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North Korea Willing to Talk to U.S. About Giving Up Nukes; Nashville Mayor Resigns After Pleading Guilty to Felony Theft; OSC: Kellyanne Conway Broke Federal Law During Alabama Election; Former Russian Spy Poisoned in U.K. Park. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 6, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, all his words that are probably appropriate for the moment. He was, you know, by Donald Trump's standard, that was pretty diplomatic stuff, don't you think, Brooke. So he is --


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: No victory laps, no claiming credit.

SANGER: No claiming credit, no victory laps. He didn't make deal of the degree to which the sanctions he has helped tighten up, may or may not have forced Kim to make the offer that he's made. But what the president is highly aware of is that his predecessors have all been through this movie before and they've all started up talks with some kind of promises from the North Koreans that they were ready to give up something. Now in this particular case, all that Mr. Kim has said is that he will continue to suspend testing of his nuclear missile programs. He simply said he would show some restraint. There has not been a missiles test since November. So it's been a few months. There has not been a nuclear test since there as well. So the only thing the North Koreans said they will do is keep doing what they are doing now. And of course, he's operating a bit from a position of strength. Because he has now tested nuclear weapons six times, he or his father have. And he has tested a generation of new missiles that have been able to demonstrate that they can go great distances. He has not yet solved the last problem, which is showing they could hit the atmosphere and hit an American city. But that's the last step. So he's got a little running room here, because if this falls apart, Kim can say, well, I will go back and conduct that last set of tests I need to do.

BALDWIN: A good point. I want to move back to you on that.

Will Ripley, to you, with an incredible perspective there in the East. I was handed this bit of color from an official of deep knowledge of Korea, who says, Kim Jong-Un wants the whole world to know he has a clear strategy and, quote, "He is the sheriff in town."

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I just had a conversation with that official, Brooke, and basically what he says is that what Kim Jong-Un is going to ask for here in exchange for a potential commitment to de-nuclearization is a goal that North Korea and China and Russia, by the way, have had a long time, which is a dramatic reduction in U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula and in this region at large. So North Korea will demand, in the short term, a dramatic reduction in the size and scope of the joint military drills they regard as a dress rehearsal for an invasion. They want to see U.S. troops pull out of South Korea. Those are the kind of security assurances Kim Jong-Un would expect --

BALDWIN: That's not going to happen.

RIPLEY: -- to even talk about relinquishing his nuclear rights.

Exactly. We need a little bit of a reality check. You go to Pyongyang -- I have been there 17 times -- all around the city are the posters of the nuclear weapons and celebrating the triumph of the treasured nuclear sword that Kim Jong-Un has built his legitimacy around. Do you think he will walk away after building up his image in his country by writing into their constitution they're going to be a nuclear power, after all the progress they made, they will give them up? They will ask for something really the United States and South Korea can't deliver. But by appearing willing to engage if diplomacy, they can look like, hey, we are contributing to the greater good here, I'm willing to take this step to be a part of the global community, but what I want is the threat facing North Korea, which is the United States, to get out of the region.

BALDWIN: What about also -- and, David, just back to you. I know we talked about this sometime ago, is also in strategy from the North thinking, with their working so much with President Moon in South Korea more on that notion of driving a wedge in the relationship between the United States and the South. Is that all any part of the thinking from Pyongyang?

SANGER: Oh, I think it's very much a part of the thinking, Brooke. As you think about what he's done now, step one was to put some distance between President Moon and President Trump, and thus between South Korea and its great protector. Step two now is to get involved in the negotiations where it feels like, you know, when you see boxers get into a headlock, all that the North wants to do now is make sure that if the U.S. is wrapped up in the negotiation, it can't actually go off and take military action. Because it would look like the U.S. was spoiling a negotiation that has an unclear outcome, but at least they're on to talking. So he's bought himself some time here.

And this is exactly what President Trump has feared in repeating the mistakes, as he's put it, that his predecessors have made. And he's right in this analysis, because his predecessors have each gotten involved in lengthy negotiations, sometimes reaching an agreement, which the North has eventually violated, and then moved forward, and you get into this cycle all over again. We've seen that happen basically four times since 1994. So four times in the past quarter century. And Donald Trump doesn't want to be the fifth. And he has vowed he will not be the fifth to go on that path. And yet, he may not have a choice because it really is President Moon and President Kim who are driving this diplomatic initiative. Frankly, I'm not even sure who it is that the United States sends to go do the negotiation. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing for which Secretary of State Tillerson has had a lot of experience or necessarily that deep an interest in. And the chief North Korea expert left in the State Department retired on Friday.

[14:35:50] BALDWIN: Wow. Who would it be? That is an excellent question. I can keep going on this. We have to wrap. The question shouting, Mr. President, will you meet with Kim Jong-Un? "We'll see what happens," he says.

Will Ripley, David Sanger, to be continued. Thank you both so much.

Still ahead, one of President Trump's closet aids is accused of breaking the law. Why a couple of Kellyanne Conway's TV interviews could lead to disciplinary action if the president chooses to act, next.


[14:40:24] BALDWIN: The mayor of Nashville announcing her resignation amid a sex scandal. Democrat Megan Barry has been under criminal investigation after admitting she had an extramarital affair with her bodyguard. Barry's resignation comes after she pleaded guilty to felony theft. It's unclear if the plea is directly related to the affair.

This is what she said during her resignation speech yesterday.


MEGAN BERRY, (D), FORMER NASHVILLE MAYOR: Nashville, with its boundless energy, it's infectious optimism, it has never encountered an obstacle it couldn't overcome attitude, will in the years ahead continue its steady march towards the very top of the list of great American cities. It's a continued climb that I will watch, but I will watch as a private citizen.


BALDWIN: So first, came the guilty plea, then came the mug shot. She has agreed to reimburse the city of Nashville $11,000 and serve three years of probation.

And White House aide, Kellyanne Conway, is facing legal troubles of her own. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel says Conway broke federal law, not just once, but twice while advocating for and against candidates in last year's Alabama Senate race. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from mixing government business and politics.

Here is Conway speaking in support of Republican Roy Moore, including right here on CNN.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: When the president endorsed Luther Strange, Luther Strange shot up in the polls, tremendously, by double digits. When the president endorsed Roy Moore and started to talk about Doug Jones, the opponent her that you still don't want to talk about, but the president does, Roy Moore took a lead in the polls again. Why is that? Because the president himself came out and said he doesn't want a liberal in the Senate. He doesn't want a liberal Democrat in the Senate. He wants a reliable vote for taxes for life.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, NEW DAY: You'd rather have an accused child molester than a Democrat?

CONWAY: The president also says something else that you don't ever seem to want to reflect, which is the president said Roy Moore denied those allegations. And the president said you have to take that into account, too.

And Doug Jones, in Alabama, folks, don't be fooled. He'll be a vote against tax cuts. He's weak on crime, weak on borders. He's strong on raising your taxes. He's terrible for property owners.


BALDWIN: Joining me now, CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee, and CNN contributor and former Obama White House ethic czar, Norman Eisen.

M.J. starting with you, tell me more.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, it's not often I know we talk about the Hatch Act on air. It's just to remind everyone, the Hatch Act basically prohibits federal employees from using their official position to influence and interfere with elections. They can do this as a private citizen, but when they're speaking in their official capacity, they cannot try to interfere with the outcome of an election.

And the U.S. Office of Special Counsel says that Kellyanne Conway did this on two occasions in that CNN news interview and once on FOX News. This is December and November of last year.

What is noteworthy when you look through the OSC report that came out today, is that it goes towards pointing out two things. It specifically points out two things about both of these interviews. One is that Kellyanne Conway was standing on White House grounds. You saw that interview with Chris Cuomo in "NEW DAY." We know that spot where administration officials often stand to do interviews with the White House in the background, so they pointed that out. The second thing is that Kellyanne Conway, in both interviews, was introduced as counsel -- excuse me -- to President Trump. So very particular in using her title. And both of those things, making the point that she was speaking in her official capacity as an aid to the president. In that official capacity, she made the case against Doug Jones, saying things like, "He is out of step with Alabama voters," that Trump "doesn't want a liberal Democrat in the Senate representing Alabama."

I want to quickly note the White House has responded. This is what it said: "Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate. She simply expressed the president's obvious position that he wants people in House and Senate who support his agenda."

Now, the OSC says Conway's statements went beyond commentary, that she was engaging in political activity. What is not clear is whether there will be disciplinary action. The OSC says this is up to President Trump.

[14:45:06] BALDWIN: Now, Mr. Ambassador, I was talking to former Senator Santorum, Republican, earlier. He was saying to me, essentially, hang on a second, you know, the Hatch Act is very, very subjective. You saw -- we played the clips of where she reportedly violated the Hatch Act. We showed what the White House has said in response. What do you think?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Brooke, thanks for having me back. While there can be close calls under the Hatch Act, this is not one of them. This is very clear electioneering by Kellyanne Conway on White House property, as M.J. pointed out, and using her official title. Special Counsel Kerner (ph), who came to this decision at the Office of Special Counsel is a Trump appointee. There is no question here that Kellyanne Conway violated the rules. This is her second and third strike, Brooke, because she had earlier gone on television and asked people to --


BALDWIN: Oh, I know what you're about to talk about, Ivanka.

EISEN: He's a repeat offender.

BALDWIN: Roll the clip, guys.


CONWAY: Buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I was


CONWAY: I will get something on myself.

It's a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully -- I'm going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.


BALDWIN: So I knew where you were going. We had that pulled. When I first read this, I thought is that a reference to when she was talking the products from the briefing room. At the time, reminding everyone, violating this key ethics rule, the White House counselled her after that. But your point being dancing, what, mighty close to that line?

EISEN: Well, she's got an ethics violation. Now she has two Hatch Act violations. We know.

Here's what's so disturbing, Brooke. It's not just that she's committed these violations. We know she got remedial training, again, after the first violation. We know she got extensive Hatch Act training. And the White House, now we have the White House approach. In the Obama White House, where I worked, it would have been a firing offence. They're defending her, saying that it's not an election communication. Come on. Of course, she's doing electioneering.

Now the big question is, President Trump has the responsibility to discipline her. She's had three strikes, one ethics, two Hatch Acts. What is he going to do? Is he going to cross a red line and send the message laws don't matter in this administration? Or is he going to punish one of his closest aids? A very important test is coming up.

BALDWIN: Mr. Ambassador, thank you.

M.J., thank you.

Still ahead here, a former Russian spy is clinging to life after being exposed to an unknown substance in a suspected case of poisoning. Investigators are trying to figure out who did it and why. That's next.


[14:52:26] BALDWIN: Former Russian double agent living in England is fitting for his life in a suspected case of poisoning. Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found slumped on a bench at a British shopping mall over the weekend. Counterterrorism investigators believe they were exposed to some unknown substance. A witness says the two appeared out of it.

So let's go to Phil Black, our CNN international correspondent, who is there where, you know, this park in Salisbury where they were found.

Tell me more about how they found them. And what are British authorities thinking?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPODNENT: Yes, Brooke, the father and daughter were found in a park bench behind me here. It's now covered with a tent. I think you can see it. This is one of the areas around town cordoned off as a precaution. There is an Italian restaurant, a pub nearby as well, all of the places are shut down as the police work to try to find out precisely what happened and crucially what was the substance these people were exposed to that had an effect on them, that has made them so gravely ill. They're still in critical condition.

It is being led by counterterrorism police now. That's not because it is considered terrorism, but because that is the force that has the skills the capability, the specialization, if you like, that is considered necessary to try to get to the bottom of this and work out precisely what happened.

No one is pointing the finger at Russia, specifically, yet. Although, in parliament today, the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, came very close. On the one hand, he said that Russia would face consequences if it was proven to be a Russian-state link. But he was careful in his language to say that he's not going ahead of the investigation just yet.

But the shadow of Russia no doubt hangs over all this. That's because this particular incident resembles, in many ways, one that took place back in 2006 in central London when another former Russian agent was assassinated, poisoned. But in that case, the substance was a highly radioactive isotope. He died a slow, lingering, painful death.

Police, authorities here say they haven't worked out precisely what the substance was. That's really the key point in this investigation as it moves forward, we are told, very quickly -- Brooke?

[14:54:39] BALDWIN: Got it. No one pointing fingers just yet.

Phil Black, we appreciate you very much there on that mystery. Thank you.

Coming up, President Trump will shortly be taking questions there from the White House, part of this joint news conference with the prime minister of Sweden.

This is happening today after the president just commented, publicly, in the Oval Office on North Korea, calling this breakthrough and saying they'd give up their nukes. "I call it very positive," and saying also, though, "We'll see what happens." More on that, next.


[14:59:34] BALDWIN: This is huge today. To West Virginia where this bitter nine-day teacher strike is now over. Governor Jim Justice talked first with CNN announcing a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and all state employees. He welcomed the deal. The strike was, all 680 public schools across the state, leaving a quarter of a million children out of school. Schools are expected to reopen tomorrow.

We continue on. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Just about 30 minutes from now, President Trump will be taking questions at this joint news conference with the prime minister of Sweden. Here he was sitting with him in the Oval Office --