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North Korea Threatens to Cancel Trump-Kim Meeting;; Interview with Representative Gregory Meeks; Senate Committee Releases Transcripts on 2016 Trump Tower Meeting; Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 16, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] KING: Starting right now. Have a great day.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. 8:00 p.m. in Yemen. 2:00 a.m. Thursday in Pyongyang. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
Is the nuclear summit on the verge of collapse? After months of cooperation, North Korea threatening to cancel its meeting with President Trump over American demands.
Plus, breaking today. Senate investigators releasing testimony from some of the key players inside that Trump Tower meeting, including the president's son. What Donald Trump, Jr. admits and what he says about his father's involvement.
All that coming up. But up first, can the North Korea summit be salvaged? Just moments ago, President Trump said, we'll have to wait and see.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can the Korean summit be salvaged?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll have to see.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can the Korean summit be salvaged?
TRUMP: We haven't seen anything at all. We'll have to see.
TRUMP: We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We will see what happens. Whatever it is --
TRUMP: We'll see what happens, we'll see. Time will tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Time will tell, the president says. The fate of the historic face-to-face meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in jeopardy. North Korea is threatening to cancel the summit scheduled for June 12th in Singapore.
Our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us right now.
Jeff, how is the administration responding to the threat, the threat to cancel this meeting?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon, Wolf. You could hear the president there measuring his words very carefully, not saying anything to intentionally provoke Kim Jong-un or not saying anything to disrupt the already potential disruption of this summit.
Some of the questions were hard to hear there in the Oval Office a short time ago, because White House aides were in fact screaming at reporters to leave the Oval Office. But the president was asked directly, is Kim bluffing? And he said, time will tell, saying we'll see to everything else. But he was also asked at the end of that if he is going to still insist on a complete denuclearization of the peninsula. And he shook his head and nodded in the affirmative. So that of course is the sticking point here. North Korea is saying that they simply likely will not agree to that, looking for concessions.
But, Wolf, the reality is, about 12 hours into this, you know, state of confusion, it's unclear if it's a bluff or not. The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders talked to reporters earlier today and she said this plan for the summit is still on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is something that we fully expected. The president is very used and ready for tough negotiations, and if they want to meet, we'll be ready. And if they don't, that's OK, too. And we'll continue with the campaign of maximum pressure, if that's the case. But like I just said, if they want to meet, the president will certainly be ready, and we will be prepared. But if not, that's OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So it's clear the White House is trying to be, you know, pretty calm and again measured about this. But this was jarring, despite what the press secretary has said there, that they were not caught off guard. In fact, the White House was caught off guard. Other administration officials has said in fact Sarah Sanders said herself yesterday, the Pentagon was, the State Department was, as well.
So, Wolf, the U.S. is still sort of working through all of this. The key point person in this all will be the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his conversations with North Korean leaders. He of course has sat down face-to-face with Kim Jong-un twice now in recent weeks. So he holds the key to what could be this future summit. But time is running short here, less than a month to that scheduled summit on June 12th -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny at the White House.
This dramatic shift in zone from North Korea comes after weeks of diplomatic overtures by both sides. For more, I'm joined by our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. He's joining us from Seoul, South Korea right now.
Ivan, North Korea abruptly postpones these high level talks, was supposed to happen today with South Korea. Now it's threatening to call off the upcoming summit with the U.S. president. What's behind all of this?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hard to tell, because as you mentioned, North Korea had been engaged in -- for months this charm offensive, and now we've suddenly got whiplash as it kind of does a 180 in its tone with harsh criticism. Last month, North Korea didn't have anything to say about joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korea.
And now there are these kind of air defense exercises conducted annually, and suddenly they have started to really bother North Korea, which has accused the U.S. of bringing in nuclear strategic assets to the region. And that was the grounds that he used to cancel the high level talks with South Korea. That is part of what it is criticizing the Trump administration for.
[13:05:04] Some of its criticism also directly lobbed against John Bolton, the National Security adviser, accusing him of basically insulting North Korea, calling him repugnant because he talked about using the Libyan model of nuclear disarmament for North Korea, which considers itself far more advanced than Libya was.
Is this brinksmanship? A negotiating tactic? Or is North Korea really suddenly kind of pulling out of what was a warming of relations between it and its traditional rivals, the U.S. and South Korea? Hard to tell at this point.
BLITZER: Certainly is very, very sensitive moment indeed.
Ivan Watson in Seoul, thank you very much.
Foreign policy analysts say the threat by North Korea is a familiar ploy, raise expectations, threaten to cancel talks then push for more concessions in exchange for going ahead with the talks.
Let's bring in CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd.
Sam, the summit could still happen. Clearly it could still happen. This is certainly not the first time hopes of a breakthrough with North Korea have run into trouble. Walk us through some of the past efforts.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thanks, Wolf. And to quote Sarah Sanders, we should fully expect a cycle of North Korean provocation, negation and violations. Let's go back to 1994. In 1994 we signed the agreed framework with North Korea after they engineered a crisis. North Korea announced 18 months before we signed this agreement that they were withdrawing from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
Under this agreement, we did get our first freeze with North Korea. They agreed to freeze construction and operation of nuclear reactors in exchange for some concessions from us. But then we got intelligence that they were pursuing a uranium enrichment capacity and they launched missiles. So this deal was violated by the North Koreans.
BLITZER: We know that President Bush labeled North Korea, part of that "Axis of Evil." How did he treat negotiations with the North Koreans during his administration?
VINOGRAD: Well, after the agreed framework failed, we launched into several years and several rounds of negotiations with the so-called Six Parties. The United States, China, North and South Korea, Russia and Japan. And there was some highs and lows throughout this period. We had some breakthroughs. In 2005, the North Koreans pledged, and I'm stressing the word pledge, to stop their existing nuclear program. They even agreed to rejoin the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
And we talked about some concessions as well, some food aid, and President Bush removed North Korea from the state sponsor of terrorism list and the trading with the enemy act. But again, Wolf, the North Koreans did things like launched missiles and they even conducted a nuclear test, which put these talks on ice.
BLITZER: When President Obama came into office, given that backdrop, Samantha, did he learn lessons during the eight years of the Obama administration? There certainly was not much improvement in U.S.- North Korean relations.
VINOGRAD: There certainly was not. And President Obama did come into office with a different view on how to work on the North Korea problem. His view is that more engagement was necessary. When he came into office he launched a series of secret negotiations. And then remember Kim Jong-un's father died in late December of 2011. And on leap day, February 29th, 2012, we announced this Leap Day Accord, under which the North Koreans again agreed to freeze missile tests in exchange for some statements from the United States and some food aid.
But just days later, they announced that they were sending a satellite into space using ballistic missile technology, which we said violated their international responsibilities and this accord was also violated.
BLITZER: Samantha Vinograd, thanks very much for that analysis.
There's more breaking news right now. The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has just released its report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections here in the United States and the assessment from the U.S. intelligence community.
Committee chairman Richard Burr says this, and remember he's a Republican, and I'm quoting him now. "There is no doubt Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections." Senator Mark Warner, by the way, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the interference was directly ordered by President Putin in order to help Donald Trump.
That's the conclusion of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Joining us now from Capitol Hill, New York Congressman Gregory Meeks. He's a Democrat, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
So, Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. What do you think of that conclusion? Are you surprised that the Democrats and the Republican majority on the Senate Intelligence Committee have now reached the same conclusion?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), SENIOR MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I think that that's the way it should be, Wolf. You review the evidence and all of the facts and our intelligence community. And you come up with what the results are.
[13:10:01] And I think the results are what we suspected all along, as indicated by our intelligence agencies that Russia did, in fact get involved in the election with the intent on helping Donald Trump. And so it is important for that to be known so that we can make sure that in any future election that we won't allow anyone to get involved with our democracy and our elections.
And I think that it was important that it be bipartisan. Unlike unfortunately that seems to be taking place on the House side. So I think it's a good decision and outcome. But it showed that we've got to work together to protect the integrity of our democracy and our political process.
BLITZER: We were just showing our viewers some live pictures of the president saying goodbye to the Uzbek leader. They had some meetings in the Oval Office. So the president walked him out to the driveway over there outside the West Wing of the White House. Of course he didn't answer reporters' question. Normally the reporters clearly shouting questions.
There's a lot going on right now, Congressman. And I know the White House isn't going to be pleased with this conclusion from the Senate Intelligence Committee, bipartisan agreement that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election, bipartisan agreement that they interfered in order to help Donald Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton.
This was the conclusion of the U.S. Intelligence Committee -- community I should say in January of last year, January of last year before the president was sworn into office on Inauguration Day. So they're not going to be very happy with this conclusion. And as you correctly point out, very different from what we heard from the Republican majority of the House Intelligence Committee.
Let's go to North Korea right now, while I have you, Congressman. You're on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Would you be more surprised now if the June 12th summit between the president and Kim Jong-un happens or if it falls apart?
MEEKS: Well, you know what? I always thought that there was going to be -- this is difficult stuff, Wolf. The president likes to portray it as though it's elementary, as simple, he can do something that no one else did. It's always difficult. And I never heard, and I said it over and over again, what does the North Koreans expect to get out of this agreement?
So I was hoping that we would understand what the administration's plan was, what the back and forth was. You know, generally in the past, I've had that opportunity being on the committee, we would have access to certain information, which we don't have access to now, so that we would not be engaged in a reality TV show with the two sides there, with no real plan and not understanding what was really being negotiated.
So I don't think anyone really knows what's taking place at this point, because of the erratic or lack of a real policy that the president has stipulated, whether it's in the Koreas or any place else for that matter. And that's what is a problem. Generally, you know, you have a real and explicit policy that's articulated that our allies and everyone else can understand.
With this administration, there is no policy, there's no plan. There's no plan, you know, A or B. You know, you can talk about North Korea, you can talk about Iran, you can talk about climate. There's no plan that this president or policy of this president seems to be following.
BLITZER: Congressman Gregory Meeks, thanks so much for joining us.
MEEKS: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: We're following more breaking news. A never-before-seen details of that infamous Trump Tower meeting only a few months before the U.S. presidential election. When the president's son was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Plus, Scott Pruitt's questionable behavior has pushed him back into the hot seat up on Capitol Hill, as the embattled EPA chief faces lawmakers on a slew of allegations.
And did the dealmaker-in-chief cave to China over trade? The president's firing back on reports that he did just that. I'll speak to the reporter behind the story. Stay with us.
[13:18:10] BLITZER: We now know what Donald Trump, Jr. and several key players of the Russia investigation told Senate investigators about President Trump's 2016 campaign, and the now infamous Trump Tower meeting in New York.
Just a few hours ago, the committee released thousands of pages of testimony, e-mails, and texts from a number of people who were at that June 2016 meeting. Everyone from Donald Trump, Jr. to music producer Rob Goldstone, to business executive Ike Kaveladze.
Our reporters have been sorting through all the documents, honing in on key details. Let's bring them in right now.
Joining us, our CNN political correspondent Sara Murray, our justice correspondent Evan Perez, also here to help us understand legal implications, former Department of Justice prosecutor Joseph Moreno.
Guys, thanks very much.
Evan, you've gone through these documents. What stands out to you?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you remember, this is a meeting where the Russians were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton to members of the Trump campaign. And I'll show you one part of a conversation with Donald Trump, Jr., in his testimony with the Senate Judiciary Committee in which he says, you know, Donald Trump Jr. says I was interested in listening to information on Hillary Clinton. Yes, he says. Information on Hillary Clinton that came potentially from the Russian government. Donald Trump, Jr., says again, I have no way of assess where it came from, but I was willing to listen.
Wolf, the context here obviously is that in the e-mail that introduced this meeting, Donald Trump, Jr. was told that this information would be coming from the Russian government and the support for the Trump campaign.
Here's another bit of testimony from Rob Goldstone, the music producer who helped broker this meeting. And he says after the meeting, did you -- the question came, did you report back to Emin and Aras about the meeting? Goldstone says, to Emin immediately. How did you describe it to him, he said, I said this was the most embarrassing thing you've ever asked me to do. I just sat in a meeting about adoption.
[13:20:02] Emin and Aras Agalarov are property developers in Russia, who were the ones that were driving and urging Goldstone to set up this meeting with Donald Trump Jr.
Here's another bit of the testimony released from Donald Trump, Jr. And he said, how does the meeting conclude? The question goes, how did the meeting conclude? Donald Trump, Jr. says, we went our separate ways and Rob Goldstone came up to me and apologized.
The undercurrent of all of this, the testimony that was released today, is that they came away disappointed. They were very upset that they seemed to have wasted their time. Paul Manafort, the chairman of the campaign was there. Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, was also in the meeting. They both apparently were very bored. Jared Kushner was visibly angry that he seemed to be wasting his time.
Again, they came here thinking that they were going to get some incriminating information from the Hillary Clinton campaign. They ended up empty handed.
BLITZER: And it's a fair point, an unknown person asking Ike Kaveladze about the meeting, he was one of the Russians involved, the person writes, how was the meeting with Trump people, what happened, Kaveladze responds, and I'm quoting him now, "Meeting was boring, the Russians did not have any bad info on Hillary."
So what's the takeaway that Mueller and company, the Russia probe, are going to get from this?
JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROSECUTOR: So, Wolf, there's a lot of information here, most of it not particularly flattering to the Trump campaign. But the question is, does it move the needle legally? It's not illegal to obtain opposition research. It's certainly not illegal to obtain opposition research on a political opponent. It's potentially illegal to obtain opposition research from a foreign country. It is certainly illegal to obtain opposition research in a quid pro quo with a foreign country.
So the question is, where are we in that spectrum? My quick takeaway is, we've confirmed a lot of what we previously knew, the special counsel most likely knows more. Would he build a case on what we know existing currently? Possibly not. But we don't know what we don't know. And so whether or not the special counsel can get us from A to Z and fill in the gaps with what came before and after this meeting, that's yet to be determined.
BLITZER: You know, Sara, the reaction from Donald Trump, Jr. to the release of all of these transcripts, what has he been saying?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, of course, they've known for a while that these transcripts were going to be released. But he did put out a statement today in which he says, "I appreciate the opportunity to have assisted the Judiciary Committee in its inquiry. The public can now see that for five hours I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the committee." He goes on to thank the members of the committee, although it is worth noting that there are some Senate Democrats who disagree today that he was as candid and forthright as he's claiming in his statement.
BLITZER: Because there was some misleading statements that must be contradictory statements coming in from Donald Trump, Jr., right?
PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. This meeting, of course, occurred in June of 2016. We learned about it last July when "The New York Times" first published a story about it. And if you remember at the time, the president and the White House and Donald Trump, Jr. were giving all kinds of different squishy answers as to what exactly happened and whether the president knew about this.
Take a look at some of the testimony from Donald Trump, Jr., in which he says -- the question came to him, to the best of your knowledge, did the president provide any edits to the statement or other input? Trump, Jr. says he may have commented through Hope Hicks, who was the president's assistant obviously. And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statements? Trump Jr. says, I believe some may have been. But this is an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel. Did you ask him to provide any assistance to the statement, no, she asked if I could -- if I actually wanted to speak to him and I chose not to because I did not want to bring him into something that he had nothing to do with.
Look, there's a lot that you can do with this, the sort of lawyerly statements and answers from Donald Trump, Jr. I mean, you can drive a truck through the gaping holes that he leaves here. He's being very careful, he's making sure he mentions that the conversations are happening between lawyers to try to implicate attorney-client privilege. And he's also signaling that he didn't actually talk to the president, although he doesn't actually say that directly.
So we -- you know, we've previously seen reporting that indicates that the president played a great deal or a big role in editing those statements that were issued by Donald Trump, Jr.
BLITZER: The Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, Sara, says he's glad these documents were released. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The public's business ought to be public. What we have done so far in a lot of cases has been closed and the public has a right to know, and the public can go through these 2,000 pages and make up their own mind, draw their own conclusions. They don't have to have it deciphered by members of Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What are the Democrats saying?
MURRAY: Well, the Democrats have, you know, a slightly more critical take on this. Of course Dianne Feinstein, who's the top Democrat on that committee, put out a statement saying, "The June 9th, 2016 meeting is one piece of a much larger puzzle and confirms that the Trump campaign was willing to accept Russia's assistance. Their efforts to conceal the meeting and its true purpose are consistent with a larger pattern of false statements about the Trump's campaign relationship with Russia."
[13:25:09] And of course, it does seem from this misleading statement that Evan was just talking about, that they did try to conceal why this meeting initially came about, even if they didn't get the dirt on Hillary Clinton they were hoping for. But in terms of whether they tried to conceal it at the outset, Rob Goldstone who helped set this up actually told the committee that he checked into Trump Tower on Facebook when he was there so he said he did not believe it to be a secret meeting.
BLITZER: Interesting. You know, Joseph, you mentioned earlier nothing illegal about presidential campaigns seeking opposition research about their opponents, although you suggested it could be illegal if they were getting opposition research from a foreign government, ie, Russia. Explain that. MORENO: You can't accept money from a foreign country into a U.S.
presidential campaign. The extension would be you can't accept other assistance. And certainly --
PEREZ: Anything about (INAUDIBLE).
MORENO: Absolutely. So certainly -- you know, it would be a case to be built on. Right? A prosecutor would have to put this case together and campaign finance prosecutions can be difficult. So it's not a slam dunk. But it's certainly enough to form a case. It's troublesome. And what's really frustrating from a defense lawyer's perspective is how many of these injuries are self-inflicted.
I mean, the meeting happened. It shouldn't have happened but it did. But this ham-handed way of how it's been explained in e-mails and public statements by the president, that's what's so frustrating and it's certainly what put the spotlight on this, in the special counsel's eyes. If he wasn't going to look at it originally, he's definitely going to now because of all the attention that's been put on it.
PEREZ: And we know actually that the special counsel didn't know about the meeting until this came out in the public, and then he subsequently requested the information from the campaign.
MURRAY: And this is a frustration that has been shared by campaign operatives all across town who look at these meetings and say, anyone who has any experience in political campaigns has gotten overtures from foreign governments offering assistance and what you do and you send that to the FBI immediately. You don't respond, you don't engage, and so when you see someone like Donald Trump, Jr., who of course was a novice to politics, engaging like that just has, you know, political operatives groaning every time this literally reemerges.
BLITZER: Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, was in that meeting, and he's got 30 or 40 years of political experience. He should have known better and at least reported that information --
BLITZER: -- to the FBI as well. Jared Kushner not so much political experience like Donald Trump Jr.
All right, guys, thanks very much. Good discussion.
We're following more breaking news. President Trump's financial disclosure statement is now out. We're learning new details on the payment to Michael Cohen, his long-time personal lawyer, money that served as hush money to Stormy Daniels. We have details. That's next.