming out of North Korea, as well. I think the rhetoric coming out of the White House, you know, this bellicose rhetoric from the president, followed up by what I consider a very strong message from Secretary Mattis, and even the more diplomatic talk from Rex Tillerson, I think it's had a real impact in Pyongyang.

We've seen the North Koreans react differently to this level of bellicose rhetoric with that -- it wasn't really a threat against Guam. It was saying we're developing a plan by which we could strike Guam and we're going to present that to the commander in chief, if he wants to exercise that. Much, you know, analogous to the U.S. defense department preparing plans to strike Korea, you know, giving the president an option. But we never saw the detail that the North Koreans ever reached.

I think they've been shaken by the rhetoric coming out of Washington, and I don't think they know what to make of it. So, I think it's had that positive effect. But we have to make sure, and I think not raising the DefCon status, not deploying more troops and not evacuating nonessential personnel, it just -- it keeps it a little lower volume because once you see those steps, things are probably going to happen.

COOPER: Yes. We're going to take a quick break. We'll have more on the conversation where the Korean crisis goes from here.

Later, the president takes another poke at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Majority Leader McConnell. The question, of course, is why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:17:40] COOPER: Two more public appearances by the president on top of others in the past few days. Each time he's kept the rhetoric right at the boiling point, as he has all week, whether it's fire and fury or lock and load.

In his appearance late today, the president refined his warnings about North Korean threats, calling out Kim Jong-un, to letting others speak for him.


REPORTER: We heard from North Korean state TV saying, we consider the U.S. no more than a lump which we can beat to a jelly any time.

TRUMP: Well, let me hear -- let me hear others say it. Because when you say that, I don't know what you're referring to and who's making the statement. But let me hear Kim Jong-un say it, OK? He's not saying it. He hasn't been saying much for the last three days. You let me hear him say it.


COOPER: Back with the panel now.

Kim, what do you make of that sort of making it personal with Kim Jong-un?

DOZIER: Making it personal, but also pointing out that he hasn't dared speak up in the past couple of days. You've got to wonder if what the U.S. is trying to do, of what President Trump is trying to do is not just message him, but message the elite around him, that they're about 4 million people in North Korea who can access smartphones, who can hear the message that President Trump is sending out, possibly trying to inspire some sort of a coup.

So, the fact that Kim Jong-un doesn't seem to be trying to goad him back means maybe some of his top command, some of his top advisers have gotten to him and said, we've got to be careful with this guy.

COOPER: It's interesting, Colonel -- General Tata, excuse me, I called you colonel for a moment. General Tata, it's interesting, you know, to hearing from an unofficial response from China through "The China Daily Post", basically saying that if -- a message to North Korea that if they strike first, that China would not support them in any way. But if the U.S. did, that China would come to their aid.

TATA: Well, you know, I think that's China's play here. They -- that's a huge concession on China's part, for them to say that if they strike anywhere in American territory, that China will not stand by their side. And at the same time, a message to us from China, is if we preemptively strike, then they will come to the aid of North Korea.

[20:20:00] I think that's China's perfect place for them, and it's not a bad place for us, because it could keep in check North Korea.

And I just want to go back to what one of your other panelists said. You know, the last thing this administration needs to do is mirror in any way, shape, or form what the previous administration has done, particularly with respect to North Korea. This messaging and this synchronization of the elements of national power are what are getting results for the United States right now, and we cannot have the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as we had in Syria with chemical weapons. And now we have with nuclear weapons in North Korea.

China is the key here, and that's why the president is talking to them right now, and hopefully that China will help us out and put some more pressure on North Korea and defuse this and allow for that golden bridge that I mentioned earlier.

Peter, do you see China stepping up on this?

FEAVER: Well, I agree with the General Tata that that's -- if they were to do that, that would be the optimal play from our point of view. The problem is that China has never put enough pressure on North Korea to put the regime in jeopardy, to put the regime close to the cracking point, which is where we assess they have to be before they would give up their nuclear weapons. And China is reluctant to do that, because they fear the collapse of the Kim regime more than they fear nuclear weapons in Kim's hands.

Here's the problem, the president has declared intolerable something we've tolerated for the last 10 years. And he's threatened that the Kim regime must not do what has been their principal export for 70 years, namely issue threats. I fear the president is in danger of backing himself in a corner.

But the good news is, if doing this, if escalating the rhetoric and creating the crisis puts enough, rattles China enough that they escalate their economic sanctions on North Korea, then we will see a better outcome going forward. No one wants a war here, including North Korea. They don't want a war. So, there's a potential for a diplomatic out.

COOPER: Colonel Francona, I've talked to a number of former diplomats who were trying to negotiate with Korea and just worked on it in the past. I talked to General Hayden just yesterday I think it was, who said, look, if there is a military confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea, obviously, in all the war games that they have rolled out, the U.S. wins. But there are not a lot of great military options.

Do you agree with that, just from a human life standpoint?

FRANCONA: Yes, absolutely. There are no good military options. I mean, you have to have a military option. You have to be prepared to execute it. But that's the last thing you want to do.

Any military action, no matter what it is, is going to precipitate the destruction of Seoul and the probably ultimate destruction of the North Korean government. They know that, everybody knows it, and as everybody has said, we all agree no one wants to have a war. But somebody in this equation is going to have to back down or change

their position, because if, as Peter says, if the president is going to stick to this position that we will not tolerate a nuclear armed North Korea with an ICBM, and the North Koreans insist that it's part of their constitution, that they're not going to get rid of their nuclear weapons, all we're doing again is kicking the can down the road.

Now, I think what's probably going to happen is we're going defuse this diplomatically and be right back where we are and we're going to have this same conversation a couple of years from now.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody.

Coming up, as the rhetoric gets more intense on both sides, the president's comments impulsive or as we talked about, part of a strategy? "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman joins us next.


[20:27:47] COOPER: Well, locked and loaded, fire and fury, the brink of a nuclear war, the rhetoric coming from both the American president and the North Korean dictator is not exactly the most careful.

In his column at "The New York Times" today, Thomas Friedman asked if we've already become so inured to what he calls the madness of the Trump administration, that we've simply forgotten what it would be like to have a, quote, real president to manage the crisis.

Just before air, I spoke with Tom, who authored many books, including his latest bestseller, "Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist Guide to Thriving the Age of Accelerations".


COOPER: Tom, I'm wondering what you thought when you heard the president say, declaring that if North Korea, quote, utters one threat in the form of an overthreat, that he'll truly regret it. Is that a smart red line to be drawing? Because in days past, when the president talked about sort of targeting threats, it seemed like Mattis and Tillerson then came out and said, no, it would be actual, you know, attacks against the United States or an ally. The president basically doubled down just saying yes, it's uttering a threat.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, Anderson, when you're dealing with nuclear weapons and an erratic regime like North Korea, it seems to me you want to measure every word, because if you are drawing a red line, a red line not only about action but about rhetoric, you want to be extremely precise. Not only for the other side, but to protect yourself so you don't have to climb down.

And I just find it unnerving that the formulation changes every day, a threat, you know, a different kind of threat, not action but words. It's just not a clear way to do things. COOPER: It's interesting, though, that despite the president's

rhetoric, it seems like from all the reporting the U.S. military posture in the region really has not changed. It's not as if U.S. personnel are being withdrawn, it's not as if marines are being loaded onto vessels. Nothing seems -- it doesn't seem to be a war footing.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I mean, you just -- you wonder whether all of the wires are connected here, from the president's lips to our diplomats, to our military people on the ground. And I just worry about -- I don't object, let me simply say, to the President raising the profile of this issue. I think the character of the issue has changed. North Korea, a highly erratic, isolated country is building an intercontinental ballistic missile that can, with a warhead that can hit the United States. It's not tomorrow, it's not next week, it's not even next month, but in the next year or two.

That changes the strategic equation, and the President doing a little madman act, it does such a bad thing, as long as it is connected to -- as long as that stick is connected to carrots that the North Koreans can bite into and possibly stand down on, and that our allies would want to get behind. Because that's the key thing here. If we're going to keep sanctions on North Korea, if we're going to keep the moral high ground here, we need China, South Korea, Japan at a minimum, but also Russia as well. We really want them on our side. And that's what I'm a little concerned about here.

COOPER: Is it possible that the President believes or people around him believe that this sort of madman idea to -- will motivate China to become more involved, will motivate China to use more of its influence?

FRIEDMAN: You're asking the right question, because I think a lot of this rhetoric is directed more at China than at North Korea, or as much at China to act. But I think the Chinese have also made their calculation. And I think what the Chinese have basically said to themselves is that look, if the North Koreans were to launch a missile at the United States or at Guam that would be an act of suicide.

And what do we know about the North Korean regime? The Kim family has been in power three generations. They are homicidal, but they are not suicidal. They're there to survive. At the same time, if the United States unilaterally attacked North Korea, it could unleash weaponry on South Korea. I think the Chinese don't actually believe that the administration would go that far or the North Koreans would go that far.

And so they're trying to nudge both sides towards the center. Now, what I've been advocating is that I think, you know, I don't mind the President's rhetoric, and a little madman here, it can be effective. If it's wedded to -- it seems to me a diplomatic overture, which is to say to the North Korean, we're actually ready if you will give up your nuclear program and your intercontinental ballistic missile program, we're actually ready to make peace with you, open an embassy and give you aid and end the Korean War. I put a very clear offer on the table. They will not accept it. They certainly won't accept it early on, but it would certainly give us the moral high ground, the ability to hold South Korea, China, Russia, and I think all of Asia behind us. Because ultimately, we may find that the only solution is simply long- term deterrence and squeezing North Korea until something happens.

COOPER: It does seem like this is such a change from decades of administration policy, which has been to not have one on one direct confrontation or involvement between the U.S. and North Korea. The U.S. always wanted other countries sitting at the table, if there were to be discussions or negotiations. The President is essentially going toe to toe, whether it's for political reasons or strategic reasons or whatever it is with Kim Jong-un. I mean, trading the same kind of rhetoric.

FRIEDMAN: Right. And what worries me again is that the Chinese have made their calculation that at the end of the day Trump is bluffing and at the end of the day the North Koreans aren't going to commit suicide. And therefore, the Chinese don't mind seeing America wrapped around the axle of North Korea, spending enormous energy and resources dealing with it. That's kind of fine with the Chinese. That's why they've kept this situation alive all these years.

And by the way, Putin doesn't mind either. It means they have less -- we have less energy to, you know, interfere with him and Ukraine and anywhere else. So you have to very, very careful. You know, it is -- all the options are bad. But it may be the least bad option is living with a North Korea, deterring them and keeping sanctions on until something happens. And just -- maybe it's a coup d'etat, maybe it's something else, who knows but there can be worse things. As you recall, Anderson, we're about the same age, we lived with tens of thousands of Russian nukes aimed at us, we live with thousands of Chinese nukes aimed at us under Mao. And a lot of people then thought Mao, he is crazy. How can we possibly tolerate that. And we did, is it perfect, is it ideal, is it preferable, it's none of those things, it's just that all the other alternatives could be a lot, lot worse.

COOPER: Tom Friedman, thank you.

[20:34:52] Coming up, what the White House is saying today about the President thanking Vladimir Putin for throwing out hundreds of American embassy personnel in Moscow. It's a comment, a lot of people shaking their heads today's explanation from the White House maybe didn't help.


COOPER: The White House is again extolling the virtues of the President's sense of humor. Today, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the President was being "sarcastic" in his first public comments about Russia's decision to expel more than 700 American diplomatic staff from Moscow. Whether the situation calls for sarcasm, you can decide for yourself. If you'll recall the expulsions came in response the new sanctions against Russia bill that the President has no choice but to sign since it passed the Congress by overwhelming veto proof margins. Yesterday, the President was asked about Vladimir Putin expelling hundreds of U.S. embassy personnel. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: I want to thank him, because we're trying to cut down on payroll. And as far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll. There's no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that they've been able to cut the payroll for the United States. We'll save a lot of money.


COOPER: Before the show, I was joined by former CIA Intelligence Officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen and former U.S. Ambassador NATO Nicholas Burns. Ambassador Burns, yesterday you tweeted about the President's comment saying "A shameful statement by President Trump. He justifies mistreatment of U.S. diplomats by Putin. If he was joking, it shows his true character." I'm wondering what you make of the White House responding today that he basically was joking, saying that he was being sarcastic?

[20:40:09] NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR, NATO: You know, here's the President, Anderson, who has not defended our country since the Russian cyber attack on our election. He was not in favor of the sanctions at all of Congress, Republicans and Democrats were in favor of. He's never once criticized what Vladimir Putin did. He didn't criticize Vladimir Putin's expulsion of 700 American diplomats. I can't think of any American president going all the way back to the founding of a country, who would not defend our country when it was so treated by the Russian government. And he hasn't stood up for our diplomats that he was joking, it's very poor taste and it shows his character. I can tell you this, the people in the state department, the men and women of the state department don't feel they have the respect of their president. And he needs them, he needs them in North Korea, he needs them in Russia. He ought to show more respect.

COOPER: Rolf, I know you served in Moscow, I mean, these 755 people whose positions were cut by Putin, how important a role did they serve? I mean, the President says it doesn't matter if they come back, there's no reason to go back. Is that true?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: No, it's not, Anderson. I think what's shocking about the President's comments is it reflects or betrays a lack of understanding of how valuable our officers and diplomats are in these embassies abroad, particularly in a place like Moscow. I'm talking not just the state department which plays a of course a huge role but also all the other members of the country team that are part of this complicated and important post overseas. And by the way, Anderson, the men and women who defend America on our front lines, not just the U.S. military personnel, of course, we all respect greatly. But all of our other personnel serving in embassies across the world, have to be wondering right now if the President has their back.

Ambassador, I mean, when U.S.-Russia relations are at this low, doesn't it just increase the importance of having a large American diplomatic presence in Russia? Well, it does. I think we're at our lowest moment with the Russian government certainly since the end of the cold war. You might have to go back even to the mid '80s before Gorbachev took over the Soviet Union to find a time when there was so much distrust between Moscow and Washington. And so of course, we need our diplomats to lead. President Trump doesn't appear to value that. He doesn't talk about diplomacy. He's never honored the Foreign Service. He was dismissive of them yesterday. So it really would be behooves him to plug into the State Department.

COOPER: Rolf, I mean, to the Ambassador's point, the President seems to put a lot of stock in the military, obviously. And obviously it's incredibly important. We've seen that over the last several decades. But most military operatives will say look, we need diplomats or our jobs will become exponentially more difficult.

MOWATT-LARSSEN: That's absolutely right, Anderson. And I couldn't agree more with Nick who of course served -- had such a distinguished career in the State Department. And on behalf of all of our men and women who are serving overseas right now, this is a time when it's important, not just for the President but the American people to understand the roles they're playing and the great sacrifices for this country. They're serving in many places like Moscow and other counties that are real hardships and advancing U.S. foreign policy interests. They're very our front lines, just like the U.S. military. And it's important for the President to recognize that.

COOPER: Ambassador, I mean is there any -- I'm trying to -- I always try to walk in someone else's shoes and looking things from different angles. Is there any strategic reason why the President of the United States would have avoided directly criticizing Vladimir Putin to the extent that this President has? I mean, you know, you really can't find examples of him criticizing Vladimir Putin where you can find plenty of examples of him criticizing Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, other world leaders?

BURNS: No, I think he is the weakest President we've had towards Moscow in my time. And I think, Anderson, it's a big mistake because what Putin respects -- he respects power, he respects toughness, he respects people who speak their mind. And President Trump has been nothing like that. I don't think that the President is putting us in a strong position vis-a-vie Russia. Of course we want to have an open channel to Putin. We've to talk to him about North Korea, about Afghanistan, about Iran, about our nuclear weapons standoff with the Russians. But you also have to exact a price when Putin crosses a line like hacking our election.

And so I think it's been entirely misguided, and I hope he listened to Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis. I think they have a much more realistic sense of how to work effectively with the Russians.

COOPER: Ambassador Burns, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

BURNS: Thank you. [20:44:50] COOPER: The President has not criticized Vladimir Putin, but he has been going after the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. As we just mentioned today was no different. We'll tell you what the President said as many Republican senators rallying around McConnell.


COOPER: For the third straight day, the President went after Senator Mitch McConnell in what's turning into an ongoing but one-sided spat. No comment from the Senator, who isn't taking the bait. Still, this evening President Trump took another dig at McConnell with the difficulty of passing health care reform.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, a number of Republican senators have rushed to the defense the Senate Majority McConnell the last day or so. What do you make of that and if you reach --

TRUMP: I don't make anything of that. We should have had health care approved. He should have known that he had a couple of votes that turned on him, and that should have been very easy to handle. Whether it's through the fact that you take away a committee chairmanship or do whatever you have to do. But what happened in my opinion last week is unacceptable.


COOPER: The President's critics, it's not clear what these comments accomplish for the President. Not only Senator McConnell powerful member of the President's own party, his supporter essential to move forward on other issues like boarder wall and tax reform.

Joining me now, Rick Santorum, Amanda Carpenter and Matt Lewis. Amanda, does it make sense to you for the President to go after McConnell who is obviously going to need to accomplished more of his legislative agenda?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, for once I think Donald Trump has the right target. Now, do I agree with a lot of what Donald Trump is doing stylistically here? No. But Mitch McConnell is an obstacle towards enacting Trump's agenda. [20:50:05] For a long time, the Trumps of the world, Steve Bannon of the world really demonized Paul Ryan and put a lot of blame in the wrong place. Now we're seeing Paul Ryan has pass bills, Paul Ryan has tried to go to the White House make these things work, especially when it comes to health care and then it goes to die in the Senate.

Well, that's not really going to work. And for a long time, Mitch McConnell has gotten away with not saying anything, letting other people take the blame and now Donald Trump sees, yes, is Donald Trump to blame for not passing Obamacare repeal. Yes. But can he pit Mitch McConnell against him because McConnell is absolutely the establishment of everything that Trump campaign worked to disrupt in his election. So in this Donald Trump has the right target and as long as Mitch McConnell powers away from this fight Donald Trump is going to win.

COOPER: Senator Santorum, do you agree with Amanda?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. Not really. I think the -- what Donald Trump is doing -- is Donald Trump is prodding obviously Mitch McConnell but I think he's part of the entire Senate. He is absolutely committed to getting this health care bill done. And he feels let down. Not by just Mitch McConnell I would say, but also by Paul Ryan. He trusted both leaders to put together a bill he didn't together a bill because, you know, as you said, you guys have been running this for seven years, give me a bill like and sign. And they didn't. They didn't put together.

This is Paul Ryan's bill that Mitch McConnell got handed. He tweaked it and try to make it work but it never did work. And, you know, he told the President up until the very last day that he thought he had a Plan B that could work, not of them work. The President feels let down by all the leadership and by the Senate and he is going to continue to prod them as he should to get back to the table and get a bill passed.

And I can tell you they're working on it at the White House. There is an effort going on right now, which I'm very encouraged by but he wants to make sure that Mitch McConnell gets back to that issue and that they get it passed because that's the most important thing in his agenda right now.

COOPER: Matt, the President though also ran on repealing and replacing. I mean, he could have come up with a plan?

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. You would expect the President to actually have a plan instead of outsourcing it to somebody else. But look, I'm going to defend Mitch McConnell here tonight. Number one, President Trump has one substantial agenda, part of his legacy right now, there's one big thing Donald Trump has done, only one big thing. That is Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court Justice but guess what, McConnell had more to do with that happening than Donald Trump did.

So let's talk about this health care bill. When McConnell was having a hard time getting 51 votes to pass health care. How was Donald Trump helping him. Let's go back. It feels like it was an eternity ago but it wasn't that long ago. Here is what Donald Trump was doing in the run up to the big important health care vote, he was attacking his own Republican General Jeff Sessions, a former U.S. senator, he had hired Anthony Scaramucci who was threatening to set FBI on Donald Trump's own Chief of Staff. He was delivering a speech to the boy scouts of America that they had to apologize for. And on top of that Donald Trump was attacking people like Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator. So threatening her. This is how Donald Trump, I think that Donald Trump is probably the one we need to blame for this health care bill.

CARPENTER: But every Republican in Congress irrespective of Donald Trump has an interest in advancing these legislative goals. If even more so Donald Trump's outrageous comments actually provide cover for them to get this kind of stuff done. Listen, there is a lot of people in Washington who are all talk and no action. Mitch McConnell for far too long has been no talk and no action and at every opportunity he lowers the bar for expectations. If you look into Republican who were taking back majority. McConnell said the bar for victory would be returning to regular order and no government shut down. That is the bear minimum.

Meanwhile huge opportunities like being able to tie spending reform to the debt ceiling increase. He has failed every single time. So Donald Trump has all of the reason in the world to expect more from Mitch McConnell and you will notice Mitch McConnell did not return fire to Donald Trump. He will not engage because he only cares about staying in power himself. He goes back to his other Republican senators, and says respond for me. He gets Paul Ryan (ph) to go out and say, oh, yes, I'll support as dear leader. He goes out (INAUDIBLE) and says, will you say the same? And they do.

And so, you know, Donald Trump needs to keep pressuring him. Will Donald Trump be able to make Mitch McConnell resign as majority leader? No, probably not because he has support in the Senate. But Mitch McConnell needs to provide some kind of explanation as to why nothing is getting done.

COOPER: Senator Santorum as you serve in the Senate, let me ask you, does it have ramification for the President doing this to Mitch McConnell? I mean, does it -- just in terms of -- I'm not talking about Obamacare, but just on other legislative things in the future, resentment, concern about other senators that the President may have their back. Does it have ripple effect in anyway?

[20:55:04] SANTORUM: I don't think any senator right now having watching Donald Trump for six or seven months expects Donald Trump to have their back if they cross him. I think that's pretty evident, that it is an every man for himself when it comes to the president. And disagreements with him.

Look, I think the most important thing the President is doing here is trying to refocus. Mitch McConnell when he got up and said, we're moving on to tax reform and I can tell you, the President doesn't want to move on to tax reform. He wants to get a bill done. And I think that is really -- I understand there may be all these other things going on, but this President understands how important this is.

I know members of Congress and I'm hearing from them who are back home who are hearing it loudly and clearly that they are not happy that they weren't able to get this done. The President I'm sure getting that same feedback and he's trying to keep everybody focuses and I think that's a good thing.

COOPER: Yes. We got --

CARPENTER: You have to say that, Mitch McConnell has done a multiple jobs of cultivating this image in Washington that he's some kind of legislative genius, master technician. He is man behind the curtain that is not getting anything done and I think Donald Trump has every reason in the world to say send me a bill, there is no excuses. COOPER: We got to take a break. Thanks everyone. When we come back, President Trump doubling down on his rhetoric toward North Korea. The latest warning for the nuclear on country next.