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Three Americans Freed by North Korea Welcomed Home; Sources; Cohen Pitched Himself Promising Access to Trump. Aired 7-7:30p ET
Aired May 10, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R), FLORIDA: -- on border security, on stronger immigration laws. All of those issues should be debated on the floor of the U.S. House.
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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CAMEROTA: And we do begin with breaking news. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.
Our breaking news is that President Trump has welcomed home three Americans freed by North Korea after spending more than a year in captivity. The president and the first lady met with these former prisoners first inside their plane. Then they emerged, as you can see here. Here's this video from -- this all happened before dawn. Their release marks a high point in Mr. Trump's turbulent presidency.
CUOMO: The president actually tweeted out some video of their moment inside the plane with the first lady. A real hero's welcome.
And then the president came out, addressed the media and offered praise for Kim Jong-un as he stood by the men imprisoned by that regime, we believe, wrongfully.
It all comes ahead of the president's upcoming summit with the North Korean dictator. CNN is learning new details about where that historic meeting could happen and when.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny live at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland with the breaking details.
Obviously, this is good news any way you look at it. Thank God for these men getting home to their families. And what comes next?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, there is no question. You could feel the electricity when that plane landed and when they finally walked off there. A bit taken aback, I think, by the media buzz that the president, of course, had put them in. Now, of course, he is sending out that video on social media. He believes that this, of course, will pave the way for more diplomacy. It also raises the stakes.
ZELENY (voice-over): An emotional homecoming for three Americans freed after being imprisoned in North Korea. The men walking off the plane and onto American soil, flashing a victory sign with President Trump and first lady Melania Trump at their side.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to say, this is a special night for these three really great people. And congratulations on being in this country.
ZELENY: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un releasing the Americans as a show of good faith ahead of a landmark summit with President Trump.
TRUMP: Well, we're starting off on a new footing. This is a wonderful thing that he released the folks early. That was a big thing. Very important to me. And I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful.
ZELENY: It's the biggest milestone yet toward the president's quest for diplomacy with North Korea. President Trump telling reporters that releasing the prisoners shows that Kim is serious about nuclear talks.
TRUMP: I really think he wants to do something and bring that country into the real world.
There's never been a relationship like this. And we're starting from here. But I really think a lot of progress has been made.
ZELENY: It was a made-for-TV moment with the president and first lady leaving the White House in the middle of the night and arriving at Joint Base Andrews before boarding the plane for a private moment with the three Americans.
Newly-minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ushered the detainees home, following his second secret whirlwind trip to Pyongyang.
North Korean state media releasing these photographs of Pompeo with Kim Jong-un during a 90-minute meeting about the upcoming summit, toasting with red wine and smiling.
The three detainees were all Americans of Korean descent. The longest held prisoner, Kim Dong-chul, was arrested in October 2015 and accused of spying for South Korea. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years hard labor in April 2016.
Tony Kim was an accounting teacher at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was arrested in 2017 while boarding a plane to leave the country and charged with hostile acts against North Korea. Less than a month later, Kim Hak-song was detained, as well. He was also a Pyongyang University employee and was also charged with committing hostile acts against North Korea.
President Trump paying tribute to Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea in 2016 and was returned to the United States in a coma last June. He died days later.
TRUMP: A great young man who -- who really suffered. And his parents have become friends of ours. They are spectacular people. And I just want to pay my respects.
ZELENY: And it is those words of respect to Otto Warmbier that certainly puts all of this in perspective and shows what the regime is capable of doing and indeed has done.
But going forward here, we are told, CNN is learning that the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un likely to take place next month, likely in Singapore. The details are expected to be announced in the coming days.
[07:05:09] But the president now is going to be sitting down with his secretary of state, who has a lot of firsthand information now after that 90-minute meeting with Kim Jong-un to hammer out the details for what that summit will look like.
Certainly, this a big moment here. But bigger moments to come if this deal is to be worked out -- Chris and Alisyn.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Brother Zeleny, thank you very much.
Let's bring in the panel. We have CNN political and national security analyst and national security correspondent for the "New York Times", David Sanger. And CNN international correspondent Will Ripley. Will has traveled to North Korea 17 times.
David Sanger, you can look at this moment two ways. One is an unqualified hero's welcome. This is great news. The men are home, they're back with their families, and God willing, they will completely recover of a year plus in what had to be horrible conditions and really abject fear.
Then the president puts out this video of the moment. He's there. He makes a big show of it. He's with the first lady. They put out this video that's cut together to kind of emphasize his big win. Are you OK with this?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first of all, it is a terrific moment, and it's great that they're back. They never should have been taken to begin with. So seeing them and seeing them healthy after the Otto Warmbier horrible set of events is truly terrific.
It shouldn't be confused with what the path is ahead, which is a much larger and much harder geo-political problem, which is solving the North Korean nuclear problem. Now, what's interesting about this is that Kim Jong-un decided to give
them up preemptively. In other words, not only does it show good faith, but he's not holding them as a negotiating card. And I think that's a very good sign.
The fact that you have seen this increased tempo, this increased pace of diplomacy between Secretary of State Pompeo and Kim Jong-un. These men have now met twice in the past month. That's also very unusual and suggests the North may be calculating that they've got to do something completely different.
What we're not persuaded of yet is that Kim is willing to go give up the one legacy that his father and his grandfather left him and to establish an inspection regime throughout the country that would assure us that they are, in fact, completely disarmed.
And I'm still having a hard time getting my head around the thought that a North Korea that is dependent upon nuclear weapons for so many years, will think that it's safe without them.
CAMEROTA: So Will, let's talk about that. Because as we've said, you've been reporting on this for years. President Trump has said that the goal, his goal is denuclearization of North Korea. Is that within the realm of possibility from where you sit?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kim Jong-un has said that his goal is denuclearization, as well. And so has Chinese president Xi Jinping.
However, what the North Koreans think about denuclearization is kind of incremental slow steps, simultaneously with steps taken by the United States to eliminate what North Korea considers a possible policy.
Whereas what the U.S. wants is a disarmament relatively quickly, possibly in the time frame of a year or less. And complete irreversible, verifiable. Whereas the North Koreans see it as a much longer process, and they want the U.S. to -- to ensure that North Korea is safe without nuclear weapons.
Because they use the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula as justification. The military exercises which are due to kick off in the coming days, once again between the U.S. and South Korea. All of that is how they've justified building their arsenal.
And now that you have Kim Jong-un meeting twice in the last month and a half with China's president, Xi Jinping, China is essentially saying to Kim, "We have your back. We support your approach."
China also saying they want an incremental, simultaneous approach. So what the U.S. and what North Korea wants, very different. And that's going to be the big challenge.
CUOMO: David, what happens if the line winds up being peace? We keep hearing from experts that should be last. Deal with these other big- ticket things, you know, nuclearization, and what they're doing with how they treat their people in North Korea, and the militarization of that regime. That's all the priority.
And then at the end you talk about the armistice and converting that to peace. What if that's all you wind up with in a real and concrete way, that there is no official peace between the North and the South. It's no longer just a cease-fire, an armistice. If you just get that, how big a deal?
ZELDIN: If you just get that, you've got something on paper, but you have not gotten to the fundamental issue here. And the fundamental issue, as Secretary of State Pompeo has said, is full complete verifiable denuclearization. That's not just the Trump administration's position. It was the Bush administration's position, and it was the Obama administration's position.
[07:10:04] Now frankly, I could imagine a scenario, Chris, in which you did the peace treaty first. That you ended this armistice, which essentially just suspends the war, move to a period of peaceful relations, and then go get your -- your nuclear deal and do it in that order. And in fact, the Bush administration looked at that issue.
I think the question is exactly the one that we'll pose, which is for the Trump administration, they don't have a lot of time for this. They want to get the nuclear weapons out and then the production and materials out quickly.
The problem is this -- the nuclear infrastructure is so vast. And it's built up over so many years, over five presidents, that we don't even know how many nuclear weapons they have. The estimates in the U.S. intelligence agencies run from 20 to 60.
And we don't know where all of their facilities are. We've got some pretty good hints about some of them. We've never -- they've never allowed inspectors to go throughout the country.
So this is going to become the most complex nuclear inspection regime that has ever been attempted anywhere in the world. It's going to be fascinating to see how it works out. It's going to be fascinating to see if Kim Jong-un is comfortable letting people go through his country at that level of -- of study.
CAMEROTA: That's interesting context.
Will, I want to get back to the human interest side of all of this. You sat down with one of the detainees for an interview recently, and you pointed out their families were not there when they touched down on U.S. soil. Is that unusual? And do you have any thoughts on why they weren't there?
RIPLEY: I think the way that all of this went down overnight is pretty unusual. You think about when Kenneth Bae was brought home or Jeffrey Fowler or Matthew Miller, the three Americans who I interviewed back in 2014, there was no presidential, you know, live coverage that, you know, they were kind of brought home quietly and allowed to readjust to their lives before they granted interviewers. It's sometimes weeks later if they even spoke at all. And so I did
feel, knowing what Kim Dong-chul has gone through, the fact two and a half years of isolation. Of really, not only isolation from the outside world but even from other prisoners. All that he saw were North Korean guards, you know, watching him as he did his assigned tasks. He had no idea what was happening in the outside world.
And to go from that to what we saw play out, you just -- you hope that these men are getting the support that they need to readjust to life. You know, because their lives have been changed irreparably because of this experience, and they're going to need a lot of help.
CUOMO: You know, Mike Pence is doing media about this, saying the United States offered nothing, that this was a one-way exchange. But that's not really true, David, right? Because they're getting the summit. You're meeting with Kim Jong-un. You have the president of the United States saying positive things about him in a way that, really, we've never heard any U.S. president speak with the optimism and the praise for the actions of this truly murderous regime. So North Korea got plenty out of this.
ZELDIN: They did. And you know, let's remember, this is not the first time a president has gotten prisoners released. It has happened under President Obama, happened under President Bush. Sometimes the U.S. is sent delegations, and so they got something out of it.
You'll remember Bill Clinton went early in the Obama administration. Then Jim Clapper, the director of national intelligence, went and brought others out, as Will noted before.
They did get a lot out of this, though, in setting up the summit. And they've gotten a president who talks about a man who's regarded as one of the most brutal leaders, you know, killed much of his family in order to stay in power, had his half-brother killed with a nerve gas. And we're talking about him as if he's just another world leader. He's not.
That doesn't mean we should be dealing with him. I think the Trump administration deserves enormous credit for getting this going, for after years in which the Obama administration could have done much more to get a dialogue going with North Korea and I think missed the boat in not doing it.
But we're now headed into a critical moment where just praising Kim Jong-un does not necessarily get you where you need to be. And we need to stay focused on what the real objective here is. And the objective, of course, is the denuclearization part.
CAMEROTA: All right, David Sanger, Will Ripley, thank you both very much for all of the insight.
OK. Now to this story. CNN is learning new details about how President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, cashed in by selling his access to the president to secure very lucrative consulting deals from several companies.
CNN's Evan Perez is live in Washington with the details.
What's the latest here, Evan?
[07:15:03] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn.
We're talking about the way the D.C. swamp works. We're getting new insight this morning into the ways that President Trump's embattled long-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, sought to profit off his connection to the president.
This as CNN learns more about the efforts that one of the companies who worked with Cohen has taken to distance itself from ties to a Russian oligarch.
PEREZ (voice-over): After President Trump was elected, sources tell CNN that his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, quickly got to work, attempting to cash in on the victory. Multiple people familiar with Cohen's behavior say he aggressively pitched himself to potential clients as having access to the most powerful man in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'd say, "I'm Mr. Trump's pit bull." That "I am his -- I'm his right-hand man."
PEREZ: One source describing Cohen's sales pitch as, quote, "I don't know who's been representing you, but you should fire them all. I'm the guy you should hire. I'm closest to the president. I'm his personal lawyer."
Those efforts landing Cohen a number of lucrative consulting deals with companies like Novartis, AT&T, Korea Aerospace Industries and the investment firm Columbus Nova. In a 2007 SEC filing, Columbus Nova described itself as, quote, "The U.S.-based affiliate of the Renova Group of companies, one of the largest Russian strategic investors."
Renova Group is run by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who is cousins with the founder of Columbus Nova. Vekselberg was sanctioned by the U.S. government last month and questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators earlier this year about the payments Columbus Nova made to Cohen.
Columbus Nova is now attempting to distance itself from Vekselberg, removing this information about its founder's ties to Renova Group from its website. A spokesman for Columbus Nova says the website changes are being made, because the ties to Renova are being misunderstood.
Cohen now facing accusations of engaging in the very behavior the president slammed his opponent for in 2016.
TRUMP: Access and favors were sold for cash. It's called pay-for- play.
Pay-for-play. It's illegal.
PEREZ: Press secretary Sarah Sanders refusing to comment.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As you know, due to the complications of the different components of this investigation, I would refer you to the president's outside special -- outside counsel to address those concerns.
PEREZ: This as both AT&T and Novartis confirm that they have cooperated with Mueller's investigators about their business agreements with Cohen.
In a court filing, Cohen's lawyers confirming the payments from Novartis and AT&T but accusing Stormy Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who initially published the details of the transactions, of publishing other information about the wrong Michael Cohen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a response to Avenatti?
MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: His document is inaccurate.
PEREZ: Cohen's lawyers also accusing Avenatti of illegally obtaining Cohen's bank records. Avenatti firing back on Twitter, calling the court filing, quote, "baseless, improper, and sanctionable."
The Treasury Department's inspector general announcing Wednesday that they've opened a review into whether Cohen's bank records were improperly disseminated.
PEREZ: Now, the type of consulting work that Cohen engaged in is not uncommon here in Washington. And while it raises ethical questions, it's not necessarily illegal.
However, Cohen was not registered as a lobbyist when he was doing all this work. And these details, Chris, are also a reminder that, despite the repeated claims from the president that there's no collusion, remember, Mueller's team is clearly still pursuing angles that the public knows very little about.
CUOMO: Clearly, Mueller is way ahead of our understanding, and that makes sense. He's the one driving the train. But the president did make a promise to clean up the swamp, and this is some swampy stuff. Could it be illegal? We'll outline that more in the show. We have a big discussion coming up. Our thanks to Evan Perez.
All right. So the president has a big day, a big reason to celebrate. He got three American prisoners out of North Korea. What does this mean for the upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un? Let's talk to Senator Angus King about his optimism, his concerns, next.
[07:23:17] CUOMO: Good news. Three captive Americans back home, released by North Korea at the urging of the secretary of state and President Trump. There you see the president and the first lady. They are very early
this morning as the plane touched down to welcome them home. President [SIC] Mike Pence insisting no concessions were made. The U.S. offered nothing in exchange for their release.
Joining us now is Independent Senator Angus King of Maine.
Of course, that's a little deceptive, because you've got the president of the United States saying to the world, "Kim Jong-un did the right thing. I believe he wants to do the right thing going forward. This shows that." So North Korea got plenty of good press out of this, which is often why they take Americans in the first place, to have chits going into the future.
So I ask you, Senator, what is the significance of this moment to you? What does it mean for you going forward?
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, I think the first thing to say, Chris, is it's obviously -- it is good news. It is good news for these young men. It's good news for their families. And I think it is a positive development.
The fact that we're moving toward a summit with North Korea is also good news. And I think the president deserves substantial credit for that.
The bad news is that this is the fifth time we've been here. We were doing some research the other day on something entirely different and ran across a headline in "The New York Times" from 2005 that said, "North Korea agrees to dismantle nuclear program." We've had four previous negotiations on this issue. Every time the North Koreans make agreements, they get sanctions relief. And then they break the agreements.
So it's not time yet to pop the cork on this. On the other hand, I'm delighted that we're going to be entering into these negotiations. So maybe this time it will work.
[07:25:06] CUOMO: What is success? What if the armistice has ended and you have official peace and exchange of commerce and culture with North and South but nothing real on nukes?
KING: Well, I think that's progress. But that's not the main goal. Because right now South Korea's very prosperous, a very important country and important ally. North Korea, not so much.
But it's the nuclear issue that's the real concern. So that's where we -- and the problem has been in the past, Chris, is the details, the inspections, the level of openness in North Korea to inspectors and whether they will really carry through.
And as I said in the past, it's almost been a pattern, a strategy of Kim John un's father and grandfather to rattle the nuclear saber, get concessions, get some relief, get some money or food or something into the country. And then they back down when it comes time to actually inspect and do the denuclearization. So listen, I'm the first to say this is positive. The gesture of
sending these people home is positive. I think it opens the door to further discussions. And if we can pull it off, if this president can pull it off, listen, I'll be the first person to say congratulations. But I'm just -- just a word of caution of we're not there yet.
CUOMO: True. Iran, we are there. The deal has been broken by the president. The way he's acting about it will destabilize us.
Can you hear me now, Senator?
KING: No sound.
CUOMO: Still no senator?
I've been wanting to tell you, Senator, you know, the last time you were on -- no, I'm kidding.
All right. So we'll get Senator Angus King back on the communications, and we'll finish the conversation if time allows.
All right. We're going to take a quick break here right now. When we come back, we're going to talk about some news from around the world and what it means for peace.