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North Korea Threatens to Cancel Trump-Kim Meeting; Senate Committee Releases Transcripts on 2016 Trump Tower Meeting. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired May 16, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CAMEROTA: And the family has sacrificed so much as we just learned in our last segment.

All right. On that note it's time for "CNN NEWSROOM: with John Berman and Poppy Harlow.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Developing this morning, North Korea is now threatening to abandon its high stakes summit with President Trump scheduled for next month. The regime says it will not, not be pressured to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic support.

HARLOW: This announcement also comes after North Korea suddenly called off these high level talks with South Korea over North Korea saying these joint military drills that South Korea is conducting with the United States.

Let's go straight to Seoul, our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is there.

Ivan, there's a lot to unpack here in that statement from North Korea.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Only a series of statements released through North Korean state media which criticized in pretty harsh terms that we haven't heard in some time both the U.S. and South Korea accusing them both of military provocations during these joint military exercises, annual exercises that are under way right now, and saying that the U.S. better think twice if it wants to continue with this and still have a North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore next month.

Take a look at this excerpt from the statement, quote, "If they try to push us into the corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider whether we will accept the upcoming North Korea-U.S. summit." And that's from a senior diplomat in North Korea.

Now analysts are mixed here. They don't know whether this is a bargaining tactic or this could be the signal of an end to this kind of period of warmer relations, but we do have to point out that there's been some kind of brinksmanship coming from the White House in past months as well going into these discussions. Take a listen to this excerpt from President Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The requirement that Kim Jong-un agreed to give away those weapons before you give any kind of concession.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think that's right. I think we're looking at the Libya model of 2003-2004.


WATSON: And that's John Bolton at the end there, the National Security adviser. The North Korean diplomat really targeted him for a lot of criticism calling him repugnant for comparing North Korea to Libya whose dictator of course was overthrown after he gave up nuclear weapons -- John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. Ivan Watson for us in Seoul. Ivan, thanks so much.

We do have some breaking news just in this morning in what is still the most intriguing and potentially direct possible connection between the Trump campaign and Russia. This is the meeting in Trump Tower in 2016 where the Donald Trump Junior was promised dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton.

HARLOW: You've heard a lot about it but now the Senate Judiciary Committee has just moments ago published thousands of pages, the transcripts of the interviews that it conducted with the people that were in that room for that meeting.

Let's go to our Evan Perez in Washington with more -- Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy, and if you remember, when Donald Trump Jr. was told that these Russians were coming to meet with the members of the campaign team, they said that they had dirt on Hillary Clinton and he said, he responded, if it's what you say, I love it. And so that's the reason why his account of what happened in that meeting, the accounts of other people who are at that meeting has been the focus of the investigation, not only in the Senate and the House but also of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

We will see about 2,000 pages of documents here of transcripts from the interviews of various people here. We have a team behind me that is working on reading through this and seeing what is interesting, what is newsworthy from all of this, but I'll give you a sense of the characters.

Natalia Veselnitskaya is a Russian lawyer, she was sort of the head of the Russian contingent that arrived at this Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. On the Trump side was Paul Manafort, the chairman of the Trump campaign at the time, of course Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president's -- now the president's son-in-law.

These are people, obviously, who have all been interviewed by different committees on the Senate and the House and it's going to be interesting to see what their accounts -- how their accounts differ of what exactly happened.

We also know that among this 2,000 pages that are being released are some notes that Paul Manafort took on his phone and were printed out obviously and have now been released as part of this release by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

[09:05:03] We also know that among the other people who were at the meeting were the -- a couple of Russian developers, the Agalarovs, who were people who knew Donald Trump from way back when he was in Russia for the Miss Universe Pageant.

Again a lot of connections back and forth between all of these characters and the people in the Trump campaign and which is why a year after the Mueller -- after Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over this investigation we're still waiting for some answers as to what happened here, whether or not there was any collusion. This is obviously something that is still squarely at the middle of this investigation -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Evan, stay with us.

Let's bring into this conversation as we wait for the headlines from those documents, Nada Bakos, CNN legal -- national security analyst and our legal analyst, Laura Coates, also a former federal prosecutor.

Laura Coates, to you, so many questions and I wonder what is top of mind for you as you think about all of these transcripts of these hours-long interview. What will you be looking for most?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, one, I expect to see a great deal of redactions before they're actually released to everyone, to not give us the full picture but what is remaining with the redactions included in there, I'm looking to see whether or not anybody was truly comprehensively responsive. Remember one of the main critiques people have had about this behind-closed-door meeting is about the lack of enforcement and the lack of trying to get people to try to answer all of the questions thoroughly and not hide behind some exertion of privilege or hide behind some other reason not to answer the question.

So I'll be curious to see where the gaps is. If there are gaps in the questions and in the answers that are asked, that can lead you to conclude a number of things. Also I'm looking to figure out whether anyone can answer the question why and what people knew at the time of the meeting. There's been a lot of confusion, Poppy, about whether or not this was a meeting about the Magnitsky Act, about Russian adoption.

HARLOW: Right.

COATES: What was known before. And also I'm also trying to figure out because Kushner and Manafort didn't actually sit for an interview, I don't believe, but they had written responses. So I'm curious to read that I'm sure highly vetted curated responses from those two gentlemen particularly because Manafort finds himself with a trial coming down the road.

BERMAN: The big deal here is the transcript or the testimony from Donald Trump Jr. That is what we will see and see any second right now. The other thing that could be potentially very interesting is the written answers from Natalia Veselnitskaya, that is the Russian lawyer, Nada, who was at this meeting and who has since very recently and very publicly admitted to being a Russian informant. So what would you look for her in her written response?

NADA BAKOS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: From my perspective especially from the perspective of somebody who's trying to groom a possible candidate that they can recruit and then therefore work for them and do their bidding, I'd be looking for signals that she was actually intending to work with Donald Trump Jr. or through Rob Goldstone where she's trying to actually set the stage for further conversations down the road that would lead them to then working with the Trump campaign, anything that would signal, basically, a spy operation is what I would be looking for at this point.

It might not be incredibly blatant in her language but it could be just signals that she is using to actually try to recruit some of these individuals to then have this further relationship with.

HARLOW: Evan Perez, it's an understatement to say that there was an evolution of explanation and response from Donald Trump Jr. over the summer when news of the meeting was first broken from him, from his lawyer, who back in July said he had no knowledge of what specific information at all would be discussed.

As you look at these transcripts what will you look for most from Donald Trump Jr. who is, you know, under oath obviously.

PEREZ: Right.

HARLOW: You can't lie during this testimony and his story changed so many times publicly. What will you be looking for in his transcript?

PEREZ: That's right. As you remember when the media first learned about this, about this meeting which occurred in June of 2016 and we found out about it last summer, one of the things that happened was at first they said this was an adoption and sort of over time they -- over the course of a weekend actually, they managed to change the story multiple times.

We now know that President Trump on Air Force One was helping to dictate, was helping to manage some of the response. Initially we're told by sources that President Trump wanted to tell "The New York Times" and the media essentially to just go away. They were not going to explain it, and over time he finally allowed for an explanation which was still incomplete and was misleading.

What we're looking for today in this transcript is to see whether or not he describes any more information about what he told his father, whether or not at the time of the meeting back in June of 2016 whether he told the then candidate Trump that they were going to have this meeting, did he tell him after, did he brief him after the meeting? The president and the White House have been sort of a little squishy and a little bit all over the place in describing when the president found out about this.

[09:10:05] If you listen to them, different explanations at the time last summer, they said the president learned it very recently at that time. So the question is, who told him about it because Jared Kushner had told his lawyers that he had planned to tell the president about it, but we don't know whether or not that happened.

So again we're looking to see where that contradicts the information that we know publicly, whether or not that contradicts at all what Jared Kushner has said and again it helps us put together the picture. Obviously Robert Mueller knows a lot more than we do at this point.


BERMAN: And I think the important thing to know is when we see these transcripts is Donald Trump Jr. under oath and that's what makes this so crucial because we know he has lied or dissembled at a minimum about these meetings in the past. I'm looking at a transcript here of a statement he made in March 2017 to reporters where he said, did I meet with people that were Russians, I'm sure I did. But none that were set up, he said. None that were set up. This was clearly set up by him. So let's see how he talks about it under oath.

Guys, stick around. We have a lot more to discuss.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: We're poring over the transcripts of the testimony about that Trump Tower meeting and we'll bring you the very latest.

HARLOW: Also on Russia, minutes from now the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed door meeting with top former intel officials about Russian meddling in the election. We're following the latest and we're hearing more from the White House in terms of its reaction to North Korea threatening to pull out of that summit with President Trump. What Sarah Sanders is saying, saying they were prepared for this? Ahead.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Breaking news this morning. The Senate Judiciary Committee has just released the transcripts of all the testimony about the Trump Tower meeting that took place in June of 2016.

This was the meeting where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton that was to be provided by the Russians.

At that meeting, you can see one woman there, Natalia Veselnitskaya, she is someone who very recently, one month ago, it was released that she admits to being a Russian informant. So, the details of what went on in that meeting are of paramount importance. We're joined again CNN national security analyst Nada Bakos; CNN legal analyst, Laura Coates; Evan Perez with us as well.

Evan, again, what is already known about this meeting is so intriguing and is also the most direct possible connection between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Donald Trump Jr. took a meeting where he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

So, everything he was told leading up to it and everything he knew after it are crucial not just to the various congressional committees, but also to the special counsel.

And again, this is the first time we will see how he responds under oath to questions about this.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Look, the president repeatedly, you hear it almost every time he talks about this, he says there was no collusion.

Well, this meeting is an example of the type of things that people would call collusion. It's plainly visible that this was at least an attempt - it doesn't mean that they got anything.

It appears, according to Donald Trump Jr. and people associated with the campaign, that the Russians ended up not turning up anything or giving them anything. But it was - at least on the Trump side, they thought that they were going to get something from the Russians.

And so, that's the reason why it's important. And the names of the people who are included in this 2,000 pages that has been released by the Senate Judiciary Committee includes Glenn Simpson.

He's the owner of a company called Fusion GPS which did or paid for what's now known as the dossier, the Trump/Russia dossier. This was compiled by a former British spy.

And what's interesting about this is Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on this committee, unilaterally released that document some weeks ago, upsetting the Republicans on this committee.

So, that's the one piece of these documents that we've seen before. But here's what's interesting, is that in the time since that has been released, Republicans have sort of seized on one part of Glenn Simpson's testimony, in which he says that the FBI had a mole, had someone inside the Trump campaign that was providing information as part of this investigation.

And, of course, the Republicans is a very unusual situation. You have an ongoing investigation, but you have members of Congress doing an investigation of the investigation as it is going on.

And so, it's very intriguing that we're going to see the full transcript from Glenn Simpson and Republicans are now redoubling their efforts to try to figure out who was it that the FBI was talking to perhaps inside the Trump campaign that led to this investigation, which has now been ongoing at least under the Special Counsel Robert Mueller for about a year, John and Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: OK. So, Evan, we've just received the first big headline out of these thousands of pages of transcripts from the Judiciary Committee's interviews.

And the headline is that Donald Trump Jr. testified under oath in front of the committee that he had never spoken to his father about drafting one of those initial statements trying to explain this meeting on July 8th.

I think we should just read it.

BERMAN: Actually, the transcript here isn't quite so declarative here. This is one of the questions to Donald Trump, Jr.

""The Washington Post" has since reported that your father was involved in drafting your July 8 statement, is that correct?" Trump, Jr. responds, "I don't know. I never spoke to my father about it."

"Do you know who did draft the statement?" He responds, "Well, there were numerous statements drafted with counsel and other people who were involved and, you know, opined."

"To the best of your knowledge, did the president provide any edits to the statements or other input?" He responds, "He may have commented through Hope Hicks."

HARLOW: His then spokesperson.

BERMAN: This goes on.

"And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?" Donald Trump Jr. responds, "I believe some may have been, but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel."

Question, "Did you ask him to provide any assistance with the statement?" He says no. She asked if I wanted to actually speak to him and I chose not to because I didn't want to bring him into something that he had nothing to do with.

[09:20:02] HARLOW: So, that is Don, Jr., Evan. It seems to be explaining, no, I didn't speak to my father about drafting this statement. Then admitting at the end because he didn't want to bring his father into it because it could be more than just not a good look for his father. There could be legal implications.

But we know how close, Evan, Hope Hicks was to President Trump. So, speaking to her or getting communication from her about what his father thought should go into this statement, what's the difference?

PEREZ: Well, exactly. That's exactly right. And I think what Don Jr., at least in the first answer you see there, he's sort of being a little lawyerly and he's trying to be very technical about what he's saying, whether he spoke to the president or not. As far as we know, there was a lot of - what was happening is these people were on Air Force One, the president, Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner. They were all on Air Force One and they're communicating with Donald Trump Jr. and his lawyers in New York as well as Jared Kushner's attorneys here in Washington, D.C.

And there are phone calls going back and forth between the lawyers and - at least the lawyers and perhaps Don, Jr. - we don't know - and Air Force One. It appears that Hope Hicks was doing the talking on behalf of the president.

And this is why - this is a very important piece of this story simply because, by doing this, doing this aboard Air Force One, the president essentially was using government employees, people who worked for the White House to handle the most personal of matters.

This is something having to do with his son, right? Keep in mind, Donald Trump Jr. doesn't work for the government. So, he doesn't really have to explain anything except that his father brings this upon - makes this into essentially a federal investigation.

BERMAN: And to be clear, Donald Trump Jr. in this testimony is admitting, if not directly, to the possibility that his father did dictate the response. He may have commented through Hope Hicks. I believe there may have been some. This was an effort through lots of people mostly counsel. But this is saying that he was involved.

Let me just read you the Trump, Jr. comment on the release right now, so you have it out there and you can include that in your calculations here.

"I appreciate the opportunity, Trump, Jr. says, to assist the Judiciary Committee in its inquiry. The public can now see that, for over five hours, I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the committee. I once again thank Chairman Grassley and ranking member Feinstein as well as the other members of the committee and their staff for their courtesy and professionalism.

HARLOW: Important to note that - I would just note too that the statement we're talking about, that Don, Jr. was just questioned about, which John read, is the July 8 statement which basically says this meeting was much ado about nothing, this meeting was about Russian adoptions, there was no follow-up, there was no there-there. That's a big part of why this matters.

BERMAN: Laura Coates, if you read this testimony with Donald Trump Jr. basically saying my father communicated through Hope Hicks on this, you know that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to be asking Hope Hicks about this and Hope Hicks no doubt faced questions about this from the committees as well.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course, he should. What I heard, when you were reading the actual transcript, are two things. I heard somebody who was trying to hedge under two concepts, plausible deniability that if there is someone who is one removed from the president of the United States and his father that somehow he could take cover and not having had a direct conversation.

And the second issue is the idea that he was trying, and floundering in his effort to do so, talk about the attorney/client privilege. It's mostly through counsel, trying to hedge and say perhaps I can't talk about these issues.

Remember, he was criticized on that very point because you don't have attorney/client privilege if you're not talking to your own attorney and anyone else is in the room, including somebody like Hope Hicks.

And so, his attempt to actually, as he says, comprehensively and candidly answer these questions, in my mind, raised additional questions and suspicion, particularly because on Air Force One, who's riding on it? The President of the United States.

And a lot of the testimony that's coming out as we're combing through the transcripts indicate about a lot of the anxiety that took place once they realize that the meeting had been made public and the knowledge of the meeting had actually become public knowledge at this point in time.

It's all the anxiety in the buildup of how to address it, how to resolve it. You had "The New York Times" breathing down his neck, trying to get a response from Donald Trump Jr. And you had somebody in a position who was now president, but at the time of the meeting was not.

And remember, Steve Bannon, who I know was not around at the time of this July 2016, I believe, meeting, you still have him saying, he questioned and called it traitorous whether or not Donald Trump Jr. told his father or walked them down to the floor that he was sitting on.

There's still a lot of questions.

HARLOW: Stay with us to answer those questions. OK? We're getting more of these headlines out of these thousands of pages of transcripts. Much more on the breaking news ahead.


[09:29:12] BERMAN: All right. The Senate Judiciary Committee releasing the transcripts of testimony about the Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt by the Russians on Hillary Clinton.

We started to see some transcripts released. Donald Trump Jr. talking about alleged coordination with his father in the response to this meeting, saying that his father, he believes, did weigh in on the response there.

We haven't seen anything in the lead up to the meeting what Trump Jr. thought about the meeting going in.

Nada Bakos, I want to ask you, as a national security analyst here. Natalia Veselnitskaya, again, this is the key figure, the key Russian figure at this meeting. We heard recently that she admits to being a Russian informant. What does that mean exactly in intelligence parlance?

And what would she be doing at this meeting?

NADA BAKOS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, as an informant, she's absolutely looking for information to deliver to the Kremlin, to the Russian government. She's looking for information on the Trump campaign. She's probably there initially just to --