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Trump Still Open to Summit; Reaction in North Korea to Canceled Summit; Graham Floats Military as Option; Russian Met with Cohen; Trump's Conspiracy Theory; Flood Attends Meeting. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 25, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Gas prices are not.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you Sunday morning here as well. "WOLF" starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 2:00 a.m. Saturday in Pyongyang. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Everybody plays games. President Trump saying the cancelled summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un may still happen. Why North Korea's response is surprising many experts.

Plus, the president's conspiracy theory that the FBI planted a spy in his campaign blows up. Why even some Republicans briefed on this classified information are dismissing it.

And he was once one of Hollywood's most powerful men. Today, Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs. The movie mogul surrendering and charged with rape. See what happened inside the court.

Up first, though, holding out hope for a summit with North Korea. President Trump says it could still happen.


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. 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.


BLITZER: In the statement, the president refers to North Korea, saying the leader, Kim Jong-un is still willing to meet face-to-face. According to North Korean state run media, a top foreign ministry official says, and I'm quoting now, we would like to make known to the U.S. side once again that we have the intent to sit down with the U.S. side to solve problems regardless of ways at any time.

When asked by a reporter if North Korea was playing games, President Trump said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody plays games. You know that. You know that better than anybody.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what do you make of the president's comment that everybody plays games?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bottom line here, Wolf, is that the president still wants this to happen. And he sent that letter to Kim Jong-un yesterday canceling the summit with keeping the hope alive that it will still happen on June 12th. So this daily whiplash of whether or not this historic summit between the U.S. and North Korea will happen continues into today with the president saying, hey, it could still happen on June 12th. Everybody is playing games here.

The president tweeting as well, saying only time and talent will tell. He clearly liked what he heard from North Korea with the statement last night saying very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea, where North Korea said it would still like to hold talks and is ready to do so at any time.

On the heels of what we heard from the president today, Wolf, James Mattis, the secretary of defense, said as well, that there could be some good news. That this is really in the hands of diplomats and that it could still happen on June 12th.

Sarah Sanders also spoke with reporters at the White House today, Wolf, saying that the White House is continuing to prepare for that possibility of a June 12th summit, or perhaps later on down the road that is something that is happening. And there's still the question of whether the White House will send its advance team to Singapore as originally planned.

Sarah Sanders said it basically left the door open, that that is still a possibility, but that there's still a few hours to make that decision. So that will be very telling as well, Wolf, whether the White House advance team continues onto Singapore to prepare for the possibility of a June 12th summit. We'll have to wait and see.

BLITZER: Yes, there was an advance team that went a few days ago. They waited and waited and waited for the North Koreans to show up. The North Koreans never showed up. And Secretary Pompeo, the secretary of state, says he repeatedly make telephone calls to try to establish some communication with the North Korean leadership. He got dial tone instead. Never got his phone calls returned.

There's also, as you know, Pamela, deep concern that the president was simply too quickly in accepting North Korea's invitation to meet without working out the details first. Is this a chance to regroup or is it simply a missed opportunity? BROWN: It depends. I mean we'll have to see, Wolf. You're right that

there was more skepticism among people in the administration than the president was showing. He was very hopeful that this meeting would happen on a very short time line, really, considering the dynamic between the U.S. and North Korea.

But it's clear, though, that he still wants this to move forward. And his administration is trying to accommodate that. And still trying to make this happen by June 12th. So, you know, we'll have to wait and see, Wolf, how this pans out.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks so much for that report.

The news of the canceled summit took many North Korean officials by surprise. Just hours before the announcement, Pyeongyang held a ceremonial dismantlement of its only known nuclear site. You're looking at pictures, video, of that dismantlement. For more now, our international correspondent, Will Ripley, is joining us from Wonsan in North Korea. He has reaction.

[13:05:06] Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been a surreal 24 hours on the ground here inside North Korea. Of course that trip to Punggye-ri yesterday was really unprecedented. The first time that international journalist has visited North Korea's nuclear site. And we spent much of the day there visiting tunnel after tunnel. They were all rigged with explosives. We saw these huge explosions that the North Koreans said rendered those tunnels permanently unusable. But because there were no experts in our group to verify those claims, we basically have to take their word for it. There is no way to know if what the North Koreas were showing us was a show or a legitimate step towards denuclearization as they claim.

And, of course, they were doing that ahead of what they thought would be a historic summit with President Trump. A summit that we found out was canceled by the president as we were on the way back home, on the train, with the North Koreas. We got the phone call and we broke the news to them. And I'll tell you, the shockwaves spread through that train. They couldn't believe what had happened. It was extremely uncomfortable and awkward.

But the next morning, North Korea's foreign ministry, well, they issued a very diplomatic response. Not the kind of angry response that we expected after seeing some of the heated rhetoric coming out of Pyeongyang in recent days, particularly when they called Vice President Mike Pence a political dummy after he compared North Korea to Libya, a country that gave up its nuclear weapons and only to see their regime overthrown a few years later by U.S.-backed rebels and their dictator Gaddafi dead.

The foreign ministry here in North Korea saying that they still want to talk with President Trump. They even commended him for having the bravery to take steps towards the historic summit. And the North Koreans say talking is necessary to improve the relationship between the United States and North Korea. They say, frankly, they don't think it can get much worse. So now they're listening very carefully to every single word, Wolf, coming out of President Trump's mouth, hoping that they can try to salvage this situation and move forward with a dialogue with the United States.


BLITZER: Will Ripley joining us from North Korea.

Will, thanks so much.

So what happens now with North Korea and the possibility of a summit? Let's bring in CNN's senior political commentator Rick Santorum, our national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, and political analyst David Gregory.

What are the odds, David, do you think, of this summit getting back on track?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think probably high. I think President Trump wants to do it. I think the North wants to do it. You know, I thought what the president said is true. I mean people play games in these situations. We're dealing with a, you know, a tyrant, and somebody who oppresses his own people, somebody who's highly unpredictable.

President Trump, in different ways, is also impulsive and unpredictable in terms of how he's going to approach this. But this is -- we also talk about, oh, this is the art of the deal in President Trump in terms of how he operates. I think all of this has been a negotiation.

And I think underneath it is a real process that we should give them room to really have a shot at. Because there's so much conventional wisdom about how to approach this on North Korea that frankly has been wrong over the years. So the fact that they are still this close to a real conversation I this is meaningful. I think there's no question that there's going to have to be some kind of guarantees for the North around the security, around their regime, because I do think, I mean, to some extent the North is right to be worried about the Libyan example, which is that the Libyans were afraid of what happened after the invasion of Iraq, gave up their nukes and then the country deteriorated and the United States really wasn't there. So I think that's got to be part of the conversation.

BLITZER: The Republican senator, Samantha, Lindsey Graham, he was on TV and he said he was very confident that in the end President Trump will succeed on this issue. Listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's not if he ends the North Korea program is how and when. There's two ways, diplomacy to be a win-win, which is the preferred route, military conflict that will destroy the regime. When. I think he's going to do this in his first term. He told me yesterday, I'm not going to pass this on to anybody else. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think of his point that if the diplomacy doesn't work, there's military -- there's the military option. The military option being destroying the North Korean regime. But everybody knows they've got a million man army along the demilitarized zone with enormous amounts of artillery and missile and -- conventional weapons -- forget about their nuclear weapons for a moment -- that would wind up killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of South Koreans.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly. And Senator Graham, John Bolton and others, however, despite those calls (ph), have been very clear that the military deterrent remains strong. And we heard President Trump make this point hours after his dear Kim letter. And it was on purpose. It was to say, if you don't come to the table in a meaningful way, we have all options on the table. So you have the diplomatic track, financial pressure and military options.

But, Wolf, I think that we are all focused a lot on when this summit will happen, the date, the location, and those sorts of operational details. I am deeply concerned that if we haven't been able to get in touch with the North Koreans since around May 8th when Pompeo went to Pyeongyang, how much have we been able to speak with them about the substance of these negotiations? Have there been those lower level talks --


[13:10:04] VINOGRAD: Between arms control experts and the diplomats that General Mattis referenced just a few minutes ago who are supposed to be working on what we want and what the North Koreans are prepared to do.

BLITZER: What do you think, senator?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm actually very pleased with the way the president's handling this. I mean he's doing something different than any other president has done to date. I think in part because the circumstances have changed. I mean North Korea has a nuclear weapon and now they have the missile capability to actually strike the United States of America and our allies. That's a different situation than we had 20 years ago. And, as a result of that, I think he's -- he's handling it differently. He's handling it with saying, look, something is going to happen here because the current state of play with North Korea, with an unstable, erratic dictator who kills his own people, if he kills his own people, well, pretty easily to kill somebody else's people, and I think he takes that threat seriously and that's why Lindsey said what he said.

The president is convicted to solve this problem to keep America safe. And I think he has effectively communicated that to North Korea. And that's why you're seeing this dynamic play out.

GREGORY: Well, there's still this gamble, I think you would concede, Rick, around having it operating at such a high level means you're not doing a lot of the groundwork to get to the point where they could maybe solve some things together. That's what still worries me, even though I agree with what you've said.

SANTORUM: I would argue that we're early in this process.


SANTORUM: And I think this is -- all of these back and forth are just sort of a feeling out how serious you are.

GREGORY: To get to that.

SANTORUM: And at some point all of these -- all the things that, Samantha, you have talked about --


SANTORUM: Need to happen, or not happen, and then we're off in a different direction.

VINOGRAD: Giving the head of state meeting at the outset, giving that carrot to Kim Jong-un, does that get too far ahead of your skis without getting enough from the North Koreans at the outset?

SANTORUM: If it was any other president, maybe. But I think the fact that this is Donald Trump and that -- and that Trump does things in a very unorthodox manner, I don't think that we should -- we should put too much into this.

GREGORY: Can I just make one other point, and that's this whole question of China, because you brought up this issue of -- I mean if -- if God forbid it comes to some kind of military conflict, one of the things that China will be so worried about is, a, what happens to the future of the North's regime, too much U.S. influence, and refugees.


GREGORY: I mean during the Bush --

VINOGRAD: Russia has the same concerns.

GREGORY: Right. And you remember in the Bush years, you know when I was there with President Bush and he -- what they -- what China was worried about, they didn't want all those refugees coming into China.


GREGORY: Which is why they prop up the regime the way they do. And that's why I still think the hand of China is something we don't talk enough about.

SANTORUM: Wolf, and the fact that -- the fact that Kim Jong-un went and met with China and then adopted a different tone once he left China --

GREGORY: Yes. SANTORUM: I think raised red flags here in the administration, and for good reason, you know, turn the heat back on to North Korea, canceled the summit, did the things that they need to be doing to say, hey, you know, China, you're the one that's going to have to make this really happen.


SANTORUM: And you are obviously not doing things that are -- that were helpful given the response of North Korea after the meetings. And I think this was as much a message to China as it was to North Korea.

BLITZER: You think, Samantha, this summit is going to take place?

VINOGRAD: I think that it will. And I think that the outstanding question is, what are we actually going to get out of it because, again, we have not had the room to do the actual negotiations that would achieve the president's stated objective back in March of complete and verifiable denuclearization. That's what the president said needed to come out of this summit.

It is entirely possible that the summit happens and something else is achieved. For example, smaller step like letting in weapon inspectors. But I think we are -- we are not going to be able to get to the president's goal back in March of complete and verifiable denuclearization.

BLITZER: You know, the president tweeted this, senator, earlier in the day, Democrats are so obviously rooting against us in our negotiations with North Korea. Do you buy that?

SANTORUM: Well, look, I think the part of that -- part of an atmosphere here is as bad as we've ever seen it. And so the answer is, there are probably some Democrats who are out there rooting against this president simply because they hate the man so much. But I think Democrats, in the country, not Democrats around here, but Democrats and Republicans, independents around the country all are trying to get -- are supporting this president and hope that he can get some sort of resolution.

BLITZER: Because everybody would like to see denuclearization.



BLITZER: A peaceful Korean peninsula.

SANTORUM: Yes. I mean this -- we're talking about the political clash here in Washington, not (INAUDIBLE).

VINOGRAD: And no war.

BLITZER: And no war. Everybody would like to see that.

SANTORUM: Right. GREGORY: And I do think -- I think people are so quick to criticize, well, he's not doing it the right way, and I don't like him talking about Nobel Peace Prizes and even aspects of this letter that I -- the way he wrote it.

But I do think you have to give him credit for the process that included some additives of popping off on Twitter and all that. But there's a real process at work here that shows real signs of success in a totally unconventional way, which is why a lot of people do support him.

BLITZER: They really thought things were moving in the right direction --


BLITZER: When Mike Pompeo, as CIA director, a second time as secretary of state, went there. You saw the images, the video of him with Kim Jong-un. They were smiling. They were happy. It seemed like things were moving in the right direction.


BLITZER: And then all of a sudden the president announces yesterday, not happening.

SANTORUM: Yes, this is -- this -- this whole process is going to be one step forward, three steps back.


[13:15:01] SANTORUM: Two steps -- one step forward, maybe two. I mean it's going to -- it's going to be a long and tortured process.


GREGORY: I agree with that.

SANTORUM: And the idea that this is going to go smoothly is ridiculous.

BLITZER: All right, guys, don't go too far away. There's more news happening right now.

Another Trump Tower meeting we're learning about. The president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, there you see him, meeting with one of the top Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the U.S. government during the transition. We're going to discuss that.

Plus, the president's conspiracy theory about an FBI spy in his campaign apparently falling apart, as we learned what happened inside that classified briefing yesterday.

And a stunning scene in New York. Harvey Weinstein arrested and charged with rape. You're going to see what happened in court.


BLITZER: Michael Cohen, a Russia oligarch and payment -- a payment of more than a half a million dollars, just the latest trouble for the president's long-time personal attorney and friend. His fixer. There's now new information coming in on a Trump Tower meeting between Michael Cohen and a Russian businessman with close ties to Vladimir Putin's government, just 11 days before President Trump's inauguration.

[13:20:11] Our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is joining us right now.

Shimon, tell our viewers what you've learned about this meeting, the money, and this Russian businessman.


That meeting took place on January 9, 2017, during the transition. And it was Mr. Vekselberg and his cousin, Andrew Intrater, showed up at Trump Tower and then went upstairs to see Michael Cohen. And we're told that the meeting was about U.S. and Russia relations and ways perhaps to better that.

What's not entirely clear is why Viktor Vekselberg was present. Now, we know that Vekselberg was questioned by the special counsel, by FBI agents who stopped him when he arrived to a New York area airport. FBI agents met him and they questioned him. They've also been looking at whether money -- Russian money was used through straw donors to donate to the inauguration and to the Trump campaign.

Now, Michael Cohen wound up getting a contract with Viktor Vekselberg's cousin, who wound up paying him $580,000 for this contract. That also is something that has been reported on. And we have extensively reported on because of Viktor Vekselberg's ties to the investment firm that the cousin runs in New York.

Certainly, Wolf, all of this has been something that the special counsel and the FBI has been investigating.

BLITZER: OK, thanks very much, Shimon Prokupecz, with the latest on that front.

Our panel is back.

And, David, this, you know, this Michael Cohen mess seems to be mushrooming with new details emerging. What's your reaction when you just heard Shimon's report?

GREGORY: You know, these kinds of details raise questions about what the special prosecutor might be looking about, what -- where the tentacles were of potential Russian influence on those who were in candidate Trump's orbit, or president elect's orbit. And what we know so far about Cohen, the fact that he was this person of interest for outside influence to say, hey, let's hire this guy so we can get closer to the president, in an operation that was, charitably speaking, incredibly lose and very open for back for the campaign, for dirt, opposition research, or, you know, offering potential influence, I think these things are problematic and might start to explain why Cohen is such an important person of interest right now in the investigation.

BLITZER: And they raided his -- the FBI raided his home, his hotel room, his office, his safe deposit box, all of that.

GREGORY: His safety deposit box. Yes.

BLITZER: This Viktor Vekselberg, Samantha, quite a character. He attended the president's inauguration. He's close to Putin's government. He's been questioned by Robert Mueller's investigators. He arrived in the United States. They showed up at the airport, questioned him there. He's now been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. What do you make of this?

VINOGRAD: Well, what I make is that Viktor Vekselberg has a significant history that led him to be sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department technically for ties to Russian's energy sector. He's close enough to Putin that this designation upset Putin. These were people in Putin's inner circle and were intended to really get his attention.

But this story that Michael Cohen and Vekselberg met to discuss the state of U.S. Russia relations seems a little fishy to me. I don't know what the president's personal lawyer would be doing discussing foreign policy on behalf of the president. And I think that what we're seeing is literally a revolving door of Russians coming into Trump Tower. And we're finding out about those meetings well after the fact. And that's quite curious.

BLITZER: It has the smell of the swamp, all this, doesn't it?

SANTORUM: Well, first up, this happened after the election. So I mean let's go back to the initial premise of the investigation. It was to look at Russian influence in the election. And so now we have meetings of Russians trying to influence after the election. I think that's a -- frankly a different story.

BLITZER: They were -- there were meetings during the election -- during the campaign as well.

SANTORUM: I'm talking about this piece of evidence that we're talking about today.

BLITZER: This one -- there clearly, for some reason, Mueller's very interested in this one.

SANTORUM: Yes, I understand that. But my point is, that doesn't go to the -- to the -- at least on the face of it, it doesn't go to, well, the Russians were colluding with the campaign.

VINOGRAD: I didn't say that they were colluding.

SANTORUM: No, no, I'm just saying -- I'm making the point. You said this is another piece of evidence that looks swampy. It may look swampy from the standpoint of the Russians trying to have a relationship with this president going forward. But every country tries to have a -- you know, hires lobbyists all over this town to try to have --

GREGORY: Right, but it doesn't normally go so well.

BLITZER: That's what I was talking about, the swamp.

SANTORUM: Yes. No, no, I get it. I get it.

GREGORY: But my point is that it doesn't normally go so well. You don't normally get so high. That's why we have diplomats and a normal course of action. And so --

SANTORUM: Well, David, there -- lots of foreign businessman all over the world hire lobbyists in this town to try to influence the process.

BLITZER: But then you have to register as a foreign agent.

SANTORUM: That's correct.

BLITZER: You have to be up front. Is there any evidence Michael Cohen registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department?

[13:25:01] SANTORUM: That's -- that's --

BLITZER: Under the foreign agents registration law (ph)?

SANTORUM: We're talking about Michael Cohen here. And I do believe this does raise questions about Michael Cohen and the way he --

BLITZER: Because that's what Paul Manafort's partly in trouble with, that he didn't register as a foreign agent of the Ukrainians.

SANTORUM: Exactly. Exactly.


SANTORUM: But, again, I want to make sure that that's separated from this whole --

VINOGRAD: From a business relationship.

SANTORUM: Yes. It's a business relationship with an individual who has obviously some questionable ethical issues surrounding himself.


SANTORUM: And to tie that to the Trump campaign or to the election, I just think there are two different things.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about what happened yesterday. Two separate, highly classified briefings for the so-called Gang of Eight, four Democrats, four Republicans, also an earlier briefing at the Justice Department, two Democrat -- two Republicans, one Democrat, Adam Schiff was at the last minute invited to that. Afterwards, the Democrats all came out and said nothing changed. They didn't learn anything new. Their view that there was no spying on the campaign. Anything along those lines, holes.

But listen to Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate. He was at that Gang of Eight meeting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you surprised with what you learned?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Nothing particularly surprising. But, again, it was classified, so there's no real -- no real report I can give to you.


BLITZER: He wasn't exactly saying that the Obama administration was spying on the Trump campaign.

GREGORY: Yes. And I mean to hear the president tell it, that it was President Obama who was personally signing off on, you know, a spy ring in his campaign, which is bogus and unsupported.

Look, I think this whole thing was incredibly inappropriate. A terrible precedent. I think there is an important role for congressional oversight intervening in an investigation, including having the president's personal lawyer, one of this lawyers present for the top of that investigation I frankly think is indefensible.

Thankfully, it ultimately became bipartisan. But I think the president's done a really reckless thing here by raising this specter of -- that there was a spy. And, I mean, wouldn't you want this kind of thing investigated if there is a potential infiltration of a campaign? And I think it only sews greater doubt about law enforcement at the FBI level, which I don't think is appropriate.

BLITZER: It was Emmet Flood, he wasn't the personal lawyer, he was the White House lawyer --

GREGORY: Right, I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Who works for the president but he's a White House lawyer. He's not like Rudy Giuliani, who's a totally personal, private lawyer. And he was only there at the very top, they say, to make a statement on behalf of the president. You were not happy about that.

VINOGRAD: Why was he there? I mean just logically speaking, what purpose did he serve there if this really was about oversight? And, David, to your point, there are oversight mechanisms even within the Department of Justice. There is an inspector general and the president made comments this was referred to the inspector general who is looking into the matter. And that's -- that is an appropriate use of the inspector general.

But imagine how much time we're talking about this quote/unquote spy, which is actually a confidential human source, and not talking about the real spies that in filtrated the campaign, the Russians. BLITZER: And Mitch McConnell, he also said -- to his credit he said,

you know what, there's an inspector general investigation underway at the Justice Department, that Robert Mueller has an investigation. Let them conclude their work, then we'll talk about it.


SANTORUM: There's a fundamental lack of trust everywhere in this town. And it's just getting amped up to, in this case, I would argue ridiculous levels. But the reality is, we've -- we -- we have a fundamental breakdown between Republicans and Democrats, you know, folks inside the government, folks outside the government, nobody trusts anybody. And, frankly, both sides play into it. I understand people pick on the president. But the president is reacting in many cases to things that are being said and done on the other side. So I -- I don't think any of this is good. But I don't see any end in sight for the ratcheting up of what I consider to be sort of a ridiculous lack of trust with respect to our institutions.

BLITZER: It's probably going to get a lot more intense between now and the midterm elections, I suspect as well.


BLITZER: Guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, Harvey Weinstein arrested with dozens of accusations against him. He's now facing charges of rape and other sex offenses. You're going to hear how his attorney is defending the disgraced film mogul.

And President Trump says he wants to rescue Chinese firm ZTE, it's a huge telecom company, and save Chinese jobs. But suddenly U.S. lawmakers say the president is getting played by China. So who is winning? I'll ask Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. He's coming up.