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Trump: Kim Jong-Un Summit May Not Happen in June; Trump on DOJ; "Disgrace" If FBI Spied on My Campaign; DHS Chief Pushes Back on Intel Putin Favored Trump; EPA Bans CNN, Other Media from Pruitt Event. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired May 22, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: "He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich. His country will be prosperous. We will help just, like we helped South Korea with trillions of U.S. dollars."
These are the same people, they will be extremely happy if this deal is worked out.
RICH LOWRY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We should ever anything if they will immediately denuclearize, but that seems extremely unlikely. If I were the president, I think he should back off the summit entirely. Part of what North Korea was doing last week is yanking our chain to make the point that we might want the summit more than they do. If they are serious about pursuing a new path forward, let it bubble up from below and low-level meetings rather than giving them the summit right away. And something that I think the North Koreans probably focused on, he said we want complete and immediate denuclearization as the ideal, but maybe they will be short of that. So you see the North Koreans starting the negotiation over the negotiation where they believe they have made some progress.
BLITZER: Jeremy Diamond, you're over at the White House. The president spent almost a half an hour answering reporters' questions. Pretty extraordinary. But the focus clearly being on North Korea.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Wolf. It was just yesterday that we reported that Trump administration officials were growing increasingly skeptical about the chances of that this meeting between the president and Kim Jong-Un actually taking place next month. And what we heard from the president today was him reflecting that very same skepticism, saying that he believes there's a substantial chance that this meeting between him and Kim Jong-Un will not take place next month. He did leave open the possibility to this meeting happening later on if they are not able to agree to this June 12th summit. And this is the president reflecting a lot of these internal conversations that are happening every day inside this White House. Sparked in particular by the North Korean statements last week, which really did pour a lot of cold water on the high hopes for the summit that have existed in the west wing and that the president in particular has had.
But it was also interesting to hear the president say that North Korea needs to meet certain conditions in order to have this meeting take place. This is the president trying to regain control of the narrative, regain control of what it will take to actually get to this summit next month.
Clearly, we heard two very different feelings from the president and from the South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was much more optimistic about this, really signaling the importance of having this summit and the history that could be accomplished by having it. So that is what will continue to happen behind closed doors here at the White House, the South Korean president emphasizing to President Trump that this summit still should go through and can still be a success -- Wolf?
BLITZER: I want you to listen, Jeremy, to what the Vice President Mike Pence said last night, bringing up the whole Libya example in terms of future negotiations with North Korea. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES There was some talk about the Libyan model last week.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Right.
PENCE: And you know, as the president made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-Un doesn't make a deal.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Some people saw that as a threat.
PENCE: Well, I think it is more of a fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jeremy Diamond, clearly, it was a threat that not only Mike Pence but the president's new national security adviser, the other day on one of the Sunday talk shows, John Bolton, he made a similar charge that look what happened to Libya.
DIAMOND: Yes, that's right. This administration and its allies -- we heard this similar line from Senator Lindsey Graham the other day -- making clear that the only alternative that they see to these direct talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un is a military option. They have laid that out repeatedly and clearly that that is the only alternative that they see. And that they do intend to resolve this issue by the president's first term. That is also something that they have said. And the reason for that being that either diplomacy will run its course and it will be successful or North Korea will likely continue to advance its nuclear weapons program. And this administration has made clear that it is not taking the military option off the table. And it is also considering this potential of a preventive strike, something that has received a lot of criticism from foreign policy circles in Washington, this notion of going after North Korea before it attacks to prevent it from obtaining the nuclear weapons capability to strike the United States -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Stand by.
Will Ripley, our correspondent is in Pyongyang. He is joining us on the phone.
Will, what are you hearing over there from your sources? Is this summit on June 12th in Singapore between the president and Kim Jong-Un going to take place?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hi, Wolf. I think there's a lot of questions on the ground here in Korea about whether the summit will take place. North Koreans have said that they would walk away as well if they feel like they are not getting what they need from the United States. And there have been some things that have happened that have angered the North Koreans. Here on the east coast, they are expecting, perhaps in a matter of hours, to go on a train to go up to a nuclear test site in the mountains. And obviously, this development makes me wonder if North Koreans will still go through with that and take journalists up to see this site. Are they still going to blow up the tunnels and continue the dismantling process? This is why have been brought here. But this development could be a gamechanger on the ground.
Wolf, the North Koreans are angry about the remarks from Vice President Mike Pence. Before that, the national security adviser, John Bolton. They consider it a threat saying that North Korea could become the next Libya. They also think that the United States is practicing to invade North Korea right now because of the military drills that are happening in South Korea this month. They don't believe that the U.S. -- they don't believe the U.S. claims that they are defensive. They see bombers and fighter jets that are potentially carrying nuclear weapons and they look at it as yet another practice invasion of their country.
And so there has been some posturing here ahead of the summit. North Korea saying what they want, which is they want the military drills to stop. They want the sanctions to stop. They eventually want U.S. forces off the peninsula. They want economic opportunities in exchange for denuclearization, which they say could potentially happen. But they say that it won't be a unilateral surrender, which they feel the United States is calling for. So tough talk also from the North Koreans.
And keep in mind, Wolf, the city where I am here, just less than a year ago when I was here, they were launching missiles from this city. They were conducting live fire drills along the beach. Now they are building a beach resort along that same beach where they were shooting artillery, hoping to attract tourists because of increased economic opportunities, partially from opening up with the U.S. Obviously, a lot of that is up in the air if this summit does not happen, if these negotiations fall apart.
[13:36:46] BLITZER: Just to be precise, Will, you are there, with other West journalists, to observe the destruction of the nuclear test site that is supposed to happen, when?
RIPLEY: We don't know. We were told that we were going to get on a train several hours ago, but it has been raining here, and it is a treacherous journey. We have to go 12 hours on the train, then four hours in a car, and then we have to hike an hour, maybe more, to get to this test site. It's in the North Korean mountains. It has never before been visited by the international press. There have fewer than two dozen of us here. The government has been selective about who is on the trip. But we are supposed to make this journey at some point, possibly in a matter of hours, once the weather clears and it is safe enough to go through the mountains to get there to watch them destroy the test site. That is the whole reason we were brought into the country. And the government really has rolled out the red carpet. They refurbished an entire resort that we are staying in. We're the only guests here. Kind of waiting to see what's going to happen next.
But clearly these remarks from President Trump do make me wonder what will really happen now on this trip here inside North Korea.
BLITZER: Lots of uncertainty right now. And the president raising some doubts whether or not that June 12 summit in Singapore with Kim Jong-Un will take place. He says if it doesn't take place now, maybe it will take place down the road. But he's raising some doubts about it.
Will Ripley, be careful over there. We'll stay in close touch with you, of course.
The president also answered a question on the latest developments involving the Russia investigation undertaken by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the role the Department of Justice, the deputy attorney general. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country. That would be one of the biggest insult anybody has seen. And it would be very illegal, aside from everything else. It would make probably every political event ever look like small potatoes. So we want to make sure that they weren't. I hope there weren't frankly. But some man got paid -- based on what I read in the newspapers and on what you reported, some person got paid a lot of money. That is not a normal situation the kind of money you are talking about. So hopefully, that would be -- and I think the Department of Justice wants to get down to it. And I can tell you Congress does. So hopefully, they will all be able to get together. General Kelly will be setting up a meeting between Congress and the various representatives and they will be able to open up documents, take a look and find out what happened. But if they had spies in my campaign, during my campaign for political purposes, that would be unprecedented in the history of our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Josh Campbell is joining us. He is our CNN law enforcement analyst, former FBI supervisory special agent.
The president keeps referring to the possibility that not a spy, but spies planted by the Obama administration into the Trump campaign. He says that would be unprecedented, a huge scandal. What is your reaction to that? You used to work over there for the FBI Director James Comey.
[13:40:02] JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, words matter in the intelligence business and it is important to define our terms. When we compare a spy to an informant, let's look what the we're talking about here. When we talk about a spy, this conjures up images of people skulking in the dark, maybe with questionable motives. Spying is illegal in every country in the world. Obviously, we do it overseas against our adversaries, but we don't spy on Americans.
Let's compare that with what law enforcement does when they use a human asset, an informant or intelligence source. They're using that to further an investigation. And with the FBI or Department of Justice, whenever they use a person to gather information, that is one of among the most highly scrutinized investigative tools within the Department of Justice, both because of the risk and you want to make sure you are not violating the privacy or civil liberties of someone that may not be warranted. So there a high level of oversight. So if one were to look at what the president just said diplomatically, perhaps, they could describe that as confusing two separate issues. If one were to look at that more critically, it could be described as conflation to further a political narrative.
BLITZER: So what is your reaction specifically to what the president just said?
CAMPBELL: What's interesting is we hear the qualifier. What he is saying is, if the FBI or if the government was spying on my campaign, this would be among the biggest scandals in history, if for political purposes. And it is that last part that we really have to focus on. Because I actually agree with him here that if the FBI had implanted a human source for political purposes, that would be outrageous. The problem is, it is somewhat of a straw man because no one is claiming that. Even some of the reporting appears as though this person was helping further and ongoing counterintelligence investigation. But we haven't seen any claim yet that it was the Obama administration or his appointees that were injecting a spy in order to gather information and do something sinister within the campaign. It just doesn't bear out. And the reason I think that we know that is because look at what we've seen. We've seen appointees under President Obama launch the investigation and approve this type of activity, and they were able to somehow convince appointees under President Trump, both Rod Rosenstein, attorney general and FBI director that were appointed by the current president, to now defend those actions. So it's very telling, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We'll get back to you, Josh.
But California Congressman Eric Swalwell is joining us. He's a Democrat. He's a member of both the House Intelligence Committee as well as the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
The Department of Justice inspector general has been ordered to dig into any possible wrongdoing, as the president alleged, that maybe there were spies planted by the Obama administration against the Trump campaign. Do you believe that the Department of Justice is doing the right thing?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D), CALIFORNIA: I wish they wouldn't do that, Wolf. I have reviewed a lot of this evidence. I have not seen anything improper. What I do see is a president who is acting frankly more like a dictator. One of the most precious things we have in America is our rule of law. The separation between those being investigated and the independence that we give to investigators, that they can put their cases forward, that an independent judiciary can sign off on warrants to allow them to go forward, and ultimately a jury decides the fate of anyone accused. We have the president of the United States trying to break into the safe, the evidence locker that holds evidence in the case against him. And that is just wrong, Wolf. And I understand Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Wray are not in an easy position here, but I would really caution against doing anything that invades upon the real wall that must exist between a subject and an investigation and the work that the FBI is doing and the sources who they must protect to make sure that their lives are not in danger. Because in the future, we will need people to work with the U.S. government and trust that they will not be exposed.
BLITZER: But if a U.S. confidential source was instructed by either the FBI or the CIA or someone in the U.S. law enforcement or Intelligence Community to go ahead and reach out to three advisers to the Trump campaign, to cozy up to them, to pick their brains, to find out what they know, what they were doing, is that spying?
SWALWELL: So, Wolf, no. And I guess I don't accept that that is what happened. And I don't accept the president's version of the events. What I have seen is a lot of alarming behavior on the part of people on the Trump team and now we've learned by the Trump family members in the contacts that they had with Russia. Of course, in the interest of our national security, we'd want the FBI to investigate that. They have a number of different tactics that they can use to find out what is going on before they launch a full-scale investigation. And what I'm telling you is, from where I sit and the evidence that I've been able to view, I have not seen them act improper at all.
[13:45:03] BLITZER: Does the Congress, in its oversight capacities of Intelligence Community, Congressman, have a right to know all the details, what led to this decision to have this U.S. confidential source contact these three officials from the Trump campaign?
SWALWELL: Not while an investigation is ongoing. And that is what is so troublesome here. Of course, we want to look at investigations once they are concluded to make sure that civil liberties were followed and that there were no abuses. But what you are seeing here by the president and his fixers in Congress is an attempt to just reach into the evidence locker of the FBI, review the evidence, and then it compromises the case. And then they seek to undermine the work that the special counsel is doing so that if he were to bring forward indictments, they have cast a cloud over those indictments, and it would hurt the ability to prosecute the case to any jury. That is so irresponsible. I really wish my colleagues who care I know deeply about the rule of law would step back and think about the long- term damage they are doing to the independence of the Department of Justice in our country.
BLITZER: Congressman Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
BLITZER: The Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says she is not aware of the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin specifically tried to help President Trump win the 2016 presidential election. The comment was made after Nielsen and other top U.S. officials briefed lawmakers on election security earlier this morning. Only 40 or 50 -- more than 430 members of the House of Representatives actually showed up for this classified briefing.
I want to go to our CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, you were there. You spoke with her. Give us the context of Secretary Nielsen's remark that she wasn't aware of the U.S. Intelligence Community 's conclusion.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She discussed behind closed doors with the House members about what the United States has learned since 2016 when the Russians meddled in the elections. So I had a chance to ask her specifically about the Intelligence Community's assessment about what happened in 2016 elections. And in that assessment, it is quite clear that the Intelligence Community believes that Donald Trump was favored by Vladimir Putin, and that Putin had a clear preference that Donald Trump win the election, and took steps, Russia did, to help Trump win.
When I asked Homeland Security secretary directly whether or not she agrees with that assessment, she side stepped it, and also said that she was unaware of that finding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Secretary, to that point, do you have any reason to doubt the January 2017 Intelligence Community assessment that said that it was Vladimir Putin who tried to meddle in the election to help President Trump win?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I do not believe that I've seen that conclusion. What I do --
NIELSEN: -- that the specific intent was to help President Trump win. I'm not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.
I think what they are trying to do, in my opinion, and I defer to the intel community, is disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what is it happening. It is an integrity issue of who is saying what or why and how that may or may not affect an American's behavior in what they believe. RAJU: But Putin --the assessment did say that Putin did try --
orchestrated a cyber campaign with the intention of helping Donald Trump.
RAJU: Do you have any disagreement with that?
NIELSEN: I do believe that Russia did and will continue to try to manipulate American's perspective on a whole variety of issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, afterwards, Wolf, the Homeland Security Department did put out a statement saying she believes the Intelligence Community's assessment and says that the question was asked did not reflect the specific language in the I.C. assessment. But, Wolf, the exact language in the I.C. assessment said that Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President Trump and aspired to help President Trump's election chances by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. And also, Wolf, the Senate Intelligence Committee, on a bipartisan basis, has reaffirm what the Intelligence Community at large has said. Some House Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee dispute what the Intelligence Community said. So it is uncertain exactly where Secretary Nielsen comes down on this specific point. As we know, the president himself has thrown cold water that Russia did anything to help his election chances in 2016 -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. Pretty intriguing stuff.
Manu, thanks very much.
Rich Lowry, the secretary of Homeland Security doesn't know what the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded? It is a public document. It was released on January 6, 2017. "We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-Elect Trump. We also assess Putin and the Russia government aspired to help President-Elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him."
How is it possible that the secretary of Homeland Security doesn't know that?
[13:50:11] LOWRY: I think she probably doesn't want to say she knows that in case there's an audience of one paying attention and didn't like her saying that. I think that conclusion is probably correct. There's some ambiguity in some of the Russian meddling. Using Facebook ads. Some of them were on the left, some were on the right. The protests they organized, some on the left, some on the right. The most successful protest, as far as we now, was in New York after the election, protesting Trump's election. So there was an element as much just trying to create chaos and breed distrust of the entire system. But it seems fairly clear that they did develop a preference over time in the election. MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And it is shocking to me that
the secretary of Homeland Security is denying what any reader of the "New York Times" or watcher of CNN knows because this is the person who is charged with defending us from future attacks. And these are not over. Our intelligence chiefs are saying that Russians are planning to hit our next election and the one after that. Their interference is not over.
And one of the most shocking things of what is going on, President Trump is trying to obstruct the investigation. He doesn't seem to care if the Russians are going to meddle in the future. Maybe he wants to encourage them to meddling because he thinks he will benefit from it. But Secretary Nielsen is the person on the front lines who is supposed to protect us from these kinds of occurrences. She's denying that it occurred in the first place. I mean, that is shocking and dismaying. They are not protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States.
BLITZER: Yes. I think Rich Lowry makes a good point that she's speaking to an audience of one. She's reluctant. She already got herself in trouble earlier.
BLITZER: The president was upset with her.
BOOT: That's a sign that the president is so in denial and so refuses to accept reality, that his head of Homeland Security can't speak the truth in public, that means we're not going to protect ourselves.
BLITZER: People are going to lose confidence in her.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly. We have to look forward here. If Secretary Nielsen hasn't read the January 2017 I.C. assessment about Russia's activities, is she going to gain intelligence that's still coming in about what Russia may or may not be doing for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 elections. It's a very bad precedent.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around.
There's more news that we're getting. Get this. Journalists, from the Associated Press, and from CNN, we're today barred from covering the EPA summit. We have details just ahead.
BLITZER: Today, the Environmental Protection Agency barred members of the news media, including CNN, from a national summit on harmful chemicals in drinking water.
We're joined by CNN Money senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy.
Pretty shocking stuff, Oliver. What happened? OLIVER DARCY, CNN MONEY SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Certainly, shocking, Wolf. Several journalists, when they were trying to cover this EPA event where Scott Pruitt was speaking were blocked entry by security and told they couldn't enter the event. I'm told the A.P> spokesperson provided security with a list of reporters allowed to go in and cover the event. And when other journalists, including from CNN, tried to go in, they were blocked by security. The Associated Press is saying one of their reporters, when they protested and asked to talk to a public affairs person so they could get inside the event, that they were shoved outside the building, something that our journalists even witnessed.
[13:55:16] BLITZER: Physically --
DARCY: Physically shoved by a uniformed security guard. The Associated Press, in a statement they put out, their executive editor, and it says that, "The selective barring of news organizations, including the A.P., from covering today's meeting is alarming and a direct threat to the public's right to know about what is happening inside their government. It is particularly distressing that any journalist trying to cover an event in the public interest would be forcibly removed."
CNN put out a statement separately saying, "We understand the importance of an open and free press and we open the EPA does, too."
BLITZER: It's shocking. This is an open event. It's not classified information. Reporters were invited but they specifically told the Associated Press and CNN get out?
DARCY: Right, that they could not go into the event. The EPA said it's a space limitation from the venue and they provided a live stream where people could watch separately. But a journalist with "The Hill" published a story saying there were vacant seats in the press area and there was a little bit of room. We obtained a photograph from inside the press area that shows there was certainly space for additional cameras.
BLITZER: Very often, when some journalists are expelled from this, the other, journalists stand up and protest and they walk out as well. In this particular case, they went in?
DARCY: Yes. There was no walkout that I'm aware of. We did talk to one of the journalists in the room and there was room for CNN to have cameras there and for the A.P..
BLITZER: Pretty shocking stuff. There's a dinner tonight, reporters committee for freedom of the press. I'm on the advisory committee of that organization. It's shocking, sometimes, to see what's going on here in the U.S.
DARCY: You might want to extend an invite to the EPA.
BLITZER: Yes. Thanks very much, Oliver, for that. There's more breaking news. The president is now saying the summit
with North Korea's Kim Jong-Un may not happen after all next month. You're seeing the president of South Korea, President Moon, now leaving the West Wing of the White House.