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Trump Stuns World with North Korea Announcement; Other Officials Have Meet North Korean Leaders but Trump Could Be First President; Ryan Zinke Latest White House Secretary Under Fire but Not Only One. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 9, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sure. I'm always game for talking but we have to have a very firm stance. I want to be --


TRUMP: Look, you know what it is. We're very firm, but I would be -- absolutely, I would do that. No problem with that at all.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: If you didn't hear that, he was asked, "Are you willing to engage in phone talks with Kim Jong-Un right now?" He said, "Sure, I always believe in talking but we have to have a very firm stance. Look, you know what it is. We're very firm, but I would be -- absolutely, I would do it. No problem with that at all."

That was on January 6th this year at Camp David.

Let's get some perspective from Bruce Klingner. He's a former CIA deputy division chief on Korea, senior research fellow over at the Heritage Foundation.

Bruce, thanks for joining us.

You have experience in dealing with this issue. What do you think of that stunning announcement from the president yesterday?

BRUCE KLINGNER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW FOR NORTHEAST ASIA, HERITAGE FOUNDATION & FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIVISION CHIEF ON KOREA: It really was quite a surprise in what has become a whirlwind of breakthroughs or at least perceived breakthroughs. But it also shows that North Korea's charm offensive is really going on steroids. Particularly, given where we were one or two months ago where it seemed an inevitable clash was forthcoming. Now, we have whiplash, from a military option to now a diplomatic option.

BLITZER: It too a lot of people by surprise, including people within the Trump administration by surprise. A day before the announcement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, quote, "We're a long way from negotiations." After the announcement, he said this. Listen.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: In terms of the decision to engage with President Trump and Kim Jong-Un, that's a 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.


BLITZER: He's clearly -- the president, we heard during the campaign, we've heard it for a long time, he's had it on his mind for a long time. He makes a quick decision. The offer from Kim Jong-Un comes in through the South Korean delegation that met with Kim Jong-Un earlier in the week, and the president immediately says yes.

KLINGNER: Again, I think quite a change, although the president has been telegraphing really both sides of the fence of I'll meet with him, but also, Rex, don't waste your time doing diplomacy. Really, we've been moving toward an engagement with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, as the mediator or the catalyst.

BLITZER: There are enormous risks, though, if it collapses or if there's a failure.

KLINGNER: Exactly. It's really a high-stakes poker game. You could win big or get taken to the cleaners.

BLITZER: Remember in 1972, a long time ago - I don't know if you do -- but 1972, Nixon goes to China. That was a huge breakthrough. We've seen U.S.-China relations develop dramatically since then. But before Nixon went to China, he sent Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser, secretary of state, to secret missions. They had worked out a lot in advance. Have you seen any advance work right now involving high-level U.S. officials meeting directly with high-level North Korean officials?

KLINGNER: Not that we perceived, but there must be some channel that arranged the meeting that Vice President Pence was going to have with Kim Jong-Un's sister, which North Korea canceled two hours before it. Things might be going on behind the scenes. But I think it's more we might be playing catch-up ball. It's really a very busy two months coming up, trying to do pre-summit negotiations to ensure we have an agenda to address the issues we want to bring to the table.

BLITZER: I want to ask you what I asked Samantha Vinograd. Where do think this -- if it does take place, there's a possibility the whole thing could collapse, no meeting in the next two months, but if it does take place, where?

KLINGNER: Kim Jong-Un, it's been said, has not traveled out of the country since he came to power. He may be reluctant even to go to Beijing, although that seems like a potential venue. The (INAUDIBLE) option may be one, and that is neutral territory, although, President Trump may not want to do something that President Moon has already done. So really the venue is important but, even more important, is assuring we have an agenda to bring our issues we want to bring to the table, particularly denuclearization.

BLITZER: It's interesting and very significant. He did send his sister to South Korea for the Olympic Games. They were willing to take that chance. They sent her there and she went back, and everything worked out relatively well. Let's see what happens if this meeting does, in fact, take place, where it will take place.

Bruce, thank you very much for coming on.

KLINGNER: Thank you.

[13:35:28] BALDWIN: Much more on the breaking news, other breaking news we're following. Michael Cohen using a Trump Organization e-mail to negotiate a payoff to a porn star. Is that legal?

Plus, the White House, only moments from now, will face questions on North Korea, on a whole lot more. We'll have live coverage. Stay with us.


BLITZER: If President Trump does meet with Kim Jong-Un, he would be the first sitting American president to meet with a North Korean leader. So who already has made the visit among other top U.S. officials?

Our military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, is joining us to give us a little history.

There have been several senior American officials who have made the trip to Pyongyang?

[13:39:20] REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. There actually has been in the last 25 years. Let's go through them one by one.

First up, President Jimmy Carter was the first former president to visit Pyongyang. He did that back in 1994 at a very, very tense time. He was able to come away from that trip with an aid for disarmament program that actually lasted 10 years or so. So some success on that front. He went back in 2010 and 2011, the first to get the release of a detained American in 2011, to discuss the issues around a very, very dramatic food crisis that was going on in North Korea at the time.

Next up, of course, would be Secretary Albright herself, the highest sitting official to visit Pyongyang. She did that as secretary of state for President Bill Clinton. A very famous meeting. The meeting was set to be a precursor for a potential visit by President Clinton. That meeting never happened. But she did discuss with Kim Jong-Il a range of issues, from missile programs to humanitarian issues to peninsular security. And she was able to secure from Kim Jong-Ill at least a temporary freeze on his testing of missiles. She also helped set the relations with North Korea on a better track. This was the visit where famously she told Kim Jong-Il just pick up the phone any time and he came back with, well, send me your e-mail address. So she was able to get the ball going to the Six Party talks process in a very productive way. Now, President Clinton didn't go as president, as we said. But as former president, he did make an unannounced trip to North Korea in 2009, the summer of 2009, to secure the release of two American journalists who had been detained there since March of 2009. This is Laura Ling and Euna Lee. You might recall, they were covering refugee incidents there on the North Korea and China. They were found on the North Korea side of the border and detained. He was able to go and get their release. And he also met with Kim Jong-Il while there.

Next up is his U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, who we all know has been there many times. He went there in 1994 first to secure the release of an American pilot whose helicopter had gone astray into North Korea territory. Again, in 1996, to secure the release of a man named Evans Helmslaker (ph), who the North Koreans claimed was conducting espionage in their territory. He was able to get him out as well. He went back again in 2013, this next time with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, for humanitarian purposes but also to test the grounds to see if he could get the release of Christian missionary, American Kenneth Bae. He was not able to meet with Bae, so that was unfruitful visit in that regard. But he has a lot of experience meeting with Pyongyang officials.

Next up would be the director of National Intelligence for President Obama, who made a secret visit there one year after Richardson to actually get the release of Kenneth Bay and another American named Matthew Miller.

Finally, we have the basketball star, Dennis Rodman, the very colorful athlete, who has conducted what would be called individual sports diplomacy. He's one of the very few Americans -- he has visited there several times since 2014. One of the very few that has sat down to meet with Kim Jong-Un personally. As a matter of fact, on one of his recent visits, he gave Kim Jong-Un a copy of Donald Trump's book, "The Art of the Deal." It's interesting to see we are now in the middle of a deal between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Perhaps Kim Jong-Un was able to read the book and was able to take away a few lessons.

BLITZER: Yes, good historical background there of the Americans who have gone to Pyongyang.

Thanks very much for that, John Kirby.

My next guest has long advocated for direct talks between the United States and North Korea.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

This all came together in a very unconventional manner, but what's your reaction, your initial reaction to this dramatic announcement that President Trump will sit down, meet face to face with Kim Jong-Un over the next two months sometime?

SEN. ED MARKEY, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, obviously, engagement is good. I have been calling for direct talks for more than a year, and so that's a positive development. But at the same time, diplomacy is a team sport. And right now, obviously, Secretary of State Tillerson didn't even know about this yesterday morning. We don't have an ambassador to South Korea. We don't have a special envoy to North Korea. So there is a lot of preparatory work that must be done in order to clearly establish what the strategic goals of the United States will be in this meeting, and it's not clear at all that any of that work has been done, perhaps with a summit about to occur in under two months.

BLITZER: So you think it shouldn't happen, is that what you're saying?

MARKEY: I am not saying that. What I am saying is that the administration should immediately begin to do the work to nominate people who would be our intermediaries in South Korea, have the special job for North Korea. Flush out a team that the State Department could be using. Right now, it seems as though it's the ad hoc diplomatic policy of President Trump. In order to be successful, he's going to have to have a full team on the field, and right now he doesn't have that. He should move immediately to nominate the people who can help on the longer-term goals. This will not be resolved in eight weeks. We need a longer-term strategy that is laid out, not just a potential initial photo-op to substitute for a diplomatic opportunity that's going to take a sustained period of time in order to finally bring to fruition.

[13:45:21] BLITZER: You know that the South Korean delegation went to North Korea and met with Kim Jong-Un earlier in the week. They came back, they've announced there is going to be a summit meeting between Kim Jong-Un, President Moon of South Korea, next month along the Demilitarized Zone. Do you think the president of the United States should simply join the two of them in that meeting?

MARKEY: I don't have any problem with a setup that has President Moon as part of the negotiations. At the same time, I would not have a problem with just a meeting between President Trump and Kim. The goal is to put these issues on the table. The goal is to begin to talk about what steps that both countries can take to begin to back away from the brinksmanship, which has characterized the relationship between these two leaders over the past year, the talk of preemptive nuclear war, fire and fury, the crazy talk that comes out of North Korea. We need a way to deescalate. And that's where I believe negotiations are potentially going to help to accomplish that goal.

BLITZER: How much credit do you give President Trump for his tough talk against the North Korean leader, for the sanctions that have been imposed for setting the stage for this meeting? The North Korean leader agreeing to this meeting, and he's suspending, at least for now, his nuclear testing, his intercontinental ballistic testing, but he's specifically saying he doesn't have a problem, he doesn't like it, but the U.S. and South Korea can go ahead next month for their scheduled military exercises. How much credit do you give President Trump for these developments?

MARKEY: I do believe toughening sanctions have helped, there is no question about it. I believe we should make them even tougher. We should be cutting off crude oil. We should be ensuring there is almost an immediate cutoff between any further repatriation of slave wages that come from around the world to go back into North Korea. But there is no question toughening sanctions have helped. Now the question is whether or not we can use this as an opportunity to back away from the brink of a nuclear confrontation, and that now requires an all-hands-on-deck approach by the Trump administration, and it would be great if he would begin to signal to his diplomats that he now wants them to play a role in helping to construct an atmosphere that can lead to Kim and Trump ultimately resolving what is an incredible threat, not just to the Asian region but to the entire planet.

BLITZER: Yes, you're right. The stakes right now are clearly enormous, the nuclear stakes. Specifically, the North Koreans have, the U.S. intelligence community believes, between 20 and 60 nuclear bombs already, intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, and a huge conventional arsenal as well, so the stakes really are enormous right now.

Senator Markey, thanks so much for joining us.

MARKEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: A new day, a new scandal involving President Trump's cabinet. Why one of the secretaries is under fire for what he's spending on doors. Stay with us.


[13:53:13] BLITZER: Another member of President Trump's cabinet is under fire. This time, it is Ryan Zinke, secretary of the Interior. The department confirms to CNN it is spending $139,000, the price of a home in some places, to replace three sets of doors in Zinke's office, including two that open to a balcony. The department says the doors in the 82-year-old building are in, quote, "disrepair."

Our politics reporter, Chris Cillizza, is joining us at the magic wall.

Chris, walk us through some of the spending scandals that have emerged for some of these cabinet members.


Let's note, here is our group. These first four, all of them are still in the cabinet, which is somewhat remarkable.

You mentioned Zinke, $139,000 on doors. Important to note the Interior Department says he didn't know about it.

Let's start to his left. That's David Shulkin. An inspector general report showed mismanagement at the Veterans Administration. Plus, don't forget, last year, Shulkin used taxpayer dollars to go to Europe. His wife went with him and his chief of staff had to relieve because of doctoring an e-mail trying to cover it up.

Here's Ben Carson, lavish spending. A $31,000 dining set purchase for his office at HUD. That order was canceled.

And then we have Scott Pruitt, the man, the EPA administrator, who flies first class a lot, and says he must do so because people are taunting him if he flies in coach.

Let's go to people -- we couldn't fit even everyone on one slide. Steve Mnuchin, still in the cabinet. Mnuchin spent over $800,000 of government money on military flights just in 2017 alone. I think that number is probably higher now. Basically, defended himself and said there was no other way that he could get there. Most famously, infamously, traveling with his wife and the photos of her with the gloves on getting off the plane.

[13:55:08] And then the one guy not in the cabinet anymore, excessive travel costs. You will notice a theme there, Wolf. Tom Price, fired as HHS secretary after a series of private flights he took came to light. Got a massive amount of attention. And eventually drove Donald Trump to make a decision to leave.

But what is remarkable is six people, Wolf, in the cabinet, all of whom have done things that might get you fired in other cabinets, only one, Tom Price, is gone.

BLITZER: Chris Cillizza, thanks very much.

There is more breaking news we're following in the Stormy Daniels saga. And the White House, guess what, only moments away from the press secretary answering questions.