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North Korea Suspends Talks With South Korea; Senate Majority Leader Calls on White House to Apologize for Mocking McCain's Brain Cancer; Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 15, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Moments ago, the Senate majority leader said that that should happen.


QUESTION: Does it bother you that, almost a week ago now, someone on the president's staff insulted one of your senior colleagues, John McCain, with this morbid joke, and then no one from the White House has apologized for it, even today, as part of (OFF-MIKE)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, the person who said that should apologize, and should apologize publicly.


KEILAR: Well, the president has been more focused on how this comment went public, tweeting -- quote -- "Leakers are traitors and cowards."

I want to turn to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill and CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Jeff, we've heard from some senators. What's the White House saying about this meeting?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the White House is saying about the meeting that it was the president's chance to have an opportunity and an audience with these senators.

And he came in with a full plate of things to talk about. And I am told that he spent most of the time essentially filibustering, to use a term of the Senate there. He was talking a lot about the 2018 agenda, about that potential historic summit with Kim Jong-un next month in Singapore, and also talking about the 2018 midterm elections and other parts of the agenda.

He was not coming in, of course, to talk about John McCain. He didn't mention him at all. And he wasn't asked about it. So the White House is seeing this as a sign that this is still something that Republican senators seem to find it a lot easier to ask questions and criticize the president and the White House from afar. But up close, that certainly did not happen. And within the last few seconds, Brianna, we saw Speaker Paul Ryan and

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy coming over here to the White House, I'm told, to have a meeting on immigration.

So, clearly, the agenda is at issue, but no one in the room pressed the president on it. And I think the White House would suggest that that is a sign that the president is still firmly in control of his Republican Party.

KEILAR: Manu, what are your sources telling you about this lunch and how this all went down?


It went on for about an hour. The president spoke most of the time. He talked a lot about his accomplishments. He promised to campaign, in the words of one senator -- quote -- "everywhere" and all of the key states.

And there were actually only two questions that senators asked. And it didn't have to do with this remark about John McCain and it also didn't have to do with that Trump tweet from over the weekend about the Chinese electronics maker ZTE, saving Chinese jobs, something that has actually sparked significant concern, even from a top Senate Republican, John Cornyn, who told me yesterday he did plan to raise this with the president today.

It is unclear if he just wasn't able to have time to talk about this because the president spoke for so long. And it was only two questions were ultimately asked. Now, ahead of the meeting, there were still some significant concerns from senators about those remarks that White House aide Kelly Sadler made about John McCain.

Take a listen.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I don't understand it, why you just don't apologize and move on. That would be easier do. It wasn't the president making the statement, but I'm sure, if he asked her to apologize, she would. So I don't know why he hasn't.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The best way for this to be put to rest -- and it should have happened immediately -- would have been for the White House to issue a public apology to the entire McCain family.

RAJU: Do you think Trump should, too, the president himself?

COLLINS: I think it would be helpful if the president made clear that those kinds of comments are not acceptable, rather than criticizing the leaker.


RAJU: Now, again, that did not come up at the lunch today, but what did come up at the lunch was Gina Haspel, the president's nominee to be the CIA director.

He hoped that she would get confirmed soon. And all indications are that she will get confirmed soon. Brianna, we are learning that two new Democratic senators have announced their support for Gina Haspel, one, Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying that he would support Gina Haspel, as well as Heidi Heitkamp, the North Dakota senator, red state senator up for reelection in a state that Trump won big.

That brings the number up to four Democratic senators who have announce their plans to support this nomination, more than enough that they will need to ultimately get Gina Haspel confirmed. She will be voted out of committee tomorrow, probably on the floor by the end of the week, potentially.

So at least the president will get a victory on the CIA director nominee, after she's faced a lot of concern and criticism over her views of torture and the interrogation program, something that she has tried to clean up and walk back in private meetings over the last several days here, Brianna.

KEILAR: Manu Raju on the Hill, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you so much to both of you.

Now, if the White House were to issue a public apology to the McCain family, as so many Republicans senators are demanding, this would be a rare moment in the Trump administration.

And with me now to explain why is Zach Wolf. He's our CNN politics digital editor.

Zach, there have been so many calls. We're hearing them, maybe not in this meeting between Republicans and the president, but certainly publicly you hear this from senators.


They want the president to say that he's sorry. They want the White House to issue a public apology, but this isn't really the M.O. for President Trump.


And you could say his political mantra since he's been in politics is don't apologize for anything almost ever. I mean, he started his campaign referring to Mexicans as rapists, kind of writ large the entire country. No apology there.

He's tangled with John McCain. Remember, he essentially made fun of John McCain for being a POW back in 2015. Didn't apologize for that. He, in a closed-door meeting with staffers, made fun of Carly Fiorina's face, and that leaked out.

Jake Tapper -- CNN's Jake Tapper asked him about that during a debate, and he essentially had the opportunity to apologize to Carly Fiorina. Instead, he just said, you have a beautiful face, but didn't kind of say, I'm sorry, which he could.

He retweeted that Megyn Kelly was a bimbo. He said a lot of other things about her too. She actually personally asked him about that, read the tweet back to him. And he said, excuse me, but did not offer an apology. There are others.

There's Ted Cruz, accusing the guy's father essentially of being involved in the Kennedy assassination. There were a lot of calls that he should apologize in that case. He never did. Cruz did, however, go on to endorse him in the campaign. And then, more recently, as president, he used some unfortunate language to refer to countries in Africa, saying he didn't want immigrants from those countries coming to the U.S. because he didn't like those countries and also Haiti.

He met with African leaders. It didn't seem like there was an apology there either.

So, I wouldn't hold your breath this time.

KEILAR: Now, it's stunning, though. When he does apologize, it's very -- it's very infrequent. It's in his own way, but he's done it on a couple occasions.

WOLF: That's right.

I think the first one that you have to pay attention to was when he retweeted some anti-Muslim videos from a fringe political party. Piers Morgan, the former CNN personality, actually basically dared him to apologize during an interview in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year.

Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're telling me that's a horrible few people, horrible racist people...


TRUMP: ... I would certainly apologize, if you would like me to do that. I know nothing about them.

MORGAN: And you would disavow yourself of people like that?

TRUMP: I don't want to be involved with people. But are you telling me about these people, because I know nothing about these people.



WOLF: There you go. He said, I will apologize if you want me to. It didn't really sound very sincere.

I think the most popular -- most apologetic moment of his presidency and the clearest apology he's ever had was with the "Access Hollywood" tape, when he used unfortunate language about women and what he wanted to do with them.

He was essentially forced to come out and give an apology. He taped a response. And then he talked about it again at a presidential debate. Take a listen to that.


TRUMP: This was locker room talk. I'm not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly, I'm not proud of it. But this is locker room talk.


WOLF: So, locker room talk. I'm kind of sorry, but really it's locker room talk.

In the taped apology that he gave, he actually used that to pivot and then attack Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. And then he brought Bill Clinton accusers to that debate he was just at.

KEILAR: All right, Zach Wolf, thank you so much for that little trot down memory lane. We appreciate it.

We do have some news just in to CNN.

I want to go ahead and get to M.J. Lee with some new details.

M.J., catch us up here. This is about a Qatari businessman who said that he was there at meetings at Trump Tower back in December of 2016, right after the president was elected.


What we have now is the first official acknowledgement from a Qatari investor. His name is Ahmed Al-Rumaihi. We are familiar with this name now because Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, tweeted about him just several days ago.

And what he said in the tweet, I will get into a little bit later, but let me just first read the statement that we now have from Mr. Al- Rumaihi from a spokesperson acknowledging that he was in fact at Trump Tower on December 12 of 2016.

Here is that statement: "Mr. Al-Rumaihi was at Trump Tower on December 12, 2016. He was there in his then role as head of Qatar Investments, an internal division of QIA, to accompany the Qatari delegation that was meeting with Trump transition official on that date."

Now, the statement also says he did not participate in any meeting with Michael Flynn, and his involvement in the meeting on that date was limited.

So, the statement, even though it acknowledges for the first time again that Al-Rumaihi he in fact at Trump Tower in December of 2016, and for the stated purpose of meeting with Trump transition officials, of course, still a lot of questions about what kind of meetings these were, what kind of discussions took place on that day.


But one more thing that is really significant, Brianna, I am told by a person familiar with these meetings between the Qatari delegation and Trump transition officials on that day that there were several meetings that took place on this day and that Michael Cohen briefly popped into one of those meetings.

So, we now have sort of a sense, at least from this one person, that Michael Cohen popped his head into one of these meetings. But they were clear that this was not a situation, according to their knowledge, where Michael Cohen was deeply or heavily involved in the substance of these meetings.

Now, the reason, of course, that we are talking about the statement from this Qatari investor is because of tweets that Michael Avenatti sent out recently.

Just to remind everyone, he tweeted some photos from Trump -- the Trump Tower lobby -- there they are -- and he pointed to the fact that Michael Cohen was in that photo, and so was Al-Rumaihi and Michael Flynn.

And then he raised this question. Why was Ahmed Al-Rumaihi meeting with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn in December 2016? And why did Mr. Al-Rumaihi later brag about bribing administration officials, according to a sworn declaration filed in court?

Now, the back story behind that is also quite complicated. Al-Rumaihi is currently in a legal battle with a man named Jeff Kwatinetz. And in a court declaration, Kwatinetz said that this was a Qatari investor who was constantly showing interest in getting some kind of access to Steve Bannon, and that at one point he made a joke about how Qataris were successful in bribing Michael Flynn.

Again, this was a joke, he perceived at the time. So, a lot of questions right now on what exactly happened, but at least now we're getting a little bit of clarity directly from Al-Rumaihi on the fact that he was there at Trump Tower in December of 2016 and the stated purpose was in fact to meet with Trump transition officials.

I would quickly note, as you remember, Brianna, that at this point in time after the election, Trump Tower was where all of the action was. A lot of these kinds of high-profile meetings were happening post the election, a lot of important figures, high-profile people coming in and out of the Trump Tower lobby in order to have these kinds of meetings.

So, not necessarily unusual that a meeting like this would have happened there, but again we don't know the details of what actually went on at these meetings on that day -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, M.J. Lee, thank you for breaking that all down for us.

I want to bring in David Catanese. He is a senior politics writer for "U.S. News & World Report."

What -- there is a lot to dissect here, because this isn't simple, right? But when you hear that, that this Qatari businessman is admitting, yes, he was there for these meetings, what's the significance of that to you?

DAVID CATANESE, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Well, I think the first question as a follow-up is, what was be asking for, right?

That's the question. You have got a transition where you got a new administration is coming. You have got lot of people coming in those doors, as we saw every day. What exactly did this Qatari businessman want?

Did he want something from the president in his official capacity? Did you want something on the business side? Because we know Trump had business deals all over the world.

And I think the next question in this story is, was there any follow- up and did the administration deliver anything to this Qatari businessman? I have a feeling that Robert Mueller probably knows the answers to those questions, or is at least probing those questions.

We just don't know those answers right now.

KEILAR: All right, David Catanese, stand by with me. You are going to join us, along with a wonderful political panel, as we tackle all of today's political topics, including John McCain and why he did not come up in a meeting between President Trump and Senate Republicans, despite Republican saying they wanted to bring it up.



KEILAR: Breaking news North Korea suspending talks with South Korea over South Korea-U.S. joint military drills. This is according to North Korean state news.

That's what they are saying. So talks between the Koreas were supposed to resume tomorrow.

And I want to bring in Robin Wright from the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Wilson International Center to break this down for us.

Is this surprising? And what is this going to mean, Robin, for prospective talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: Well, this is always a fragile process. There been many attempts by previous administrations to engage with North Korea.

And they have fallen at various junctures over specifics of deals, terms of negotiations and so forth.

I still think that there will be some kind of summit. I think both sides are terribly invested in this. North Korea is going to play harder ball then I think President Trump realizes in his compliments about the actions taken by the regime in releasing American hostages and agreeing to a summit all.

But this is clearly a momentary setback. And I think the administration will probably be scrambling to sort it out. In the past, the North Koreans have actually been rather surprising in their willingness to let South Korean and American military exercises carry on last month.

And so it'll be interesting to see how significant the -- this setback is.

KEILAR: What do you attribute this setback to? I mean, if the drills went on last month, and there wasn't a hiccup over them, why is there this time?

WRIGHT: Well, this a breaking news story and I'm not sure we know all the details yet.


WRIGHT: There are clearly concerns in North Korea about what the United States is deploying in the region in the backup to exercises or to drills.

But the interesting thing about the inner-Korean summit that took place at the end of April between the leaders of North and South Korea was that the North Korean leader did not bring up the issue of American troops.


We have 28,000 Americans based in South Korea critical to the defense of the South for almost seven decades now. And it was always assumed that the North would demand the withdrawal of all those forces as part of a peace process.

And, in fact, Kim Jong-un did not make that provision when they met. So it's a little unclear why he would suddenly at this point make an issue of it.

KEILAR: All right, Robin, stand by for us, as we follow this breaking news that North Korea is suspending talks with South Korea because of joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S.

According to North Korea's state news agency, these talks that were set to resume tomorrow are now on hold.

And I want to bring in David Priess. He is a former CIA officer who's going to help us understand some of this.

So, this is breaking, David. We're still waiting for some information as you join our panel here. What do you make of this?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Yes, if only someone could have anticipated this, because almost literally every expert anticipated this.

This is what all of the Korean negotiators had said. This is what all the people...

KEILAR: That it's not going to go as smoothly as things seem to be, just that?

PRIESS: Yes, specifically that North Korea is going to find ways to gain advantage before talks open. That's what the North Koreans have always done.

And by putting a brave face forward, they have tried to make it look like everything has changed. Well, we haven't seen the signs that things really have changed. And this more evidence, in fact, that they're playing the same game they have played before when we have gone through these cycles of pretending to walk back, but then looking for concession after concession before making first steps.

KEILAR: So, you -- why do you call this a game? Because -- does it seem arbitrary do you?

PRIESS: I don't think it's arbitrary.

They have wanted these exercises canceled in the past. They have talked about it.

KEILAR: But they didn't raise -- they didn't raise a fuss about it last month.

PRIESS: Yes. And it's an interesting question why.

I suspect it's because now there is an investment from the president of the United States. He's committed to these talks. He's talked about the location. He has said great things are happening. He is not talking about Little Rocket Man anymore. He's talking about in a sense his legacy of being able to do something that President Obama could not do.

Once North Korean knows that he's invested in that way, it's a little bit easier to pick this off and to show that the guy who wrote "The Art of the Deal" isn't the best deal-maker on this.

KEILAR: Yes, maybe pull the rug out from underneath him a little bit.

All right, we will see. David Priess, stand by for us.

We have a whole lot more on this breaking news, North Korea suspending talks with South Korea, which is a key part, obviously, of the peace process, suspending those talks, according to North Korean state news, because of military drills between the U.S. and South Korea.

We're getting more details. We will bring them to you after a quick break.



KEILAR: We have breaking news just into CNN.

North Korea has suspended talks with South Korea that were supposed to resume tomorrow. This has to do with South Korea-U.S. joint military drills. We're still working out some of the details here.

But North Korea has said, according to the state-run news agency, that the U.S. should carefully consider the North Korea-U.S. Summit, in view of what it calls -- quote -- "provocative military disturbances" with South Korea.

And joining me now is former Rear Admiral, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He is a former State Department spokesman, former Pentagon spokesman. And he's our CNN military and diplomatic analyst

What are you reading into this development? Perhaps not completely unexpected, but we were waiting to see what North Korea's move might be ahead of these talks.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: In previous years, I would have said this is completely expected.

I mean, they have -- last year, when we did this exercise, they launched off a bunch of missiles in protest. And this isn't the biggest exercise we do with the South Koreans. In fact, it's one of the smaller ones. Last year, it was about 1,500 troops altogether. It's largely an air exercise.

So, in previous years, Brianna, I would say this reaction is totally expected for them to overreact like this. But you would think that, given the prospect of a summit and the fact that Kim certainly appears to want to sit down with President Trump, that gives him the status he wants, it puts him on the world stage, this is not what I would have expected, quite frankly, from North Korea at this particular time.

So it's really perplexing to me under these circumstances, given the stakes that we're facing here and potentially in June, with a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, that this would be the logical step for them.

It almost seems like there's something off here. There is something that just doesn't quite compute.

KEILAR: So, to you, this is something that, under ordinary circumstances, you might expect...


KEILAR: ... for them to kind of throw this the way of the U.S., but that things are just at such an extraordinary place right now, that you are surprised? KIRBY: I am surprised.

This absolutely -- this threw me for a loop here. In fact, when I first saw the original press report, I thought it had to be wrong. There's just no way that this could have been what their reaction was.

Remember, Brianna, when we did Foal Eagle, which was a much bigger exercise, just a couple months ago, they didn't react. They didn't even put out a press release. They certainly didn't fire off any missiles. They were very quiet. There was no testing like they have done before.

And I think all that, plus the lead-up to getting those three Americans released, those detainees, was all part of a very carefully constructed framework of confidence-building measures that North Korea was exacting to show -- to show that they were serious about sitting down to a summit.

So they were very quiet. Now, maybe now that we have got the Americans back, maybe something's changed in their calculus. But I got to be honest with you. This just doesn't make sense, given how we have seen -- how restrained we have seen them be in just the last couple of months.

KEILAR: All right, if you can stand by for me, Admiral...

KIRBY: Sure.

KEILAR: ... I want to bring in Paula Hancocks. She's our correspondent there in Seoul.

Paula, what do you make of this, that South Korea --