Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR
Trump Accepts Offer To Meet With Kim Jong-Un; South Korea Hails Trump-Kim Summit; Woman Named In Stormy Daniels' Document Accused Trump Of Unwanted Advances; Trump Irks Allies With Tariffs, Stuns World With North Korea. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired March 9, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for watching. Have a great weekend. "AT THIS HOUR" starts right now.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Kate Bolduan.
They have traded schoolyard taunts and even threats of nuclear annihilation. But today, President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong- un are backing away from those nuclear buttons they each boasted of just a couple of months ago, the White House delivering what may be its biggest shocker yet.
President Trump has accepted North Korea's invitation and will take part in direct talks with the volatile dictator, the stunning developments even catching Trump advisers off guard and carrying huge risks in what could be the most consequential nuclear talks in decades.
CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. So, Barbara, why would Kim Jong-un extend this invitation?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Why would he extend it, Fred, and why now? Well, look, I think most analysts looking at this agree that the sanctions against North Korea are feeling the bite, that he's feeling the bite, and he is going to want to get some sanctions relief that may be one major motivation on the part of Kim.
But, why now? He comes to the table and possibly the strongest position of any North Korean leader in decades because he does have a nuclear missile program. He's got the missiles. He's test fired them. He and the world knows that they work that they have intercontinental range.
He's got a nuclear program. He's got nuclear warheads. Is it at all perfect? No, Kim Jong-un isn't looking for perfection in his nuclear program. He's looking to bring the president of the United States to the table, show the world that he, Kim, and his regime, are a nuclear power and that he can bring the president of the United States to the table.
So, if this summit happened, Kim will have achieved that very major objective. He's looking for world respect, recognition as a nuclear power. He may not have the respect, but he is getting the acknowledgment that he is indeed a nuclear power at this point -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: And for the U.S., what kind of loopholes are officials looking for in North Korea's promises?
STARR: So, you know, Kim has sort of said that he would agree not to continue testing again his missile and his nuclear program. He may not even have to do any more testing. He may have enough assurance that what he has works.
But what the U.S. has to do now is people will tell you is fill in the blanks. Would there be independent, international inspections and verification of any halt in testing? Would there be verification and inspection of nuclear fuel fabrication facilities?
Would Kim be able to still launch satellites which are commercial versions of intercontinental ballistic missiles? An awful lot of holes to fill in. Everybody is throwing around the world denuclearization of North Korea. Very little agreement at this point on what that may mean -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.
WHITFIELD: All right. President Trump has already spoken to a few world leaders about the meeting, including the prime minister of Japan and the president of China. CNN's Paula Hancocks is in South Korean capital of Seoul. So, Paula, what is China's president saying about this meeting?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, this is exactly what China has wanted all along. They have consistently said they wanted Washington and Pyongyang to sit down and talk about denuclearization. So, certainly, Xi Jinping is welcoming this move. We're seeing that from others in the region as well.
Here in South Korea, the president, Moon Jae-in, really summed it up quite well saying it is almost a miraculous event. Now, of course, this is what many people think, the fact that these two leaders who a matter of months ago were threatening to annihilate each other, were throwing personal insults at each other, saying they'll destroy each other's countries are now saying they'll sit down.
Now, we're having some interesting information coming from the blue house here in South Korea, about the meeting between the South Korean officials earlier this week and Kim Jong-un. Giving us some kind of insight into the North Korean leader himself.
Saying that he is very well aware of the image that he has around the world and that was quite joking about that image and self-deprecating, also saying he wasn't going to continue the nuclear and missile tests which quite often were the missile tests happening earlier in the morning because he wanted President Moon Jae-in to get some sleep.
So, it really sounded like a very jovial, very conversational and very enjoyable meeting according to the blue house. They said several bottles of wine, liquor, a local delicacy up in Korea, the Soji drink.
But also, interesting I was hearing from the South Korean officials when they were meeting with Kim Jong-un's sister, for example, when she was in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, it was the North Koreans who were pushing the agenda, who were saying, we should go faster, we need this inter-Korean relationship to improve faster.
[11:05:07] It was the South Koreans who were holding back somewhat, saying that they wanted to urge caution, so this is really been driven, at this point, by the North Korean side. But certainly, it is what South Korea wants. It is what Moon Jae-in, the president, said he wanted when he first came to power last year -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Paula Hancocks, thank you so much.
Let's bring in our panel now, Jim Walsh, an international security analyst at MIT, and Kelly Magsamen, a CNN national security analyst. She has worked at the Pentagon and served on the National Security Council for two presidents. Good to see you both.
All right. So, Kelly, you first, less than six months ago, the president was telling his secretary of state that he was wasting his time trying to negotiate with little man, little rocket man. And last night less than an hour after receiving the invitation by way of South Korea, Trump agrees to the face to face meeting. What do you suppose happened?
KELLY MAGSAMEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I actually think the Trump administration was caught on its back foot on this. And I think it is obviously a positive development, but I think the hard part now is about to begin and they got to put together some sort of strategy for negotiating with the North Koreans.
I don't think they currently had that strategy in place. They don't have a team and a negotiating team in place to execute that strategy. So, really, I think the United States and the Trump administration is a little on its back foot. And I think the important point now is to get on the front foot as they prepare to negotiate with the North Koreans.
WHITFIELD: So, this president exhibited he likes to be spontaneous. What if he just wings it? What if that is his approach when talking with North Korea?
MAGSAMEN: He's definitely unique. My concern about President Trump's approach is that he tends to approach things from a zero-sum perspective. So, this is going to be a long, hard slog, very difficult negotiation. There are going to be setbacks, I think people need to manage their expectations. The question is, what is President Trump willing to put on the table that is where it is going to be challenging for him to make a concession. WHITFIELD: So, Jim, Vice President Pence says Kim Jong-un's willingness to meet and quote him now is evidence that President Trump's strategy to isolate Kim regime is working. Is it that or is this the issue that North Korea wants some acknowledgment, that it wants a meeting in which to prove its legitimacy?
JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Fred, I think both those theories are possible, and frankly, we don't know the answer to that question. And we're not going to know until we get deeper into the negotiation and see how serious all the parties are. I can tell you, when I heard the news, my first reaction was simultaneously elation and I was horrified. Both at the same time and that doesn't happen to me very often.
WHITFIELD: Why is that?
WALSH: I was elated because at the end of the day, the only way we can reduce the danger here is through a political agreement and probably involving the two top leaders who can call the shots. If they are talking, I think the chances of a shooting war go down whether by design or by accident.
And I was horrified, I mean, we have arguably, how shall I put this the two most unusual leaders on the face of the planet, they walk into a room, what could possibly go wrong?
You know, if this crashes and burns, and the president tweeted about this a day or so ago, if this goes poorly, we could end up in a very dangerous situation, hardened positions, that is the same or even worse than we have experienced before.
WHITFIELD: And, Kelly, Kim Jong-un has never met with another head of state, let alone a U.S. president. The North Korean regime wanted to meet with Clinton and George W. Bush, but to no avail. So, why haven't other American presidents wanted to meet or deliver on meeting with Kim or his predecessors?
MAGSAMEN: Well, in part because it confers the level of legitimacy on to North Korea that I think American presidents haven't thus far wanted to do. But I also think that we are overthinking that a little bit at the moment. I think you have a very different president in Donald Trump. The important point now is actually to focus on what we're going to try to achieve through diplomacy as opposed to the format of it.
WHITFIELD: And so, Jim, South Koreans say that Kim is -- North Korea is committed to denuclearization and will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests, at least for the next month or so. What does this mean to you? Does it also show that there might be a willingness for inspections at some point down the line?
WALSH: Well, I was struck about that, Fred, but I was struck even more by the statement communicated by the South Koreans that Chairman Kim said, hey, if some of these exercises have to happen anyway, even though I will be freezing my tests, that I'm cool with that. Now the original proposal was freeze for freeze and this is not freeze for freeze. This is freeze and maybe we have military exercises anyway. So, I was surprised by that. And it would seem to indicate a real willingness to negotiate, but it all depends on what your definition of denuclearization is.
[11:10:04] You know, I talked to North Korean officials on numerous occasions. I've been to Pyongyang, and when I've had talks about this or discussions, often the context of the North Koreans saying we want a peace treaty. I say, OK, what does that mean? That means no U.S. troops on the peninsula.
So, are we ready to accept that? Under what conditions? So, a lot depends on what these words mean, and in particular, what denuclearization means, it may mean different things to different parties.
WHITFIELD: Bottom line, I hear you both saying there has to be some sort of framework, a plan going in and executing the plan. All right. Jim Walsh, Kelly Magsamen, thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.
All right. Coming up, the name of another porn star popping up in Stormy Daniels' nondisclosure documents and she says she has her own history with President Trump. Details on that straight ahead.
Plus, "really, really dumb," quoting now, from a Republican senator, Ben Sass who is blasting the president's new tariff announcement, and he's not the only one. Stay with us.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Another porn star is named in Stormy Daniels' legal battle with President Trump. The nondisclosure agreement negotiated by the president's lawyer lists porn star, Jessica Drake, as having confidential information about Trump a month before the election. The same woman accused then-Candidate Trump of sexual misconduct, he denied even knowing her.
CNN's senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, joins me now with details on this. So, Drew, you've been reading the documents in this case. What are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, those documents, devil's in the details in that nondisclosure agreement, Fred, between Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen. Stormy Daniels said she had told four people about her alleged affair with Donald Trump in 2016.
One of them is named Angel Ryan, and Angel Ryan is this porn actress whose stage name is Jessica Drake. In October of 2016, Drake is the one who came forward in a news conference to describe an unwanted sexual advance by Donald Trump that she says took place at the very same golf tournament in 2006 where Donald Trump allegedly began his affair with porn actress, Stormy Daniels.
Drake says Trump invited her to -- her and others to his hotel room, and then this took place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSICA DRAKE, TRUMP ACCUSER: In the penthouse suite, I met Donald again. When we entered the room, he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission. He asked me to return to his suite and have dinner with him. He also invited me to a party. I declined. I received another call from either Donald or a male calling on his behalf, offering me $10,000.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Now remember, this is right before the election and shortly after Jessica Drake made those statements, the Trump campaign said this, Mr. Trump does not know this person, does not remember this person, and would have no interest in ever knowing her. In public events, Trump even belittled her. Now we know that just six days later, that person was named in a nondisclosure agreement being written up by Donald Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: OK, so, Drew, if it came to a legal fight, and Angel Ryan could be a corroborating witness in any case between Stormy Daniels and the 2president, right?
GRIFFIN: Angel Ryan worked for the same company as Stormy Daniels, was at the same golf tournament as Stormy Daniels, and according to her, was propositioned in much the same way as Stormy Daniels' claims, so, yes, I think it came to it, Angel Ryan and potentially four other -- three other people could be corroborating witnesses -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you so much.
All right, coming up, the president made the decision himself, that's what the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is saying about Trump's plan to meet with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. But is that the best way to handle such a high stakes decision? We'll discuss.
WHITFIELD: President Trump apparently went it alone with two huge decisions this week. First, his decision on tariffs. Many in his own party including his now former economic adviser said don't do it, but he did it anyway. And then the shocking news that the president will meet with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. It caught the world and his own White House by surprise.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. So, Kaitlan, it seems like the president pretty much listens to his own gut and doesn't mind if others disagree.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. Safe to say, Fred, that the president often listens to his own gut and White House staffers showed up here yesterday, expecting for one decision by the president to jolt the market, something big they knew they would have to deal with, those steel and aluminum tariffs that the president signed yesterday afternoon.
But they got another surprise when the president announced the South Korean officials announced here on the north lawn of the White House that he had accepted Kim Jong-un's invitation to meet to discuss its nuclear program.
And to give you a sense of how this all unfolded, the president wasn't scheduled to meet with those South Korean officials here at the White House yesterday instead his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster was going to meet with them.
And then the president met with them, they extended the invitation on behalf of the North Koreans and the president accepted essentially on the spot and the news was just too big for him not to tell, but this certainly unfolded very quickly.
Because just yesterday the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was quoted, saying, quote, "We are a long way from negotiations." Now, listen to what the president -- or to what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now saying just 24 hours later.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: In terms of the decision to engage with President Trump and Kim Jong-un, that's the decision the president took himself. I spoke to him very early this morning about that decision and we had a good conversation. This is something that he's had on his mind for quite some time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Now, Fred, the decisions, the details of this are still being hammered out, where this meeting is going to take place, when exactly it will happen. The South Koreans and the White House are saying that it should happen by May. That's their expected timetable. Of course, that's not very far from now.
But the bottom line is there say lot of risk and a lot of reward for a meeting like this, and President Trump would be the first sitting president to meet with Kim Jong-un. He's often criticized his predecessors for the way they handled North Korea and often said he believes he can do it better.
But just five months ago, the president was saying he did not think talks with North Korea were the way to go. But with this invitation from Kim Jong-un, he certainly seems to have changed his mind here -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, the world will see if he can do it better. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much at the White House.
[11:25:04] All right. Let's talk more about this, joining me right now, reporter and editor-at-large of CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza, and CNN senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson. Good to see you both.
All right. So, Nia, you first, the chaos of this White House was indeed on full display in the past 24 hours in the North Korea decision and the tariff announcement. The president making unilateral decisions that go against decades of American policy and catching his own staff off guard. So, is this his way of effective governing or are these decisions on the meeting along with the tariffs all a distraction from that growing Stormy Daniels saga?
NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, Fred, I think it is really both. I think we'll have to figure out if it is effective governing, but it certainly effectively is distracting folks from what had been on the front pages before of a whole story, Stormy Daniels saga.
We'll hear more when Anderson Cooper interviews her on Sunday. But for now, the focus is on tariffs in North Korea. In two moments, I think really capture what was going on here for Donald Trump.
One is the moment at the RNC Convention, his nominating convention, when he said I alone can fix it. So that's what he's doing, unilateral decision-making which you can do in terms of foreign policy.
The other is the CPAC speech when he said the script was boring and he wanted to go off on his own and riff and essentially have more fun. He told the audience that it was much more fun than sticking to what he's advisers had written for him.
This is what we see him doing here again. I mean, his advisers completely caught unawares, they probably had a certain script and certain American policy of how to engage with North Korea, here he was last night effectively ripping that up not only on North Korea but also on tariffs.
I think governing can be boring, right? If you think about what you have to do in terms of dealing with Congress and twisting arms and all of the different personalities, all of the different personalities in Congress, this, I imagine, if you're Donald Trump is much more fun.
WHITFIELD: So, we actually have that moment at the Republican National Committee, when the president said, you know, I can do this alone, let's watch and listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. So, Chris, is that what this is? Promise made, promise kept. CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It's so funny to watch. He's such a performer. You sometimes forget the sort of theater of it.
WHITFIELD: The body language.
CILLIZZA: Yes. I think Nia is largely right, which is that this is sort of -- he has -- in case you missed this over the last 13 years, 13 months, Donald Trump has a lot of confidence in himself and his ability to get things done. And you can, as president, you can't do everything unilaterally.
But there are things that you can do, you can say I'm going to meet with this person, we're going to do tariffs. I think a lot of what Donald Trump does, we always have to remember, is gut. He goes by his gut. He doesn't listen to political conventional wisdom.
I think every time we see Donald Trump do something, I think of "The Simpsons." Bart Simpson says, I do what I feel like. That's kind of Donald Trump. He does sort of what makes sense to him. He'll listen to other people. But I'm in the sure that if he thinks in his gut he's doing the right thing he ever changes.
WHITFIELD: He might have liked a different character in which to be parallel.
CILLIZZA: Sure, well --
WHITFIELD: You know, when you think of I'm, you know, going this alone, you can't help but think about George W. too, who said I'm the decider. So, you know, Nia, you know, these opportunities just might arise from some of these un-predictabilities and disruptions. Do you see it that way?
HENDERSON: I think that's right. I mean, particularly on North Korea, the country is obviously in a different place, people were very nervous about all of the tough talk in terms of North Korea and what that meant -- what could have meant or would mean in terms of a military action.
So, now everyone is in a different place. America is in a different place in terms of what might happen out of these talks. The folks I talked to were cautiously optimistic, essentially saying at least there are talks going on at this point and not twitter battles that seem, you know, kind of ripped from a rap beef or something.
We'll see in terms of tariffs whether or not that works out the way he thinks it will in terms of boosting the steel and aluminum industry here and bringing back a flood of jobs. We'll have to see. This is Trump. Improvisation, this is his gut and we'll see how effective it is.
CILLIZZA: And, Fred, just one thing to add to Nia, unorthodoxy is not necessarily bad. I mean, doing something that not everyone expects you to do is not a bad thing in life or in government.