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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

President Trump Holds Press Conference With Swedish Prime Minister; Seoul: North Korea Willing to Talk to U.S. About Giving Up Nukes. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 6, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- the White House has tremendous energy. It has tremendous spirit. It is a great place to be working. Many, many, people want every single job.

I read where, oh, gee, maybe people don't want to work for Trump -- and, believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing. And not only in terms of it looks great on their resume, it's just a great place to work. It's got tremendous energy. It's tough.

I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. But I like watching it. I like seeing it, and I think it's the best way to go. I like different points of view. But the White House has a tremendous energy and we have tremendous talent.

Yes, they'll be people -- I'm not going to be specific -- but there will be people that change -- they always change. Sometimes they want to go out and do something else but they all want to be in the White House. So many people want to come in. I have a choice of anybody. I could take any position in the White House and I'll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position. Everybody wants to be there. And they love this White House because we have energy like rarely before, OK,

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, last year you criticized the president for drawing a link between immigrant crime and the recent arrivals of refugees. This week one of our own flagship papers, the New York Times, actually profiled the link between hand grenade violence and immigrant gangs in your country. Do you stand by your criticism of the president?

STEFAN LOFVEN, PRIME MINISTER OF SWEDEN: First, Sweden, we have our share of domestic challenges, no doubt about that. So we inherited a legislation that was not sustainable -- legislation on migration which meant that in 2015, we received 163,000 refugees seeking refuge. Bear in mind, we're a country of 10 million inhabitants so that was a lot; 70 percent of them came from September to December, which meant it was a dramatic increase.

We changed the legislation, so now we've decreased the number of refugees entering Sweden, and we're also putting pressure on the other European Union countries to take their share of the responsibility. This is not a responsibility for one, two, three or four countries; it is a shared responsibility. We are working with that now within the European Union.

So we also have problems with crime, organized crime, in Sweden, shootings. But it's not like you have these no-go zones. We have dealt with it -- I'm dealing with it every day, allocating more resources to the police, more policeman trained, more resources to the security police, tougher law on crime, tougher law on terrorism -- supporting terrorism.

So, we do a lot to combat that -- and we can also see some results now in our three major cities -- decreased shootings, because we're attacking the organized crime very tough, and we'll keep on doing that, because there is no space in Sweden for organized crime, because they decrease freedom for ordinary people.

LOFVEN: At the same time, Sweden has high growth. Unemployment is going down. Employment is going up. We have high investment rates, and we are allocating resources to the welfare. We have a strong, strong economy with a -- with the surplus, a huge surplus that we're now using to develop our society with -- for example, the welfare that we that we want.

So the pictures we need to be -- its two pictures. Yes, we have our share of domestic problems and challenges, no doubt about that. But we're dealing with them, and we also have a good -- good foundation for dealing with them, not least with a strong economy and the shrinking unemployment.

OK, so it is Kaiser Swedish (ph) radio.

QUESTION: Thank you.

This is an election year for both of our countries, and I want to ask you, Mr. Trump, what do you think Sweden should learn from how the Russian influence campaign affected the presidential election in the U.S.?

TRUMP: Well, the Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever. But certainly there was meddling, and probably there was meddling from other countries, and maybe other individuals.

And I think you have to be really watching very closely. You don't want your system of votes to be compromised in any way. And we won't allow that to happen. We're doing a very, very deep study, and we're coming out with some I think very strong suggestions on the '18 election.

I think we're going to do very well in the '18 election, although historically those in the White House have a little bit of a dip. But I think we're going to do well because the economy is so good, and because we're protecting our job, like our jobs are being protected, finally -- like with what we are doing with the tariffs.

But the big thing would be the tax cut and the regulations cuts. Also, the judges, I mean we have outstanding judges. Judge Gorsuch, and the Supreme Court, and many, many judges going on to the bench all over the country.

So I think we're going to do very well, and I think it'll be a tremendous surprise to people how well. The economy is so good. Jobs are so good. Black unemployment, Hispanic unemployment, at all-time lows.

I mean we're really -- we're really going well. So based on that I guess we should do pretty well and I hope so, but you have to be very vigilant. And one of the things we're learning is it is always good -- it's old-fashioned, but it's always good to have a paper backup system of voting. It's called paper, not highly complex computers -- paper. And a lot of states are doing that. They're going to a paper backup and I think that's a great idea. But we're studying it very closely.

Various agencies, including Homeland Security, are studying it very carefully.

QUESTION: I mean, are you worried about Russia trying to meddle in the midterm election?

TRUMP: No, because we'll counter act whatever they do. We'll counteract it very strongly. And we are having strong backup systems.

And we've been working actually -- we haven't been giving credit for this, but we've actually been working very hard on the '18 election and the '20 election coming up.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. Lofven, are you guys on the same page when it comes to evaluating that threat from Russia when it comes to meddling in elections, you think?

LOFVEN: Well, we both agree upon that the election in a country should be -- the result of the election in the country should be decided by nobody else but the voters in that country. And that is also our clear stance, and that is why our intelligence agencies are now also increasing their capacity to detect and counter, whether it's hacker attacks or -- or financing, or producing, or spreading propaganda, whatever it is; we are increasing our capacity to handle that.

LOFVEN: We are cooperating with other European union countries. Some of our agencies are also cooperating with American counterparts, and this we - will continue to do. And so any foreign power that -- that believes that they can interfere with our election, we will find out, and we will call them out very clearly, loud.

QUESTION: And is this the first time that you two meet, just the two of you? Where did you find most common ground, or where do you differ most on political issues?

LOFVEN: We -- we -- First, we -- we -- we...

TRUMP: Maybe almost everything. LOFVEN: Yeah. We -- no, first we -- we -- we, I mean, we both come from outside politics, into politics. I've spent part of (ph) 30 years in -- in industry as a welder, but also, as a trade unionist -- trade union leader, spending 75, 80 percent of my time cooperating with the company leaders, with the employer's organizations, in an effort to -- to strengthen our industry. So that's, perhaps, a -- a similar background -- not similar, because it's different, but -- but we come from outside policies.

But of course, also friends differ from time to time. The Paris Agreement, the importance of Paris Agreement, we stand by that. We think it's very important that we implement and -- and fulfill the Paris Agreement because of the -- the -- the climate issue. And on that, we might differ, tariffs, as well.

But having said that, still we know that the relationship is a good -- yes, so we can take that we differ as well, because the values are there, and we cooperated very, very good on economic issues, and making sure that we create jobs and growth, and also security issues, both when it comes to combating terrorism, but also, when it comes to -- to defend ourselves.

QUESTION: Does -- finally, follow up for Mr. Trump. Do you think that trade is where Sweden and U.S. differ most right now?

TRUMP: Well, I think we have very good relationships on trade. We have had, and we are constantly in touch. We have, on the military, great cooperation, including design of various components of aircraft, etc. And we are -- we were discussing that we have some of the great makers of these components in the room with us today. No, we have a very good relationship on trade, and we always will have.

Sweden's a great country. It's small, but it's very sharp. I will tell you, they are very sharp.

Thank you very much, everybody. I appreciate it. Thank you.

[16:10:04]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

You have been listening to President Trump holding a press conference with the prime minister of Sweden, President Trump saying that the Russians had no impact on votes in the 2016 election in any way, and that he's not worried about Russian meddling in the coming elections.

He also insisted that Sweden has been a problem with immigration, but he praised the nation for its help in dealing with North Korea.

On North Korea, he said he believes the North Korean government is sincere in its apparent new openness to talks.

The president also stood by his proposal to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, insisting the U.S. has been taken advantage of and even mistreated, even as the Swedish prime minister said he believes increased tariffs will hurt everyone in the long run. My panel is here with me to break down everything we just heard.

And, Admiral Kirby, let me start with you.

He said that he thought North Korean entreaties offer to talk would ultimately produce results. The question was rather skeptical, though, rightfully asking, do you think that they're just actually buying time?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, it was a great question and a fair question.

And I think some analysts do think that he's just buying time. This is not a new tactic by Kim Jong-un. That said, Jake, I do think there's a sincerity here. And I think it is fair for the Trump administration to take a little bit of credit. The sanctions are beginning to bite and there's some uncertainty by Kim Jong-un about these military options and the bloody nose strategy that I think are helping drive him to the table.

But there are external factors as well. Moon Jae-in is one of them, the president of South Korea. Kim Jong-un would be foolish not to take advantage of Moon's liberal views on reunification and take advantage of the fact that he's in office now at the Blue House to do this.

Plus, Kim Jong-un is not his father. He can go into these kind of talks with a lot more credibility because he has got more capability, a stronger nuclear and defense missile program that makes this a propitious time for him.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, we have heard a lot of people talk about maybe President Trump should get some credit for this, although obviously we don't know how the movie ends.

The president at the Gridiron made a joke that was telling. He said when asked about whether he or not would be comfortable the sitting down -- with the madman, the president said, well, that's his problem, not mine, which was a pretty self-deprecating and also amusing joke, but also had a shred of truth to it, which is perhaps the president is actually convincing Kim Jong-un that who knows what he will do.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

This is a very-high stakes game, but I will say I generally worry about the Trump administration whether it has a real game plan for these kinds of things. But on North Korea, because it has been such an intransigent problem for so long, any change in the calculus actually feels like a bit of an improvement.

And that's what this feels like. But, as you say, the real question is how it actually ends. And I wonder whether the strategic process here actually exists.

TAPPER: The South Korean special envoy to North Korea relayed the position of North Korea, saying Pyongyang feels -- quote -- "There's no reason to retain nuclear if the military threat to North Korea is resolved and North Korea's security is guaranteed."

That is nice to hear. I'm not sure how much I believe it.

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We have to inspect what we expect, trust but verify.

But I do agree that if we do have some positive movement towards North Korea, that's a good thing for all of us. It's good for the world. We don't want to be on the edge of the seat wondering what the president of North Korea will or will not do. So, this could be some progress. So we will trust a little, verify a lot.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine Ham, I also want to also talk about the tariffs, because the president said he is standing by saying the fact that he thinks the world has been taking advantage of the United States. He said they will be enforcing tariffs in a very loving way.

HAM: Tender tariffs is what we're going to have.

No, look, I think this is economic illiteracy. And I think it will hurt people and there will be a retaliation and it will not hurt the people on whom the tariffs go, but on people who are buying supplies.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: He said that, in a trade war, the only people that will be hurt will be the other side, not Americans.

HAM: I think that's not true, especially when they retaliate. And there are rippling effects.

But the interesting thing about this, I think, is, obviously this was announced without a specific plan for how it was rolled out. I think that's because he wants to announce it because he's in favor of this policy.

And often he is a very changeable guy on ideology. And he is willing to do a deal. And that's why people are talking to him around the White House right now. But trade is an issue and protectionism is an issue where he has been remarkably consistent for 30 or 40 years.

This is something that he has written about and talked about for a very long time.

TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

And, Jeff, the president was asked directly about his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and he dodged it.

But President Trump did admit that he likes conflict.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He did, Jake.

That was a pretty honest answer, I think, there. The president asked directly about the attorney general, as well as some other secretaries in his Cabinet. He said he would not discuss that. Of course, this question was following up on a tweet the president

sent out this morning acknowledging there would be change here in the West Wing.

[16:15:04] He did not engage who would lead, but he made clear, he said everyone wants to come in and work in the West Wing in his administration. He said I like conflict. I like hearing two people with two points of view. I like watching it, I like seeing it.

Well, he is seeing that play out in real-time with his discussion of everything that he's been talking about on tariffs. Specifically, this has, you know, has driven a wedge inside the Republican Party. So, the president saying he likes the see conflicts, certainly was acknowledging something we see every day.

He said there's not chaos in the West Wing, but there is energy in the West Wing. And something about -- he said everyone wants to come in and work here, Jake, and that's not what we've seen. We've seen many Republicans across Washington and beyond decline jobs because of all this chaos in the West Wing -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny.

And, Admiral Kirby, before we take a quick commercial break, I do want to ask you about President Trump was asked about election interference because, obviously, they're having an election in Sweden as well and that the Russians up to their mischief and their election interference, just as they were in the United States in 2016.

Take a listen to what President Trump had to say when he was asked initially by a Swedish journalist about what lessons the United States could teach Sweden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Are you worried about Russians trying to meddle in the midterm elections?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. We'll counteract whatever they do. We'll counteract it very strongly. And we are having strong back-up systems. And we've been working -- actually, we haven't been given credits for this, but we've actually been working very hard on the '18 election and the '20 election coming up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Yes, his intelligence experts said the same thing to Congress this week. Even Admiral Rogers said we are doing stuff. We're not talking about it. But there are actions that are being undertaken.

I hope they're robust and very flexible and that their whole of government, Jake. We shouldn't just get tied up into cyber capabilities. There's a whole lot of other capabilities that we should do in our disposable to try to counteract this.

I think they are doing some. I just don't know if it is enough or if it's been started soon enough.

He's talking about studying. I think we're way past studying.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

North Korea saying it's willing to talk to the U.S. about giving up its nukes? For real?

Don't go anywhere. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:21:26] TAPPER: And we're back with the world lead now in what may be a major diplomatic breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula.

Moments ago, President Trump reacting to the stunner from North Korea saying he believes North Korea is sincere in its willingness to talk to the U.S. about giving up its nuclear weapons. South Korea relayed that after attending a dinner hosted by Kim Jong-un last night.

I want to bring in CNN's Will Ripley. He's live from the region in Beijing. Also with me, CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

But, Will, I'll start with you.

North Korea has its nuclear ambitions written in its constitution. Are there any actual signs that it can be taken seriously about wanting to get rid of or being willing to get rid of nuclear weapons?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they would if the United States pulled out of the Korean peninsula and stopped military drills. I mean, that's what Kim Jong-un wants and that's what he will likely ask for if the negotiations get that far.

North Korea by offering the prospect of denuclearization, they buy themselves potentially some relief from sanctions that are getting increasingly crippling from this, you know, potential threat of military action by the United States.

This is very strategic on the part of Kim Jong-un. He is thinking long term, far beyond when President Trump leaves office and President Moon leaves office. He wants to stay in power for many decades to come. And so, at the moment, the short term gain diplomacy.

But we know that North Korea is still producing the material to build nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un has said he's going to mass produce nuclear weapons and denuclearization for the North Koreans, it can mean a freeze, it can mean a very long drawn out process incrementally, dismantling certain things.

But at the end of the day, North Korea is not going to give up their nuclear force unless they have guarantees that the United States is going to drastically reduce its troop presence on the Korean Peninsula, which unless there's a dramatic shift in U.S. policy, that's highly unlikely to happen. So, you know, the talks likely will happen. It certainly is an

important historic moment but we need to be realistic here about what North Korea expect and what the United States expect and what both sides are willing to give.

TAPPER: And, Barbara, this afternoon, President Trump called the overtures positive, but he also reiterated that the U.S. is willing to go, quote, either way. Explain what that might mean.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, he is still holding open the military option against North Korea. He feels maximum pressure through diplomatic and economic channels is what got to this more positive point in his view.

But U.S. military commanders, U.S. intelligence leaders are very skeptical about quickly believing anything that North Korea has to say. Listen to a little bit more of President Trump's optimism about it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This should have been handled long ago. This should have been handled over many years by many different administrations. Not now. This was not the right time to handle this.

Hopefully, we'll go into a very, very peaceful, beautiful path. We're prepared to go whichever path is necessary. I think we're having very good dialogue. And you're going to certainly find out pretty soon what's happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: You can beat that intelligence community experts are scouring every piece of information they can to figure out what North Korea is really talking about and what this all means. All indications are, just as Will said, that the North continues on its weapons programs, on its nuclear program has no immediate intention of giving up any of it -- Jake.

TAPPER: So, Will, you've been to North Korea nearly 20 times now. You've seen the elaborate military parades, the anti-U.S. propaganda. Do you think that North Korean -- the citizens there or even the government under Kim Jong-un would support putting its nuclear program in standby for talks with the U.S.?

RIPLEY: Well, certainly, if the government told them to support it, they would because that's how it works in North Korea.

[16:25:01] But when you walk around Pyongyang, all you see is propaganda about nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un has built up his entire image about, you know, that he's assembled this massive nuclear force, this sword of justice against the United States, as they call it. He had it written into the country's constitution in 2013. It's hard to see how he would be able to just simply quickly do an about face and walk away from the nuclear program that he's developed. TAPPER: Will Ripley, Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

We just heard President Trump acknowledged that there was meddling in the 2016 election, but wait until you hear who he says is to blame for it.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's tough. I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view and I certainly have that and then I'll make a decision. But I like watching it, I like seeing it and I think it's the best way to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump perhaps stating the obvious about his leadership style this afternoon. He said there's lots of interest in working at the White House and that they all want a piece of the West Wing.

We're back with our politics lead and my panel.

So, the president says the White House isn't chaotic.