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Five Killed in Severe Storms; Gates Guilty Plea; Death Penalty for Drug Dealers; Inside Trump's Marriage; North Korea Open for Dialogue; Mexican President Cancels Trip. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 26, 2018 - 06:30   ET

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


[06:31:05] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: At least five people are dead after severe thunderstorms ripped through the central U.S., spawning a tornado, as you can see on your screen, and widespread flooding. Severe weather now set to batter the Midwest and the Northeast later this week.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is live in our Weather Center.

What are you seeing, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Alisyn, officially 12 tornados over the weekend. We did have fatalities with the storms. Three fatalities from tornados directly. That was the first tornado death in 283 days. Now, that is a new record for length of time between tornado deaths. That's one record, I guess, that's good. Eventually it had to break. But we did it this weekend.

Lots of rainfall too. Some spots in Arkansas picked up 12 inches of rain in 48 hours. So there is going to be more flood threat.

Now, the storm is moving away. It's moving through the southeast. A little bit of snow to the northeast, little clouds as well. But the storm system, as it moves away, builds another one. Watch what happens back out here for Tuesday and Wednesday, another storm right over the top of where the last one was. And we do expect more tornados for Wednesday and possibly Thursday through the Midwest and the Southeast.

Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, buddy, keep us aware of what we need to do.

MYERS: I will.

CUOMO: President Trump reportedly wants the death penalty for major drug dealers. Could he get such a harsh punishment passed? And wait until you hear who inspired this latest idea, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:36:22] CUOMO: Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates pleaded guilty to two criminal charges, putting the spotlight on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. So, what does this mean about where the special counsel is headed and what would be the next step in the Russia probe?

Let's discuss. We've got CNN legal analysts Michael Zeldin and Carrie Cordero. Remember, Michael worked with Bob Mueller.

Good to see you both.

Carrie, so, the hoax. Let's go through what the hoax is doing now that we have like the fifth guy getting involved with the special counsel. What does the Gates indictment mean to you in terms of where Mueller is headed?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It means a couple things, Chris. First of all, Gates was on the campaign himself. So Manafort was the chairman, but Gates was working closely with him on the campaign. So there is a lot potentially that he knows independent of Paul Manafort, that Gates knows, regarding activities that went on, on the campaign, if there were communications with Russian government officials or Russian surrogates. He was there. He was very involved in his own right. And then also, obviously, it has consequences for the prosecution of Manafort because Gates was his business partner. And so all of those charges, money laundering, failure to register, conspiracy, all of those, tax evasion, all of those laundry list of charges that are against Manafort, Gates will be a primary witness now against him.

CUOMO: All right, so, Michael, let's go with this again. I get it. In terms of, for Manafort, this isn't a good thing when your business partner is agreeing to cooperate with the prosecutor. And, yes, Gates was with the campaign much longer than Manafort. Up until I think November he was still on the campaign plane.

But, still, the pushback will be, this is all about Manafort and the stuff that he and Gates were doing before. It's not about the campaign. It doesn't show anything about the campaign and collusion with Russia. Your take?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's right. I think that within the four corners of the indictment, this does not speak to the collusion aspect of Mueller's investigation, nor does it speak to the counterintelligence aspect directly. The question is, as Carrie said, what testimony did these people, Manafort and Gates, have to offer? And I say Manafort has to offer because ultimately I think Manafort testifies and cooperates with Mueller. Gates convicts him of all counts in the Virginia indictment rather speedily and leaves Manafort, you know, without a leg to resist Mueller if Mueller wants to subpoena him after trial.

So I think ultimately you get Manafort and Gates' testimony. And that will let us know, Chris, whether or not there is anything to the collusion allegations and what, if any, witting role Americans played in cooperating with the Russians. We've seen what the Russians did according to Mueller in the 13 -- indictment against the 13 Russians. Now we'll see whether there's a witting other side, U.S. side to it.

CUOMO: Carrie, when you're looking at what the scope of the purview is for Mueller, he can look at both of these things, right? It's all crimes. Any criminal activity. So it would be fine within the purview to look back and say, OK, this has nothing to do with the campaign, but these guys were involved. That's how I learned about them. And they were moving money around in the wrong way. It's criminal. That's why I went after it.

But is there a responsibility, on the point -- on the back of this special prosecutor, to do things that are really about the campaign or are they all equal to him?

CORDERO: Well, so the mandate that the special counsel was given in the Department of Justice regulation is that he can look into issues involving Russian influence on the campaign and other matters that may arise. And so that is a broad mandate for him to go where the investigation takes him.

[06:40:15] That being said, he does have to report to the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for purposes of this investigation. And so if Mueller went too far afield, the DAG, the deputy attorney general, has made it clear that he is exercising that oversight authority.

I think the key with Manafort and Gates is that these are guys who know how to move money around the world. And they have, obviously, as alleged in the indictments, been doing so in a way that evades law enforcement for a very long time. And so if the special counsel's investigation -- we don't know this yet -- but if one angle that they are looking at is whether or not there are any foreign monies that were either attempted to come into the campaign or did come into that campaign, Manafort and Gates are the guys who would know about it.

CUOMO: OK.

CORDERO: And so that might be one angle. We don't know yet, but that might be one angle that they're looking at.

CUOMO: Michael, topic switch. Do you think Trump will be able to pass a federal death sentence for drug dealers?

ZELDIN: I certainly hope not.

CUOMO: Why?

ZELDIN: Well, during my tenure at Justice, I was deputy chief of the narcotics and dangerous drugs section under -- in the Reagan years. And I thought that Nancy Reagan more or less had it right when she said, what we in the United States need to do is focus on the demand side. Why is there such a demand for drugs? Why is it that we have such high drug usage? And that, you know sort of focusing our attention on the seller's side and ratcheting up the penalties for that, we saw that in the three strikes laws in New York. And those draconian laws do not affect the seller's side if there's still a big demand use.

And to model this after Singapore, which does put people to death, is just, to me, frightening because Singapore is not a democracy in the sense that the United States is. You can be charged for same-sex activity. Two years criminal. You have no right to prevent a warrantless entry into your house. Selling chewing gum is a two-year crime.

So to modeling ourselves after Singapore, to get a death penalty in respect of drug sales for deminimis amounts of opioids is just, I think, wrong as a policy matter.

CUOMO: Well, you're mentioning Singapore because the president supposedly, according to an Axios report, was talking to the leader of Singapore and said, how's the drug problem over there? And they said, not really bad because we kill all the drug dealers. And he was like, hey, that's a good idea. And you're raising the issue of whether or not that's the model for an American democracy.

ZELDIN: Exactly.

CUOMO: Michael, thank you very much.

Carrie Cordero, appreciate it.

Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, so two women have come forward recently to say they had affairs with Donald Trump while he was married to Melania. So what's going on in their marriage? An inside look at the state of the Trump union, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:47:26] CAMEROTA: When First Lady Melania Trump speaks at a White House luncheon today, it will be the first time that we have heard from her publicly in 2018. There, of course, have been questions about the state of the Trump marriage amid allegations that the president had affairs with a porn star and a former Playboy playmate.

Kate Bennett is live in Washington with more.

What have you learned, Kate?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Alisyn, today, it's pretty interesting. CNN's learned that she's actually going to address the gun issue at this luncheon and also not shy away from discussing the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Again, unusual to hear from the first lady. It's unusual to hear from her speaking about a policy issue. 2018 has sort of, so far, been a no good, horrible, very bad year for the first lady in a lot of ways, especially concerning the headlines involving her husband and allegations of past affairs.

She has been stoic though this. She has been quite. We have seen her by his side at various times but we certainly have not heard from her very much. She's also given several sort of nonverbal cues, breaking with tradition. She's shown herself to be very independent, as well as mysterious. This is a first lady who has not expressed emotion that much. She has not gone on speaking tours. She has made a few -- a handful of day trips. She was in Asia for part of the president's trip. She was in Europe last year. But, again, mostly silent, not giving a lot of public speaking opportunities. So today is actually a very interesting day for the first lady.

CAMEROTA: So true, Kate. I mean I think mysterious is the right word to describe how she's feeling through all of this and what she's doing so considering what the headlines have been. She's also done little to dispel the stories. So what do you make of that?

BENNETT: I mean that's true too. And sometimes, you know, I think in these -- in presidential marriages, right, we can look at the Clintons. We can even go back and look at JFK and Jackie. You know, how -- how the first couple handles headlines and rumors like this is really indicative of how they are individually.

This is not a first couple that we're used to of late. I mean we're used to the Obamas back and forth sort of sending mushy text messages and I love you and marking anniversaries. This isn't a couple with Donald and Melania Trump who does that. And she has been -- been quite, but she's done certain things like driving separately up to the State of the Union Address. And even the other day taking a separate motorcade to meet the president at the plane after the -- another salacious headline broke.

And, you know, she canceled her trip to Davos, Switzerland in the wake of the Stormy Daniels headlines as well. And, you know, her office says that these are logistical and scheduling issues. But one cannot help but wonder what might be going on behind the scenes and whether she's expressing herself and some frustration just by being quiet and marking these notes of independence.

[06:50:10] CAMEROTA: Yes. Great point, Kate. None of that seems typical. But we just don't know how to handle this.

Can I -- can I help you with something?

CUOMO: No, no, look, Kate, it's good reporting. Thank you very much.

But it was just funny, we're looking -- we're looking for clues as to whether or not there could be -- can you remember all of this stuff.

CAMEROTA: When she slapped him. That -- was that a clue, when she goes like this.

CUOMO: Oh, (INAUDIBLE). Oh, look, I don't -- all I'm saying is --

CAMEROTA: That -- look no further?

CUOMO: Whatever happens with them, happens. You know, that's their personal business. But we're going to have to hunt for clues (INAUDIBLE) when they're on the -- on the plane thing.

Anyway, a senior North Korean official is telling South Korea, his country is ready to negotiate with the U.S. But is the Trump administration ready to talk to North Korea? It's a very separate but important question, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: North Korea now says it's open to talking with the United States. A senior North Korean regime official tells South Korea that the doors are open for dialogue with the U.S. This follows new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on North Korea.

[06:55:05] Joining us now is CNN national security analyst and former director of both the CIA and the NSA, Retired General Michael Hayden.

Good morning, general.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Before I get your take on North Korea, I just want to show you some pictures because they speak a thousand words, as you know. So this is very interesting stuff. This was Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence at the opening ceremony of the Olympics. And here, when the delegation from North Korea of athletes and South Korea together walked out, you see the North Koreans sort of jubilant but you see Mike Pence and his wife still sitting. Then, the next picture -- OK, so that's that picture right there.

Contrast that to this picture, which is not the one that I wanted. This is the one of the closing ceremonies of Ivanka. You see her standing, OK, when the North and South Korean delegation came out. She's applauding and she's standing. And then there's a picture here where she is greeting South Korean president, but I think the general that was sent from North Korea was also in this group and she -- here it is, she appears to be smiling sort of in his general direction. That's the general from North Korea, also known as a spy. And he's smiling in her general direction. What are we to make of any of these optics?

HAYDEN: Well, I think the first thing we should make is, we've got mixed messages from the Trump administration with regard to how the vice president behaved and how Ivanka Trump behaved.

Look, put me in the second column. That's fine to acknowledge the presence of another human being. Doesn't carry that deep a diplomatic measure. And, frankly, her standing up and cheering the combined Korean team I think is a better choice than not doing it because most of that team was composed of South Koreans. And so I'm quite content there.

But, again, back, Alisyn, to the original thought, mixed messages. I mean the North Koreans are looking for signals from us. I think the second signal was better, but it's not the same as the first, is it?

CAMEROTA: It's not. And that's confusing because, look, these things are, as you know from the government, tightly orchestrated, I mean, and choreographed. Do you stand and sit? These things don't happen accidentally usually in most administrations. So Ivanka standing up and applauding would signal, I think to the North Koreans, that the U.S. is open to talks. HAYDEN: I -- it's more open. You've kind of got that emotive content there that we need -- we need to be careful, though, and give credit. The vice president, before he left South Korea, did say the United States would be open to talks with the North without preconditions, which is a very important policy statement and one that I hope continues to be the policy of the United States.

CAMEROTA: Except isn't the precondition that they want a denuclearization of North Korea? I mean isn't that just sort of the overarching precondition?

HAYDEN: That is the overarching goal, but it's not the precondition for talks. And, by the way, you're correct, Alisyn, last summer, that's how we formulated this, that we would not begin to talk with the North Koreans if they had not (INAUDIBLE) agreed with regard to denuclearization. That's our ultimate objective. But we are now committed -- I hope we continue to be committed -- to begin talks with them without our agreeing to stop our exercise program, without their agreeing to stop missile testing, with our continuing to impose very harsh sanctions and we don't ease up on them as a precondition to get them at the table.

CAMEROTA: And so just very quickly, what's the best that can come out of these talks, I mean, realistically?

HAYDEN: Well, realistically, in my view, and I know the Trump administration will find it very difficult to accept this, that we cap slow, make more transparent a nuclear program in North Korea that the regime is incapable of giving up.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's move on to Mexico because President Pena Nieto was supposed to come to the White House for a visit. That has now been canceled, as we understand, because of this tense phone call, as reported by "The Washington Post" and CNN. There was a tense phone call over, again, who would pay for the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And Pena Nieto wanted President Trump to say publically that Mexico's never going to pay for it, though President Trump has been saying all along that Mexico would pay for it. So whatever happened, Pena Nieto felt so strong that he canceled this trip.

HAYDEN: Right.

CAMEROTA: What do you think are the implications of this?

HAYDEN: Well, I totally understand it. There's a presidential election in Mexico this year. And to have their president come here and perhaps be publicly humiliated by the president, calling for Mexico to pay for the wall would have serious harm on his party. So I understand why he didn't do it.

[06:59:50] But, Alisyn, I think there's a broader lesson here. Words matter. Actions have consequences. I mean the president has publicly humiliated Mexico for the better part of the last three years with this I'm going to build a wall and they're going to pay for it. I mean that has effect on the Mexican body politic and now it has made it harder for us to get to a good place.