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U.S. Wins First Gold Medals; Senate Begins Immigration Debate; Trump's Infrastructure Plan; Schiff to Meet with FBI; Al Baghdadi Injured; U.S. Ready to Talk to North Korea. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 12, 2018 - 06:30   ET

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


[06:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: With the "Bleacher Report." And you are doing great, my brother.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: And it's a dream. I'm pinching myself, but I can't feel it. It's cold here, Chris. Feels-like temperature right now, negative 5. It's the wind, though, those 45- mile-per-hour gusts that will slap you in the face, wreak havoc. Events being delayed and postponed. That didn't stop one American, though, from conquering the elements and the competition.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WIRE: Team USA dominating the snowboarding events in Pyeongchang. Jamie Anderson winning her second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the slopestyle competition.

JAMIE ANDERSON, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: It definitely was a struggle out there today for everyone. And I'm just happy I was able to put one down.

WIRE: Seventeen-year-old first-time Olympian Chloe Kim commanding the women's halfpipe qualifying round, placing nearly eight points above the next highest qualifier after scoring the best two runs of the day. Kim's performance coming after fellow 17-year-old Red Gerard won Team USA's first gold medal in the men's slopestyle competition this weekend. Gerard is the youngest American man since 1928 to become a winter Olympic champion.

RED GERARD, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: The first Olympics and I made it onto the podium. That's all I could ask for. I -- that's awesome.

WIRE: The American figure skating team also shining in Pyeongchang, taking home the bronze following two outstanding performances from skaters left off the team in Sochi, including Adam Rippon, who garnered headlines by reportedly declining a meeting with Vice President Pence due to his stance on gay rights. Mirai Nagasu making Olympic history, becoming the first U.S. women's figure skater to land a triple axel in Olympic competition. And, in men's luge, a major upset. Two-time defending gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany failing to even place. American Chris Mazdzer pulling off a shocking second place finish, the first medal in men's singles in U.S. history.

Mazdzer's medal one of four for the U.S. Norway leading the way with eight in total. Then Canada with six. Netherlands and Germany have Five. The USA currently in fifth place, Chris and Erica, they'll have lots of opportunities to make up those medals because the U.S. has the largest delegation ever in a Winter Olympics, 242 athletes to be exact.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Wow.

CUOMO: Great games. Really exciting start. There is other news, however.

HILL: There is other news. Very important news.

CUOMO: Yes.

HILL: Coy, you put a little information out on the old social media over the weekend about a big development for your family.

WIRE: Yes.

CUOMO: Look at that.

HILL: Congratulations.

CUOMO: Wife, Clare. Beautiful. Talented.

WIRE: Thank you.

CUOMO: Made one bad decision in her life, standing right next to her. They are expecting a baby girl. The name is picked. Wrenn. W-r-e-n-n. The baby comes in April. Coy Wire, this is going to be the best moment of your life.

WIRE: You guys, I'll tell you what, I'm freezing my butt over here. But you guys are keeping me warm. Our colleagues in Atlanta threw a surprise baby shower for Clare while I was away, warming my heart while I'm halfway around the world freezing my buns off missing both of my babies. Thank you, guys.

HILL: Great to watch your smile, though, as that was brought up in the picture, Coy, you are beaming.

CUOMO: Get some sleep now.

HILL: Yes. Because that advice always works out, as we both know so well.

CUOMO: I know.

HILL: All right, a critical debate about to begin on the Senate floor today. Can Congress strike a deal on immigration to protect dreamers? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:36:55] CUOMO: The Senate begins a rare and historic debate today on immigration. Lawmakers facing a March 5th deadline to decide the fate of dreamers. Now it's a little bit of a figasi (ph) deadline. The president imposed it. He could slide it, if he wants, but we don't know that that's going to happen.

So let's bring back CNN political analysts David Drucker and Karoun Demirjian.

All right, so a debate assumes two identifiable and opposable sides. We don't really have that here, Karoun. I'm not even sure if the Democrats know where their line in the sand is on what to do here. What do you know?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, there's a very -- a variety of proposals out there for how to actually handle this and there's a variety of opinions about where people should be drawing the lines of other party. Should they be willing to talk about the changes to the family reunification or chain migration from the other side programs? Should they be willing to talk about wall funding? Should -- how far will Republicans go in talking about a pathway to citizenship for the child -- the people that would be covered under the DACA program, but -- the people that are brought to this country as children?

There are so many different ways you could put this together. And that is the problem with immigration reform. And then let's assume that you can actually come to some agreement in the Senate, which is possible, because it's happened before. Putting that in front of the House is another issue entirely. And the question for the House, I really, is, is the president going to get behind whatever comes out of the Senate and thus far he's not really shown himself to be so willing to take the deals that are proffered on immigration.

HILL: And it's -- we'll be watch for that and we're doing a little rapid fire here too because we also want to talk about infrastructure. So we're going to learn more about the infrastructure plan, $1.5 trillion plans, which $200 billion is reportedly going to be federal funding, though we're not sure exactly where that money is coming from. David Drucker, where do we go with this? There are so many questions surrounding these numbers.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, there's a question of, how are you going to pay for this? Can you get Republican support in the House to spend over a trillion dollars? And how hard is the president going to sell it? And his -- is his political cover to do something that they wouldn't do under President Obama good enough to get them to open the purse strings for something that they have been very hesitant to do. And then how do you ensure that all of this money flows into projects that will actually come to fruition? Because that's another sticking point in infrastructure spending is a concern that you appropriate money and then it ends up in all sorts of places, not in roads and bridges.

And it will probably play into the immigration debate because it's all about jobs. And a lot of this involves, especially as we're about to enter Republican primary season, Democrats too, but for Republicans, for things like this, the president's political cover is going to be very important for them. But a Republican infrastructure plan pushed by them is not something we have seen for several years and that's why I think there's so -- so much uncertainly.

CUOMO: Well, look, history matters here, Karoun, right? This is something that the Obama administration was calling for. The need is sorely apparent. I mean there's no question. But this is not a really political saleable thing. Usually with the people who are now going to become relevant again, which is going to be the conservative deficit hawks, specifically in the House.

Order matters. People were pushing President Trump to do this right out of the box as president. He decided against it. But now you have that tax plan. You have rising the spending caps in a way that I can't believe the Republican Party will get on board with, and now you're asking to swallow infrastructure. That may be, no pun intended, a bridge too far.

[06:40:16] DEMIRJIAN: Yes, for certain Republicans. But the center of the Republican Party, or at least the political power structure in the Republican Party, has moved away from caring that much about this line, about caring -- prioritizing the deficit and trying to reduce it.

Will the Democrats pick that up? That is potentially a shift that you might see on some fronts. Certainly there are Republicans who are not going to let this go. But when Trump is in the position he's in, how much -- how much sway are they really going to have to shift things around? I would say that that's going to be less. And also you're talking about a line the Republican Party had when there was a Democratic president. That's not the case anymore. And so they get to have their spending priorities prioritized and that's what we're seeing.

DRUCKER: And, Chris, I think for Democrats the issue heading into their primaries is, how much cooperating can they seem to be doing with President Trump? Their base cannot stand Trump. And if there's too much hugging going on, there is a potential backlash that they have to worry about.

HILL: And that is something we'll definitely be watching play out.

Also want to get your take on the Democratic memo, which, of course, we learned the president deciding he is not going to release. Adam Schiff set to meet with the FBI about these redactions.

David, as we look at this, there's also the broader point of looking at the investigation by the House versus looking at the investigation by the Senate. A lot of people, as we look at this political posturing with the memos, there's a question of whether the investigation itself, even when it's all said and done, how relevant is that going to be versus what we're seeing coming out of the Senate?

DRUCKER: Yes, it's really unclear because nothing that has been produced yet has materially changed the politics surrounding all of this, and that's because there has been -- on neither side have you ever had a clear, smoking gun piece of evidence that has been able to shape public opinion whether or not that opinion wants to be shaped. In other words, if you're a Republican and you think that President Trump is being railroaded, they haven't seen anything yet that would change their mind or force them to really consider changing their mind.

And the same goes for Democrats who's convinced he's guilty of collusion. There's a lot of smoke out there, but we haven't seen anything yet that is so definitive that you're confronted with changing your mind. And that's why these competing memos has simply contributed to a lot of the mud and confusion out there. The Senate Intel Committee is the one that I watch and Mark Warner, who's the top Democrat on Senate Intel, is somebody that I watch because he's been much more careful that his Democratic counterpart in the House with how he characterizes what has been going on.

CUOMO: All right, David, Karoun, thank you very much.

Ahead, we have a CNN exclusive. The leader of ISIS is said to be injured and on the run. The international effort to track down the world's most wanted terrorist, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:46:01] HILL: Now a CNN exclusive. Sources telling CNN ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi was seriously wounded in an air strike last May. The most wanted terrorist in the world had to surrender control of ISIS for up to five months while he recovered.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us live in London with these exclusive details.

Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, it appears this air strike occurred near or around the so-called capital of ISIS' former caliphate, Raqqa, back in May. A time when they were under severe pressure, almost losing their grip of a key city in Iraq, Mosul, down to their last square kilometers there, but also, too, finding that capital, Raqqa, encircled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.

A lot of air strikes in that area. It's unclear which air strike caused this injury. Was Baghdadi was, in fact, the target or, quote, collateral damage. But the U.S. has pretty high confidence in terms of its intelligence reports, citing refugees and ISIS detainees that he was, in fact, injured by an air strike then and subsequently had to step back from the front line running of the group for about four to five months.

He reemerged in September last year remember with an audio message which appeared to give enough evidence just he was clearly still alive. Some interest, though, too, because around that time in May, Russia subsequently afterwards claimed that it had, in fact, killed or injured Baghdadi. The U.S. officials I speak to say they don't really think this was the Russians. They hadn't done many strikes around Raqqa. But, still, an interesting window here onto exactly where he may be.

They think that could now -- and this is a hunch -- be the Iraqi- Syrian border. An area of desert sparsely populated. But that is the remains of the U.S. mission in Syria, to hunt that man down.

Back to you.

CUOMO: Nick Paton Walsh, few people know as well as you, near the end and the end are often very, very different stories. Be well. Thank you for the reporting.

So, a question for you this morning, is the U.S. ready to talk to North Korea? Vice President Pence and other top U.S. officials opening the door to potential negotiations with Kim Jong-un. What are the conditions? What's the likelihood? We have the reporter who broke the story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:52:05] HILL: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says it will be up to North Korea to engage in talks with the U.S. Those words coming after "The Washington Post" revealed Vice President Mike Pence says the Trump administration is now willing to hold talks with North Korea.

CNN's Will Ripley is live in South Korea now with more.

Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica.

We've heard a lot about the maximum pressure strategy by the U.S. and now we're hearing more about the engagement strategy from the vice president who says if North Korea is ready to talk, the United States is ready to talk to.

But I spoke with a senior diplomatic source very close to North Korea who say they're pretty skeptical about that. They've heard mixed messaging from the Trump administration before, acrimonious exchanges between the president and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, only then to hear calls for engagement and diplomacy.

The North Koreans also calling Vice President Pence's visit here in Pyeongchang a missed opportunity. They point to the fact that he chose to meet with North Korean defectors instead of attending events where the North Korean delegates may have been present, where there could have been possibly a diplomatic opening.

And the biggest insult, the North Koreans say, was that the vice president chose to stay seated and he didn't clap when the unified Korean Olympic team came out during the opening ceremonies. My source called it an undignified act that degraded the status of the United States. They said that the vice president took the low road instead of acting like the big brother that they are supposed to be here in South Korea. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking overnight in Cairo,

said it's really too soon to know whether this might be the beginning of a diplomatic opening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: As we've said for some time, it's really up to the North Koreans to decide whether they're ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way. They know what has to be on the table for conversations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: It was pretty clear to a lot of observers that North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un sent his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong here on a diplomatic mission to try to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul. But this morning the defense secretary and others in the Trump administration are saying there is no wedge. They say they are in lock step with South Korea on the best policy moving forward when it comes to North Korea.

Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Will, appreciate it. Important information. Thank you very much.

Joining us now we've got Josh Rogin, CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post." He is the man who broke the news on Vice President Pence. And we have Gordon Chang, "Daily Beast" columnist and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

Josh, good for you. Thanks for bringing it to us.

What can you tell us?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So while it's true that for five days Vice President Pence was sending a very tough message to the North Koreans and trying to stunt their charm offensive at the Pyeongchang Olympics, behind the scenes, there was something else going on. He -- as Vice President Pence told me in our interview aboard Air Force Two on the way home, in two substantive meetings with the South Korean president, one at the Blue House in Seoul and one at the speed skating (INAUDIBLE) in Pyeongchang, they came to an agreement by which the United States could support continued engagement with the North Koreans. First by the South Koreans and potentially directly with the United States down the line.

[06:55:04] The agreement is this. The South Koreans promised that no pressure would come off the North Koreans just for talking. They can talk, but the pressures keeps going up and up. Based on that promise, Vice President Pence felt comfortable to endorse continued engagement with North Korea. That's a small, but important diplomatic opening. It doesn't got us to negotiations, it doesn't get us to peace, but it does provide a small window of opportunity and it's a fascinating story of behind the scenes diplomacy. CUOMO: Josh, appreciate it. Stay with us.

Gordon, do you buy it? Do you think that there is an earnest move by North Korea to change its way with a charm offensive? I mean I don't buy it at all. I thought it was silly how people were pointing out his sister as some type of new vehicle. This is a murderous, oppressive regime. She is a main official for it. What is this really about?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": No, you're absolutely right. What the North Koreans want with the Olympics is to get some relief from sanctions because they're not only the U.S. sanctions, but they're the U.N. ones as well. And Vice President Pence, in his first days in South Korea, was talking about more sanctions on the North, more pressure. And so the North Koreans, you know, they're obviously hurting. We're seeing reports that, for instance, officials in Pyeongyang (ph) are not getting their rations out of their special distribution channel. That soldier who defected in the middle of November, he had uncooked kernels of corn in his digestive tract. It meant that he was scrounging for food. And he's the best of the best, so they should have fed him.

CUOMO: He also had a tape worm that was like the length of my arm.

CHANG: And, of course, the parasites as well.

So, you know, essentially what they want is Moon Jae-in, who wants to give them stuff anyway, they want those discussions so South Korea will shovel a lot of cash into the North. And Pence and the rest of the American team are doing their best to prevent them from doing that.

CUOMO: So that's the infliction point.

Josh, let me bring you back in here for a second.

So, Josh, where is your reporting on that? That, you know, this is a little bit of a rub for the United States, right? They are very close with South Korea. They have been their ally in this, obviously. But there is such huge economic enticements to the South, to reopening corridors with the North. Where is the U.S. in terms of negotiating that tension?

ROGIN: Right. Well, I think that's exactly the balance that the Trump administration is trying to strike. So on the one hand you've got North Korea, an evil, brute regime trying to split the alliance. And you've got a South Korean president who wants to make progress. And what the Trump administration has to do is to keep a hard line on sanctions, even increase sanctions, which is going to do, and still keep the South Koreans in our camp. And this is what they came up with. It's called maximum pressure and engagement at the same time.

Will it work? I don't know. Will the North Koreans go for it? We'll have to wait and see. But it is how we're keeping the alliance together and pushing back against the North Korean charm offensive.

Now, the next step is for the South Korean president to perhaps go to Pyongyang. That will be an interesting development all by itself. And then there will be new sanctions. The North Koreans might shoot a missile. A lot of things could go wrong. But we did make a little bit of progress. And the Trump administration did, to their credit, realize that in order to keep the alliance strong, they had to find a way to be cool with the engagement going forward and President Moon, to his credit, gave them a way to do that. And that's what happened behind the scenes in Pyeongchang.

CUOMO: Gordon Chang, are you in favor of direct talks with North Korea?

CHANG: Oh, absolutely, but at the right time. We should keep talking to the North Koreans when they realize they have no choice but to disarm. They're not there yet.

And as Josh said, what the administration decides to do was to talk to them before that point in order to make sure that Moon Jae-in would not defect to North Korea. Because, you know, there have been two inter-Korean summits before. You know, both of them, there have been a lot of money paid under the table to the North Koreans. For the first one in 2000, it may have been as much as a half billion dollars. That's certainly what undermined --

CUOMO: Who gave the money?

CHANG: The South Koreans, under the table, gave $500 million to the North Koreans. So, you know, every time you have the two leaders of North and South Korea together, you know, there's a lot of money there. And so what Pence has been trying to do is to say, yes, OK to Moon. You can go to Pyongyang, but don't pay them any cash and keep up the maximum pressure. And, by the way, make sure we continue with the U.S./South Korea joint military drills, which we postponed at your request for the Olympics. So there's a lot of things that we have on our agenda to do what Josh was talking about, and that is to keep the alliance strong.

CUOMO: Gordon Chang, appreciate the insight.

Josh Rogin, thank you for the reporting. It's good to have new information on our watch.

And thanks to all of you, our international viewers, for watching us. For you, CNN "NEWSROOM" is going to be next. For our U.S. viewers, there is a lot to unpack. What do you say? Let's get after it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not to show any concern or empathy for the potential victims, that is a problem.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He said very strongly that he's innocent. We absolutely wish him well.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: People should look at the result as to how this was handled. One week ago Rob Porter was a top aide. Today, he's out of the White House. [07:00:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the chief of staff is doing a really good job. And, most importantly, I think the president thinks he's doing a great job as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought Kelly was the guy who could manage the place. You cannot make a bigger mess than you're cleaning up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president does