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South Korean President to Meet with Kim Jong-un's Sister; Interview with Senator Ben Cardin; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 10:30   ET



[10:31:46] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, Vice President Mike Pence on the ground in South Korea for the Winter Olympics. Another high-profile visitor, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. And while the vice president has been ratcheting up the rhetoric on the Kim regime, South Korea is taking the opposite approach.

The South Korean president is sitting down with Kim's sister. They're going to lunch.

Joining me now, CNN's Ivan Watson.

Ivan, this is a huge development. A historic development on the Korean Peninsula. To have the sister of the North Korean leader meeting with the South Korean president.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, they haven't gone to lunch yet. That's scheduled to take place on Saturday, on the 10th. And instead, the South Korean president is having dinner with Vice President Pence and his wife tonight. I think they're having chicken.

But, yes, it's a big deal because the Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea since the Korean War, more than half a century. And this is the first member of that dynasty who will be coming south of the Demilitarized Zone. And she's part of a delegation that's actually led by the ceremonial head of state of North Korea.

But the South Koreans are having a kind of thread a needle here. They have to balance Vice President Pence on the one hand, who is trying to put more pressure on the North Korean regime and to try to say, hey, they're not as nice as they look right now, just because they're participating in the Olympics. While at the same time, trying to be -- make nice with the North Koreans who have come down in large numbers, about 500 of them on the ground here, they're having concerts, they're having tae kwon do demonstrations, and they're trying to charm the South Korean population -- John.

BERMAN: So, Ivan, on the eve of the opening ceremonies in South Korea, Pyeongchang, North Korea is displaying its own military power, a real show of force this morning.

WATSON: That's right. And that's where their charm offensive has kind of fallen flat. I talked to a South Korean who went to one of these North Korean concerts and he said, yes, I want to see their music, but this doesn't make me feel good knowing that they're having a military parade right before our Olympics. And they showed off some of their missiles. Missiles that were launched as recently as last November.

That shows you how fast this diplomatic -- this Olympic diplomacy has moved forward. And, you know, it's also kind of ironic seeing the North Koreans parade their missiles at a time when the Trump administration is discussing having its own military parade.

That said, Vice President Pence, he keeps trying to pound this idea home. Let's try to isolate North Korea and make it give up its nuclear weapons. Take a listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All options are on the table. And the American Armed Forces, and Self-Defense Forces of Japan, will be ready to defend our people and our way of life.

To any who would threaten our people, our allies know this, under this commander-in-chief, with the greatest fighting force in the world, the United States is ready. Ready to defend our homeland, defend our allies. Anytime, anywhere.


WATSON: Biggest question here, John, what happens at the opening ceremony on Friday when you have Vice President Pence on one side of the stadium and you have Kim Jong-un's sister on the other side?

[10:35:09] The North Koreans insist there will be no meeting -- John.

BERMAN: We'll watch it very closely. Ivan Watson for us.

Ivan, thank you very much.

Happening today, Congress will vote on a spending deal that will keep the government open and funded for two full years. But we've been hearing a lot of members on both sides saying that they are no votes. So where is this headed?

We have a key senator joining us next.


BERMAN: Happening now, the Senate back in session, working, trying to avoid another government shutdown before the clock strikes midnight tonight. The leaders, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, they unveiled a huge budget deal yesterday, the tune of $300 billion to keep the government running fully funded for two full years.

Joining me now, someone who gets to vote on this very shortly, Democratic senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin.

[10:40:02] And, Senator, thanks so much for being with us. You get to vote on something today that's bipartisan and long term. That must feel really strange.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, John, you're absolutely right. It's been a long time coming. It's disappointing it's taken this long to get a budget for FY '18, this current year, which started October 1 of last year. But this agreement goes through next fiscal year. So it really does give predictability to the agencies, the Department of Defense and all the agencies of government.

It's bipartisan. And that's how we should be operating. It deals with some of the health care and tax issues that we need to deal with. So it is -- it is a big agreement, I think we're all trying to sort through it right now to make sure we know everything that's in it before we ask to vote on it. But it's certainly a good sign to see that our leaders have come together in a bipartisan way.

BERMAN: So you sound like you're a yes vote on this. Frankly, the first one that I have spoken to today. I've heard from members of both parties who say they're a flat-out no on this. Let's address the liberal concern right now from the left, Nancy Pelosi said no. Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney just told me that he's quite upset that the immigration issue has been separated from this. He thinks that Democrats are making a mistake by giving up this issue in the budget deal.

CARDIN: Well, first, I do want to read the agreement before I commit to voting yes or no. And I think that's important to do.


CARDIN: And we're in the process of doing it. In the Senate, we have a commitment to take up the immigration bill and it will be on the floor next Monday in an open process, in which we have a real opportunity to protect the Dreamers.

There is no such commitment in the United States House of Representatives. And I think Leader Pelosi made that point very clearly yesterday. What she is asking for -- she's not questioning the budget deal that was reached in the Senate, but is saying that Speaker Ryan needs to do what Leader McConnell did and make a commitment to bring up the Dreamer issue.

BERMAN: So the other issue, and we're hearing this from the right, although some Democrats as well, how do you justify this new spending? The hundreds of billions of dollars this will add to the deficit. Senator Bob Corker, who is the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, where you're the ranking member, you know, he says he's actually discouraged by this deal because he thinks it's too much military spending.

CARDIN: Well, what really gets me concerned, the critics of this proposal that -- about being fiscally responsible are the same ones who voted for the tax cut that takes on $1.5 trillion further into debt at least. So they're somewhat hypocritical to say all of a sudden they got this concern about the deficit when the tax bill was the big increase -- BERMAN: But do you have the concern? Do you have the concern?

CARDIN: Absolutely. I do have concern about fiscal responsibility. And I've raised those issues. That's one of the things we want to look at. Some of this is offset. But as far as discretionary spending is concerned, we need reasonable caps. We have seen in recent years a significant reduction in our ability to defend our nation, to support our agencies, and their important mission.

I'm for giving them the resources they need to be able to accomplish their mission. One example, NIH is going to $2 billion additional dollars. Social Security Administration is going to get some additional help. They need it and that's part of their mission, which is critically important to our country.

BERMAN: Money certainly makes deals happen in Washington. We have seen that again. And sometimes, you know, if it helps bipartisanship that can be a good thing, Senator.

Let me ask you about another big story in Washington right now. It has to do with the White House. Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigning after these allegations emerged of domestic abuse against not one, but two of his former wives. The Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about some of this, you know, as far back as November, yet chose to keep him on, defend him up until yesterday, even argue he should stay yesterday calling him a member of honor and integrity.

What do you make of it?

CARDIN: Well, you know, clearly I don't know all the details concerning this circumstance. I know what the allegations were. They're extremely serious. His resignation today, I think, puts this matter somewhat to rest as it involves this individual. But the broader question is what is the policy in the White House? What is the policy in agencies to make sure that it's understood, that this type of behavior, there is zero tolerance?

BERMAN: The security clearance issue, you know, also comes up. I spoke to former House Intel chair Mike Rogers last hour, you know, Sean Patrick Maloney in the House here who used to be staff secretary, says he has serious concerns about the way the security clearance was handled. This is a guy, you know, the staff secretary in the White House is the one who puts the papers on the president's desk.

CARDIN: Well, you're absolutely right. There is a security clearance process that should have picked this up. The fact that it did not is a matter that needs to be looked into because we have to make sure that the security clearance procedures deal with vulnerabilities of individuals and this is an area that should have been explored.

[10:45:05] BERMAN: One question in Russia, if I can. The Russia investigation. Ron Johnson, who's the chair of the Senate Oversight Committee, he's been releasing these text messages between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, who used to work on the FBI investigation including one yesterday which Johnson, Senator Johnson, suggested showed that President Obama was meddling in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

"POTUS, the president wants to know everything we're doing," this text message says. The problem is this was after the e-mail investigation was all but wrapped up in July and actually it seems like it was about Russia there. My question to you is about what do you think the motivations are of Senator Johnson? Is he playing this on the level?

CARDIN: I would never question the motivation of one of my colleagues in the United States Senate. But what I would say is I think this whole issue of trying to deal with the Nunes memo, to deal with the Clinton e-mail issues, is a distraction from trying to compromise the independence and integrity of the Department of Justice and the Mueller investigation. And I hope everyone will recognize that no one is above the law, that Congress has a responsibility to make sure that the Department of Justice maintains its independence and ability to operate as an independent agency, and the Mueller investigation is fully supported as far as its integrity and its independence.

BERMAN: The special counsel's team still looking to speak with the president. The president's lawyers have been saying that they haven't met the standard for a presidential interview. And they may advise them not to because they're concerned this could all be an idea to get them caught lying under oath. Should the president testify?

CARDIN: Well, of course President Trump said that he would fully cooperate. He was looking forward to meeting with Mr. Mueller and having that interview. Now he has a different story. I would hope that the president would fully cooperate with Mr. Mueller. An interview by Mr. Trump would be normal procedures in an investigation. The normal process is to get as much information as you possibly can before you meet with the president of the United States, if there is any indication that the president has information that could be helpful. So I would hope that he would be cooperative with Mr. Mueller.

BERMAN: Senator Ben Cardin, we will let you get to reading this giant spending bill, two years worth of money, thanks so much for being with us.

CARDIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. The freezing cold not keeping millions of Eagles fans from hitting the streets of Philadelphia to cheer on their champions. Look at these pictures. Pictures I hoped I would never see. The "Bleacher Report" is next.


[10:52:06] BERMAN: The city of Philadelphia bracing for one of its largest crowds ever today at the Super Bowl victory parade.

Andy Scholes has more on the "Bleacher Report." Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hey, John, you know, the parade should be getting under way any minute now. And officials believe that more than two million Eagles fans are going to brave the freezing temperatures there to celebrate the team's first Super Bowl title.

This "Bleacher Report" brought to you by the new 2018 Ford F-150.

Here's some live pictures from Philadelphia right now. People began lining up bright and early this morning to get a good spot on the parade route. It's going to go through downtown, end at the art museum on the iconic Rocky steps. And fans are going to be treated to all kinds of free stuff along the way. Bud Light providing free beer to those 21 or older along the route, one per person. Some establishment also giving out free ice cream, which is a nod to Eagles head coach Doug Pederson who just loves himself some ice cream, and of course school canceled in Philly today so people of all ages could be on hand for the parade.

Team USA announcing that luger Erin Hamlin will be the flag bearer at tomorrow's opening ceremony in Pyeongchang. Hamlin who's from upstate New York is a four-time Olympian. She's the first American woman to medal in the luge, getting the bronze in Sochi. Hamlin, just the sixth female flag bearer for Team USA at the Winter games. But not everyone was pleased with the decision.

Speed skater Shani Davis, who is the first black athlete to ever win gold for Team USA in an individual event at the Winter Games, tweeted this, "I'm an American and when I won the 1,000 meter in 2010, I became the first American to two-peat in that event. Team USA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem, I can wait until 2022, #blackhistorymonth2018."

Now all the Olympians for Team USA get a vote on who they think should be the flag bearer. And in the event of a tie, they do a coin flip, which Hamlin won.

All right. The opening ceremony is tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. Eastern. It's going to replay in primetime. The game is actually already under way with mixed doubles curling.

Finally yesterday was National Signing Day for college football and wide receiver prospect out of Pensacola, Florida, Jacob Copeland, he was picking between Tennessee, Alabama and Florida. He picked Florida as you can see him put on the hat. And clearly his mom, she was expecting Alabama or Tennessee based on her wardrobe. And she immediately got up and left when her son picked to go to Florida.

She must have been on the outs in terms of that decision. She did eventually come back and give her son a hug and sign his letter of intent.

But, John, clearly, her heart was set on Tennessee or Alabama for unknown reasons.

BERMAN: All right. Don't upset mom.

Andy Scholes, thanks so much.

SCHOLES: All right. BERMAN: A key us White House aide will be out as early as today.

What did Chief of Staff John Kelly know about the domestic abuse charges against staff secretary Rob Porter. Much more on that coming up.

[10:55:01] And then the most exciting, important story on this show you will hear all week. Stick around for that.


BERMAN: An important developing story this morning. Nine pounds of developing. Look at this. That is Poppy Harlow with Baby Luca, the newest addition to the CNN team. Congratulations to Poppy, Sinisa and sister Sienna. Sources tell us that so far Luca is sleeping. We will see how long that lasts. Giant hugs and kisses. Congratulations to you all.

That's it for me. I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" starts now.