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North Korea Freezes Nuclear and Missile Tests; Concerns Trump Personal Attorney Could Flip; The Internet Thinks Stormy's Sketch Looks Familiar. Aired 2-2:30a ET
Aired April 21, 2018 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): North Korea suspends nuclear and missile testing, another olive branch ahead of the possible meeting with the U.S. president.
Investigators close in on President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. This as the allies of Mr. Trump are (INAUDIBLE) turn on the president.
Plus dance music loses one of its best-known deejays. Avicii passes away at age 28.
Good to have you with us, everyone. Live from the CNN NEWSROOM, here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier.
VANIER: A major announcement by North Korea in the last few hours. Leader Kim Jong-un says he will suspend further testing of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and will close one of the country's nuclear testing sites.
This coming from a leader who had previously put the world on notice that he said nothing about scrapping any missiles and warheads that he may already have.
Here's his statement carried on state media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, midrange and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests and that the nuclear test sites in the northern area has also completed its mission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: Kim's statement preserves the status quo but it is significant just a few days ahead of his summit with his neighbor, the president of South Korea. That meeting, which is historic in itself, could help pave the way for a possible summit with U.S. president Donald Trump.
Just on Thursday, North Korea appeared to hold out another olive branch. According to South Korea, Pyongyang has not raised the issue of U.S. troops leaving the Korean Peninsula as a precondition to denuclearization.
Will Ripley has reported from North Korea many times. He's in Hong Kong right now.
Will, what are you finding out from your sources about this?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I spoke with a North Korean source, who feels that this is a very strong indication that Kim Jong- un is serious about moving North Korea down the path towards denuclearization.
Yes, he didn't mention destroying any of his nuclear weapons.
But why would he do that now?
That's something that would be discussed in upcoming negotiations with the United States. Saying that he has completed his nuclear force and is going to dismantle the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri and, most importantly, delivering that message to his people is highly significant.
We know that he had a meeting on Friday with top officials of the ruling Workers Party and this bulletin coming out on the heels of that meeting. And it does indicate perhaps that that this is the beginning of how North Korea will sell this idea to its people.
When you go to Pyongyang, a city I visited many times, and you're surrounded by propagandists, celebrating the nuclear program; you see imagery everywhere of missiles flying toward the United States, now we could just be weeks away from a summit that has the potential to be a game-changer in terms of North Korea-U.S. relations.
They're obviously going to -- there's going to have to be a real cultural shift in the way that people think about nuclear weapons and think about their leader, Kim Jong-un's role and his relationship with other world leaders, including the U.S. president, Donald Trump.
And so it's an important step but obviously this is not the end. This is not North Korea saying that they're going to denuclearize. They obviously have weapons stored all over their country in places that the United States and its allies don't know about.
They're going to keep their leverage. They're not going to put all their cards on the table. But it does maybe indicate at least a willingness to go down this path; understandable skepticism but also a lot of encouragement by these developments.
VANIER: There is another aspect I want to ask you about. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that North Korea could be willing to release American detainees currently in North Korea.
What do you know about that?
RIPLEY: Well, it does make sense. We know that the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang has been serving as an intermediary between the U.S. and North Korea. Their foreign minister flew to Stockholm last month and met there for three days.
And one of the things that we're hearing is that there have been very frequent discussions about securing the release of these three Americans. And that would be something that North Korea could give to President Trump at this summit. That would be a pretty easy win.
These Americans have been detained for quite some time, you know, in some cases more than two years. And so it's -- it may be time for North Korea to consider pardoning them, allowing them to go home as a result of a meeting with President Trump in addition to all of these denuclearization talks.
So the role that Sweden is playing in all of this, also in my mind, Cyril, makes me wonder if they might consider having this summit with President Trump and Kim Jong-un in Stockholm, if, in fact, the North Korean leader were willing to travel that distance. That's pure speculation. As far as we know they are still hammering down --
RIPLEY: -- the details.
But Stockholm is, we're told, on a short list of potential neutral locations for the important summit with President Trump.
And, of course, next week at the demilitarized zone, President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un will be sitting down for a truly historic summit. We actually expect to see the North Korean leader across the military demarcation line at Panmunjom, an image that should be broadcast live around the world, along with the first handshake between the two leaders.
VANIER: Will Ripley, reporting live from the region, thank you, Will.
And reaction from the U.S., South Korea and Japan has been positive but somewhat guarded.
President Trump tweeted this, "North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit."
South Korea's presidential office released this statement, "We welcome North Korea's decision to discard its nuclear test site and to suspend the launch tests of midrange missiles. North Korea's decision is a meaningful progress for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which the world wishes for."
And here's Japan's prime minister. He was cautious. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): North Korea's announcement is forward motion that I'd like to welcome. But what is important is that this motion leads to complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. I want to take a close look at it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: Japan's defense minister sounded a more skeptical note, calling the North Korean announcement, quote, "insufficient."
VANIER: Let's see if my panel thinks this is for real. Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists is in Washington. He joins us now. He's former director of the North Korea Task Force at the Council on Foreign Relations.
We also have Paul Carroll with us, with the nuclear disarmament group N Square.
Adam, North Korea has tricked the international community many times before. I was looking at the timeline just before coming on. I count at least three times in the '90s and the early 2000s when they made a promise to start winding down their nuclear capability.
And then -- and then it turned out not to be genuine.
Is this another trick?
ADAM MOUNT, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS: Well, North Korea is certainly not trustworthy in international negotiations. As you say they've got a long track record of turning back on statements that they've made.
And it is important to realize that this statement is really very carefully circumscribed. It is a proposal to shape North Korea's nuclear arsenal, not to eliminate it. No references made to short- range ballistic missiles, to fissile material, to submarine launched ballistic missiles or space launched vehicles.
These are tricks that, for example, have scuttled negotiations in the past, most recently in 2012. So it is important that President Trump and other American diplomats go into this with carefully measured expectations, that they let the State Department expertise back into the room, who are going to tell them that's precisely what Kim Jong-un has in mind here.
It's not all -- it's not everything that we want to hear. In fact, we're still miles away from what Washington would demand.
VANIER: Paul, very big picture, if you break this down to its simplest elements, Washington wants to get rid of the nuclear threat in North Korea. And until now, the consensus among analysts was that North Korea wanted to keep its nuclear capability.
Can this fundamental difference be reconciled?
PAUL CARROLL, N SQUARE: In the long term, absolutely it can be reconciled. I think I completely agree with Adam. What we're seeing right now really is a little bit of a kabuki play. From my perspective, North Korea has the upper hand so far in the lead-up to both the North-South summit next Friday and the planned Trump-Kim Jong-un summit sometime later this spring, early summer.
What I mean by that is they're dangling what seem like concessions before the international community. They're talking about things that, five or six years ago, would have seemed like breakthroughs: no more nuclear tests, no more missile tests.
But that was at a point in time when their programs were nascent. And today, even though they may be rudimentary, they seem to have enough confidence that they have the type of nuclear weapons and delivery systems that are enough to give pause to Korea, Japan, the United States.
And I would say that is true. And so they've already got the hand they want to play and they're dangling sort of, you know, the 2 of Clubs before us and we are getting all excited about it.
CARROLL: What we need to do is square the circle and keep in mind, as you said, their core interest is security and they see nuclear weapons as the guarantor of that. Until they have a path out, where they're willing to feel secure without their nuclear weapons, we're not going to get very far.
VANIER: Is it possible -- Paul, still with you -- is it possible to guarantee security?
What would that even look like?
CARROLL: Well, what that would look like is, from the North Korean and frankly the South Korean perspective, something more formal and more fleshed out than the 1953 armistice agreement --
VANIER: Selective nonaggression treaty, where the U.S. promises never to invade, never bomb them, never to attack?
CARROLL: Exactly. In fact, for years they've used the phrase, the U.S. must suspend its hostile policy.
What does that mean exactly?
VANIER: -- they would trust this?
They would trust a treaty?
They would trust a piece of paper from the U.S. at this stage?
CARROLL: I wouldn't say a piece of paper. I would say a multilateral process that is consistent and has a tempo of meetings and presence, not just tweets.
VANIER: Adam, for months we have been saying that, most likely, North Korea is testing its nuclear capability and missiles because it wants to ultimately negotiate from a place of strength.
Is that what's happening right now?
MOUNT: Well, that's a leading contender at this point. North Korea's statement today does give some credence to that view. We should read this not as a small regime that's been cowed into denuclearization. Really, what it reads like is a nuclear power that is making an arms control proposal.
So that would lend legitimacy to Kim Jong-un's cause. That's really what they've been seeking this whole time. So that's plausible.
You know, I'm still skeptical that they choose to eliminate their nuclear and missile program, certainly not on the timetable that John Bolton has argued for. There's really no realistic chance that North Korea is a nuclear free nation by Christmas.
So really we're going to be in this for the longer haul. It's going to be a multistep process. And the first step should be to codify, clarify and then verify these declarations that were made today and to really plug the gaps in that declaration so that it is not a partial cap on North Korea's nuclear advancements and capabilities but rather it's a hard cap.
So Donald Trump can't go into this expecting complete surrender. He has to have a plan to codify and clarify these declarations, expand them and then to move on from there.
VANIER: Speaking of Donald Trump, Paul, is his strategy of maximum pressure working at this stage?
Do you feel that what we're seeing is perhaps the result of Kim Jong- un feeling the economic pressure on his country?
CARROLL: Well, I'm not sure I would agree that the current administration has a strategy. They've certainly gone all in with sticks and abandoned any carrots.
VANIER: What about the U.N. sanctions?
Hold on. Everybody I've spoken to on this show tells me the recent sanctions of the last few months that have been implemented against North Korea have had more bite to them than prior sanctions.
CARROLL: I would agree with that but it -- they've only been a few months old and these kinds of sanctions take time to really have the impact they were designed to have. And it's not clear to me that China, in particular, is going to have the wherewithal to enforce and really toe the line on those sanctions over the long -- over the long term.
And keep in mind, Kim Jong-un recently went to Beijing. And it's unclear to me what exactly was discussed or promised or committed to at that meeting. That to me is a big X factor in all of these negotiations.
VANIER: Adam, what kind of price would Kim Jong-un want or what kind of price would Washington have to pay for engaging on -- toward denuclearization?
Paul mentioned earlier perhaps promising nonaggression, right, that there would be no attack from the U.S. on North Korea. But we also know, from his public pronouncements, Kim Jong-un is very focused on the state of his economy.
MOUNT: Right, this is -- this is the $64,000 question. There is not going to be an easy answer here. John Bolton's idea that you can jetset into the into the summit and ask where to pull American ships into, to load the nuclear program onto them, that's a fantasy. That is never going to happen
We need to be prepared for fallback positions, to counteract various North Korean tricks and traps, to have all of that planned out and prepared for.
But we also, as you say, need to be -- come prepared with something to offer. And that has not been Donald Trump's strong suit in negotiations. That's not how John Bolton thinks about it.
Security assurances would have to be part of it. But you have to -- you have to remember that those would mean that Kim Jong-un would have to trust a leader that he's condemned to death in public statements.
So it's unlikely that simple assurances are going to matter. It is unlikely that economic payoffs are going to be enough. What I think is happening is that Kim Jong-un is stalling for time. He is going to try to let these negotiations stall and drag on through the summer and fall and, in the same way, try to get Donald Trump to either give up something for nothing, so give up something substantial in terms of deterrent posture or alliance cohesion or to get China to ease up on sanctions. So if Trump walks away from the table first because he has unrealistic expectations, they come out way ahead.
VANIER: All right, Adam Mount, Paul Carroll, thank you very much. It's been very useful, tapping into your expertise, appreciate talking to you, thanks.
MOUNT: Thank you.
CARROLL: My pleasure.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: Coming up, concerns in the Trump camp.
Could the president's personal lawyer turn on his boss?
We'll take a look.
VANIER: Several developments in the legal firestorm surrounding President Trump. "The Washington Post" reporting attorney general Jeff Sessions told the White House that if President Trump fired assistant attorney general Ron Rosenstein, Sessions would consider leaving as well.
That came in a phone call last week between Sessions and White House counsel Don McGahn after Rosenstein had met with the president. Rosenstein oversees the Russia probe and there are reports that Trump also lashed out after Rosenstein approved the raids on his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
So about that, there is late word that the former attorney for both porn actress Stormy Daniels and former "Playboy" Playmate Karen McDougal is now cooperating with federal authorities in their probe of Cohen.
Keith Davidson -- that's his name -- was at the center of agreements that kept both women quiet over their alleged affairs with Donald Trump before he became president. Davidson has turned over what his spokesman calls "certain limited electronic information."
A source familiar with this matter tells CNN that earlier this month the FBI seized recordings Cohen made of his conversations with Davidson. There's growing concern in the White House that Cohen, who has worked with Donald Trump for many years and has been called Trump's fixer, could end up cooperating with federal investigators.
All this on the heels of the release of memos written by former FBI director James Comey. And they detail the conversations Comey had with President Trump.
Late Friday night the president tweeted, "James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a Special Council (sic)? Therefore, the Special Council (sic) was established based on an illegal act? Really, does everybody know what that means?"
CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is traveling with the president.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former FBI Director James Comey's secret memos now the subject of a Justice Department review over whether he improperly disclosed classified material.
The department's internal watchdog is investigating Comey's handling of the newly disclosed memos, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting today, which shed new light on President Trump's concern about salacious details unearth by the Russia probe.
The Justice Department turned over a set of documents to Congress Thursday night offering a rare look into Comey's private conversations with the president.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I'm totally fine with transparency
ZELENY: In his interview with Jake, Comey said he didn't object to releasing the memos. He's previously maintained no classified information was disclosed.
COMEY: I have tried to be transparent throughout. And I think what folks will see if they get to see the memos is, I have been consistent since the very beginning, right after my encounters with President Trump.
ZELENY: White House officials telling CNN today the memos showed no collusion with Russia and offered no proof of obstruction of justice in the firing of Comey last year.
From his Mar-a-Lago resort, the president tweeting: "James Comey memos just out and show clearly there that there was no collusion and no obstruction. Also, he leaked classified information. Wow. Will the witch-hunt continue?"
COMEY: I knew that there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened.
ZELENY: Republicans requested the memos, but it is unclear they got what they were looking for. The heavily redacted writings reveal Comey's consistent story about his early interactions with the president. The president had concerns about Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser who pleaded guilty and is now cooperating with the feds.
Comey writing: "The president pointed his fingers at his head and said, 'The guy has serious judgment issues.'"
The memos also disclosing new information about former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who Comey said asked him whether Flynn was under surveillance.
"Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?" Comey wrote at the time.
The president was also consumed by allegations contained in the now dossier. "The president brought up the golden showers thing and said it really bothered him if his wife had any doubt about it," Comey write.
"The president said, 'The hookers thing is nonsense,' but that Putin told him we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world."
Before firing his FBI director last May, the president also discussed putting reporters in jail. "The president wrapped up our conversation by returning to the issue of finding --
ZELENY (voice-over): -- leakers," Comey wrote.
He replied by saying, "It may involve putting reporters in jail. They spend a couple of days in jail, make a new friend and they're ready to talk."
ZELENY: As President Trump was visiting his golf course here in West Palm Beach, the Democratic National Committee added a new twist to this ongoing Russian saga, filing a lawsuit against the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and the Russian government, accusing the Trump campaign of conspiring to mislead Americans and voters and to discredit the Hillary Clinton campaign back in 2016.
Of course the Trump campaign dismissed all of this as a sham lawsuit. Regardless of whether this goes forward, one thing is clear: the Russia investigation still hanging over this president -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.
VANIER: Tributes from around the world are pouring in for one of the world's biggest stars of dance music. Grammy nominated Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, was found dead in Muscat, Oman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER (voice-over): His first international hit came in 2011, with "Levels," which reached number one in Sweden and the U.S. Billboard dance club chart. Avicii was known for his live performances. And in 2013, he had a crossover pop hit with "Wake Me Up."
VANIER (voice-over): Avicii was one of the best known deejays on the planet. No cause of death was given. He had retired from performing in 2016, though, after a string of health issues, which he acknowledged were due to heavy drinking in the past.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: If you haven't seen it already I want to show you a police sketch that drew mockery on the Internet and on social media. On Tuesday, former adult film star Stormy Daniels released a sketch of someone that she says threatened her to keep quiet about her alleged affair with President Trump.
Apparently he has a well-known face. Actually, he has many well-known faces. Jeanne Moos takes a look.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Stormy Daniels released this sketch it unleashed the sleuths of the Internet, casting suspicion on everyone from Bon Jovi to Billy Bush -- just saying.
JOY BEHAR, TV HOST: I mean he looks like an actor, sort of.
STORMY DANIELS, PORN STAR: That's why he stood out because I thought, honestly that he was, you know, sort of handsome.
MOOS (voice-over): Which brings us to the Internet's prime suspect, quarterback Tom Brady. After all, he's known to own a Make America Great Again hat.
"Yep, we got him," read one tweet.
Some even saw similarities to that infamously unattractive courtroom sketch of Brady.
But wait -- wrong.
Stormy's antagonizer is Willem Dafoe, the old version or the eerily alike young one.
MOOS: Some of the tongue-in-cheek suspects aren't even human.
MOOS (voice-over): For instance, this puppet from "Team America: World Police."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt Damon.
MOOS (voice-over): Having a prior record might be a clue. I've found him and she -- meaning Stormy -- really should be worried about Dexter, the serial killer.
Or how about a former member of the administration?
Mooch better have an alibi.
MOOS: The Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci, actually responded, countering suspicion by citing height or lack of it.
MOOS (voice-over): The Mooch tweeted, "I thought the description said he was 6'2". I am all good."
Scaramucci is reported to be only 5'8", though the actual suspect is described by Stormy as 5'9" to 6 feet, so the Mooch just misses.
We can only imagine the responses Stormy's attorney is getting to their offer of $131,000 reward.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS ATTORNEY: If people go to firstname.lastname@example.org, they can send us the information that they have --
MOOS (voice-over): The Internet is no slug when it comes to IDing the Thug -- Jeanne Moos, CNN -- New York.
VANIER: And that does it for us. I'm Cyril Vanier. The headlines are next. Stay with CNN.