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Merkel Meets Trump at White House; Pompeo on Nuclear Deal; Trump Honored by Intel Report; Veselnitskaya Claims She's an Informant; House Intel Report on Russia; North and South Korea Deal. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 27, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


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[13:00:10] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow, 2:00 a.m. Saturday in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

And a major development in one of the meetings at the center of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. According to a new report, the Russian lawyer who went to Trump Tower says that she is, quote, an informant and closer to the Kremlin than previously disclosed.

Plus, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee releasing their disputed report on the Russia investigation. Why even they admit the Trump campaign exercised poor judgment.

And a stunning moment, North and South Korea vowing to end the Korean War and to denuclearize the peninsula. What is behind Kim Jong-un's 180 and what this means for his meeting with President Trump.

For the second time this week, President Trump has welcomed an important ally to the White House. Today it is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The visit is a toned-down version compared with the red carpet rolled out for French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week. But while the welcome have been very different, the issues are very much the same, Iran, Syria and trade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're working on a lot of different subjects, including trade, including NATO, including military of all types, and we have a really great relationship. And we actually have had a great relationship right from the beginning, but some people didn't understand that. But we understand it, and that's what's important.

I think we'll be talking about Iran, probably, but I don't necessarily expect it one way or the other. I know we're going to have a very good discussion on Iran. As I did with Emmanuel, who has just left, the president of France. So we'll be having discussions on Iran. We'll be having discussions on trade. We'll be having various discussions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: CNN's senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown is live at the White House right now.

Pamela, we will hear from both President Trump and Chancellor Merkel, that's later this hour, but we have breaking news on the administration and Iran.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

As the president meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right now, Jim, the president's newly confirmed secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, making some news on the Iran deal, saying that it is highly unlikely that President Trump will stay in the Iran deal absent some substantial fixes and overcoming some shortcomings. Of course, some of the sticky points for this administration have been Iran's support of terrorism, as well as the fact that the deal is up in 10 years.

Here's what else Mike Pompeo had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm confident that that will be a topic on my trip throughout the Middle East as well, not only talking about the concerns that President Trump has expressed consistently, but talking about ways to potentially address those shortcomings, finding potential solution to the very flaws that President Trump has identified for a long time now.

You asked if we talked about the decision. There's been no decision made. So the team is working. And I'm sure we'll have lots of conversations to deliver what the president has made clear. Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So, as he pointed out there, time is of the essence here, Jim, because May really is the deadline for what the administration has said to re-impose sanctions to pull out of the deal. And you can imagine, as the president meets with Angela Merkel, that this will be the center of discussion once again this week. As you know, French President Macron was here speaking with the president about not pulling out of the Iran deal, and Angela Merkel also has a stake in this. She will likely try to also convince the president not to pull out.

The president also making news on a number of other fronts, including North Korea on the heels of that historic summit just yesterday with really sending out a shot to past presidents, saying that they had been played like a fiddle when it comes to North Korea. The president saying that the U.S. will not be played the same way.

Jim.

SCIUTTO: And interesting talk of getting into a new nuclear deal while talk of exiting an existing one.

Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee released the Republican version of their Russia investigation report. The White House, the president reacting particular to one line in that report.

BROWN: That's right. And no surprise here, the White House, particularly President Trump, is lauding the results of what the House Intelligence Republicans had released, saying that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians and no evidence to support the intelligence community's assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to elect President Trump.

Here's what he had to say about that.

[13:05:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were honored. It was a great report. No collusion, which I knew anyway, no coordination, no nothing. It's a witch hunt. That's all it is.

What we really should do is get on with our lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And, of course, shortly after that, the president tweeted as well, saying that there is no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated or conspired with Russia. So he spoke there, sitting next to Angela Merkel, tweeted about it there. But the bottom line here is that there is still a Russian investigation run by Robert Mueller, as you know, Jim, and that is not over. This is just coming from the Republicans who have been investigating this in the House Intelligence Committee for the past year.

Jim.

SCIUTTO: Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks very much.

Well, there is more news, if you can believe it. New details emerging about the Russian lawyer who was at the center of the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 with members of the Trump campaign. If you remember, senior Trump campaign officials, including Donald Trump Junior and the campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, met with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya on the premise that she had incriminating information, dirt, on Hillary Clinton. Initially, Veselnitskaya said that she was a private attorney. But now "The New York Times" is reporting that she has close ties to the Kremlin and is declaring herself, in an interview with NBC News, an informant.

CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is following that story.

Shimon, really an remarkable admission here in public by that Russian lawyer.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Absolutely, Jim. And when you consider the fact that she has publically, repeatedly denied that she had any association with the Russian government, that she was at this meeting acting as a private attorney, about sanctions, the Magnitsky Act, these adoptions, Russian adoptions. And now it appears, in an interview with NBC, she has admitted that she's much closer to the Russian government, and, as you say, telling NBC that she was an informant for the top prosecutor in Russian. And, obviously, anything that happens in Russia goes all the way to the top there, to Vladimir Putin.

So certainly, as you say, Jim, a stunning admission here.

And let's, you know, remind folks that this meeting that occurred at Trump Tower in 2016, as you said, during the campaign with some of the top campaign officials, is now the center of Mueller's investigation. Bob Mueller and his -- the FBI and those investigators have been focusing on the meeting, what was it about. They've also been focusing on the statement that was crafted that involved the president surrounding that meeting when it was finally reveal that this meeting occurred and "The New York Times" was first to report it. There were some questions raised about the initial statement that the president issued regarding that meeting and whether or not it was misleading. All of this certainly at the center of Bob Mueller's investigation.

And also important, Jim, and as you well know, intelligence officials, U.S. officials, are not surprised by this admission from here. They have long suspected that she was acting on behalf of the Russian government.

SCIUTTO: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

Joining me now is California Congressman Adam Schiff. He is the ranking Democratic member on the House Intelligence Committee.

It's good to have you here. There's a lot to discuss with you.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: This Trump Tower meeting has, I know, been part of your own investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians during the -- during the election. What is the importance, in your view, of this admission by this Russian lawyer, that she wasn't just a private attorney, but she was working, in effect, for the Russian government?

SCHIFF: Well, it certainly corroborates what we have seen of Veselnitskaya. She wasn't some remote third party that was only interested in adoptions. She was working to undermine the U.S. policy, the Magnitsky Act, these sanctions on Russia. And one of the things, Jim, you'll find in our minority views, which is think is very pertinent to this, is Dana Rohrabacher testified before our committee that he had a chance encounter with her in Europe, where she showed up unexpectedly at his hotel and it was his conclusion that essentially this could not have been a coincidence, that she had links to Russian intelligence. And certainly I think what we have seen of her contacts within the

Russian government, as well as her persistence in terms of one of Putin's top priorities would indicate this is not a solo agent. This is someone working on behalf of the Kremlin.

SCIUTTO: Do you see, in the pattern of behavior here, the reaching out, the offering of a quid pro quo, saying, and plus we have this dirt on Hillary Clinton that we might want to give you, even things like that, showing up in the lobby of a hotel to meet with another foreigner. Based on what you know about how Russian intelligence services behave, is this -- is this prepping a contact in effect?

SCHIFF: Oh, absolutely. This is classic Russian tradecraft. They're not going to send a card-carrying SVR, their CIA, member to meet a foreign national unless they're already recruited. They're going to send intermediaries. They're going to send people like this Maltese professor who initiated the contact with another Trump campaign person, George Papadopoulos.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

[13:10:02] SCHIFF: So Veselnitskaya very much fits this. It gives them some level of plausible deniability. But this is exactly what you would expect the Russians to do.

And, of course, the reaction that she got from the Trump campaign was, we would love to have your help. We'd love to have the Russian government's help. And more than that, we're disappointed that the material you gave us in this meeting wasn't better dirt because, after all, the Russians had told Papadopoulos, they had the stolen e-mails. And that's what the Trump campaign really wanted.

Interestingly, Jim, we set this out in our minority views, it's only days after that meeting in Trump Tower when it appears the Russians give the stolen e-mails to WikiLeaks for public dissemination.

SCIUTTO: And I want to get more into the findings of the report, but on the issue of conspiracy here, not collusion, not a legal term, let's get to conspiracy. In addition to being a member of the House Intelligence Committee, you're, of course, also a lawyer. Does it bolster a conspiracy case if the person on the other end has these more substantial ties, or would the Trump campaign have to know that? They would have to know the -- how substantial those ties are?

SCHIFF: The Trump campaign wouldn't necessarily have to know whether she's affiliated with Russian intelligence or simply working on behalf of Putin, or an oligarch close to Putin. All they would need to know is that the Russian government is trying to help their campaign, that this is unlawful and they accept that help and they coordinate in the receipt of that help. That would be a criminal conspiracy.

Interestingly, for people to wonder, what does collusion look like when it's charged as a crime. Bob Mueller has told us. In the indictment of the 13 Russians, the indictment is a conspiracy to defraud the United States. And the interesting thing about that indictment, it indicts the Russians on the social media campaign. It makes no mention of the hacking and dumping operation, the dirt on Hillary Clinton that the Trump campaign was so eager to get. Now, why is that? It's not for lack of evidence. The evidence is there.

SCIUTTO: You think it's because that line of inquiry is still open?

SCHIFF: I think it's because that line of inquiry involves U.S. persons. And either the Mueller team has not decided yet whether to charge U.S. persons or they have already made that decision and that's why they kept that part of the conspiracy separate.

SCIUTTO: OK. Stay with us. There's certainly much more to discuss. We're going to talk about Republicans on the committee releasing the disputed findings of the Russia investigation, including President Trump saying that he is honored by that report.

Plus, an historic moment. North and South Korea vowing to end their war, denuclearize the Korean peninsula. But what's behind Kim Jong- un's dramatic 180 ahead of the summit -- expected summit with President Trump?

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[13:16:49] SCIUTTO: We are continuing to follow breaking news this hour. Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee say they have found no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign leading up to the 2016 election. In their just-released, heavily redacted report, they also dispute the intelligence community's findings that Vladimir Putin tried to help Trump get elected. Republicans on the committee did say they found what they called perhaps poor judgment and inappropriate meetings by Trump campaign members.

Congressman Adam Schiff still with me here now.

I mean a tremendous number of details in here. Just to focus on a few of them, because it also relates to this Russian lawyer, who we were just speaking about.

You've noted that there was a follow-up communication from this lawyer, Veselnitskaya, who we now know was an informant for the Russian government, after Trump's election. What did she say?

SCHIFF: Well, yes. Veselnitskaya reaches back to the Trump family right after the election saying, we want to follow up now on this request we have on the Magnitsky Act. So, clearly, there's an expectation there on the Russian side that they may now have success with the Magnitsky Act. Given that the prior meeting and communications dealt with the offer of help and the request on the Russia part for repeal of Magnitsky, it certainly seems like the Russians were ready for payback.

SCIUTTO: It looks -- you're saying it has the impression of a quid pro quo?

SCHIFF: It certainly does. Certainly the Russians thought they had reason to believe, after the campaign, that they now might get the help that they sought in that meeting at Trump Tower.

SCIUTTO: OK, another detail that we didn't know about prior to the Trump Tower meeting, there were phone calls in phone logs from Donald Trump Junior. What do those phone logs show you?

SCHIFF: Yes, this is very significant. Don Junior, prior to the meeting, when this is being discussed by e-mail, because it's of the sensitive nature and they don't want to do it by e-mail, arranges to call Emin Agalarov. This is the son of this oligarch close to Putin. And we have these two calls to Emin. And the significant thing is, they're separated by a third call to a blocked number.

Now, we still have to find out, is that blocked number Donald Trump's blocked number, because we found out during the investigation that Donald Trump used a blocked number during the campaign. We asked to subpoena the phone records so we could match up, did Donald Trump receive a call at the same time Donald Junior was making that call to find out, did the president's son seek the president's permission, the go ahead to go forward with this meeting? The Republicans refused. They didn't want to know. They wouldn't ask the phone company for those records. That tells you a lot about the fundamental unseriousness that -- really the head in the sand approach the GOP took.

SCIUTTO: Now, you don't have hard evidence that that blocked number is the president's? It's just a theory that you wanted to check out by revealing --

SCHIFF: No credible investigator would leave that lead unchecked.

Now, I have to imagine that Bob Mueller will subpoena those records, if he hasn't already. And I would hope that when Bob Mueller sits down to interview Donald Trump, he asked the president, was that phone call to you?

SCIUTTO: Another issue here -- there's been a lot of talk about the attempt to establish a back channel between the Trump campaign and Russia, both before and after the election. You mentioned that there was an e-mail from an NRA official discussing this very thing. What did that e-mail show?

[13:20:06] SCHIFF: Rick Erickson (ph), who was a deeply involved member of the NRA and also had associates with the Trump campaign, e- mails Rick Dearborn, who worked extensively with Jeff Sessions, saying, I'm reaching out to you and Sessions. I'm working on establishing a back channel with the Russians. They want to do this through the NRA and make their first contact at the NRA convention with the Trump campaign.

We sought to follow-up on that and were stymied by the Republicans. But here you have, in black and white, evidence that there was an effort by the Russians to use the NRA as their channel -- one of their channels to the Trump campaign.

SCIUTTO: To use the NRA. And there was -- was there also evidence of money from Russia going towards the NRA? SCHIFF: You know, there have been allegations that the Russians were going to funnel money through the NRA. And we sought to investigate that. There were witnesses with direct knowledge regarding those allegations that we sought to bring in. The Republicans refused.

Now we are sending out letters to invite those witnesses in. We'll see whether they're willing to cooperate.

SCIUTTO: Can we assume that Robert Mueller is looking down that same line of inquiry?

SCHIFF: I would fully expect that he is.

SCIUTTO: Adam Schiff, thanks very much.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Appreciate it.

The president warning that the United States will not be played by North Korea, as the North and South agree to end their war and denuclearize. In theory, at least, the peninsula. We're going to discuss that next.

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[13:25:40] SCIUTTO: A new era of peace. That is the pledge, at least, from the leaders of North and South Korea. Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in met face to face at an historic summit this morning on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone. They declared a desire to end an era of aggression and to move ahead with efforts to formally end the Korean War, 68 years after it began.

Today's progress is being met with some optimism from Beijing all the way to Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's never gone this far. I don't think it's ever had this enthusiasm for somebody -- for them wanting to make a deal.

And, yes, I agree, the United States has been played beautifully like a fiddle because you had a different kind of a leader. We're not going to be played, OK? We're going to hopfully make a deal. If we don't, that's fine. The United States, in the past, was played like a fiddle. Money going in and nobody knew what was happening. The day after an arrangement was made -- if you called it a deal, I doubt it -- but an arrangement was made, they start with the nuclear weapons again. That's not happening to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Here with me now is Balbina Hwang. She was a former senior adviser at the State Department. And joining me from Bozeman, Montana, former U.S. ambassador to China, Max Baucus.

Ambassador, if I could begin with you.

The president said that it -- that this has never happened before. In fact, it has. The leaders of North and South Korean have met before. There have been nuclear deals before. But as he referenced, those -- those deals have fallen apart, often due to cheating by North Korea.

Based on your experience, do you see something different and more substantial in this current effort?

MAX BAUCUS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: I do. I think this meeting between President Moon and the leader, Kim, is historic. It's breathtaking. And I think Kim clearly is somewhat, if not totally, in the driver's seat. He has a plan. He's planned this for a good long time. He's built up his nukes. He's now negotiating from a position of strength. And if you look at all the details and the -- all the efforts he's undertaken prior to this meeting and subsequent with his meeting with Trump, I think it's pretty clear that this is very different.

Now, of course, we have to be clear-eyed. Let's hope that this achieves the goal that we want. But our goal is to help do all we can to make sure that goal is achieved.

SCIUTTO: Balbina (ph), you have enormous experience covering this issue. What would it take to be clear-eyed based on what -- you know, reasonable progress so far, but to kind of get it along the -- across the finish line?

BALBINA HWANG, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR, STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, I think it's very important to understand, though, that this is an inter- Korean agreement. It's also important to understand the context, that while this is historic, certainly this is the first meeting between these two Korean leaders. It's also the first inter-Korean agreement. People forget that the first inter-Korean agreement came in 1972. And if you actually look at the actual text of this agreement, these are words that were already written, frankly, in 1972. These words are actually repetitive. And they were already written in 1991, 1992, and this is really the third evolutionary agreement that came really with Kim De-Jong (ph) and Kim Jong-il in 2000, and is really the third stage of the engagement policy. So really, actually, South Korea is in the driver's seat here.

SCIUTTO: Interesting.

Ambassador, you spent a lot of time in China. And, of course, China plays a particular role in this. I want to read to you a tweet from President Trump today. He said the following, please do not forget the great help that my good friend, President Xi of China, has given to the United States, particularly at the border of North Korea. Without him, it would have been a much longer, tougher process, exclamation point.

Does -- do you think China made a real difference in bring the parties, at least this far, towards an agreement? BAUCUS: I think China's helped. I spent many, many, many meetings

talking to the Chinese, including to President Xi, and you can tell they're fairly frustrated dealing with North Korea, but they were trying. They were trying in various ways to try to get some positive influence on Kim Jong-un. So they're a part of this.

[13:29:57] But I think it's important also for us to remember that China's interest in the United States and the South Korea interests are aligned with respect to trying to get North Korea to either denuclearize totally or else freeze. And that comes down to verifications. It comes down to trust.