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Three Prisoners Released from North Korea Arrive in America; President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump Greet Released Prisoners Upon Arrival in America; Michael Cohen Accused of Selling Access to White House. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired May 10, 2018 - 8:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: There's the president with the first lady. Here's video released by the president himself, tweeted out of him, making that moment with these men back on American soil. He was there with the first lady at the crack of dawn. This is certainly a high point in Mr. Trump's turbulent presidency.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump also offering praise for Kim Jong-un as he stood by the Americans who was imprisoned by Kim's regime. Vice President Mike Pence insists the administration offered no concessions for their release.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: What's different today is that the United States is offered no concessions, nothing in exchange, and yet we do see like this remarkable moment of three Americans coming home and the commitments being made by Kim Jong-un. We see signs that this may be different, and it's all the result of President Trump's leadership.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland with all of the breaking details. So explain how this happened, Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. It was a dramatic moment overnight. We saw the vice president there standing watch at the bottom of the plane as the president and the first lady walked up to the plane to have a conversation with those three Americans who were freed. Interesting that the vice president says there were no concessions made because that is indeed what the White House has been saying. It's certainly, though, a question going forward as these diplomatic talks accelerate, will there be any concessions made on the U.S. side when Kim Jong-un and President Trump sit down in about a month's time. But overnight, at least here at Joint Base Andrews, it was a hero's welcome led by the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: 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, 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: 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 the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was arrested in April, 2017, while boarding a plan 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 an 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: Standing on the tarmac watching all of this unfold and watching the president say kind things about Kim Jong-un certainly stood in stark contrast to only a few months ago when President Trump was calling Kim Jong-un Rocket man and belittling him. But that is the point of diplomacy here. The president believes he has an opening, and they believe that they will meet likely in June, probably in Singapore. That's going to be finalized in the next couple days or so.
[08:04:56] Was this a photo op? That's what some people are saying. Sure, it was a photo-op. The president said so himself. He said I think I have the best ratings of everyone at 3:00 in the morning. But the point is there's also substance behind it. This could be a major history making move if that meeting goes well. This does not guarantee any of that. Chris and Alisyn?
CAMEROTA: Jeff, thank you very much. We want to get right now to CNN international correspondent Will Ripley and "Washington Post" national reporter Carol Morello who traveled with Secretary Pompeo during this historic trip to North Korea and came back with him early this morning. Carol, so tell us everything. You were one of just two reporters who went with Secretary of State Pompeo, and so what unfolded once you were there?
CAROL MORELLO, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, we spent about 13 hours on the ground. We arrived around 8:00 in the morning. The main mission of the trip was to discuss summit preparations between Kim Jong-un and President Trump, so Secretary Pompeo had a one hour meeting with the senior North Korean official, and then there was a luncheon also, largely dealing with the summit. And then he went to his hotel room and he sat and waited.
You have to understand, when he arrived he was not sure who was going to meet with, he did not know if he would have the chance to meet with Kim Jong-un, and he was not 100 percent confident he'd be able to leave with the prisoners. He was taking an attitude of I'll believe it when I see it.
So shortly after the luncheon, things -- the pace started to pick up. The chief of staff for Kim Jong-un came to Secretary Pompeo, to his hotel room. He said Kim Jong-un will meet with you. The secretary left the hotel shortly after 4:00, I think we saw him leave, and we saw him come back in at just about 5:30. Matt Lee of the Associated Press, the other reporter on the trip and I, approached him as he was going to the elevator and we asked him if he had any indication that there would be a good end to the day. And he just crossed his fingers and smiled and went up the elevator.
Even though we pretty much spent our time in Pyongyang in the hotel lobby, periodically U.S. officials would come down and explain to us what was happening. And so shortly after he went up, an official came down and told us that we should get ready to move, that he was -- there was going to be a release and we were going to head for the plane.
So I would say at 7:00 the assistant secretary of state for counselor affairs and a physician went to the hotel where the prisoners were being held, and we headed to the airport, and I would say less than an hour after they were released, they were on the plane. It was already dark and we were in the air headed for Japan. CAMEROTA: My gosh, what a series of events that unfolded that nobody
knew that that was going to be the outcome.
CUOMO: Including Pompeo, and that gives us a good window of insight to bring you in here, Will. One, nobody expected that what happened here was that the United States went there and demanded, give them back right now, pounded his foot on the ground, and then it happened. This was obviously a gesture from the north motivated by the north, but also a window into who you're dealing with here.
This regime does not operate like what we're expecting from allies and other operations of government in the world. This is something you're very familiar with. You go there, you wait, you don't know what's going to happen or when it's going to happen. It's all their way or the highway.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol and I have something in common. I've spent so many weeks, actually, in the Koryo Hotel in that very lobby where she was just hours ago. And you are often just sitting in the hotel waiting to be told by government officials what's going to happen because you can't leave without any supervision.
As far as the discussions about the release of these Americans, we know that these discussions have been happening for months. I talked to you guys last week when an official familiar with the negotiations told me that actually the decision on the North Korean side to release these Americans was made two months ago when North Korea's foreign minister went to Sweden. Sweden has been serving as an intermediary here and they've done a lot of work in the background to help make this moment that happened overnight actually happen.
But at the end of the day what the North Koreans wanted to do was to send a message of goodwill to President Trump, and that's why their state media actually put out an article saying that Kim Jong-un released them because President Trump made the request. That was very, very strategic and deliberate on the part of the North Koreans because they want President Trump to feel like he has a big win going into this summit because they think maybe then perhaps they will get more concessions out of him on the nuclear issue.
CAMEROTA: Carol, after this whirlwind day that you had, though much of it was spent cooling your heels in the hotel lobby, what was the plane ride like? I think you spent at least one leg all on the same plane as the prisoners, and so what were they doing? How did they appear?
[08:10:04] MORELLO: You have to understand the secretary was adamant that we would not do anything to infringe on their privacy. And we were told on the plane we would not have an opportunity to talk with them, and we wouldn't even be able to watch them from afar. As I've said, the only glimpse we got of them was in silhouette in the dark through the plane window. They seated them in a separate area from the rear of the plane where
we were seated, and they had two heavy curtains dividing the two sections right where the two bathrooms are. And they placed the curtains on a diagonal and came back and told us we would use the bathroom on the right and the bathroom on the left would be for them.
So they put them on the plane and took them off without us seeing them. We made the request to at least ask them if they would be interested in talking with us. I don't know if that request was ever passed to them or not. But it was all out of an abundance of concern that the secretary had that after what they had been through, they would -- they would not be pestered, there would be no invasion of their privacy immediately on their release.
CUOMO: So let me ask you something in terms of preparations. It's so interesting that the secretary of state didn't know if you were going to get the hostages back or the detainees or whatever you want to call them. Let's be honest, we know why the North Korean regime takes Americans in the first place, or that he would have to meet with Kim Jong-un when he was on the ground there. Is that right, Carol, that the secretary of state didn't really know and wasn't expecting to have to see the leader?
MORELLO: Well, I think he had an indication he probably would. I think he had -- he was certainly hoping he would. But as I said, he was taking the attitude of I'm not going to believe anything good is going to happen until it actually happens. He didn't want to raise expectations too high. So he was not 100 percent. And they kept telling us the main mission was to discuss the summit, but they spent barely an hour talking about that in meetings. The bulk of the day was spent waiting for the prisoners to be released.
CAMEROTA: So then what was Secretary Pompeo's demeanor and attitude once there was this huge victory, and when you were heading back to the airport and on the planes with them?
MORELLO: He came back and talked to us. We asked him, you know, what his first words were to them and how he felt about the release. He said he was thrilled. He said the first thing he said to them was I know you're not home yet but welcome home. We were told not by the secretary but by another source that when the men came on board that one of the men had tears in his eyes. What they later said in a more formal statement, thank you very much and God bless America. So it was a little more emotional. But the secretary did not share that with us. He was actually cool as a cumber and he was mostly concerned that the men not have their privacy invaded.
CUOMO: What did they have ready on the plane in terms of support for the men? Do you know that? Did they come equipped with medical or different types of coping help?
MORELLO: There was a doctor, there was a psychiatrist on board. And then when we landed in Japan, there was a separate plane waiting for them that had more intensive medical equipment, if that was needed. The secretary told us they were in good health. That was all they would tell us. I could see that they were walking on their own when I saw them in silhouette. But they apparently did not need it, but there was a sense that they needed to have a little bit more screening. But on that initial two hour leg when they were on the flight going to Japan, there was a physician and a psychiatrist. And then they went to a more intensive situation, an environment for the rest of the way home which involved a refueling stop in Anchorage. So they easily had another 15, 16 hours ahead of them.
CAMEROTA: And Carol, were you able to watch the moment when they arrived here and landed?
MORELLO: I saw their plane -- our plane -- the secretary's plane was parked maybe 300 feet away from where their plane got off and where President Trump was waiting to meet them. And Secretary Pompeo got off of our plane immediately and was whisked over there. So I could see it but from afar. So I wasn't able to see so much. I'm going to have to watch TV this morning to see what happened literally before my very eyes.
CUOMO: Any knowledge, on the more trivial side, but I'm sure it's not for these gentlemen, were there any comforts provided to them?
Was there anything that they had ready assuming that these men would be craving some of just the basic comforts of freedom?
MORELLO: I don't know. They gave us very few details.
CAMEROTA: Will, it's impossible not to see you smiling. You interviewed one of these men when he was in captivity, and just listening to Carol's story about their odyssey home. What are your thoughts?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean it's just -- I'm -- I'm -- I'm riveted and I -- and I can't even see Carol but I'm kind of imagining as she's describing all of this. I mean, what a trip to be on, what a moment to witness. And I'm comforted that Kim Dong Chul and Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim were protected at least on -- on that flight. You know, as reporters we obviously always want to have the opportunity to sit down for an interview. We want to ask as many questions as possible. But in North Korea when Kim Dong Chul was presented to us, at that time nobody knew that an American was even in North Korean custody.
And he didn't have a choice about whether or not he was going to be paraded in front of our cameras. We were brought to a conference room and then the door opened and in walked this man and they said this is a U.S. citizen. Here he is. Interview him. He's a spy and that's -- I mean we had no prep. We didn't know who we'd be speaking with. That's the way it's often worked when we interviewed detainees in North Korea. And then later they provided us with his U.S. Passport. We reached out to the State Department and it was quite a long process to actually confirm that indeed he was a U.S. citizen.
So all of the rights that he didn't have in North Korea, it sounds like he did have those rights once he was back in the hands of the United States and that makes me feel -- that makes me feel very good to hear. I hope he continues to get support moving forward. Because it's going to be quite an adjustment after two and a half years of isolation and being held prisoner in North Korea with no contact, not only with his family but with any outside world.
CUOMO: Literally breaking rocks. Doing hard labor. We have to remember the context. This is a beautiful moment. It's a great moment and it was somewhat of an unlikely moment. But this is a bad regime that does bad things sometimes to Americans.
CAMEROTA: But Will thank you so much for sharing all of your personal reflections on this and Carol thank you for being our eyes and ears during this entire release process. Thank you for being with us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: So CNN also learning new details about how Michael Cohen hitched his access to the President to land potential clients. Did he class legal lines? We dig in on that next.
[08:17:23] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[08:20:56] ALISYN CAMEROTA: CNN is learning new details about how President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen cashed in selling his access to the President to secure lucrative consulting deals from several companies. Is this legal? Joining us now is Victoria Toensing, Informal Legal Advisor to President Trump also Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General. Victoria great to have you hear.
VICTORIA TOENSING, INFORMAL LEGAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good morning.
CAMEROTA: So what do we think Viktor Vekselberg's company got for half a million dollars from Michael Cohen?
TOENSING: Well Aliyson, I'll answer this question very briefly but I was really invited here to talk about whether the President can be subpoenaed in the legal issues behind that. I'm just going to say that there's such a confusion of facts about this. I don't know who owns who or what Russian oligarch is involved and neither does any of the press who's reporting on it. I do know it's sort of welcome to the swamp because one of his biggest providers of money was Patton Boggs which is an old Democrat firm and Tommy Boggs made bazillions of dollars over his Democratic influence.
CAMEROTA: What is -- did they give money to Michael Cohen?
TOENSING: Yes. They did, $500,000. See I'm reading this stuff.
CAMEROTA: No, so I'm just -- just to be clear. So you're saying that Democrats and a Russian oligarch gave money to Michael Cohen and that's swampy to you.
TOENSING: Yes. Except Michael Cohen doesn't live or work in the swamp so he really doesn't know how to get along in it. So like the rest of us who -- who lives here. CAMEROTA: So it's naive. So it's not -- is it swampy or is it not swampy?
TOENSING: I don't know. I don't know. I was really invited here by your booker to talk about whether the President can be subpoenaed. So --
TOENSING: Because I'd really like to.
CAMEROTA: Well that's a problem because I thought we could talk about all of the threads of what's happening with this Administration and the news of the day --
TOENSING: I said (inaudible) Michael Cohen or Stormy because I don't know anything about it except what I read in the papers.
CAMEROTA: I don't have any questions about Stormy. But I do have a lot of questions about Michael Cohen because it is news of the day. Let me ask you this generally. OK. So generally speaking, if a President's fixer or right hand person were cashing in and publicizing themselves as having access to the President. Would that be legal?
TOENSING: It's not illegal. I don't know any -- any law that's illegal about that. It's sort of like, you remember back in the Clinton Administration friends of Bill, FOB's and the press even had an initials for it. So James Carville who wasn't, you know, part of the Administration also made lots of money.
CAMEROTA: OK. So you would have been comfortable with Huma Abedin say for President Hillary Clinton if it had gone that way. Say -- billing herself as having the best access and you need to fire everybody else you have, hire me because I have the best access to --
TOENSING: I think she did that at the State Department Aliyson. In fact Huma had three jobs that she was being paid for simultaneously and -- and I think that was a matter of illegality.
CAMEROTA: Well -- hold on.
TOENSING: Why I was invited to be here.
CAMEROTA: Well, Victoria I'm asking because you are a lawyer and you're an informal legal advisor to the President. So why are you saying that --
TOENSING: Let me tell you what I do. I prepare whenever I come to do a show, I always prepare. That's the lawyer in me. And so I had said I'm not going to talk about Cohen or Stormy and I'll be glad to talk about the subpoena and I would hope that you would like to talk to me about whether the President can be subpoenaed.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I do in part. But I just want to know why the double standard.
TOENSING: I didn't know there was a double standard.
CAMEROTA: Why are you saying Huma Averdin that's illegality but not what Michael Cohen's doing?
TOENSING: Because she was on the government payroll and then she was on private company's payroll at the same time. And I who have been in the government know that you can't do that. You can't even take, I mean, the rules are so strict about what you can do and take from a third party when you're in government. I couldn't even take a limo to go make a speech.
CAMEROTA: OK. So the idea -- but just again. Hypothetically -- generally speaking, not hypothetically because it's actually happening. So generally speaking from a foreign adversary like Russia --
TOENSING: No. No it -- but -- but your facts are wrong. Aliyson, you've got a problem. Your facts are wrong.
TOENSING: I understand and here's the equivalent. What I've read this morning. And it -- and I didn't come prepared. I just want the viewers to know because I wasn't told this. But what I read this morning about this story was it's the equivalent of if you're banking and -- and a Russian oligarch is also banking in that same bank. That that's the kind of connection that is there. So I think people ought to get their facts straight before we start getting into a story.
CAMEROTA: Here's our graphic of the connection. This is the Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg. He owns this Russian conglomerate. It's called Renova Group. They're U.S. affiliate which they call their investment (inaudible). In order to do investing.
TOENSING: Well I think your graphics are wrong.
CAMEROTA: This is from their website. This is from their website. It's called Columbus Nova and Columbus Nova paid Michael Cohen $500,000. So they have since scrubbed it from their website. But yesterday on their website, this was there investment (inaudible) of this --
TOENSING: Aliyson, why are you continuing to ask me about this issue?
CAMEROTA: -- what the facts are in terms of how the money got there.
TOENSING: I can tell you what I read this morning in the Washington Post story. That's what I can tell you. I know nothing else about this and I don't want to talk about it.
CAMEROTA: OK. So let's talk about what you'd like to talk about. If the President is subpoenaed by Robert Mueller's team will he comply?
TOENSING: I would recommend that he not comply and here are the legal reasons. The President cannot be indicted. I think we can all agree on that. By now, everyone knows that. That there's two very strong OLC opinions. One in 1973 and the other in 2000 that not only talk about the -- the separation of powers issue the executive -- the chief executive positioning himself in front of the court. But the -- the -- there are so many policy reasons as the OLC opinion says it boggles the imagination to think of an executive having to deal with a criminal trial.
So the only avenue for Mueller is impeachment. Here is the problem. You can't use a grand jury just to get evidence that you want. The grand jury has to be used with the ultimate end to be an indictment. Mueller is illegally using. He's abusing is really the term the grand jury to get testimony from the President.
CAMEROTA: But -- but we also which I just say so that we're clear. We also always here that no American, not even the President of the United States is above the law. So there has to be a legal process by which if the President does something wrong. The President is punished.
TOENSING: No but you're forgetting the separation of powers and Constitutional issues Aliyson. The -- of course no one is above the law and Donald Trump is not above the -- above the law. But the President has certain -- certain very special authority that cannot be abused by the other branches of government. Mueller is in -- is an executive branch person. It wasn't clear when Ken Starr was independent counsel what kind of legal animal he was. But Mueller is for sure part of the executive --
CAMEROTA: And why is that? Why is he different than Ken Starr?
TOENSING: Because there was a law written for Ken Starr and it was really a bad law and it wasn't written well. All kinds of branches were involved in it and that's why it was never renewed.
CAMEROTA: But if a special prosecutor or a Special Counsel can't investigate the President, than who could?
TOENSING: No, I didn't say he couldn't investigate. I said he cannot indict. He can -- it can only have impeachment is the only process.
CAMEROTA: But before we get to indictment, I mean in terms of just getting to the bottom of things, getting the information. Didn't -- did you support Bill Clinton having to explain what he knew?
TOENSING: I -- he did not -- I didn't care what he did legally. But his lawyers decided to succumb and to agree to be interview so there you go.
(CROSSTALK) CAMEROTA: -- idea of getting to the bottom of things.
TOENSING: No because I like the Constitution better Aliyson.
TOENSING: Let me explain because I'm here to tell the law. He's -- Mueller is part of the executive branch. The executive branch can't use it's awesome powers to take information and then give it to Congress because that's the only thing Bob Mueller can do with this information. He cannot use it to indict the President. He can only use it to provide it to Congress for impeachment. So that is improper. It's a violation of the separation of powers. That's the way the Constitution works.
CAMEROTA: OK. I appreciate your --
TOENSING: Go back to Thomas Jefferson or all kinds of Presidents who have asserted that.
CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about Rudy Giuliani, the President's new lawyer.
CAMEROTA: Have you been pleased with his media blitz?
TOENSING: Oh listen. Rudy and my husband Joe diGenova go back a few decades. Because we -- when Rudy was U.S. Attorney for New York. Joe was U.S. Attorney for Washington, DC and I was Deputy Assistant Attorney General. So we all worked together in the Reagan Justice Department. Rudy is showing that the President is now ready to fight and I think that's a very good thing.