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Trump Cancels Summit; Trump's Conflict of Interest; Reasons Behind Canceled Summit. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 24, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:18] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 2:00 p.m. in Pyongyang. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We start with breaking news. A major development. A clearly angry President Donald Trump cancelling the planned nuclear summit with North Korea over North Korean threats and insults. The president sent a letter to Kim Jong-un cancelling the summit. And just a little while ago, President Trump spoke about his decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Based on the recent statement of North Korea, I've decided to terminate the planned summit in Singapore on June 12th. While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead, potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world.
A lot of things can happen, including the fact that perhaps, and we'd wait, it's possible that the existing summit could take place or a summit at some later date.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president is reacting to this statement from North Korea that said in part, quote, whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States. We could also make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now, closed quote.
The president was also upset that the same North Korean official, a vice foreign minister, called the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, a political dummy. That insult was in response to this comment from the vice president on the nuclear negotiations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, there was some talk about the Libyan model last week. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
PENCE: And, you know, as the president made clear, you know, this -- this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn't make a deal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some people saw that as a threat.
PENCE: Well, I think it's more of a fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's joining us from the White House.
So take us through the decision, the president all of a sudden cancelling this summit, also saying at the same time maybe it will still happen down the road.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think that is the most interesting thing of all, the president clearly leaving the door open to diplomacy. His tone was very measured today as he was speaking here at the White House. Indeed, even the words inside the letter that he sent to Kim Jong-un, absolutely keeping the same measured approach, far different than we heard, you know, months ago when he was belittling him as rocket man. So they clearly want the idea of this to still happen.
But, Wolf, in the last several days, about the last 36 hours or so, we are told U.S. government officials are beginning to become concerned, even more concerned than before, because, a, they were not hearing directly back from the North Korean officials, as they had been for the last couple of weeks, and it became clear that, you know, there were questions if North Korea was serious about coming to the table to talk about substantive issues.
Yes, there were concerns about the idea of going to Singapore in the first place. Yes, there were concerns about Kim Jong-un leaving his country. The president, of course, said he could guarantee his security. But that was a difficult thing to do in practice, most likely.
So it became clear over the last several days that there were problems with this. But the U.S. did not want to be left holding the bag or left at the altar, if you will. The worst-case scenario would have been the president flying to Singapore and waiting for Kim Jong-un and only to have him not arrive. So they clearly wanted to make this decision here to show that the president is driving this, so pulling back from it, but still, Wolf, leaving the door open. Again, the tone of the president today I think so instructive here as we go forward to the next steps of this relationship.
BLITZER: I take it, Jeff, the president was also pretty angry at the description of the vice president, Mike Pence, in one of the statements from the vice foreign minister of North Korea, that minister said, as a person involved in U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president, referring to the Libyan model, if you will, what happened to Muammar Gaddafi, the denuclearization program in Libya. The -- John Bolton, the president's new national security adviser, had made some other references to Libya as well. The North Koreans very, very unhappy about that. Look where Muammar Gaddafi is today.
[13:05:08] ZELENY: No question. And the president, we are told, was incensed and even infuriated by the sharp rhetoric toward his vice president. But, Wolf, we believe that that is not what sunk this. Of course the president, you know, often uses sharp language on his own, and it's not simply that. It was also the fact, we are told, that they simply were not coming to the sort of same conclusion here of ridding the peninsula of a nuclear weapons program. They, you know, had set up a location for the meeting, but it was still the substance of the meeting that was still at odds. They were talking past each other. And in recent hours, not talking to each other at all. So I do think the comments from the vice president played a role into it.
More interestingly, though, why did the vice president give that interview to Fox News talking about Libya when the president had said the Libya model was not at play here?
So all of this needs to be sorted out, Wolf. But it was more than the vice president's words that sunk this summit, at least for now.
And I should point out, the president has invited reporters back into the Oval Office. I am told it is not about the summit. It's not going to say the summit is still on. This is an unrelated matter that we'll be hearing from him soon on a different matter. But I'm told, Wolf, it is not about the Singapore summit.
BLITZER: Yes, OK, good point.
Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you very much.
BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, the New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Menendez, thanks so much for joining us.
Let me quickly get your reaction. What do you think of the president's announcement that he's scrapping, at least for now, a Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un?
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, as I said at the hearing with Secretary Pompeo, the art of diplomacy is a lot harder than the art of the deal, and we shouldn't be surprised at North Korea's actions. We've been down this road through three different administrations.
But what this is, is a failure of the Trump administration's approach, its impulsive actions. The only way that you agree to a summit like this is with very significant preparation, where at significant but lower levels there is negotiations going on about all the key elements.
And I went through what we want from North Korea with Secretary Pompeo today at the hearing. What does denuclearization mean? How about the total elimination of their ability to ultimately enrich uranium? How about their ability to not have ballistic missiles? And the whole list.
And those questions were the questions that should have been negotiated to come to a decision as to whether or not an actual deal was reachable and what would be the give and take. That clearly wasn't done here. And I think what the president did is used the remarks by the North Korean official to ultimately cancel a summit that he saw was not prepared for and would not have ultimately realized the results he wanted. And that's the -- and that's the challenge that I raised long ago when this was first announced, my concerns, and they have come to fruition.
BLITZER: The secretary of state, he testified before your panel today. He was in Pyongyang twice, once as the secretary of state, once as the CIA director. And he had two meetings, separate meetings, lengthy meetings with Kim Jong-un. Don't you think he went through a lot of those issues face to face with the top North Korean leader?
MENENDEZ: Well, he said in his testimony that his total time with Kim Jong-un was about three hours, of which I know a fair amount of time was about -- talking about the hostages, which I applaud the success of getting them out. But that's breaking the ice with Kim Jong-un, testing his readiness to come to the agreements of full denuclearization, of dismantling and ultimately shipping out of the country his nuclear program, of all of the elements of ballistic missiles, of not being able to ultimately shoot into space some of the missiles he's been shooting, and all of the rest that's associated, chemical/biological weapons. That certainly, certainly could not have been done in the course of three hours. Those are meticulous, painstaking negotiations in which you test the proposition of your opponent to understand whether or not they're truly willing to do so and under what conditions and for what in return. That clearly was not established here.
BLITZER: Do you have any reason to believe, senator, that the U.S. made this announcement, a very quick announcement, only a few hours after the president in a taped interview with Fox News yesterday afternoon thought the meeting was going to go ahead, and all of a sudden this morning the meeting is canceled. Do you have any reason to suspect that the North Koreans were themselves about to cancel the Singapore summit, and the president decided, before the North Koreans make the announcement, let him make the announcement?
[13:10:05] MENENDEZ: Wolf, I don't have any knowledge of that. And I haven't been briefed on whether or not that was a possibility. Secretary Pompeo didn't allude to any such impending decisions by the North Koreans. And so I wouldn't know.
But, look, the point is, you don't get to this stage if you don't have the appropriate preparation. That preparation would have tested whether or not you should have set a date, whether you -- where you should have set a location. And I just think that the failure to do so is -- that what we're seeing going on right now, the failure to do so is why we are not going forward with a summit, number one. North Korea may have some complicity in the failure to have a summit. I don't -- I don't deny that possibility.
But it's our failure to test the proposition in the appropriate way to come to a conclusion as to whether a summit -- and the international recognition that has always -- already been given to Kim Jong-un as a result of the president willing to meet with him is -- was something that should have been given to him, something he's desired.
So I'm more worried about that we failed to do the appropriate testing of whether or not a summit should have taken place and the possibility of its success.
BLITZER: Yes, I raise the question in part because in recent days the North Koreans canceled the meeting with South Korean officials. A meeting that had been scheduled. They complained about these U.S.- South Korean military exercises that routinely go on every year.
Let me quickly get your reaction to another development you're hearing today. The issue of the president's recent defense of the Chinese telecom company, ZTE, and how it might be tied to Trump organization interests. It came up and it led to this exchange. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: Given that the president refuses to disclose his tax returns, how can you assure the American people that American foreign policy is free of his personal conflicts of interests?
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator, I -- I -- I find -- I find that question bizarre.
UDALL: I didn't -- you don't want to answer it then?
POMPEO: Senator, I've --
UDALL: If you just want to describe it as bizarre and not give me an answer?
POMPEO: I've -- yes, I do. I think that's indicative of my answer, senator. I've been incredibly involved in this administration's foreign policy now for some 16 months and I have seen literally no evidence of what you are scurrilously -- scurrilously suggesting.
UDALL: Well, that's what I want to ask you -- ask you -- ask you specifically about.
POMPEO: Scurrilously (INAUDIBLE).
UDALL: No, it is not scurrilously.
POMPEO: It is an -- it is an outrageous suggestion.
UDALL: My friend, it is not scurrilously. This has been raised by a number of people out there.
POMPEO: Yes, sir. Yes, sir, it has. You want me to tell you who those folks are and what their political interest may well be.
UDALL: Yes, oh, I know, it's fake news.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Udall asking the questions. What's your reaction, senator?
MENENDEZ: Well, look, Senator Udall was asking a legitimate question. In the absence of the president divesting of his interests or putting it in a totally blind trust, neither of which he has done, and not disclosing a year and a half after his inauguration what his tax returns are, something I just recently did as I run for re-election to the Senate. The reality is, is that it's a legitimate question because for someone who said, you know, let's -- let me help American workers, helping ZTE, when so many national security questions have been raised about ZTE is pretty extraordinary.
And so there are real national security questions here. I know my colleagues in the Intelligence Committee have been briefed. I'm looking forward to a briefing myself. They have raised serious questions. They say it's a really consequential issue. So I think having that type of line of questioning is a result of not having the disclosure of your tax returns, not going ahead and divesting, not going ahead and putting it into a blind trust. There are concerns. How do you have this dramatic turnaround about your views about, you know, challenging China as it relates to the trade imbalance and helping American workers and then say you're worried about Chinese workers in ZTE, which is a national security concern.
BLITZER: Senator Menendez, thanks for joining us.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: Richard Haass is joining us right now. He's the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of the book "A World in Disarray," a very, very timely book. He's joining us from New York right now.
Richard, thanks for joining us.
You tweeted earlier today that the North Korea summit was bound to fail. Why do you believe that?
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, the administration had made clear, Wolf, that they would accept nothing less than complete denuclearization, essentially North Korea giving up its weapons, its materials and the like. I believe there is no chance that North Korea would agree to do so. It took the lessons to heart of what happened with Ukraine and Libya and Iraq and so forth, saw these weapons as essential for its long term existence. So there was -- there was simply too large of a gap between the two sides and no apparent willingness on the American side to accept some sort of a lesser outcome.
[13:15:12] BLITZER: What happens next? Do you think the U.S. and North Korea can get -- can yet work through these differences, and possibly, as the president a few times today already suggested, possibly reschedule this summit?
HAASS: Whether we reschedule the summit or not is secondary. I only want a summit to happen if it's likely to succeed. And I think the only way it succeeds, if lower level meetings suggest there's something of a meeting of the minds. I could sit here and structure some type of a negotiation where the United States and North Korea could agree on some more limited results and kicking down the road some of the more ambitious objectives of the national security adviser, the vice president and others.
But the real question is an internal one. It happens around the national security table in the White House Situation Room, is the administration willing to contemplate accepting lesser, partial outcomes, or will it continue to insist on everything? And my prediction is, if it's an all or nothing policy, we'd better be prepared for nothing.
BLITZER: Very quickly, do you think the North Koreans -- we have seen reports in recent days, and you know this, Richard, that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un himself, was having some second thoughts about maybe traveling all the way from Pyongyang to Singapore, worried about what was going on. Do you think the North Koreans were ready to cancel the summit first?
HAASS: I think they were also uneasy because I think they were worried that the summit would happen. The president would walk out, and they, the North Koreans, would be blamed for failure. I think they were worried they were getting mouse-trapped and that explains all their criticism of the national security adviser and the vice president. I think they were setting things up to also walk away from this.
BLITZER: Richard, I want you to hold on for a moment. Moments ago the president, once again, was speaking in the Oval Office and he said this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.
This was set up quite a long time ago. And while this is a very interesting day we have going, this was very important to Sylvester Stallone, my friend for a long time, Sly, and the whole group. We have incredible people here. We have the current heavyweight champion of the world, Deontay Wilder. He's 40-0, this gentlemen right here. He's 40-0 with 39 knockouts. And we have Lennox Lewis, who, as you know, is one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time. Unbelievable heart. And, in all fairness, unbelievable talent. He was a talented -- a talented fighter. A great, talented fighter. LENNOX LEWIS: Thank you, sir.
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
And, Deontay, thank you.
DEONTAY WILDER: Yes, sir. Thank you.
TRUMP: So, Lennox, if I really went and started working out, could I take Deontay in a fight?
This is 40-0, 39 knockouts. Could I take him in a fight if I really went to work?
LEWIS: You'd have to get past those long arms.
TRUMP: I get it. They're long arms.
LEWIS: Long arms.
TRUMP: And we also have Linda Bell Haywood, the maternal great-great niece of Jack Johnson. Now, we all sort of have heard of Jack Johnson. Had a very tough life and an interesting life. One of the greatest fighters. Lennox was just telling me, one of the greatest fighters ever. The early 1900s.
Today, as president, I've issued an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, posthumously, to John Author "Jack" Johnson. He was known as Jack Johnson. The first African-American heavyweight champion of the world. A truly great fighter. Had a tough life.
They say he violated the Mann Act and he had a conviction that occurred during a period of tremendous racial tension in the United States more than a century ago. Johnson served ten months in federal prison for what many view as a racially motivated injustice. He was treated very rough, very tough.
Born in 1878 in Galveston, Texas, to former slaves, Johnson overcame difficult circumstances to reach the heights of boxing. One of the greatest that ever lived. And both Deontay and Lennox were telling me they studied those tapes. I don't know, I think you would have been OK. I don't know. I think Lennox would have been OK too. But truly one of the greatest that ever lived.
And he overcame these difficult circumstances to reach the heights of boxing in the boxing world and inspire generations with his tenacity and a very independent spirit.
Congress has supported numerous resolutions calling for Johnson's pardon. Went through Congress numerous times. No president ever signed it, surprisingly. They thought it was going to be signed in the last administration, and that didn't happen. So that was very disappointing for a lot of people.
[13:20:18] These resolutions enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, including from the Congressional Black Caucus. The Black Caucus supported it very, very powerfully, very strongly, but they couldn't get the president to sign it. One of these resolutions passed Congress as recently as 2015.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so there you have the news. The president of the United States issuing a full pardon, a full pardon to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion that was convicted back in 1913 of transporting a white woman across state lines. Full pardon for Jack Johnson posthumously done by President Trump.
We're going to continue to watch all of this unfold, but we're going to get back to the top story.
All of a sudden the president of the United States cancelling his June 12th summit in Singapore with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. I'll speak live with America's former point man to North Korea who just left the Trump administration this year. We'll get his reaction, what he thinks Kim Jong-un will do, how he'll respond.
Plus, underway right now, another important story we're following. The U.S. intelligence community briefing lawmakers on the firestorm involving a confidential FBI source who the president suggests was a spy in his campaign. You're going to hear who was invited to this meeting at the very last minute.
[13:25:46] BLITZER: Returning to the breaking news. The president of the United States cancels the planned summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
Let's assess with our panel.
Joining us, our global affairs analyst, Elise Labott, former U.S. special representative for North Korea, Joseph Yun, and our CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
Elise Labott's our global affairs correspondent, and Joseph Yun is our CNN global affairs analyst.
But you used to be the point man in dealing with the North Koreas, ambassador, for a long time. What happened here?
JOSEPH YUN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think what happened was that it's clear that the two leaders wanted a summit, but there was so much gap between the understanding. In the end, I think the leaders felt that if they go to Singapore, both Kim Jong-un and President Trump, they would end up looking like a chump. And so one side was quick to pull it, and that was our side.
BLITZER: And you think the president made this sudden announcement this morning because he suspected or he got word the North Koreans were about to cancel?
YUN: There's been signal for the past few days that North Koreans were very, very, very uneasy. And you saw the letter this morning from the vice foreign minister. And previously under the letter, one targeting Bolton, the other one targeting Vice President Pence. That was all signal that, hey, we are so far apart, you better change, otherwise this could not happen, you know? So it was a very strong signal. So maybe -- and I'm conjecturing here -- President Trump felt that he should be the one to cancel.
What are you hearing, Elise?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I mean I agree with Joe, and I think we've been discussing that, you know, this rhetoric, though, is a symptom of the fact that the U.S. didn't really know what North Korea's intentions were. Was, you know, Kim -- originally there was all this euphoria about the meeting, but I don't think they ever really knew what his intentions were. And we tend to forget that these summits usually come from the bottom up. The leaders -- the negotiators meet for months to try and hammer something out, then the leaders come and they sign on the dotted line and they have their handshake. And this was just two leaders wanting to get together and have, you know, the beginning of a new relationship. But I think that they felt that there wasn't enough meat on the bones of whether this could be an actual success. What was Kim prepared to put on the table?
And so that rhetoric and the fact that the North Koreans weren't engaging on substantive matters, they wanted the date, they wanted the location, but when they started to, you know, try and get real specificity, they were unable to do it. And I think that's why. It's not -- they didn't cancel because the North Koreans called Pence a political dummy. They called because they felt that the North Koreans were not serious about this process.
BLITZER: Gloria, listen to what else the president said just a little while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If and when Kim Jong-un chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting. In the meantime, our very strong sanctions, by far the strongest sanctions ever imposed, and maximum pressure campaign will continue, as it has been continuing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So it sort of sounds like he's leaving the door open.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And he said in his letter, which clearly is a Trump letter because it made the point that you talk about your nuclear capabilities but ours are so massive and powerful and I pray to God we never have to use them. That's -- that's Trump. But, you know, what he's saying here is, look, we're not -- we're not closing the door, but you guys are going to have to come back to us with something more substantial than we saw -- than we've seen. And, you know, to Elise's point, this was set up by Donald Trump
because he thought in his arrogance that he could do something nobody else had ever done before, which was bypass all the groundwork that needs to be laid when you're talking about particularly the denuclearization of an entire country, just bypass it because you have a relationship with somebody that you can maybe work things out. And I think he's kind of realizing that the groundwork needs to be done first, and it just wasn't.
[13:30:058] BLITZER: And we're getting --
YUN: I think you're completely right.
BLITZER: And, ambassador, we're getting more information, even as we speak. So, stick around. We have more to discuss.
We're also following other --