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Trump Contradicts Himself; Trump Tweets about Sketch; Pompeo Meets with Kim Jong-un; Locations of Trump-Kim Meeting; Strikes without Certainty of Chemical Attack. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 18, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:00:24] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Wolf Blitzer. And wherever you're watching from around the world, thank you so much for joining us.

He either forgot or hopes we did. Today, President Trump contradicting himself on the reason why he fired former FBI Director James Comey. He tweeted this morning, slippery James Comey, the worst FBI director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation, where, by the way, there was no collusion except by the Dems. But here's the thing, the president actually said the exact opposite in an interview that was nationally televised last year. Here's a reminder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins is in West Palm Beach. She's near the president's Mar-a-Lago estate.

And, Kaitlan, Comey is reacting to the president's tweet this morning. What did he say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: He certainly is, Brianna. As you know, he's been on this publicity tour for his new book that challenges the president very publicly. And today he was on "The View" and he was asked about the president's tweet that claims that Comey wasn't fired because of the Russia investigation, and he said that that doesn't square with what the president himself has said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I've seen the tweet. Both of those things can't be true. I actually think that illustrates part of the problem that I'm trying to bring up, that it matters that the president is not committed to the truth as a central American value. But -- so I don't know what to make of it. Look, when he tweets that I should be in jail, my honest reaction is a

shrug like, ah, there's another one of those. But then I stop myself and say, wait a minute, there's danger in my shrug, because that means I'm becoming numb to the fact that the president of the United States of America is saying that the private citizen should be in jail. That's not OK, all right. That is not normal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: But, Brianna, it's not just the president contradicting the president here after what he said in that Lester Holt interview. It's several other things that is surrounded James Comey's firing nearly a year ago that show why he fired James Comey and that it wasn't because of that memo written by the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, like the White House maintained for roughly 48 hours before the president admitted as much to Lester Holt.

But we also know that at the time that planning the firing for James Comey is something that White House aides had been doing for days, as well as what the president told those Russian officials in the Oval Office the next day, that firing Comey had relieved pressure from the Russia investigation on him as well here.

But, Brianna, you might ask the question, why is the president tweet this nearly a year after he fired James Comey? And I think it's important to remind our viewers that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, we have reported, is interested in talking to the president about the firing of James Comey and what it had to do with the Russia investigation.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan. Kaitlan Collin, thank you so much for that.

Joining me now, we have CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN political analyst David Gregory with us as well.

You wrote a piece called "The Runaway President." What are your sources right now telling you about where his mind is in all of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: What they're saying is that he's completely unmanageable. He's told our colleague -- one source told our colleague, Pamela Brown, that he's apoplectic over the Michael Cohen raid. I have been -- I have been told that some of his friends have never seen him like this before. That he doesn't listen to them. That not only does he believe that he's running every piece of policy, but he's also running his legal team. So he's now the lawyer in chief, as well as the commander in chief.

And there are people who are honestly quite worried about it because he's just not listening to anyone. And I don't think there's anybody inside the White House right now, maybe save (ph) his family, that he regards as anyone he needs to listen to.

KEILAR: So a lot of people alarmed. But some folks that perhaps he should be listening to, or maybe he's sick of listening to, David, is his legal team. Because right now they're in negotiation with the special counsel. They're talking about the president. You know, is he going to testify? What will the parameters of that be? How did they react when the president tweets things like this?

[13:05:00] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, not well. I mean he's clearly unmanageable and has been in this investigation from the beginning. There's these two impulses. And, you know, and you see it sort of play out on the Sean Hannity piece of this story, which is, Donald Trump has a gut sense of how to attack everyone coming at him and to attack Mueller, to attack the -- this investigation as being beyond the scope. And so, sure, he worries about this stuff with his own lawyer because if they're seeking to pierce attorney/client privilege or find out where it doesn't apply, this gets into areas about potential payoffs to porn stars and other, you know, elicit relationships and things that he was trying to keep quiet. This is obviously, you know, scandalous for him. He doesn't want this stuff known. And he considers it to be part of what's illegitimate about this whole investigation.

So it to -- so he finds it very difficult to stop jabbing at that and just be channeled and be circumspect when it comes to how he avoids, you know, jeopardy here legally. And that's -- those are the things he can't manage. And I think his instincts tell him that ultimately he's got to do this himself. And that's where he gets himself into trouble.

BORGER: Well, you know, and he's changed, though. You know originally he was saying, yes, I'll testify. I'll sit down with Bob Mueller. I can game this out. And I don't think he was kidding around. I think that's what he was telling his lawyers. Now he's changed. He's like, why would I do that? I will not sit down with this guy. And his lawyers are actually pretty happy about that because they didn't want him to sit down with him anyway. But there has been a shift.

KEILAR: He has also shown a change in a different way, which is less discipline when it comes to Stormy Daniels. He'd been largely uncharacteristically silent when it came to her. But then he tweeted about her and the sketch that she released of the man who she said threatened her basically, you know, when it came to the Trump situation about this alleged affair with him. He wrote, a sketch years later about a non-existent man, a total con job, playing the fake news media for fools, but they know it. Then that prompted this response from Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti. He said, in my experience, there's nothing better in litigation than having a completely unhinged, undisciplined opponent who is prone to shooting himself in the foot. Always leads to bigly (ph) problems, like new claims, i.e. defamation, LOL.

Why is he weighing in now when he has -- he's been disciplined largely until now?

BORGER: Because he can't -- going back to what we were talking about originally, he can't control himself on this. He's very upset. He -- Avenatti is sort of out-Trumping Trump in many says and I don't think he's used to it. You know, this guy is punching back.

KEILAR: He's beating (ph) him, right?

GREGORY: Right.

BORGER: Baiting him.

GREGORY: And, by the way, why did it take him so long to produce this sketch? They had been promising this for weeks. And they had a deal that she violated. So this whole thing is -- it's fine for us to kind of play it out in the news media. But, I mean, there's potentially legal problems on both sides of this. But I do think the president -- it's gotten to a point where he is -- whether someone has unleashed him or maybe he thought that Michael Cohen had this under control and so he said, oh, let me just stay away from it. Now I think, you know, he's into -- I think there's a realization for Trump that the danger in all of this is not just what's on its face, but it could somehow become part of what Mueller investigates. And we've seen this movie before with the Clinton impeachment. And that's something to worry about.

BORGER: And could be -- it could be more dangerous. I mean what Avenatti is doing is leaving bed crumbs every single day, dropping them. And the lawyers are saying to Trump, don't respond. Don't talk about it.

KEILAR: Because the power in the counterpunch is also knowing when not to use it, right?

Gloria Borger and David Gregory, thank you so much to both of you.

A top secret visit to North Korea now revealed. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will join me next to discuss the brand new details on Mike Pompeo's trip to the rogue nation as the two countries lay the groundwork for direct talks between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Plus, a flap over Russia's sanctions turns into a public feud between the White House and Nikki Haley.

And we're following new details on that deadly Southwest flight, as passengers relive the horror at 30,000 feet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:13:17] KEILAR: We are learning some new details about an extraordinary top secret meeting. CIA Director Mike Pompeo and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un met over Easter weekend, we have found out. Pompeo is President Trump's pick to be the next secretary of state.

And the president weighed in on this meeting this morning when he tweeted, Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of summit are being worked out now. De-nuclearization will be a great thing for world, but also for North Korea.

The Pompeo trip is a prelude to the planned face-to-face meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will probably be, depending on the various meetings and conversations, we'll be having meetings with Kim Jong-un very soon. It will be -- that will be taking place probably in early June or a little before that, assuming things go well. It's possible things won't go well and we won't have the meeting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I want to bring in retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's our CNN military and diplomatic analyst.

So fill us in on what we have learned about Mike Pompeo's trip and also the implications of this trip.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Sure.

So in what was the most senior U.S. visit to Pyongyang since Madeline Albright when in 2000 when she was secretary of state for President Clinton, we now have sort of a framework being laid for a Kim Jong- un/President Trump summit, probably in May or in June.

President Trump said the meeting went well. They formed a great relationship. Kim Jong-un reaffirmed what he had said publically before, that he's willing to talk about de-nuclearization. We don't know exactly what that means.

But President Trump said that he came away from this whole setting figuring out that there's probably about five now locations where the summit might occur. So let's take a look at what some of the possibilities are. We don't know exactly what cities, but we can take an educated guess based on what types of venues might be available.

[13:15:13] First will be the principle parties, either in the U.S. or North Korea. These are not going to be politically viable for either leader to meet on the home turf for the other. So I think we can dismiss either of these options right off the bat as probably the most least likely.

But what about interested parties, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, you could do it there. Certainly it was to China that Kim Jong-un traveled just recently to meet with President Xi. China and Russia would love nothing more than to be the mediating influence between the United States and North Korea to boost their influence in the region. That is why I think either of those options are probably not going to be attractive to President Trump. It's very unlikely that Kim Jong-un will want to go to Japan or South Korea, as well. So I think none of these options are going to be very likely either.

What about, though, on the de-militarized zone, or in Penmoonjon (ph)? Neutral territory, very safe and secure, not very far from Pyongyang. So these could be attractive options.

The downside of Penmoonjon is that's where Kim is going to meet with President Moon of South Korea in just a couple of weeks. It's not likely, I think, that President Trump's going to want to repeat that venue, being the showman that he is. So I'm not sure that we're looking at the DMZ or Penmoonjon either. But I would keep an eye on it.

So that leaves us with neutral or third party countries, either in the region, in Asia, or in Europe. Let's take a look at some of the Asian options. You've got Singapore or Bangkok, Thailand. Both countries have diplomatic relations with both the U.S. and North Korea. The United States has embassies in both. Could be a very good option there.

But look also at Ulanbatar (ph), Mongolia. The president of Mongolia recently said he'd be more than happy to host the summit between Moon -- I'm sorry, between Kim and Trump. It's -- they border China and Russia there in Mongolia. And it's a pretty accessible train ride from Pyongyang. So I wouldn't count that one out. That's worth watching.

But more than likely we're probably talking about somewhere in Europe. And there are plenty of options. More to go -- more than we can go through in the time allotted. Lots of great cities here that have long histories and track records of hosting diplomatic engagements. It would require longer travel for Kim Jong-un. But they're all very, very well equipped to host this kind of meeting.

I'd be looking at Stockholm. Stockholm, Sweden, is the protecting power for the United States and North Korea, since we don't have an embassy there. They handle our counsel affairs. They were responsible for helping us negotiate the release Otto Warmbier back in the summer. So Stockholm would be a very attractive option. But plenty of choices here.

I'd be looking at either somewhere in the region or somewhere in Europe.

Brianna.

KEILAR: Very interesting. Thank you for taking us through all of those. Rear Admiral John Kirby, we appreciate it.

KIRBY: My pleasure.

KEILAR: And joining me now is Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary and CIA director under President Obama.

Sir, thanks so much for being with us today.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Nice to be with you, Brianna.

KEILAR: What is your reaction to this revelation that the CIA director, Mike Pompeo, met secretly with Kim Jong-un?

PANETTA: Well, I think it's a very important step to take. I was a little concerned when the president agreed to the summit without very much planning or preparation. And in a short time frame, it's a little -- it's a little bit of concern as to whether or not you can really lay the groundwork for that kind of high level summit. The fact that you now have Director Pompeo meeting with Kim indicates

that they are discussing, hopefully, some of the key negotiating terms that would be part of a summit between Kim and President Trump.

KEILAR: What did you think about the fact that he went with just intelligence officials? It sounds like you feel like the groundwork is being laid. Maybe not enough? I'd be curious to hear what you have to say about. But just how he executed this, intel officials, no one from the State Department?

PANETTA: Well, the problem is, there's not much happening at the State Department. We don't have a secretary of state. A lot of those positions are unfilled.

But, more importantly, he has trust in Mike Pompeo. Mike Pompeo, from an intelligence point of view, has probably the best perspective on Kim and North Korea. So he was prepared, I'm sure, to be able to sit down.

I think the real question now is, where does it go from here? Because there have to be extremely careful preparations made for this kind of high level summit. There's got to be a discussion about what are the terms that are going to be negotiated? What are -- what is it that we want Kim -- from Kim in terms of de-nuclearization, missile development, nuclear development? And what are we prepared to give in return?

I think it's very important to lay out those terms because what you don't want to do is keep giving Kim things that he wants without getting something back in return.

KEILAR: He so clearly wants the U.S. presence in the region to be gone, right? That's -- that seems to be a key point to him as a trade for -- perhaps for denuclearization. But that seems so unrealistic. What do you think?

[13:20:17] PANETTA: Well, I don't think there's any question that the United States is just not going to pick up and leave that region in terms of our relationship with South Korea, with Japan, and with our other allies in the Pacific. So that obviously is going to be one of the areas that we've got to sit down and decide how far we're prepared to go.

In return for North Korea taking some very clear steps at denuclearization, that's not going to be easy. We shouldn't kid ourselves. This is a very, very tough objective. It's going to require inspections. It's going to require the kind of verification to make sure that they're doing what they say they're doing. And they've never quite agreed to that in the past.

So there are a lot of very heavy issues here that are going to have to be worked out. I'm not sure all of this can be done before a summit. So I'm looking at a summit that may be laying some framework for discussions, but the hard negotiations are going to have to take place afterwards. KEILAR: I do want to turn now and talk about air strikes on Syria with

you. On this program, Senator Rand Paul said about reported -- the reported chemical attack that led to the strikes, he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I still look at the attack and say, you know, Assad either must be the dumbest dictator on the planet or maybe he didn't do it. I have yet to see evidence that he did do it. The intelligence agencies claim they have that evidence. But, think about it, does it make any sense? He's been winning the war for the last couple of years. The only thing that would galvanize the world to attack Assad directly is a chemical attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So he's raising the question here of whether the Assad regime, in his estimation, would be stupid enough to go and do this, because it is the red line so clearly for President Trump. Was there a need to better verify this information before the administration went on with air strikes?

PANETTA: Well, from all of the indications, there clearly was some kind of evidence that, in fact, this kind of chemical attack did take place. Obviously, Syria and Russia are putting up barriers to -- trying to, in fact, verify that. And you have to ask yourself the question, why are they doing that?

In addition to that, Assad has continued to use chemical weapons. This is nothing new. We've seen him use these kinds of attacks in the past. And so from all of that, it would appear that, indeed, this military strike, I believe, was justified.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about James Comey. He's been doing a series of interviews, which I'm sure that you have caught. This has to do with his new book. And he says that it's possible that the Russians have something, that they have something incriminating on President Trump. There's also the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who said this about the very same subject to Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, it certainly is a possibility, and this is in the Russian's genes, if they can co-opt somebody with either real or contrived compromat (ph), to use the term they use, I'm certain -- I'm certain they would have done that. But I don't know, just as Jim doesn't, or any of us know, whether that's the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Do you share that opinion, just that it is possible that Russia has something incriminating on President Trump?

PANETTA: You know, Brianna, I get -- I get very concerned about talking about possibilities. There's all kinds of possibilities as to what could or could not be the case. I'm more interested in what, in fact, is the truth. And to determine that, I think Bob Mueller and his investigation is going to look at that issue and determine whether or not that is the case. But I'm not sure it helps a lot just to speculate as to what could or could not be the problem.

KEILAR: Do you think Comey is inappropriate in speculating?

PANETTA: You know, he can give his opinion. This is a free country. And I'm sure other will give their opinions. That's the nature of a free society.

But I do think when it comes to the issue of whether or not this president is being held hostage in some way by the Russians, that's something we are going to have to determine by the kind of investigation that Bob Mueller is running.

KEILAR: Leon Panetta, thank you so much, former CIA director, former defense secretary. We really appreciate your time.

PANETTA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Coming up, blame Nikki Haley. That seemed to be the consensus after the administration's plans for Russia sanctions got muddled.

[13:25:05] Plus, nearly taken out of an airplane window into the sky, and then pulled back into the plane. Passengers are recalling the deadly Southwest flight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Nikki Haley out of the loop on a major decision to delay or even complete forget new sanctions on Russia. Sunday we heard this from the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. on sanctions over the reported chemical attack in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: So you will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn't already.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So then Monday comes, and the White House said that no new sanctions were coming. And then Tuesday the president's new chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said this about Haley.

[13:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: She got ahead of the curve. She's done a great job. She's a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Ambassador Haley fired back, quote, with all due respect, I don't get confused.

Kudlow later --