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DOJ and FBI to Allow Lawmakers to See Highly Classified Information; Top Officials Brief Lawmakers on Election Security; Journalists Invited To Watch Nuclear Site's Destruction; Trump to Meet With South Korea's Moon Ahead of Kim Summit. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 22, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CAMEROTA: -- morning here despite your sometimes grumpy reaction to it, that is another illustration.

CUOMO: I'm all in favor of it. I say go full Pollyanna.

CAMEROTA: Let's do it. All right. On that note we turn it over to "CNN NEWSROOM" with John Berman and Poppy Harlow. We love them.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We love you, too.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. The urgent question this morning, is immediately now and if not now when, not to mention what?

HARLOW: So many questions remain, so much remains unclear about the White House announcement that the FBI and Justice Department will immediately share highly classified information on the Russia probe with leaders of Congress. What information? What are the limitations? Which leaders? Why now?

We know the so-called agreement came in a meeting between the president, the FBI chief Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and it followed the president's demand for a probe into whether the FBI surveyed his campaign.

Our Kaitlan Collins joins us at the White House this morning.

Good morning, Kaitlan.


The White House does seem to have brokered some sort of agreement between top officials at the Justice Department and congressional leaders and now congressional leaders are going to be able to see some information related to the Russia investigation.

Now this comes after a meeting here at the White House yesterday that included the president, the Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the FBI director Christopher Wray and the director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Now the outcome of that meeting, Sarah Sanders, his press secretary,

announces that John Kelly is going to set up this meeting between the Justice Department and these congressional leaders so they can look at some information. Of course, all of that came after the president on Twitter on Sunday demanded that the Department of Justice look into whether his campaign was infiltrated or surveyed for political purposes. A statement and an allegation that the president made without any proof or any corroboration.

But now we are going to have this meeting that John Kelly is going to set up. But there is still a lot of mystery surrounding this meeting regarding what information these leaders are going to be provided, whether or not they're actually going to get their hands on documents, when this meeting is going to take place, who's going to be invited and where it's even going to happen.

But both sides seem to think, John and Poppy, that they have gotten the upper hand here and last night, Vice President Mike Pence billing this really as a success.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're very confident that as the inspector general has been doing their work looking at the conduct of the FBI during that period that by adding their focus to this that we'll get to the bottom of it because the American people have a right to know.


COLLINS: Now what's really at the root of all of this is a political fight over the Russia investigation and the president wants the investigators themselves to be investigated. All of that comes as the president is scheduled to meet with the South Korean president here at the White House today to discuss whether or not that potentially historic summit in Singapore is even going to happen. Right now aides inside the White House seemed to have lost a lot of confidence in that -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.

Joining us now to go through all of this, our legal analyst Laura Coates and our national security analyst Steve Hall.

So, Laura, let me begin with you. It's a stunning meeting between the president, the deputy attorney general who's overseeing the whole Russia probe, the director of National Intelligence, Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI.

Setting aside how stunning just the meeting itself was, do you think that the steps that are being taken, the intelligence that's going to be shown to members of Congress, the classified intelligence, does that help defuse a constitutional crisis or does it enable it?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it has the potential to diffuse it. Remember Rod Rosenstein is in a very precarious position. It's almost as if a rock and a hard place is really his existence. If he were not to have turned it over to the inspector general, and have simply said, you know what, I refuse to do so, I know that you're the head of the executive branch but we have some autonomy and independence that needs to remain and it's more than a tradition, especially if you are the one we are investigating or a member of your campaign, he would have had to leave and not be overseeing any longer the actual Mueller probe.

So it was damn if he did and damn if he doesn't. This is already in operation. It was already in existence and, by the way, there is already that mechanism in place if you feel the investigators needed to be investigated, it's called the inspector general. As far as the actual documents to members of Congress, while we've already seen through the competing memos that came out a couple months ago that they're going to have a narrative crafted regardless of what they actually see. I doubt there will be a great deal of objectivity but we hope that there will be in their presentation to the American people if any.

BERMAN: So, Steve, we don't know what will be shared with whom. We don't know if there will be Democrats involved with Republicans as well, and we don't know what documents will be there.

As someone who's been part of the intelligence community, what are your concerns in this meeting with congressional leaders about an active investigation?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, from just from the intelligence or better stated from the counterintelligence perspective, it's always of concern when you have folks who begin poking around and trying to find out what exactly your sources and your methods are.

[09:05:11] And, you know, I use poking around a little bit tongue in cheek because of course intelligence oversight committees by law do have legal authority to investigate and oversee the practices of intelligence services and law enforcement to include the FBI. That said, some of the stuff that we've been hearing about in terms of if you want to know exactly who this source is that supposedly was providing information as to what the Russians may have been up to in the Trump campaign, when you start asking specific questions about who those people are, how you got that information, why it is that you used certain investigative techniques, and especially when it comes in such a highly politicized environment, you know, from the intelligence perspective and from the people who are trying to do their jobs to get these investigations done, you become concerned that this information that you're providing that under normal circumstances would be perfectly normal and acceptable for intelligence community oversight to be asking about maybe used politically and that's the big concern is, is revealing those sources and methods and compromising potential future things that you can do with those sources and methods.

HARLOW: Steve, staying with you for a moment, just for the intelligence perspective here on this. Sam Clovis, one of the former Trump campaign advisers. We know he's one of at least three people that this confidential source met with. Right? Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis. Here is how he described the meeting he had with that confidential source to an Iowa radio station.


SAM CLOVIS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The meeting was very high level. It was like two faculty members sitting down on the faculty lounge talking about research. And there was no indication, there are no inclination that this was anything other than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it. It was not anything other than him talking about the research that he had done on China and that was essentially what the discussion was about, and we already had a lot of China people involved.


HARLOW: All right. So, Steve, taking him at his word and you can debate whether or not that should be done, but if you take him at his word, does that sound like infiltration and embedding to you?

HALL: Well, again, this is something that is, you know, extremely uncomfortable and difficult to talk about and, you know, I don't want to speculate too far as to how the FBI may have been using or whether they're abusing -- not abusing. Whether they are using confidential informants and how particularly they were doing that, you know, what they were tasked to do, what approach they were asked to take?

These are all again methods that intelligence services and law enforcement use which, you know, really should not be talked about outside of, you know, very special circumstances, oversight circumstances and, you know, perhaps if you're talking about IG inspections, the inspector general. So you have to be really careful when you're sort of analyzing these things because you're going to start showing, you know, how it is that you're going to -- that the law enforcement organizations and intelligence organizations are doing that. So you got to be really careful talking about this kind of stuff.

BERMAN: From a layman's perspective, I guess it didn't sound like deep, deep probing.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Or digging right there. It doesn't sound like he was asking for state secrets or campaign information there.

Laura, there's another aspect of this. And Maggie Haberman pointed this out overnight. It's that the president was consulting with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, about using his executive powers calling on the DOJ to launch this investigation.

You know, does that blur -- I mean, how much does that blur lines here? I mean, are there even lines? Are we just some blob or some amorphous mass of points that spread out over a page?

COATES: I think we're the amorphous mass now because remember he didn't go to the White House counsel or the people who represents the actual office position, not the incumbent. So he already knows that he's making a personal endeavor, a personal overture in many ways to try to oversee the executive branch.

Now it would seem that because the office of the presidency is that which actually oversees the Department of Justice, you would enlist the help of the people who are charged to protecting that particular office. He is not. He's gone through the personal route which gives you the idea there's more of an axe to grind as opposed to a procedural issue that's happening here at the executive branch.

But the overall theme is the same. From what Steve is talking about until now, because it's Rudy Giuliani who's been talking as his personal counsel about the notion of perjury traps. Now this discussion about an informant or a source has the smack of saying, well, they were trying to entrap through a conversation.

This overall theme is very, very distinct from what a source normally does but it goes with the personal momentum that the president is trying to generate. If they were after me, they wanted to entrap people who knew me, and if I speak to you, you will try to perjure me in many ways.

BERMAN: All right. Laura Coates, Steve Hall, thanks so much for being with us.

Not unrelated to all of this, happening now on Capitol Hill, top U.S. officials briefing lawmakers on current threats to U.S. elections.

[09:10:06] HARLOW: Our Manu Raju is outside of that meeting. And this is a meeting where all members were invited. Not sure how many are there but what can you tell us about it?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Senior administration officials, Kirstjen Nielsen, Christopher Wray, FBI director, briefing members of the House about perceived vulnerability heading into the fall elections in 2018. And members who are emerging here are giving reactions, probably not surprisingly, along party lines, speaking to one Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois he said that I don't feel confident about what the administration is doing.

He heard what in his view was, quote, "a lot of bureaucratic responses," and not a real sweeping strategy in how to deal with the Russian threat specifically ahead of 2018. Republicans on the other hand say that they are more confident that the administration is taking steps, taking this seriously and has learned lessons about what happened in the 2016 elections that they could apply to 2018.

So we're still getting more from members as they emerge but already you're hearing just some concerns from Democrats not enough is being done. But again perhaps not surprisingly on Capitol Hill, members having different reactions depending on what side of the aisle they sit on this.

BERMAN: Shocked to see partisanship on Capitol Hill.

Manu Raju, thank you so much for policing it. South Korea's president on his way to the White House for talks. This

as top Trump aides are now questioning whether the president's meeting with Kim Jong-un will even happen. We have new developments. And did the administration blink in trade talks with China? Top Republican senator Marco Rubio says the White House is being out-negotiated.

HARLOW: Plus another violent volcano exploding overnight in Hawaii. The lava flowing. Residents being told to prepare to leave with very little notice ahead.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. Very shortly, President Trump will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House.

This is happening as aides grow more skeptical that the planned meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong- un will actually happen.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: In North Korea right now, a small group of journalists has been invited to see what the regime says will be the destruction of its nuclear test sites.

Our Will Ripley, who has spent quite a lot of time in North Korea, has a look at what this will entail and he's there.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've arrived here in Wonsan on North Korea's east coast. We flew here on a charter with a small group of international journalists from Beijing.

There were a lot of empty seats on our plane. The North Korean government being very selective about who they're allowing on this trip.

And really more importantly, the trip that we're about to make, possibly in the coming hours, we just don't know exactly when, because right now the weather, the rain here is holding things back. We're going to be traveling to the North Korean mountains, to the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site.

To give you a sense of just how remote this area is, we're going to have to take a train from here in Wonsan in North Korea' east coast, about 11 hours into the mountains, then it's a four-hour drive beyond that, maybe more if the roads are bad because of the weather and then an additional at least one hour hike after that just to get to the nuclear test site at Punggye-Ri where North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006.

This is a place that has never been seen by foreign journalists before. The North Koreans say they're been transparent here, that they're bringing us, the press, to show you the destruction of their nuclear site, the implosion of tunnels, the removal of buildings and researchers and guards, the shutdown of the entire area. Some skeptics say that this is all for show, that the facilities could easily be rebuilt, that the nuclear test site may have been damaged irreparably after last year's nuclear test that triggered a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

But the North Koreans say that's not the case. They say this is a good faith gesture that they are willing to work with the United States and its allies to give up the nuclear weapons ahead of these crucial planned talks in Singapore next month between the North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

But there is some skepticism even on the ground here about whether this summit could actually go forward given some of the rhetoric out of Washington.

The talk from the US Vice President Mike Pence, from President Trump's adviser John Bolton about a Libya model for North Korea. Of course, Gadhafi and Libya gave up his nuclear weapons and was dead just a few years later, overthrown by US-backed forces.

The North Koreans say that will never happen here and they will walk away from the summit if the United States continues to use that kind of rhetoric when talking about what they want from North Korea.

But they do have incentives here to work with the United States, to work with President Trump. There could be terrific economic opportunities for this country if the situation were to change.

In fact, just beyond me, there along the beach, a beach where they conducted live fire drills and launched missiles just last year. Now, they're building a massive new beach resort hoping to attract tourists if and when North Korea does open up further to the outside world.

I'm Will Ripley reporting in Wonsan, North Korea.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Will Ripley for that remarkable vantage point at a very crucial time between North Korea/South Korea and the United States.

Joining us now is John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at Harvard's Kennedy School. -Professor, thanks so much for being with us.

Look, the South Korean president is meeting at the White House with President Trump today. No one has more on the line in the North Korea talks with the United States than the president of South Korea.

Does he need to step in and save these talks? And how would he do that?

JOHN PARK, DIRECTOR, KOREA WORKING GROUP, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL: Well, John, he's already an integral party in all of this.

If you look at it, the summit that he had with Kim Jong-un on April 27th laid the ground work, the foundation for this US/North Korea summit. So, in many respects, he's trying to keep all the pieces together.

What's interesting, during that inter-Korean summit with Kim Jong-un, President Moon had about 30 minutes with him. And it looked like he was giving some advice on how to prepare for the meeting with President Trump.

This prescheduled meeting that's going to happen in the White House, this was President Moon's opportunity to coordinate with President Trump on how to deal with Kim Jong-un.

[09:20:03] So, added to all of this is the wrinkle of what happened last week. But I think these are obstacles that the South Korean side are confident that they can overcome.

HARLOW: But what Moon is going to have to overcome is convincing the president, John, to take a phased approach in their words to denuclearization.

That's hard to do when you have the vice president coming out yesterday and saying, no, we will walk away from the table, no question about it and then, again, bringing up the Libya model that our Will Ripley just said has infuriated the North Koreans.

Listen to the vice president.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn't make a deal.


PENCE: Well, I think it's more of a fact.


HARLOW: I.e., you're going to be dead is what he's saying there.

PARK: The statements there, Poppy, Vice President Pence as well as National Security Adviser Bolton, those statements that they've made are from the previous periods. These aren't new statements. It's just a timing aspect.

The key focus here from a North Korean perspective is they've met with Pompeo twice, first as director of CIA and then second as secretary of state.

Now, what was discussed between Pompeo and Chairman Kim, that becomes the basis of a North Korean understanding of the outlines of an agreement with President Trump.

So, for the North Koreans, they're trying to make sure that that understanding still remains in place. And I think this is going to be a message that President Moon will carry as well. They'll go back to the events pre of last week.

All those things remain. And those facts are what, I think, President Moon is going to emphasize.

BERMAN: And, professor, you think that what they could actually achieve in the next three weeks in a way is to sort of lower expectations here, set up some kind of a statement before the meeting even begins that sort of means that denuclearization isn't the end all, be all of what could be a few hour meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. What do you mean by that?

PARK: So, when you look at this idea of getting President Trump back on the same page as Chairman Kim, essentially, what President Moon is going to do is layout the template, the game plan that he used to get the summit and to get the Panmunjom declaration out of the summit on April 27th.

So, in many respects, it's this idea of eye on the prize and using his experience as a previous deal and something as a deal maker for President Trump to focus on.

So, the idea is not to negotiate at the table in Singapore, but to hammer out a declaration, a joint US/North Korea declaration to be officially unveiled at Singapore. And to focus on that, I think, is a way to get the background noise out of the picture here.

HARLOW: How significant is it where Will Ripley is heading right now, Punggye-ri, the nuclear test site, the fact that they're dismantling it in front of journalists? I mean, it came to mind to me, they've already test these things, they already have this capability, how significant that they're putting on this show for the Western media?

PARK: I think here the symbolic value is really important. It is a physical act, but it is something that gives a sense that there's more to come in terms of denuclearization activities.

Pompeo, when he met with Chairman Kim, talked about a denuclearization mechanism. And so, it's this idea that there are gaps, but not focus on the gaps, but the broader goals.

And Will is kind of in North Korea on the 10th anniversary of the demolition of the cooling tower in North Korea. So, it gives you a sense of how these types of actions are designed to be a confidence booster, but also signal that there are other actions in this denuclearization mechanism.

BERMAN: So, the United States has already produced this commemorative coin to mark the summit on June 12th. I think we have a picture of it. Hopefully, you can put it up here. And you can see that Kim Jong-un is referred to as the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un on this coin.

The White House says it has no role in actually producing these. Nevertheless, if you're Kim looking at this coin, this is everything you've ever wanted.

PARK: Well, it certainly is a collector's item. And I think if it is a confidence booster from the US side to have these things done ahead of time also signals that the US is focused on the Singapore summit.

There will be hurdles, but these hurdles - and again, this is President Moon's message, there are always hurdles in preparing for these summits and he's going to explain some of the hurdles that he has overcome.

So, this is big part of - another part of this confidence-boosting aspect.

HARLOW: John Park, it's great to have you. Thanks for being here.

So, ahead for us, the president picked a trade fight with China. You remember all that rhetoric? But is he actually winning this battle? A top Republican senator says no. Marco Rubio calls it a "crisis."


[09:29:13] BERMAN: All right. New this morning, listen to this. Sadly, China is out-negotiating the administration and winning the trade talks right now.

That comes from Republican Senator Marco Rubio, very critical of the Trump administration right now and concessions it might be making to China in these crucial trade talks.

Our Alison Kosik here to help us understand what's going on. Being tough on China was part of what President Trump and candidate Trump was all about. The question is, is he?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. A good example is ZTE. That's a smartphone company based in China and it's come under sanctions, but now it looks like it's getting kind of a pass.

So, what we're seeing, as we see the trade deal being worked out, is both sides making big concessions to settle this trade spat.

"The Wall Street Journal" reporting that the deal could actually wind up lifting a ban that keeps US companies from selling components and software to this smartphone company, ZTE. It's something that the Chinese company said would put it out of business.

Now, this ban was punishment for violating US sanctions. So, in return, China may remove over $1 billion in tariffs.