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North Korea Agrees to Halt Nuclear Tests If U.S. Agrees to Meet; Ex-Trump Aide May End Up Cooperating With Special Counsel; Trump: "Possible Progress" In Talks With North Korea; Nunberg: Mueller Has "Something" On Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 6, 2018 - 09:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[09:00:14] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here. We do have breaking news this morning. A significant development on the Korean Peninsula, maybe the most significant in more than a decade.

Word that North Korea is willing to halt nuclear tests and missile tests altogether if the United States sits down to talk.

Now the official statement came from the South which announced a summit between Korean leaders next month. That hasn't happened in more than 10 years, and in and of itself is a major milestone. A sort of international coming out party for Kim Jong-un.

Now there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical here. There are also reasons to ask if North Korea resolve is beginning to waiver, at least some in the face of U.S. sanctions.

CNN's Andrew Stevens joins me now live from Seoul in South Korea with the breaking details.

Andrew, lay it out for us.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA-PACIFIC EDITOR: Well, first and foremost, John, we have this new development in that the North Koreas say they are prepared to sit down with the U.S. and talk about normalizing relations. But most important to talk about denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. And they have said while those talks are going on, they will not take any provocative actions. And they explicitly said there will be no missile launches, there will be no nuclear tests while those talks are ongoing. So that in itself is a major development.

They've also said, and this could be a caveat, that -- and it's a well-worn line from them, that they are committed to denuclearization if North Korea's security can be guaranteed. Now they don't spell out what sort of -- what would have to happen to guarantee that security, but you could argue that there are more than 20,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. That could be something that North Koreans would want to see go away as part of the deal. But at least them sitting down and talking face-to-face is a

breakthrough. It's a diplomatic breakthrough. It is far, far from over yet, but it seems to be heading away from the belligerence and the rising tensions that we saw just a few months ago to a diplomatic path at least for now -- John.

BERMAN: At least for now. Andrew Stevens in Seoul, thank you very, very much.

Joining me now to analyze this, CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona and CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd.

Sam, you spent time in the National Security Council. So if you were inside the council this morning getting this news that North Korea is willing to talk about denuclearization, which is something it has not really said before, what would your reaction be?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: My reaction would be this isn't our first rodeo and we will call a National Security Council meeting and we decide what our immediate response should be. President Trump had a measured response this morning. And what should be happening behind the scenes is General McMaster should sit down with the Intelligence Community and say, have you spoken with the South Koreans?

The South Koreans were just in Pyongyang. We have very limited intelligence on North Korea. The South Koreans were just there. They'll have a very good sense of how real this deal is, what the mood was on the ground, and whether in fact sanctions are biting enough that the North Koreans are willing to come to the table in good faith.

And, John, the other call that I think the NSC would be recommending to the president right now is actually to China. It's unusual that China is publicly silent on this. China doesn't let anything happen in the region without being involved in some way. President Xi is about to be put in office for potentially a third term.

My gut is China is doing something on this behind the scenes and the NSC is probably going to want to work to figure out what that is.

BERMAN: Colonel, your reaction to this. Again, the North seems to be giving the United States at least a little bit of what it's been pushing for here. It's not that they're going to denuclearize altogether before they sit down, but they are saying it can be part of the discussion.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think it's a breakthrough. But as Sam, I'm very skeptical on what North Korea does. As she said, we've been down this road before. They promised things they have not delivered.

The China aspect is key here. What are the Chinese doing? Are the Chinese going to guarantee this? My initial thought was, yes, this is a breakthrough. Perhaps the strong rhetoric has worked, maybe the sanctions are biting. I tend to think it's the latter. And I think we need to keep up the pressure. But I still don't like hearing this from South Korea. I would prefer the North Koreans make some sort of announcement.

But I understand they have to save face and if you read the North -- the South Korean statement about what the North Koreans said, it's couched very, very professionally. So I give the North Koreans kudos for their diplomatic efforts in this range.

BERMAN: And it's incredibly carefully worded. And it is through the filter of the South there.

And Colonel, you do have some experience militarily speaking in that region. When you hear from the North that there's no reason to be nuclear -- this is how the statement goes. There's no reason to be nuclear if the military threat to North Korea is resolved and North Korea's security is guaranteed.

[09:05:03] What does that mean? What guarantee could that be, Colonel? Is that U.S. troops on the peninsula?

FRANCONA: Well, that remains to be seen. First of all, it's going to involve some sort of a statement or an agreement, something in writing between the United States and North Korea that guarantees this lack of hostility. That's what the North Koreans want. And you saw how they couched this. If there's no nuclear threat to North Korea, we don't have to be a nuclear country. That gives them the out.

BERMAN: Right.

FRANCONA: I think that's very well played on their part. But you know American troops in South Korea are going to be part of the bargain, withdrawal of their air defense system, all that's going to be on the table.

But, John, I have to say, talking is better than what we've seen over the past year.

BERMAN: Talking is better than not talking.

And Sam, it is interesting. You noted that the South Koreans have just met with Kim Jong-un for the first time which is hugely significant. Before one of the only people in the world, from the outside world that has seen him was Dennis Rodman. Right? So South Korean diplomat is a big step up from Dennis Rodman. Apologies to the Bulls for that one. But it's true. And now you're going to have the leaders, the president, of South Korea sitting down and meeting with him. That summit is significant.

VINOGRAD: It is significant. But we know two key things about the North Koreans and in particular Kim Jong-un. One is he loves being the center of attention. So the Olympics was a massive PR stunt for him. I hope this isn't just a PR gambit. So the summit, which is coming in a few weeks, will be another opportunity for him to be on the public stage. And two, he likes to peel off U.S. allies. So it's not surprising to me that he is trying to get a bilateral discussion going even further directly with the South, with the U.S. on the sidelines.

BERMAN: Very quickly, do you think the U.S. sanctions and pressure, and maybe even the rhetoric from President Trump here, has pushed North Korea to the table for whatever it is?

VINOGRAD: I definitely think they've been a contributing factor. Yes.

BERMAN: All right. Sam Vinograd, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, great to have you with us. Thanks very much.

New developments this morning from today's episode as the Nunberg turns, or is it "Days of Our Nunberg." Sam Nunberg, the former Trump campaign adviser who was subpoenaed by the special counsel to go before a grand jury and wavered publicly and dramatically about whether he would comply on TV now seems like he would cooperate. Again, for now it seems that Sam Nunberg will testify.

When you get behind the psychology and the soap opera elements here, there are some hard facts. Nunberg revealed that the special counsel wants all his communications with the president and nine of the president's closest confidants. He alleged the president may have very well colluded with Russia during the campaign.

The president has not responded but he is due to hold a news conference this afternoon with the visiting prime minister of Sweden.

Let's bring you up to speed on where we are with Sam Nunberg. CNN's Jessica Schneider in Washington -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, Sam Nunberg definitely saying a lot as he made his rounds on cable TV. So not only did he waffle over whether he would comply with that subpoena from the special counsel, seeming at the end of those interviews like he would, in fact, comply. But Sam Nunberg also made some very wild claims. You mentioned some of them.

Nunberg also said that he believes that the president knew about that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Of course, that was the meeting with the Russian lawyer and Don Junior and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort where Don Junior was initially promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, later saying that he never got any of that dirt.

So here's what Sam Nunberg said about that meeting and what the president knew.


SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: I think he probably knew in advance. And --


NUNBERG: Yes. I think -- I think if I had to guess, Don informed him about it.


SCHNEIDER: All right. So you heard there Nunberg really provided no proof for that claim. He said, if I had to guess. And it's important to know that the president and Donald Trump Jr., they have both denied that the president knew about that Trump Tower meeting. And what's also important to put into perspective here is that Sam Nunberg was really a short-lived campaign adviser. He was fired in August 2015 for racially charged Facebook posts.

That was just two months after Donald Trump announced his candidacy. That was nearly a year before the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016. So really Sam Nunberg putting forth a lot of claims in several interviews over the past day, really not providing any evidence to back up those claims.

Now when it does come to the subpoena, a demand that Nunberg produce documents, also appearing before a grand jury on Friday, it's unclear if Nunberg will comply or not.

And of course, John, hanging over Nunberg's head would be a contempt of court charge if, in fact, he didn't comply. But of course waffling in whether he will or won't -- John.

BERMAN: Jessica Schneider for us in Washington.

Joining me now to get more on this, CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates.

Laura, there is a lot of drama here. This is a soap opera. There's psychological analysis, but there are hard facts that I think we should start with before we go anywhere else here. The fact is the special counsel gave a subpoena to Sam Nunberg to testify before a grand jury. This is even after Nunberg talked to investigators.

[09:10:04] So why? Why would the special counsel want to put him before the grand jury?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's not at all peculiar that after you speak to a federal investigator, then they want to now memorialize that not just in their spiral notebooks but also in front of a grand jury. The grand jury has far more authority in terms of being able to have that testimony used at trial. You can compel the witness to be consistent, if not truthful at a trial if it comes in the future.

You can impeach that person with their testimony if it's somehow inconsistent. And it also has the advantage of having a first-hand account told by a witness in front of the grand jury when their very role is to assess credibility, decide if they should indict in the future. It's far more weighty to have in front of a grand jury than just in front of an investigator.

BERMAN: Interesting. Also no lawyer in the room for a grand jury.

COATES: Yes. Absolutely.

BERMAN: So if you have a witness you think you can get to, it might be better to do it in that setting than in a one-on-one interview.

We also know -- again, I'm trying to look at, you know, beyond the soap opera here and at the facts. We know what --

COATES: It's hard.


BERMAN: It is hard. But there are key nuggets here. I mean, we know what Nunberg says he has been asked already. He says that investigators when they did have him were asking about the president's businesses. Listen to this.


NUNBERG: The way they asked about his business dealings, the way they asked if you had heard anything, even during while I was fired, it just made me suspect that they suspect something about him.

Now, Gloria, he may not have very well done anything. You know why? Trump may have very well done something during the election with the Russians. And if we find it out, if he did that, I don't know. If he did that, you know what, it's inexcusable if he did that.


BERMAN: Now the second part there, Laura, is speculation, you know, whether or not the president did something with the Russians. It seemed that Sam Nunberg was speculating there. The first part is what he was asked by investigators. They were asking about the president's businesses and the way they were asking made him believe they had something.

How do you assess that?

COATES: Well, first of all, it's noted that a cone of silence doesn't apply to a conversation with an investigator or in the grand jury. If the witness wants to speak about what they've been asked in a grand jury or in front of a federal investigators, it is their prerogative to do so. And of course it makes sense if they're asking questions about the business ties of Donald Trump, then I'm sure it begets the notion that they must be interested in it.

But the reality here is why they're going after this particular person for information. He obviously has said in the interviews he has an axe to grind of sorts, although he's saying he's not a fan, he talks about not being treated horribly, about how he took credit for all of the things that Donald Trump is now taking credit for, from the Muslim ban to the wall, et cetera.

Well, the fact that he is somebody who has an axe to grind doesn't fatally undermine his credibility for Mueller's purposes. What it could show is that he has the incentive to now provide information about what he knows about those business links. Somebody who was early on in the campaign, early on established a loyalty to the president of the United States, and now president of the United States, may have been the very fly on the wall they need who no longer wants to remain loyal.

BERMAN: And the list of nine people the special counsel has subpoenaed, you know. for all e-mails and documentations of communication between Sam Nunberg and nine people, which includes the president, Carter Page, Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski.

Look at that list right there. You know, Robert Mueller doesn't do fishing expeditions we're told here. There's a reason that those names are on the list. Is there reason to believe then that Robert Mueller already knows that there were communications between Sam Nunberg and some of these people?

COATES: Absolutely. And you see that's what happened with George Papadopoulos, when he had the -- trying to erase his Facebook page, and they already had the information that they needed to show this person had information and could be a cooperator.

You know, the key -- the cardinal sin of a lawyer would be to ask a question they did not already know the answer to. A grand jury subpoena was issued because based on his statements and probably based on documentation they've already received from other witnesses, that they have a particular link they want to connect and they want it memorialized in front of the grand jury, or they want to be able to use the information as part of a later cooperation agreement. although, given the fact that he had a very early departure in the campaign, John, would lead me to believe that he does not have the ideal scenario to have a cooperation agreement.

BERMAN: Right.

COATES: Which is why he has a grand jury subpoena. But think about it. From the bodyguard to the right-hand man of the president of the United States, it's not accidental that Mueller has chosen these people with key information for their proximity to power.

BERMAN: Look at the facts here, look at what we know from this, don't be fooled by the drama.

Laura Coates, great to have you with us. Thank you very, very much.

COATES: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. You've heard the reports of chaos in the West Wing. What chaos? The president has weighed in on this, this morning. And by the way, also the Oscars because I know you want to know what he thinks about the Oscars.

Plus, we're moments away from hearing from the nation's top intelligence chief on Capitol Hill. What will he say about North Korea's plans to perhaps halt nuclear and missile testing in exchange for talks with the U.S.?

The polls are open. The nation's first primaries for 2018 today. So, can Democrats make a dent in a deep red state like Texas?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: All right. Breaking news, moments ago, President Trump weighing in with official statements or at least what counts for an official statement these days, on the negotiations on the Korean Peninsula. Abby Phillip at the White House with that. Abby, what's he saying?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's the first reaction we have this morning to this news out of North Korea. The president is issuing a statement in a sort of uncharacteristically muted fashion. He says possible progress being made in talks with North Korea.

For the first time in many years a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The world is watching and waiting. Maybe false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction.

[09:20:10] Now this statement comes after North Korea indicated this week that it's willing to potentially sit down and have talks and potentially put on the table denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Now President Trump over the weekend at the Gridiron Dinner made some comments about what he would say if North Korea said they wanted to talk. He said they have to denuke. He may very well get his wish based on what we are getting out of North Korea. We'll give you more reaction from the White House as it comes -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's talk more now about the day's political developments. Joining me now, CNN political analysts, Jackie Kucinich, Alex Burns, and Margaret Talev. Margaret, I want to start with you because, yes, the president has tweeted on North Korea now.

He also tweeted on the Oscars, we're going to leave that aside, but he did comment on many of the reports that have been out for the last ten days about the chaos and upheaval inside the west wing.

Let me read this to you, "The new fake news narrative is that there is CHAOS," all caps, "in the White House. Wrong!" explanation point, "People will always come and go and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change, parenthetically, always seeking perfection. There is no chaos. Only great energy." The part of that that jumps out is there are still people I want to change, really?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So, this is really we think about Gary Cohn, the president's economic adviser and the president's next moves on this deal on aluminum tariffs. He said very clearly what has said that he intends to do. The question is, he actually going to go forward with it.

This all comes ahead of this event over the weekend in Pennsylvania otherwise known as the heart of steel country in the U.S. So, Gary Cohn is part of a group of key advisers inside the White House who think the president shouldn't be going forward with his plan as he's described it.

There are a lot of end users in the process, whether it's the beer industry, candy manufacturers, oil industry, auto manufacturers that also have concerns about how this will impact their business, prices and jobs.

Gary Cohn is planning to convene this meeting towards the end of the week, Thursday, about trying to dissuade the president from going forward with this plan. That's what this is all about.

The question is, is the president also facing a lot of pressure from Paul Ryan, Republicans on Capitol Hill saying there are a lot of implications if you go forward with this to relationships with Canada, relationships with Germany and western partners, to jobs.

And this is now all playing out in the public eye, something that is normally a dispute behind the scenes, what some advisers say, what do other advisers say.

BERMAN: All I can say is thank God you have your decoder ring to explain to what the chaos tweet. We were looking at his Twitter account this morning, Jackie, because we were wondering how the president might react to Sam Nunberg, how he might react to this man who became the center of the media stage, at least for several hours starting yesterday afternoon and well into the morning. How much danger does he pose do you think to the president and the White House?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sam Nunberg was very close to the president for a number of years. Was he in the heat of the campaign? No, he wasn't. But as we know, people in the Trump sphere, once you're in, it's really hard to get kicked out forever. He still calls up people who may have wronged him in the past.

We've seen that in other cases. So, we really don't know how close Nunberg is. I think he said in one of the interviews yesterday that he's spoken to the president within the last couple months.

I mean, we need to keep in mind some of the things he said, we need to take with a grain of salt, maybe some of the information about the meeting at Trump Tower. He had been far removed from the campaign at that point. That said, again, he's someone who knows the president, so we have to take him seriously.

BERMAN: You know, as for the significance, Alex, you had one of the great lines, you said choose your own nun-venture on that. I respect that. Again, if you listen to exactly what Nunberg is saying, clearing the smoke aside, he's saying that the special counsel was asking about the president's business dealings. Here is a guy saying inside this testimony the president had crossed that red line.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And that I think is the value of hearing from Sam Nunberg. As Jackie said, he's talked about many things that he certainly doesn't have firsthand knowledge of or would be very unlikely to have firsthand knowledge of. When he says Carter Page is colluding with the Russians, that is very, very unlikely from being based on walking in on Carter Page on ham radio talking to some Russians.

You can't rule it out, I guess, but that's not the kind of experience that you can trust that Sam Nunberg has. What he can talk about -- and again, you still have to take it with a grain of salt because he had extensive credibility issues.

[09:25:07] But what he can talk about more authoritatively is his own experience dealing with investigators and his own experience dealing directly with other key people in the Trump orbit.

This is a guy who whatever people may say about his track record of accuracy or his sort of stature in the political world, he was in a lot of rooms and he's been in a lot of rooms really recently including with investigators.

BERMAN: All right. I'm going to bring up a name that hasn't come up this morning, which is Stormy Daniels. I think if not for Sam Nunberg, if not for everything else, the story that came out in the "Wall Street Journal" yesterday would be top of the news because the story keeps on changing.

We keep on finding out new details about just how she was paid off by the president's attorney, Michael Cohen. You know, $130,000 went from one account to another. We learned from the "Wall Street Journal" that the Treasury Department was flagged because the bank thought this was suspicious.

But more importantly, Margaret, the "Wall Street Journal" is reporting that Michael Cohen was looking to get reimbursed by the president directly, personally on this. Again, I don't know there's anything illegal about that, but it does tie the president more directly to this exchange.

TALEV: Yes. I think, John, you have to look at this kind of in two pockets. One is, were there technical campaign contribution violations, either the president or Michael Cohen or someone in between going to get hung up on both?

Then you have to look at it from the political perspective, which is if this was any kind of mainstream steeped in the wool career politician and this were the set of facts surrounding it, this would be absolutely front-page news.

There's no other way to slice and dice it, but because so much of the kind of threads of this are baked into the election campaign, the campaign test, and because there are so many other competing controversies going on at the same time, you're right.

This is if not back burner, sort of like a middle burner on the stove. Why is it important? Why is it interesting? I think, number one, it helps us to understand that there are two or three back stories going on at the White House that has nothing to do with policy issues that the president and his legal team are dealing with.

And also, to tell us that it's a reminder that President Trump politically has existed and played by different rules. This has not affected him significantly so far in his support from Evangelicals, the conservative religious side, and from the (inaudible) of the party.

Does it affect his ability to concentrate? Does it affect some sort of lower level areas? Possibly. Yet, look at what we are talking about, North Korea, Russia, congressional probes, this has a feeling of last year's news to it. It really may be those technical issues that preceded the story, not the political story that would be the story with a different president.

BERMAN: Maybe, but it does raise the question. Jackie, what else is out there? I mean, what else is Michael Cohen not talking to us about or hasn't even (inaudible) with us about because this has been months of the line shifting day by day in what exactly is going on.

KUCINICH: Not only that. This is kind of Michael Cohen's role in Trump's life for years, right? He was the fixer. He was the one who made people go away or encouraged them to pursue other avenues in their life. So, the difference now, this is in the con instruct of the election campaign.

When you give people money in an election that has to do with influencing an election in any way, you can get yourself into trouble. Now I know the liberal group, Common Cause, has called on the DOJ and FEC to look into this. We'll see if they do it but certainly.

BERMAN: The president speaks at 3:30 today. Will he get asked on this or what?

BURNS: It is kind striking that we haven't heard from him directly on this, but if this were another politician -- I mean, the mayor of Nashville is resigning this week because she had an affair with her security guard. She's been bombarded with questions about that for a month now.

The president is in the middle of this slow-motion scandal involving an alleged payoff to an adult film star and we've not heard from him directly on that yet, right. There is a lot of other stuff going on right now.

I do think -- Jackie makes a key point on Michael Cohen that he is in the middle of so many different issues that had to be fixed over the years. The issue with the FEC scrutinizing the Daniels payoffs, that's a place where his attorney protections don't necessarily give him any protection.

BERMAN: Sam Nunberg is subpoenaed as well and see wrapping it all up for us today. Jackie Kucinich, Alex Burns, Margaret Talev, thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it.

In just minutes, we will hear from the House Speaker Paul Ryan says he's worried about a trade war because of the president's tariff plan. Will he directly intervene? He is the speaker of the House. Congress has a say here. So, will the speaker do anything about it?

We're also just moments away from the opening bell. Christine Romans has a preview.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John. What the speaker says today about those tariffs, those steel and aluminum tariffs will be very important. It could move the market.

Yesterday when he came out and said he was opposed to these tariffs and worried about a trade war, the market actually bounced back because a lot of people thought that now there is a pretty concerted effort to persuade --