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Trump Willing to Walk Out from North Korea Talks; Michael Cohen Drops Libel Suits Against Fusion and BuzzFeed; Many Republicans Not Ready to Back Trump's 2020 Bid; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 10:30   ET



[10:31:44] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. New this morning, CNN has learned that new National Security adviser John Bolton has raised the prospects of a walkout in the middle of President Trump's prospective talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This sheds some light maybe on why the president has been saying something similar.

Here now to discuss with me, CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier.

You know, it's interesting, this would be such an historic meeting if it happens and it looks like it will happen, equally interesting to hear not just the president muse about the possibility of walking out, but to hear that it's specific advice from the incoming National Security adviser.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, John, the thing is, this is arguably his highest stakes meeting yet of his presidency. So he needs some room to run. I imagine one of the things that they're negotiating right now is that he at least would be able to walk away and bring home three Americans plus promises from Kim Jong- un to denuclearize.

On Kim Jong-un's side of things, he doesn't have to worry about domestic constituency reaction, political blowback, so he can always promise the moon and then later slow roll denuclearization. But if he tries to slow roll, say, the return of those Americans, something concrete that President Trump could walk away with, I could see that as being a successful negotiating tactic.

BERMAN: You know, it's hard to imagine after something this historic if it does happen, the president traveling to wherever it is he ultimately goes, walking in a room and then less than an hour, up and leaving, it would be dramatic. And we know this president loves drama. He seems to be putting a lot at stakes -- putting a lot in this notion of great dramatic personalities that he and he alone can strike some sort of a deal with the North Korean leader.

Is this kind of personal diplomacy possible, do you think?

DOZIER: Let's not credit President Trump with the only president who's had an ego going into these things and thinking that they're the ones that can pull this off. Think about in terms of past meetings between President George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin, thinking that they had gotten concessions nobody else had, only to later be disappointed.

President Trump hasn't had that disappointment yet where someone promises him something to his face and he thinks he's pulled it off and then intelligence intercepts show him that the other side isn't keeping up a good faith bargain. So this could be part of his education depending on how it goes. It also could be part of his great humbling that we've seen other leaders go through and talk about.

BERMAN: Very quickly, President Trump claims that if you ask Russia, Russia would say that no one has been harder on Russia than Donald Trump. And there have been specific actions by this government over the last year and a half right now. But is that how Russia sees it?

DOZIER: Well, there is an argument to be made that he pulled those sanctions back because he wants to have more in his quiver to aim at them. But this also goes back to his belief, I believe, from those who talked to him, that he thinks if he can get in a room with Vladimir Putin, because of their past cooperation that's been described to him on counterterrorism, that there is more that unites them than divides them and that he can pull the deal off that no one else has.

BERMAN: Kimberly Dozier, great to have you with us, thanks so much.

We're going to have a lot to talk about in the next few weeks, I think.

[10:35:03] President's personal lawyer used to fighting the president's battles, but now he is giving up a legal fight of his own. This is interesting. Stay with us.


BERMAN: All right. Listen to this, it's an interesting development. The president's personal attorney, he calls himself a fixer, has dropped a couple of lawsuits that tell us a lot about what he might be thinking at this moment.

Michael Cohen has abandoned defamation suits against the firm that produced the dossier which is part of the Russia investigation, and also BuzzFeed which published the dossier.

I'm joined now by CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.

Paul, lawyers for Michael Cohen put out this statement.

[10:40:03] "Given the events that have unfolded and the time and attention and resources needed to prosecute these matters, we have dismissed the matters despite their merits."

There is something else going on here. PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Something else very big going on here

and that's Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation by Mueller in all probability. A search warrant --


BERMAN: Southern District of New York, he's under investigation.

CALLAN: That's right. And that investigation in part will focus on certain statements that he made that he never met with Russians in Prague, which are the basis of this slander, libel defamation suit. So if the suit goes forward, he'd have to testify under oath, all right. And he doesn't want do that because his lawyers are probably telling him take the Fifth Amendment if you're called in to court.

You take the Fifth Amendment in a civil case for money damages, and that could be held against you, unlike in a criminal case where it cannot be held against you.

BERMAN: Only sit for a deposition, be part of any discovery in this civil case when so much is on the line now in the criminal investigation.

CALLAN: Absolutely. Very dangerous for him to do that. So he's doing a very smart thing, he's dropping the defamation case.

BERMAN: It's a good point because I was about to say it shows he's worried. It also shows he's smart.

CALLAN: Yes. At least with respect to this --

BERMAN: In this case. This is the smart defense.

CALLAN: Yes. That's right.

BERMAN: On how you'd handle it right now. OK. Jay Goldberg, who was the president's divorce lawyer, I think twice, right?

CALLAN: Right. Yes.

BERMAN: And also handled some real estate deals. The president apparently had a phone conversation with him last week, which Goldberg was only too willing to share to Gloria Borger and "The Wall Street Journal" and others, where Goldberg told the president, you have to worry about Michael Cohen. If you think this guy is going to take a bullet for you, you're wrong. He will flip.

CALLAN: Yes. And I think that's very wise advice that's being passed along to the president. Even though Cohen is totally loyal, claims to -- he claimed that some point he'd take a bullet for the president, nonetheless, if you're faced with upwards of 30 years in prison on a criminal charge, virtually everybody will take a deal from the prosecutor and turn.

So what Goldberg is saying to the president is be very careful when you have conversations with Michael Cohen now because if he turns, those conversations could theoretically be used against you.

BERMAN: One side story here, I was thinking about attorney-client privilege and how the relationship between Michael Cohen and the president, everyone was asking, well, Jay Goldberg just had a legal conversation with the president and he's not claiming any kind of attorney-client privilege there because he wasn't serving as his lawyer. Just shows an example of where --

CALLAN: Well, but it's also it may very well be that the president had no expectation of confidentiality with Goldberg. They may have, for all we know, even discussed the fact that Goldberg would talk publicly about the conversation. I mean, we don't know what went on.

BERMAN: Yes. Not sure how that would help him.


BERMAN: But Goldberg seems very willing to talk. That's for sure.

CALLAN: Yes. Absolutely.

BERMAN: Paul Callan, thanks so much for being with us, Appreciate it.

CALLAN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Are Republicans seeing a Trump 2020 possibility? Surprisingly not so clear.


[10:47:02] BERMAN: All right, the president has announced he is running for re-election. You might think that every elected Republican in Congress, nearly at least, would be perfectly willing to say, yes, we support his re-election bid. You might think that, but you would be wrong.

Listen to Republicans squirming this morning about whether they will back Donald Trump in 2020.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: It could be a completely different world by 2020. We have a 2018 election first, so, you know, listen, I understand the kind of gotcha question you're engaging here, but this is way too early to be talking about it.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I have no idea who's going to run for president in 2020 and I'm not about to say who I will support for that, so we have no idea who's going to run. Whether the president runs again or not I think is very questionable candidly.


CORKER: I don't know. Why would he?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Joining me now, David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst and CNN political commentators Joe Trippi and Alice Stewart.

Alice, I want to ask you, as someone who works to get Republicans elected, those answers are bizarre. And it wasn't just Senator Johnson and Corker today, and Corker has his issues with the president, but there's plenty of senators who are more rank and file, Lamar Alexander from Tennessee, John Cornyn, John Thune, people who dodged that question. And I can't figure out why.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: John, I don't really see what's so bizarre about saying it's way too early to start --


STEWART: -- predicting what's going to happen in 2020. Look, Donald Trump won in 2016 with very few congressional endorsements and to be honest he probably could care less if he gets any more. He wants to go out and get the will of the people and he campaigned on and will campaign on draining the swamp. So I'm sure getting the swamp on board is not something that is part of their campaign action item.

And look, a lot of these people that are willing to step up to the microphone have not been supportive of Trump in the past, and the ones I'm talking to, I talk with a lot of Republicans, and that's not reflective of the majority of them. And they are focused right now on the midterm elections, doing what's best for their constituents and their districts, and they're not looking ahead to 2020 because right now they've got more pressing things on -- in the near future.

BERMAN: Whether or not the president, it helps or hurts the president, or whether or not he couldn't care less is a separate issue which I will talk about in a minute because I think that's really interesting, you may be right there, Alice, I do think, though, David Gergen, that, you know, it isn't too early to ask that question, given the president has announced he's running for re-election, given that he is the president of the United States and the standard bearer of his party and every president as far back as -- until James Polk, basically. Every sitting president runs for row re-election so he's running for re-election so they should have an answer , you know, that's different than squirming, I would think.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they could be more encouraging, that's for certain. But I think what we're seeing there is an unease that's spreading in the Republican Party, because the prospects in November, this November, could be really bad for them, could be bleak for them. But you have multiple fronts now, not just Mueller, but, you know, the whole question of Cohen, the lawyer being -- the office being raided, the women and their lawsuits and everything like that.

[10:50:08] And naturally and given the volatility of this -- of this president, naturally Republicans are uneasy. I think personally that if somebody does not support Trump, he's going to go to what amounts to an enemies list. Trump will be very angry. He thinks he's been a great president. And by the way, he may still deliver on some things. And you have to -- the politics for this change in his favor, if he pulls off the unexpected with North Korea, or something like that, you know, it could change in his favor. So I think the Republicans rightly understand we're in a very, very unpredictable period and the president could be a lot of downsides sticking with Trump right now, but there could be some upsides and they're just hoping for the best.

BERMAN: So Joe Trippi, to Alice's point, look, in the 2016 election there were a lot of Republicans -- elected Republicans who either didn't support the president or barely supported the president or dragged into supporting the president, people like Paul Ryan, you know. Donald Trump is still there, and largely they're not. I mean, Paul Ryan is on his way out. Representative of that type of Republican who is going while the president is staying there, so was Alice right, that the president really doesn't need these people?

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't necessarily agree. I actually think this is a pretty brilliant move politically for the president. One, on two counts. First is if a lot of people in the Republican Party and House and Senate believe he's leaving, then he becomes a lame duck literally right away, regardless of what happens with the investigation and with the investigation that becomes compounded.

So he -- saying he's going, and also these -- a lot of these Republicans want to move away from him right now, as David said, because in November being associated with him and some of these marginal states or districts is likely to cost them their seats. They want to move away from him. But they're going to want to be with him in 2020 and he wants them with him now. So forcing this, making them choose, this is just quintessential Donald Trump.

You're either with me or against me, and I agree with David, you're on my enemies list, or I'm going to -- you know, I'm going to do what -- or you're going to be with me. And I think that's what this is all about. And I don't think -- I think it's actually given the circumstances a smart thing for him to do.

BERMAN: So, Joe Trippi, lightning round here, the president would not answer a basic question about whether or not he will fire Rod Rosenstein or push to remove Robert Mueller, the special counsel. He did note that they're both still there in office. What are you hearing from Democrats? Did Democrats believe that he really will take action on Rod Rosenstein and what are they prepared to do after the fact?

TRIPPI: Well, I think a lot of Democrats -- you have disparate views, but I think most believe that it's likely to happen at this point, that those two positions, either one of them or both are at risk. They don't believe that the Republicans in the House and the Senate will do much about it. That's the concern. Will people -- both parties on both sides rise above party and react?

You see this where they won't even put a vote up to protect Mueller in the investigation now saying it's never going to happen. Well, if it does, we'll see if there are enough votes in both parties to step up.


TRIPPI: And congratulations. Lightning round, I just wanted to congratulate you on your marathon.

BERMAN: That was hardly lightning. That was like the slowest lightning of all time but thank you very much.

STEWART: Congrats, Marathon Man.

BERMAN: I appreciate that. There is a reason I'm sitting down still today.

Alice Stewart, from the Republican standpoint, we do know that the White House has drafted talking points on Rod Rosenstein. And we also know that there are allies of the president and Congress right now, you know, turning the screws on Rod Rosenstein and some people think laying the groundwork to take congressional action against him.

Do you see evidence of that?

STEWART: I have heard and have seen a lot of Republicans really push the message that Rod Rosenstein hasn't really had the president's back and is not limiting the size and scope of the Mueller investigation, and feel it should be more focused on Russia interference in our election, not get so widespread as it currently has. And they're frustrated with that and they're calling attention to it. That being said, the president is becoming more and more aware of the consequences of what would happen if he did let go.

BERMAN: Right.

STEWART: For trying to get rid of Mueller or Rosenstein. So he's smart to say that they're here now, but as everyone in the White House, you're employed until the very second you're not.

BERMAN: Yes. Until you're not.

David Gergen, I want to ask you about Michael Cohen because you've seen a lot of investigations over the years right now, with people connected to presidents. How do you assess his behavior, his legal behavior and his personal behavior over the last several days? The fact that he's pulled this defamation suit seems to me like this man is concerned.

GERGEN: He's very concerned. I thought that this weird video that he actually encouraged walking down the streets of New York and sitting down with some of his buddies to smoke a cigar was just sort of like -- it was bizarre, because at the very time they're being accused of sort of running a mob operation, he's sitting with a bunch of guys who look very problematic for him.

[10:55:18] BERMAN: Yes. David Gergen, Joe Trippi, Alice Stewart, thank you, one and all, for being with us today. I really appreciate it.

STEWART: Thanks. BERMAN: We will see the president just a few minutes from now. He is

in Florida. Will he address reporters? Will he face more questions about these investigations or his pending foreign policy decisions? We're watching it all. Stay with us.