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North Korea Still Willing To Meet Trump At Any Time; Journalists Watch As North Korea Blows Up Tunnels At Nuclear Test Site; White House Lawyer Attends Start Of Briefings With Lawmakers On FBI Source; "WSJ": Stone Tried To Get Information About Clinton From Assange. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 25, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:32] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. This morning the president is repeating unproven claims of what he calls a spy in his campaign and reacting for the first time to North Korea, saying it is still willing to meet.

Moments ago the president saying North Korea's statement is, quote, good news, but only time will tell what happens. His administration seemingly less optimistic signaling a maximum pressure campaign against the regime is coming. Also pointing to possible new sanctions.

We will see the president any moment when he walks out on the White House lawn. He may stop and talk to reporters as he often does. He is on his way to Annapolis, Maryland. He will give the commencement address at the Naval Academy.

Let's go to the White House, our Jeremy Diamond is ahead of the president's address. So we'll see if he comes out and speaks to reporters this morning.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Poppy. We're here at the U.S. Naval Academy where the president is set to arrive just in a short moment. He's set to depart the White House very shortly now, but this morning already before he is set to deliver the commencement address here, he is already sharing his thoughts on a number of topics. Of course he's continuing to level these allegations that there was a spy planted in his campaign, unfounded allegations as of now.

This comes despite the fact that yesterday Republicans and Democrats received a briefing at the Justice Department and Democrats emerged from that meeting saying that they still had no evidence to support this motion that a spy was planted in the Trump campaign and certainly not for political purposes as the president has suggested. But the president also tweeting about North Korea after North Korea issued a statement saying that they're keeping an open mind still to diplomacy after the president canceled his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un.

The president tweeting this morning, "Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea. We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time and talent," he says, "will tell."

Yesterday, of course, is when the president decided to cancel this planned June 12th summit with North Korea which was set to take place in Singapore. The White House offered several reasons for why they decided to cancel the meeting. One of them was a series of what they called broken promises from the North Koreans.

Yesterday when they blew up that nuclear test site, they were supposed to have inspectors there. They did not. They had said they were OK with U.S.-South Korean military exercises but then they issued a harsh statement rebuking that. And of course there was this final straw which was the statement which hit on two points. One of them was going after the Vice President Mike Pence calling him a political dummy, which we understand the president was personally infuriated about.

And also this notion of threatening some kind of a nuclear showdown between the United States and North Korea. Of course we know that there are also big gaps between the U.S. and North Korea on their positions about nuclear disarmament but we'll see if the president continues to address that this morning at the U.S. Naval Academy -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Jeremy Diamond, thanks for the reporting. Appreciate it.

There are mounting questions about whether or not, as Jeremy was just talking about, whether or not Trump and Kim will plan another summit. In the meantime, look at this. This is what journalists watched, witnessed. It's North Korea appearing at least to destroy at least three nuclear tunnels, observation buildings and a metal foundry at its key nuclear test site.

Our Will Ripley, one of the few journalists let in to witness it all. He was there.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has been a surreal 24 hours on the ground here in North Korea. We spent more than nine hours at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site looking at tunnel after tunnel. The buildings on the site, all of them rigged for explosives. And then we saw these huge blasts without any ability to actually verify if what the North Koreans were saying was true, if the site is now rendered unusable because of the fact that we were simply journalists with our cameras documenting the images without any context knowing exactly what was happening inside those tunnels, if they really are destroyed for good.

Also on the train ride back, even more surreal moments when we learned late in the evening in North Korea that in fact President Trump had cancelled the summit with Kim Jong-un that was scheduled for June 12th in Singapore. We got the phone call, the word spread quickly amongst the North Koreans who were on the train, they heard it from us first and it was extremely awkward and uncomfortable. Very tense moments. A state of shock amongst not only the journalists but the North Koreans that the summit that whole North Korean nuclear test site destruction was supposed to lead up to had now been cancelled.

[09:05:00] But then there was a statement out of North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs that was surprisingly diplomatic considering some of the heated rhetoric that's been coming out of Pyongyang towards the United States in recent days. North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying, quote, "Talking about the historic summit, we highly appreciated the fact that President Trump made a brave decision that no president in the past has made and put efforts to make their summit happen."

But President Trump's letter to Kim Jong-un, while the tone was mostly cordial, there was also a threat saying, "You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used." So clearly some mixed messaging coming out of here. But the sense I'm getting on the ground is that the North Koreans do want this summit to go forward. They do want talks and a dialogue with the United States.

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


HARLOW: Just remarkable the access Will Ripley has gotten.

Will, thank you for that reporting.

Joining me now is Jean Lee. She is the director for the Center on Korean History and Public Policies at the Wilson Center.

Nice to have you here. Just so notable, you say, to watch all of this play out so publicly.

JEAN LEE, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR KOREAN HISTORY AND PUBLIC POLICY: And to see it play out not only in President Trump's Twitter feed but in North Korea state media.


LEE: And this is the problem here. I think President Trump was getting frustrated that they weren't getting an answer from the North Koreans. Anyone who has dealt with the North Koreans as Will Ripley knows and as I know, because I did run an operation there as well, that is often the case.


LEE: You have to be patient. And often you have to keep these things quiet because there are many, many reasons for why you're not hearing back.

HARLOW: Yes. And remember this moment. You say keep it quiet. Let's roll this, guys. I mean, the chants for the president for Nobel, Nobel, Nobel, you know, signaling Nobel Peace Prize well ahead of the summit. Listen to this.

I mean, all of that played out in public so much so that there were people talking about a Nobel Peace Prize potentially for these leaders. David Sanger in "The New York Times" had an interesting argument this morning that struck me and that is the fact that this fell apart before it really got out of the starting gate much shows how little these two leaders, Kim Jong-un and President Trump, understand each other. Do you agree?

LEE: Indeed. You know, the North Koreans have been working or dealing with the Americans and have been studying the Americans a lot longer than President Trump has and his team in the White House. The people around him are new to North Korea. And the series of missteps that we've seen are reflective of that lack of experience and perhaps lack of willingness to talk to the people who know the North Koreans.

I would have said do not announce or agree and announce so impulsively that you're going to sit down with the leader until you sort out exactly whether you're on the same page. What these two sides have realized in the last week or so is that they may not be on the same page when it comes to this definition of denuclearization. And I think what we're seeing is that dawning realization that this meeting may not go the way that each of them had expected.

HARLOW: You know, Jean, Ian Bremmer this morning calls this a big embarrassment for President Trump, although he -- you know, he's one who tweeted that the president should get the Nobel Peace Prize if this thing is pulled off and there is a peace deal. But then there's this statement from North Korea overnight that is incredibly conciliatory. Part of it reads, "Talking about the historic summit, we highly appreciate the fact that President Trump made a brave decision that no president in the past has made and put forth efforts to make the summit happen."

So you could also make the argument, no, that the president completely played the right hand here, to get that kind of response from North Korea. What do you think?

LEE: Well, there are a couple of ways to look at this. Number one, it's clear that the North Koreans want this to happen and that is good to know, right?

HARLOW: Right.

LEE: It also suggests that perhaps there was a miscommunication, that that communication channel was not in place and the North Koreans want to rectify that. But the other thing that I find so interesting here is that it's the North Koreans who are taking the high road. It's the North Koreans this time who are exercising strategic patience and are saying hold on, don't overreact here. And typically we have that coming from the U.S. president trying not to react to and asking for calm and restraint from the North Korean leader.


LEE: So we've got the role reversal here which is fascinating to see.

HARLOW: Briefly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in that testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday hinted at potentially additional sanctions against North Korea saying, I'm sure there are additional sanctions we will seek to put in place. Would that be the right call? And how would Kim respond?

LEE: Sanctions are a diplomatic tool and they have been somewhat effective. I do think that the leader of North Korea is taking the sanctions into account in the long term.

[09:10:03] So by imposing more sanctions, you might be saying -- it's a way of saying, listen, we're not happy with recent developments, you need to fall into line and stick to your commitments. And so I wouldn't say that they are unexpected. I would think that if the United States is not happy with some of the broken promises that they have alluded to in the past couple of weeks that sanctions might be expected.

HARLOW: All right, Jean Lee, appreciate the expertise. Thank you very much.

LEE: Thank you.

HARLOW: We do have breaking news here in New York. Harvey Weinstein arriving in court this morning. These images after he was -- turned himself in to be arrested, officially charged with rape, criminal sex acts, sex abuse and sexual misconduct. This is for incidents involving two separate women. CNN has learned a judge is expected to set his bond at $2 million.

We'll have much more on that ahead this hour.

Also ahead, two classified briefings, one big question. Why was a White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, at the start of those briefings with lawmakers on that confidential source, a source who could be central to the ongoing investigation involving the president? We're digging in.

Also touchy subject? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outraged after a Democratic senator asks about President Trump's tax returns. That senator will join us this hour.


HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And so far, the biggest thing, at least this morning, to come out of those extraordinary briefings on the confidential source and the FBI probe of the Trump campaign is that a White House lawyer was at the briefings.

New White House attorney Emmet Flood was on hand along with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as the FBI director and deputy attorney general prepared to brief two groups of lawmakers on this confidential source, the source that met with Trump campaign aides in 2016.

Now, Flood and Kelly left before any information was shared, but it still raised a lot of eyebrows, and not just Democrats' eyebrows. Lauren Fox is in Washington with more. It was not perceived well and received well by many.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: That is right, Poppy. And one of the main issues here was that Democrats said that it was inappropriate. That's what Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on this House Intelligence Committee said.

Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said, "I have never seen a gang of eight meeting that included any presence from the White House."

And one GOP congressional staffer told CNN's Jake Tapper that this was some of the craziest - and then this person used an expletive to describe how the meeting unfolded.

Of course, a senior administration official said that this did little to quell concerns that these briefings were politicized. If you remember, the briefing earlier in the day at the Department of Justice and the meeting on Capitol Hill, there were so many questions about who was going to be in which meetings at what time before or after the congressional recess.

Rudy Giuliani said - told Dana Bash of CNN that he assumed that Flood was in these meetings because the president wanted him in there.

Of course, he said that he had never heard that directly from President Trump, but that is what he thought the reason was behind Flood and Kelly being in these meetings to begin them at least.

HARLOW: Lauren Fox, thank you for the reporting. There's a lot to digest and we'll get to our panel on that in just a moment.

I should also note that sources now tell our Gloria Borger and Evan Perez that the president's lawyers and the special counsel actually set a date for Bob Mueller to interview President Trump, but the Trump team balked.

We've learned that this formal Q&A between the president and the Mueller's team was in the planning stages for earlier this year, January 27th at Camp David.

Days earlier, you'll remember the president told reporters that he was "looking forward" to answering Mueller's questions.

Joining me now on all of it, CNN legal analyst Shan Wu and CNN political analyst Molly Ball.

And, Molly, let me just begin with you on how extraordinary it is what Lauren just reported. The fact that you had Emmet Flood, a White House attorney, and the chief of staff, folks on the president's team, in this meeting about a confidential source that could be key in the probe against the president and that Giuliani told Dana, well, you know, the president wanted him in there.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, the objection to this meeting in the first place was the suspicion that the reason Republicans had convened it - and you'll remember, at the beginning, it was only going to be Republicans - was to basically collect information for the president's defense team. So, literally, having the president's defense team there sort of confirms all of those suspicions and then some.

The pretext of this meeting was that it was about oversight. If this really is about Congress in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical way, just making sure the investigation is done right, then you would not have been inviting parties to this investigation to be there.

HARLOW: Is it, Shan, as this Republican congressional source told our Jake Tapper the craziest blank they had ever seen? Is it?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I won't use the same term, but it absolutely is. There's absolutely zero oversight role, as Molly was pointing out, for the White House chief of staff, much less the president's lawyers actually going there.

And he did signal that he thought this meeting would inform the American public and himself as to whether his allegations of spying were correct or not. And really that goes to the heart of why you don't want lawyers looking at the investigation.

This is an ongoing investigation. It's really quite preposterous that the Justice Department would even agree to that.

HARLOW: But, Molly, it is notable that Giuliani also told Dana, and she'll join me a little later with all of her reporting, but he also told Dana that it was a prerequisite for the president to sit down with Mueller for them to know everything possible about this confidential source. That's also confounding, no?

BALL: Yes. I mean, as Shan just said, this is an ongoing investigation. Now, of course, everyone should believe in transparency and oversight of law enforcement.

[09:10:00] But in a traditional investigation, you know, I've covered the local police, they do their investigation and then they share the evidence with the parties to that investigation and with the public and with reporters and so on.

Traditionally, you do not get this level of visibility inside an investigation as it is happening.

HARLOW: Even if you are the president.

BALL: Even if you are the president.

HARLOW: Rules are not different.

BALL: The rules aren't different. But then, the other thing is the tremendous irony of the fact that the Democrats at least came out of this meeting, said there was no evidence of a spy.

Remember, the release the memo campaign a few months ago. And then, when the memo came out, there wasn't really anything in it to substantiate their claims. This may be very similar to that.

HARLOW: And to that point, Shan, a source says the Department of Justice did not turn over any of these confidential documents to Nunes or Gowdy, the two Republicans in that first briefing.

And then, you had Mitch McConnell yesterday who later went on Fox News and said that the briefers revealed, in his words, "nothing particularly surprising."

Do you think that Rosenstein, by arranging this, agreeing to this, is sort of playing his hand here at just playing for time?

WU: Yes. I mean, I think he's really been bullied into appeasing the president's wishes at this point. And I think he is playing for time. But it does a lot of damage just to establish this precedent of letting them come in.

And the idea that the meeting opened by having his lawyer address them to give the president's wishes, that is just a ridiculous scenario for the congressional oversight to occur in.

HARLOW: Another development overnight. "Wall Street Journal", Molly, is reporting that Roger Stone, he's a very close confidant, sometime advisor to the president, that e-mails show - that "The Journal" has seen e-mails that show that Roger Stone tried to get damaging e-mails from Hillary Clinton through WikiLeaks via Julian Assange.

Do you smell indictment? What does that tell you? What does that mean?

BALL: I have no idea. I mean, Roger Stone himself has said that he expects to be indicted, although he believes that it is rather small potatoes, right?

HARLOW: It also counters, by the way, what he testified.

BALL: Well, and Roger Stone is someone whose entire political career has been about dirty tricks and falsehoods and conspiracy theories. This is a man who wrote a book about the idea that LBJ killed Kennedy.

So, I don't know that we should necessarily, A, be surprised that Roger Stone is implicated in dirty tricks that might shade into something worse. Or, B, I don't know that we should necessarily believe anything that he says.

HARLOW: Fair point. Shan, to you, legally, looking at this, though, Roger Stone has also said, no, I nor my attorney have been contacted by Mueller's team. And that could be significant, right?

WU: Yes, that could be significant, although it also seems to be contradictory to the idea that he has given false testimony. I mean, the testimony he gave seems to contradict the idea of these e-mails.


WU: And to that extent, Mueller's team is certainly going to look at that because that's a very traditional path to follow, is looking at these sorts of false statements he may have made to Congress.

And then, he'll have another opportunity to get himself in trouble when they actually do interview him. And I'm certain that they will be following up on that.

HARLOW: But to be clear, some folks are saying, look, maybe he is a target in this probe, given that you usually wait until the end to talk to potential targets, right?

WU: That sort of depends on how the investigation develops. But one thing would be very true is his attorneys would be asking that question early and often about his status.

Shan Wu, thank you. Molly Ball. Thanks, you guys. Have a good weekend.

Right now, Harvey Weinstein is in court facing a judge for the first time. He was just charged moments ago with rape. We will take you live inside that courtroom.


HARLOW: All right. The president on his way to give the commencement address in Annapolis, Maryland, at the Naval Academy, but he stopped for a moment to speak to reporters.

And we're hearing he spoke about North Korea and made some pretty significant news. Let's go to our Joe Johns as we wait for that tape to come in. Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. Poppy, on departure, the president came out on his way to the helicopter and I was there among other reporters.

I asked the president does the North Korea statement last night change anything, is the summit still off. He gave a surprising answer, suggesting they still want to do it, that, in fact - so let's just listen.


JOHNS: Mr. President, is the summit still off?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to see what happens. We're talking to them now. It was a very nice statement they put out. We'll see what happens.


TRUMP: No, no. We'll see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We're talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We'd like to do it. We're going to see what happens.


TRUMP: I don't know anything about it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: John, everybody plays games. You know that. You know that better than anybody.


TRUMP: I don't know. I'm not familiar with the case, but it's really too bad. Really too bad.


TRUMP: He's doing great. Right there. He's doing great. Just looking at us right there.


HARLOW: OK. So, quite a bit of news in that minute-and-a-half from the president right there. The significant headlines, asked about North Korea, he called the statement overnight from North Korea "a very nice statement."

He said we're talking to them now. That is a development, given the fact that the communication we had learned had pretty much stopped between North Korea and the United States in the last few days.