Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republicans Demand Investigation of Investigators; President Trump Speaks Out on North Korea Summit. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 22, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:02]

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Every time the president has a bad hair day, which, by the way, is often, we're not going to conduct an investigation. And politicians shouldn't be directing this often, who gets investigated by federal authorities.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Scott, I guess what I don't really fundamentally understand is this conspiracy that is being alleged.

The FBI hurt Hillary Clinton. Now, you could argue that they did the right thing by having the press conference, Comey having the press conference and by reopening the investigation 10 days before the election, or not.

But, either way, they were denying any investigation into Trump and they were very publicly talking about Hillary Clinton investigations.

Where is the conspiracy here? I don't understand it.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know if I would call it a conspiracy, but I would certainly call it a frustration with the fact that this presidency is over a year old, and there's been a cloud over it the entire time.

If you were the president, and you had to live with this every day, and you thought your entire first term was going to be upended by this cloud at the end of which nothing may have been happened to you, you would be pretty upset about it.

It strikes me that -- I listened to Mr. Gates. And it's very complicated and convoluted. But at the end of the day, all Americans want to know is, did the Russians meddle? Did they have a willing or unwilling colluding partner? Can we stop them in the future? And were there any political shenanigans going on at the DOJ regarding any of these investigations?

Mueller can get at the first three. We may need another layer of oversight to get to number four. And, frankly, I'm sort of liking the fact that I.G...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You like the inspector general at the Justice Department.

JENNINGS: Yes. He nailed McCabe. He is the one who just nailed McCabe, who the Trump people hate.

So I think the I.G. actually might be the right answer here.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think you missed a fourth point, which is, I think the American people want to know if Donald Trump and his campaign did anything to actually help the Russians...

TAPPER: Well, that was his second point, I think.

(CROSSTALK)

TANDEN: But I think the broad point here, honestly, is what we're seeing over this last week is the president of the United States and his apparatchiks in the Republican Party basically work to undermine the investigation of himself.

It is as if a person who is under investigation by prosecutors is using a bunch of people to go after the prosecutors. That is part basically what is happening here. And I think the American people understand.

And what is disconcerting is people who claim to care about the national security of the American people are perfectly happy to unveil people who are actually helping the FBI in order to meet their political ends.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. President Trump casting doubt on the upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un on June 12, at the same time the rogue regime is preparing to put on a show for the world.

We are going to go live inside North Korea. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:45]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, there is a very substantial chance that it won't work out, and that is OK. That doesn't mean it won't work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump today casting doubt on whether his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un leader will ultimately happen on June 12, this as North Korea prepares to put on a big show, inviting a small group of foreign journalists to watch them dismantle their nuclear test sites.

We have reporters live from inside North Korea and at the White House ready to react to this. Let's start with CNN's Will Ripley. He's one of the few journalists invited by North Korea. This is his 18th trip inside the country.

Will, is this dismantling as big of a deal as North Korea is making it out to be?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we really don't know until we get there.

We have no information yet as to how much time we're going to spend at the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, which is an almost 20-hour journey from where I am in Wonsan in North Korea's east coast.

We travel by train and by car and we even hike to get to this location. It's the first time that international press have ever been allowed there. And we have been asking to go for years.

What we expect to see, the implosion of some of the tunnels that have been used to conduct nuclear tests. The most recent one triggered a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. We expect to see the dismantling of facilities on-site.

But in terms of experts actually being able to go in and conduct a meaningful inspection, there certainly aren't any in our group. We are simply journalists with cameras and eyes and ears. And we're going to report to the world what we see and experience.

But whether we can actually analyze the authenticity of what we're seeing, we are going to have to leave that up to the experts who watch our video, and they can decide.

TAPPER: And, Will, North Korea notably did not invite any journalists from South Korea. What do you read into that?

RIPLEY: Well, it shows that, while things seemed to be going very well after the inter-Korean summit, there has obviously been a spike in tensions.

Part of that is because of the military exercises, these aerial drills that are taking place right now in South Korea. The North Koreans very unhappy to see bombing run and fighter jets, even though the U.S. says these are defensive in nature. The North Koreans have said publicly that they feel this is yet another dress rehearsal for an invasion, and certainly not the kind of thing that they want to see ahead of peace talks potentially with President Trump in Singapore.

There's also this rhetoric coming out of Washington that is really angering the North Koreans. You heard from the vice president, Mike Pence, saying that if Kim Jong-un doesn't make a deal, that Iraq -- could fall by the way of Libya, where Gadhafi gave up his nuclear weapons and was dead a few years later, overthrown by U.S.-backed forces.

The national security adviser, John Bolton, made similar comments, saying that North Korea could be a Libya model. The North Koreans say they're just not going to accept that. And they have also said they might walk away from the summit if things don't go well.

So, South Korean journalists not being on the trip just one sign of the tension. But are here, and we will do our best to report what we see.

TAPPER: All right, looking forward to it. Will Ripley, live for us inside North Korea, thanks you so much.

While today, North Korea is pretending to play nice, President Trump at a meeting with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed annoyance at Kim Jong-un's return to a more aggressive tone.

CNN's Pamela Brown on that side of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump meeting with South Korean President Moon at the White House today.

TRUMP: Mr. President, great honor. Thank you.

BROWN: Amid growing doubts the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will happen on June 12 in Singapore, as planned.

[16:40:02]

TRUMP: There is a very substantial chance that it won't work out, and that is OK. That doesn't mean it won't work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12.

But there is a good chance that we will have the meeting.

BROWN: President Moon working to reassure U.S. officials after statements last week where North Korea threatened to withdraw from talks if the U.S. continued to insist it denuclearizes.

TRUMP: There are certain conditions that we want. And I think we will get those conditions. And if we don't, we don't have the meeting.

And, frankly, it has a chance to be a great, great meeting for North Korea and a great meeting for the world.

BROWN: The South Korean national security adviser telling reporters today, "We believe there is a 99.9 percent chance the North Korea-U.S. summit will be held as scheduled, but we're just preparing for many different possibilities."

Trump today also blaming the change in North Korea's mood on China's recent meeting with Kim.

TRUMP: I think that President Xi is a world-class poker player. And I probably may be doing the same thing that he would do.

But I will say this. There was a somewhat different attitude after that meeting. I think things changed after that meeting. So, I can't say that I'm happy about it.

BROWN: Trump did offer an olive branch, promising the North Korean leader:

TRUMP: We will guarantee his safety. And we have talked about that from the beginning. He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich. His country will be hardworking and very prosperous.

BROWN: But sources tell CNN that White House aides have been growing increasingly skeptical the summit will happen.

Officials are also concerned the president is overly eager for the summit to take place, increasing Kim's leverage. And anticipation for the summit has been building up for weeks.

TRUMP: I will be meeting with Kim Jong-un.

BROWN: With crowds chanting for Trump to win a Nobel Prize.

AUDIENCE: Nobel! Nobel!

TRUMP: That is very nice. Thank you.

BROWN: In spite of the fragile situation, Trump still sounding cautiously optimistic today.

TRUMP: In the end, it will work out. Can't tell you exactly how or why, but it always does. It is going to work out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So, the message coming from the Trump administration today on whether this summit will happen is one of uncertainty.

And, Jake, I asked the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, why the president would guarantee the safety of a dictator whose regime is a serial human rights abuser.

Sanders would not answer that question directly, only saying that complete denuclearization is the goal of the conversations -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Coming up: an incredible and disturbing sight, a live look at molten lava shooting out of the cracks in the earth and heading towards a power plant in Hawaii.

That is ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump today called Chines President Jinping a world -- Xi Jinping rather -- a world-class poker player and he suggested that Xi might have influenced his highly anticipated summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un. Let's bring in Jamie Metzl to join the conversation. He was a member of the National Security Council under the Clinton Administration. Jamie, might President Trump be right here, might it be that President Xi of China threw a wrench into the plans for his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un and encouraged Kim Jong-un to be tougher and more bellicose.

JAMIE METZL, MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL UNDER THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: Well, For sure Xi Jinping and the Chinese have an interest in how these negotiations play out or don't play out. So that is what happens when you are in a complex chess environment like this. So for sure President Xi Jinping is playing chess but it looks like our President is playing tiddly-winks. And so there's just a fundamental flaw that we are bumbling in to the summit where there's no agreement at least among -- even the members of the U.S. administration about where this is going and what are the goals.

TAPPER: So you say he's playing tiddly-winks because there aren't -- there aren't clear specific outlined goals for the summit or what's the reason?

METZL: Yes, because we have no strategy. The North Koreans never were going to give up their nuclear weapons. They never said they were going to give up their nuclear weapons. Gave them on the first day what they've been dreaming about for decades which is the presidential level meeting. So on the first day, the U.S. suddenly had no more leverage. And then going into these meetings, expecting that the North Koreans would give up their nuclear weapons when they had no reason to, no desire to and now no pressure to, it was always unrealistic and that problem, that core problem is what is playing out now.

TAPPER: And let me bring it back to the panel in studio here. Scott, it's not just Democrats making this criticism. Senator Marco Rubio tried to get at how President Xi of China is playing President Trump. In a tweet he wrote, "Sadly China is out-negotiating the administration and winning the trade talks right now. They've avoided tariffs, they got the ZTE deal -- that's the telecom, Chinese telecom company --without giving up anything meaningful in return by using North Korea talks an agricultural issues as leverage. This is #notwinning. That's from Marco Rubio. Your response.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there's a lot going on here. We go the economic negotiation with China, the North Korea denuclearization talks. I mean, this is beyond four- dimensional chess, this is 25-dimensional chess and I think there's a lot going on the background that we don't know. Clearly, China is a central player. I do think this politically speaking, part of the President's uptick lately has been his willingness to do something a little different on North Korea to try to ratchet down tensions on the Peninsula. So I think he's benefited politically from trying. What I would like to see now is if it falls apart, are the American people still going to credit him for trying or whether there will be a pullback in support for him North Korea. I think CNN's own polling said two-thirds of Americans support what he's doing on this topic.

[16:50:12] TAPPER: And Neera, take a listen to President Trump talking about how he could ensure Kim Jong-un's safety if a deal is made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We will guarantee his safety and we've talked about that from the beginning. He will be safe, he will be happy. His country will be rich. His country will be hard working and very prosperous. They are very great people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think he's basically responding to the Libya point which is that we -- that Bolton said we want them to denuclearize like Libya and then the North Korean's hear Libya, they think of a dead Gaddafi. So I think that's essentially what he's doing. But at the same time, I mean, ultimately, the problem the President has is a problem for Donald Trump in this situation is we have the Iran Deal we just gave up on, and we have the Libya experience and so it's very easy for the North Koreans to say we are not denuclearizing. And the President has set that up at the beginning saying we're only going to negotiate if you denuclearize, they probably won't be having the summit. Now, it's better them to be talking than not talking but the reality that they can just pull away so quickly makes us look I think a little silly.

TAPPER: What do you think, Phil?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERINTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Pretty simple. I mean, we're better off than we were when the President was in front of the U.N. saying Little Rocketman. That said, if we're under the impression that a country that believes it's the self-defense hinges in nuclear weapons, I think wonder a lot of delusions. All the stuff about we're going to meet in June 12th I think is insignificant. It's the North Korean saying I don't really need you and the President saying, well I'm going to double dog and tell you I really don't need you, a lot of dancing going on. One quick point, the most significant comment I think the President made was the phrase he used, this might happen over a period of time. He understands this is not just a meeting. It is a long-term process, I hope.

METZL: But if the best deal we could possibly get would be the equivalent of the Iran Deal, and the President has already on record saying that that's not good enough, so if we're looking for any kind of denuclearization of North Korea and that is not on the table, it's hard to see where there's any common ground.

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. I appreciate it. Coming up, new volcanic eruptions sending lava spewing into the air. Now, there's concern the lava could create a new threat in Hawaii. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We have breaking news out of Hawaii. New urgent warning as the Kilauea Volcano explodes violently. Take a listen. Live pictures now show the volcano shooting what the locals call lava

bombs into the air at times igniting homes. One lava bomb struck a man in the leg. That is the most severe injury of this volcano eruption that we know of. The new cause for concern is this, lava oozing into the ocean sending a toxic gas with particles into the air. CNN's Stephanie Elam is live in Hawaii for us. And Stephanie, we could see the lava erupting behind you. Do those gases ever come in your direction?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT Well, Jake, where we're standing right now, the trade winds are blowing in the favor and it's blowing those gases away. But that is just one of the many concerns of the people who live in this area are dealing with.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: The sound as eerie as the site, lava, and toxic gas bursting for more than 20 cracks in the ground. What sounds like the ocean is actually pressure from the earth forcing lava bombs into the air, a visual escorted us to the spot but we couldn't stay for long.

The orange pieces launched out of this fissure in the sky with wave after wave of this volcanic gas that is coming out of there.

The lava stretching for miles in some cases finally reaching the ocean creating another phenomenon called laze. It's a thick layer of haze created when hot lava mixes with ocean water. The resulting plume even carries tiny glass particles. The creeping lava and dangerous gases have already forced nearly 2,000 people to flee. Walls of lava cutting many off from their homes. Lava bombs threaten those who do return. During this interview with CNN's Scott McLean, lava bombs were loud and powerful, rattling Darrell Clinton who returned briefly to check on his property.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's almost like catching a football but you don't want to catch this football.

ELAM: The next day a lava bomb did hit Clinton. Now he's recovering in the hospital with a leg wound. For the most part, the Kilauea eruption which began decades ago is impacting a small but growing portion of the big island. This latest phase is so dramatic because lava has burst through the ground away from the summit, not only reaching the ocean, but also threatening a power convention plant. The risk there, explosions if lava mixes with steam and liquid kept in the plant's wells.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The well could be plugged with special types of mud.

ELAM: Officials say they have the upper hand but back at Kilauea summit, a new development. An overnight eruption sending more ash into the air. It's the second time recent days the summit has blown it's top. And geologists warn despite all of this lava and ash, this phase of the Kilauea eruption is in its early stage.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ELAM: And it does continue to ebb and flow and move. It's almost like this volcano is alive the way the magma moves around. Fissures that were once closed are now opening up again and spewing more lava, just another threat that the people here are living with. Jake?

TAPPER: Stephanie Elam in Hawaii, thanks so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.