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Report: Kim Jong-Un Releases Three American Captives; Trump Says There Will Be Very Severe Consequences If Iran Restarts Nuke Program; Haspel Waffles On Issue Of Torture Being Immoral; New Link To Russia Between Cohen And Viktor Vekselberg. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar in for Brooke Baldwin. One day after announcing his decision to exit the landmark Iran nuclear deal, President Trump is now issuing a warning to Iran about what would happen if it were to restart its nuclear program.

This is all happening as the president seems to make major head way on another nuclear threat, that's the one from North Korea. Just ahead of the expected summit between Trump and the North Korean leader there is a significant gesture of cooperation. Three Americans detained in North Korea are now on their way home and the president plans to meet them when they land at Andrews Air Force Base in the early hours overnight.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody thought this was going to happen and if it did, it would be years or decades frankly. Nobody thought this was going to happen. And I appreciate Kim Jong un doing this and allowing them to go.


KEILAR: Now the president also revealed more about where this historic face to face is going to happen between him and Kim Jong un. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is the summit going to take place?

TRUMP: We're going to announce that within three days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within three days?

TRUMP: We're just working arrangement. But it's been picked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will it be in the DMZ?

TRUMP: It will not be.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: So, revealing maybe where it will not be. CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown is joining us now. She's been following all of this. There's this warning against Iran. What did the president say?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A day after withdrawing from the Iran deal, the president was asked during that cabinet meeting what he plans to do if Iran restarts it's nuclear weapons program. He issued a stern warning.


TRUMP: I would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program. I would advise them very strongly. If they do, there will be very severe consequence.


KEILAR: Unclear what he means by severe consequences. He was asked at the joint press conference with Angela Merkel whether he would consider military action if it did and at that time he would not say. But he did say that Iran will not have nuclear weapons, you can bank on that. So, some tough rhetoric there from the president against Iran. All of this is raising questions about what will happen with North Korea and a potential nuclear weapons deal with North Korea.

Some critics of the president withdrawing from the Iran deal said that gave the wrong message to North Korea, that the U.S. will just pull out at any time, however, the president's national security adviser says just the opposite it sends the message the U.S. will not accept an inadequate deal. The president seemed very cautiously optimistic today in terms of reaching a deal, saying we have a good shot of reaching a deal, especially after this goodwill gesture from the North Koreans releasing those three detainees that are on their way back to the U.S. and who the president will be greeting at the Andrews Air Force Base in the middle of the night.

KEILAR: It is pretty interesting the timing on that. On North Korea where the talks are going to be a lot of folks thought if you were going to cast this and location scout it, the way the president values just that sort of thing, the DMZ would be a perfect place for that. Now it sounds like that has been ruled out.

BROWN: That's right. For the first time today, he publicly ruled that out in a cabinet meeting which is a little bit surprising. As you know, Brianna, the president threw that out there as a fitting background for a meeting with Kim Jong un. At this point it appears that Singapore is a leading place potentially for the summit to happen because it's seen as a place of neutrality and a place that's in close proximity to North Korea. The president saying, though, that we're going to find out within three days the date and the location of the potential summit. Of course, he has put timelines on things before and the ball has moved so we'll have to wait and see if it is within three days.

KEILAR: He does like to create that suspense. Pamela Brown, thank you so much. Now President Trump's pick to lead the CIA appearing on Capitol Hill today for her Senate confirmation hearing. Gina Haspel faced tough questions about her past within the department and what role did she play concerning controversial and now banned torture techniques. At one point her testimony was interrupted by protesters. When asked if she thought torture was immoral, she actually waffled on it. Here are some highlights.


GINA HASPEL, NOMINEE FOR CIA DIRECTOR: I thought we did extraordinary work. To me the tragedy is that the controversy surrounding the interrogation program as I have already indicated to Senator Warner, I fully understand that. But it has cast a shadow over what has been a major contribution to protecting this country.

[14:05:00] SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R), CONNECTICUT: Should the CIA even be in the business of interrogating detainees?

HASPEL: Having access, direct access to a terrorist is extremely valuable for intelligence collection and we do that. But CIA does not today conduct interrogations. We never did historically and we're not getting back in that business.

HEINRICH: What would you do if the president ordered you to get back in that business?

HASPEL: Senator, the president has selected me to give him advice. I would not restart under any circumstances an interrogation program at CIA, under any circumstances.


KEILAR: Now Haspel will need some Democratic support to win nomination and add to that today more than 100 retired and former career ambassadors are expressing serious concerns about her nomination. With us is a former intelligence at the CIA and is the author of "The President's Book of Secrets." You say this should not be a referendum on harsh interrogation techniques, that this is about Gina Haspel, that she's qualified. But Trump has said she is qualified in part because she's tough on terrorism. How do you separate her role in overseeing a black site shortly after 9/11 from that? She's tough on terrorism?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: We as a country made a decision about that. It was ten years ago. We're not doing that anymore. The enhanced techniques off the table. There's only a few people who still think they should be used. One of those happens to be the president. But she could not have been more clear in her statement today about what she would do it asked. And that was not on my watch. He essentially echoed the language that Mike Hayden used a few years ago when he was asked another president ordering waterboarding in particular. And if he said if a president or does it he's going to have to bring his own bucket because people at CIA are not going to do that.

KEILAR: So, in your opinion she has closed the door when it comes to enhanced interrogation techniques or torture. Having a compass about decisions, tough decisions that she would inevitably make as CIA director would not be limited to enhanced interrogation techniques. So, to critics of hers who say that is a concern, torture is a concern, but it was also how she made a decision or decided to go along with something that was immoral in their belief, this could apply to other conundrums that she might face.

PRIESS: Absolutely. I would hope this would come up in the classified conversation. Because some of the details about that program are still classified. The question about reality, that's something she probably could have hit harder in the open hearings.

KEILAR: You didn't love her answer on that?

PRIESS: No. It wasn't as direct as her other answers she was very direct about would I do this again? No, I would not. I would not accept that order, but she was not clear on the immorality question that Senator Harris asked. Now the question does demand some explanation, whether it's a yes or a no and I strongly suspect she would say no in her heart of hearts, I strongly suspect that we would need a longer explanation than these quick five-minute question and answers that each senator allows.

KEILAR: There is going to be this closed session. There is going to be a chance for senators to ask her things that we're not privy to. Now we have been privy to them and some of the reporting. It is interesting, if you go and read about Gina Haspel online, there's a lot of information you're not going to hear in this hearing. She was a chief of a black site in Thailand starting in 2002, prisoners were tortured there, prisoners at least in one case ended up multiple times, many dozens of times, on videotape. And she according to her then boss, who ordered the destructions of the tapes, wrote the cable that ordered the destruction of the tapes. Details of some of these things we are not going to see them as the public.

PRIESS: And there were some interesting exchanges on that today. When it came to the drafting of the cable, which Jose Rodriguez, the chief, then put out in his name, it was interesting to hear it came up does this mean a speech writer is responsible for what I say? She was chief of staff. We have to remember in that term is staff. She was not in a policy making position. She was asked to put his thoughts to paper. She did that. And that became the cable that was a matter of record.

Should she answer the questions about this in more depth? I hope so. I think in the classified session they can get into more of the nuance and there is very little that can't come up in that classified session. That is an environment where the Senators can put more out there as opposed to the theater that we saw today when people asking questions sometimes repeating questions that have been asked earlier.

[14:10:00] But asking questions so they could be on the record making this statement against this nominee. I suspect in the classified session you'll get much more nuance on this but also more details about the things that were not discussed, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. More about Russia and China that weren't allowed to come up. Those were the major issues facing us. Not a decision that she made more than 15 years ago.

KEILAR: But there were also some important questions about where she fell on the issue of torture, even as the support for it started to wane. Would have liked to hear more answers on that for sure.

PRIESS: She should flesh that out a little bit and hopefully she'll have the chance to now.

KEILAR: David, thank you so much. And we're going to have a guest in the next hour who has a different perspective than you. So, we'll cover all the angles.

Now to the Russia investigation. Where does the money trail lead? CNN has learned that the special counsel is looking into why the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company linked to a Putin ally. Also, was it a stunning accidental admission, President Trump revealing for perhaps the very first time what is really behind his fake news attacks. Will be back in a moment.


KEILAR: He's admitted to paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money. Now Michael Cohen is linked to another six-figure payment. This time Cohen didn't shell it out but reportedly received it, multiple times and the biggest coming from a company that has Russian ties. The CIA has questioned Victor Vekselberg. Michael Avenatti, Daniels' lawyer, is now making this big accusation zip also think it's patently improper for Michael Cohen to be selling access to the president of the United States. You have Michael Cohen, his right-hand attorney who appears to have been selling access to the Russians, to other foreign entities and multi-national corporations.

There's a lot to unpack here. I have Shimon here to explain. Connect the dots between the oligarch, Vekselberg.

SHIMON PROKUPESZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: He's the owner of a Russian conglomerate that is linked to a U.S. financial company called Columbus Nova, who paid some $500,000 to Michael Cohen, which they deposited into the same account that he used to pay -- to hush Stormy Daniels.

That money went from Columbus Nova, money that Columbus Nova says was for business dealings, went from Columbus Nova to Michael Cohen. Why in the end why all of this matters is because of Viktor Vekselberg. He attended the December 2015 dinner in Moscow that Michael Flynn attended. He also attended the inauguration, Trump's inauguration.

And then here is the other key thing, that Vekselberg is the cousin of the person who owns, who is the CEO, the head of Columbus Nova, which gave money to Michael Cohen and that same cousin also donated some $285,000 to the Trump inauguration and victory funds. All of this has come under scrutiny by the special counsel. The company Columbus Nova issued a statement essentially and in it they claim that Viktor Vekselberg has not provided any funds, and as we've been reporting this certainly has come under the scrutiny of the special counsel. Viktor Vekselberg was stopped by U.S. agents when he came to the U.S. where he questioned about some of these payments and that investigation is still ongoing.

KEILAR: Shimon. thank you very much. I want to discuss this with our CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

[14:20:00] You had clearly a number of companies that were trying to find a channel to president Trump through Michael Cohen and they were paying him big bucks to do that. You just said one of these companies has quite an amazing statement.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: They're throwing Michael Cohen under the bus. Novartis is saying they thought he could advise the company how they could address certain U.S. matters such health care. Then they say the agreement was for a year, Michael's company was paid $100,000 a month and they one meeting with him and they determined he would be unable to provide the services that he thought he was going to provide but they couldn't fire him because they could only fire him for cause, so they continued to pay him for no work through February 2018.

KEILAR: It seems like cause would be if you can't deliver. If you can't deliver what you expected, all they maybe --

BORGER: Maybe that's a little difficult point to make.

KEILAR: So, you see it as legitimate. We should also point out it not just legitimate meaning this is within the bounds of normalcy, Washington standards. Sorry, but that's the truth, right? You have Novartis, there's also AT&T, Korea Aerospace. So, it's allowed but this isn't the kind of thing that a lot of Americans say that's so gross, that's so Washington and President Trump said he was going to drain the swamp.

BORGER: Well, this is the swamp, except the swamp was located in New York and not in Washington, DC what had you Michael Cohen doing was saying, look, I have access to the president, I know how the president thinks, I know how the president makes decisions and this is just my surmise because that is what lobbyists do, behaving as somebody who would have influence over the president of the United States. I think the big question we have to answer is did he talk to the president about substantive matters. One person I spoke to said no, not really.

We do know that their relationship, they had to stop talking to each other completely because of this Mueller investigation, but we do know when Stormy Daniels occurred, the president invited Michael Cohen to Mar-a-Lago to presumably discuss the Stormy Daniels case. So, whether Michael Cohen could pick up the phone, call the president and say, hey, my client, Novartis, my client AT&T, you know, whatever my clients are, they want to know what you're going to do on X, Y and Z, we don't know the answer on that but seems like Novartis figured it out pretty quickly was, no, he can't, he doesn't.

KEILAR: Thank you for that.

Three American detainees released by North Korea are on their way back to the U.S. as we speak. What is behind this stunning diplomatic shift, as we get new details on the location of Trump's face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong un.


KEILAR: Now to a very big story that is unfolding right now from the Korean peninsula. Three American detainees held in North Korea for months have now been released. President Trump getting out ahead of any official statement he said with a tweet saying that the three men are on a flight back to the U.S. right now along with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. So that official statement coming from his Twitter account. Will Ripley spoke to one of the detainees back in 2016 about how and why he was detained. He did speak in the presence of a North Korean official, should we know, so it impossible to say if this detainee was speaking under duress.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How did it work? How did you pass on the information that you collected?

KIM DONG-CHUL, AMERICAN IMPRISONED IN NORTH KOREA, (through translator): I bribed a local resident and I had him gather important materials considered national secrets in this country, such as military secrets, nuclear related materials. I got the materials hid them in my car and secretly brought him to China where I handed them over. Or I would go South Korea and deliver them directly.

RIPLEY: Kim Dong-chul and two other men are set to touch down on American soil at 2 AM tomorrow. The president is saying that he is going to be there and that early morning hour to greet them when they land.

KEILAR: To discuss this, I want to bring in Gordon Chang is a columnist for "The Daily Beast," he is also the author of "Nuclear Showdown -- North Korea Takes on The World." Gordon, when you see the release of these American prisoners happening so close in time to the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong un, how does that play into that?

[14:30:00] GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST FOR "THE DAILY BEAST": It certainly sets a good atmosphere in the case that will follow. It's also an indication that Kim Jong un wants to have a good relationship with us because these three detainees came back in good health. Contrast that to Otto Warmbier when he came back in a vegetative state. It is an indication of where Kim is thinking.

KEILAR: What does this tell you about how the president is influencing relations with North Korea and also where Kim Jong un is willing to budge on any American demands. Does this tell you anything about that?

CHANG: Well, there are other things that tell us about that p. You know, we've seen, for instance, a number of commentators in Asia, people who have spent their whole lives in North Korea saying that the president's threats, fire and fury and all the rest of them, did convince the governments of North Korea or South Korea that they had to change their policies, or they were heading to war. The fact that Kim is willing to release these three is some sense I guess that he's concerned about what president Trump might do and the statements that the president made yesterday when he announced the withdrawal of the Iran deal.