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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

North Korean Summit Preparations; President Trump Pushing More Conspiracy Theories. 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That is so incredibly fact- challenged or devoid of fact in some cases, and there were about four different claims in there.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes.

HABERMAN: It also did this thing that we have seen him do consistently, which is -- since the campaign -- claim that the system is -- quote, unquote -- "rigged" in some way and then use the term meddled, which is the term that's being used about -- to define what the Russian government did, according to the U.S. intelligence community.

TAPPER: Right.

HABERMAN: And the question that Mueller is looking into is whether that was with the knowledge of Trump and/or his campaign.

And so he takes these things that are said about him, and he mirrors them back onto his critic. He's very good about appropriating language and trying to turn it into something for himself.

This is not candidate Trump talking about things that appeal to the Ron Paul voters anymore. This is the president of the United States, and it gives it the imprimatur of something significant when he says it.

TAPPER: Roseanne Barr and President Trump, there's an obvious through-line here. They both traffic in conspiracy theories.

HABERMAN: Yes.

TAPPER: They both regularly traffic in bigotry.

And it's unmistakable. ABC Entertainment, whatever you think of them hiring her to begin with, they did what a lot of Republican leaders aren't willing to do. They said, sorry, that's it. Too much.

HABERMAN: Yes, absolutely true.

It's funny. Julie Davis, who wrote the piece with me, we spoke -- and I -- we spoke to several Republicans, among them Senator Lindsey Graham, who, as you probably remember, during the campaign talked about how the president -- then candidate Donald Trump was giving rise to -- quote -- "kooks." Or it was something to that effect. I'm paraphrasing.

But he was talking about the president having these wildly outlandish statements. And he disapproved of them and thought they were problematic.

Now, when we asked him about how he viewed the president's claims that there was a spy embedded in his campaign, his response is, well, this is something that we have to look into.

The president has shifted the Republican Party toward him. Everything with this president is about bending people to his will or bending institutions to his will. And that includes the GOP Congress.

TAPPER: Yes. No, there's a group of people who know better, Republicans on Capitol Hill and some people in the media, who know that the president is saying things that are not true.

HABERMAN: Right.

TAPPER: And are willing to grab onto whatever kernel of truth might be in there, for instance, the confidential source that the FBI used.

HABERMAN: That's right.

TAPPER: And, oh, I want to learn more about that.

Well, of course, that's fine. We should all learn more about that, and if there was anything improper, as the inspector general will determine, we should know about that.

But the to turn that into Obama sent spies on my campaign. And what do you make of this Mueller is going to be meddling in the midterm elections? What is the point of that? Is it to undermine the legitimacy of the midterms, in case Democrats win?

HABERMAN: I think it's two things.

I think one is to undermine the legitimacy of the midterms if the Democrats win. That is absolutely true. Remember, this is what -- a parallel to the strategy he used in Pennsylvania in 2016, in the fall of 2016, when he talked about how they had to pay a lot of close attention, because there were certain areas where there was going to be voter fraud.

TAPPER: Right.

HABERMAN: This is very similar.

But the other thing he's trying to do -- I mean, this relates to what Rudy Giuliani had told Mike Schmidt and me a couple of days ago, which is that you can't let the probe go too far into the fall because then if you're Mueller you do risk being accused of influencing the elections, if you issue a report later than a certain date in, say, September. That's not surprising to say a lawyer say. What the president is delivering it with no nuance, where it's just completely ripped from any context whatsoever, which is often how he does these things. And so it has a dual meaning.

TAPPER: And then obviously the president also today seemed to acknowledge his own obsession with the Mueller probe.

He tweeted: "Sorry. I have got to start focusing my energy on North Korean nuclear, bad trade deals, VA choice, the economy, rebuilding the military, and so much more, and not on the rigged Russia witch- hunt that should be investigating Clinton, Russia, FBI, Justice, Obama, Comey, Lynch, et cetera."

But this is a guy who has been tweeting nonstop all Memorial Day weekend about the Russia investigate .

HABERMAN: I think two things. I think he is consumed by it. And I also think he thinks his attacks are working.

I guess the bright side could be that that tweet you just read is the first apology I have ever heard him give about anything. So, look at it that way.

TAPPER: That's one interpretation, I suppose.

(LAUGHTER)

HABERMAN: It's a very charitable interpretation.

TAPPER: Very generous, generous Maggie Haberman on this Tuesday afternoon.

HABERMAN: That's me.

TAPPER: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

HABERMAN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: President Trump said it himself. He needs to focus on the possible meeting with Kim Jong-un. Will high-level talks going on in three separate countries right now be able to save the summit?

That story next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:37]

TAPPER: Our world lead now.

An urgent rush to get details for the upcoming Singapore summit, which now appears to be on again, getting those details ironed out.

There are critical meetings in three key locations, Singapore, in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, and in New York City, all three setting the stage for the possible face-to-face between President Trump and Kim Jong-un scheduled for two weeks from today.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny picks up our coverage on the North Korea summit from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New signs today President Trump's on-again/off-again nuclear summit may be back on.

QUESTION: Are you packed for Singapore?

ZELENY: America and North Korean officials scrambling to revive the historic meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore after it was abruptly canceled last week when Mr. Trump accused North Korea of breaking promises and being hostile to the U.S.

TRUMP: If and when Kim Jong-un on chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting.

ZELENY: Since then, a flurry of diplomatic maneuvering under way in the U.S. and North Korea and in Singapore.

A top North Korean official, Kim Yong-chol flying to New York this week for meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He's the most senior North Korean official to visit the U.S. in nearly two decades.

Meanwhile, a delegation of U.S. officials, including Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, meeting with the North Korean delegation at the demilitarized zone on the Korean Peninsula.

[16:40:07]

And in Singapore, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin and other aides on the ground coordinating logistics for the potential summit.

JOE HAGIN, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: We're meeting with our embassy and our wonderful hosts here.

ZELENY: The President trumpeting the developments in a tweet, saying: "We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea."

White House officials say the biggest sign they believe North Korea may now be serious about the nuclear talks is the New York visit from one of Kim Jong-un's closest advisers.

JEAN LEE, FORMER PYONGYANG BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: We should really look at him as Kim Jong-un's personal envoy. Now, he has been at Kim Jong-un's side at all of the major summits that he's had this year with world leaders.

He's the guy who is whispering in his ear about strategy. ZELENY: Yet it remains an open question whether there's enough time

to set up what would be the first face-to-face meeting between American and North Korean leader.

Most summits, like the historic 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev meeting, took far longer to arrange.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Jake, if this meeting would come together, it would be a historic summit.

But there are still so many ifs surrounding this. You saw the president leaving the White House just a short time ago. We did try and ask him questions about the update of this. He did not answer our questions. He's doing a rally tonight in Tennessee. He might answer them then.

But, Jake, there's still the sense here at the White House the president, more than anyone, wants this to happen on June 12, but again that is only 14 days away -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thanks so much.

Joining me now to talk about it is Gordon Chang. He is author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

Gordon, thanks for joining me, as always.

If you were a betting man, do you think the summit's going to happen in two weeks?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": I think so, Jake, but if it doesn't, it will take place some time during the summer, because the North Koreans desperately need this summit.

They need sanctions relief. They need the U.S. not to strike their missile and their nuke facilities. Kim Jong-un wants a legitimization of a meeting with President Trump and they want a counterweight to China. And the United States provides that.

So the North Koreans really want this to occur. And as Jeff Zeleny said, when you have Kim Yong-chol going to New York, that's a sure indication that this will occur.

TAPPER: So you don't buy, you don't agree with those who say that President Trump wants or needs the summit more than Kim Jong-un?

CHANG: No, I think President Trump really wants the summit. That's that's clear from all that we can see.

But, nonetheless, he is willing to walk away from it. He did that on Thursday morning. And he showed just how much the North Koreans want it, because prior to that the North Koreans were engaging in pretty belligerent talk. After that, they were extremely conciliatory, even saying that they were willing to agree to the Trump "formula" -- quote, unquote.

That's a real indication that they thought they had overplayed their hands. So I think that, yes, they both want it. But the North Koreans need it much more.

TAPPER: What is Kim Yong-chol hoping to get out of his meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo and anyone else he might with in New York?

CHANG: Well, I'm guessing that really what they're trying to do is to hammer out some sort of vague framework that President Trump and Kim Jong-un can agree to in Singapore on the 12th or whenever they meet.

And there's a lot of contentious issues, especially about how fast North Korea gives up its weapons. Or I'm sure Kim Yong-chol is saying, look, the U.S. should give up its nuclear weapons as well. There's a lot there to talk about.

And so sending such a high emissary really is an indication that they want to get these details out of the way before the two leaders meet in Singapore.

TAPPER: Do you think it would be better to have the summit and not have it result in a permanent deal for denuclearization vs. not having the summit at all?

CHANG: I think that we could wait, and that might not be a bad thing, because it would show the North Koreans that we are not needy, which I don't think that we are.

But nonetheless there's a lot of momentum right now that is going to swap Kim Jong-un. And to their credit, the U.S. has been able to engineer that.

Also, we want to have this summit before the Chinese can get themselves organized. They have been a malign influence in the last three months or so. The Japanese just caught them in a ship-to-ship transfer on the high seas, which is a violation of U.N. sanctions. We learned that just about nine hours ago.

So there's a lot going on there. And we want to keep the Chinese off to the side, so that we can deal with the North Koreans one on one, where we would have the advantage.

TAPPER: That's right. President Trump talking about President Xi being a great poker player.

Gordon Chang, thank you so much. Appreciate your wisdom.

Coming up, a summit of spies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo preparing to meet with one of North Korea's former top spies right here in the United States. Is it even a good idea to let this man into the country?

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome Back, sticking with our "WORLD LEAD" today. Two shadowy operatives at the center of the talks between the U.S. and North Korea, one is Kim Yong-chol, the top former intelligence chief in North Korea sanctions by the U.S. for his role in the country's illicit nuclear program and he's about to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The other shadow individual is this man, an American who may be by Pompeo side, where aren't even sure of his real name. He's known by the alias Andrew Kim. He runs the CIA's Korea mission. CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us. And Barbara, how about a process -- how big a part of the process are these two individuals.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very much behind-the- scenes, Jake. You know, predictions are all over the place about whether the summit will really happen. But these two espionage experts are doing everything they can to push it all forward.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: The most secret of American and North Korean spy masters behind the scenes now playing crucial roles bringing Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table. Kim Yong-chol, North Korea's former spy chief on his way to New York to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former CIA Director for summit preparation.

[16:50:14] JOSEPH YUN, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: He wears many hats, including a spy chief, including a security chief, and also all things military and security adviser to Kim Jong-un.

STARR: And the silver-haired man at the table in Pyongyang is Andrew Kim, the CIA's North Korea spymaster. Both men have part of the effort to get the summit on track.

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: Even if we set up a clock, a timetable, an agenda, an arch that moves us forward towards a more stable Peninsula, this will have been good news.

STARR: Andrew Kim is said to be part of the back channels secret communications the U.S. had with North Korea for months. People who know him won't talk about Andrew Kim. It's not even his real name, a U.S. official says. He is described as still Pompeo's right-hand man, the only known recent images released as he sat next to Pompeo in Kim Jong-un's presence. The CIA will not disclose details about him but he currently heads the CIA's Korea mission center, coming out of retirement after serving in covert assignments for decades. On the North Korean side, Kim Yong-chol, spy chief and trusted agent and constantly present next to Kim Jong-un. Deeply trusted to carry messages to the Trump Administration but also reportedly has a nefarious past. Accused by South Korea of sinking headship in 2010 killing 46 and allegedly behind the 2014 hack on Sony. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden says, put all of that aside.

HAYDEN: He comes here with the writ of the President of North Korea, and so this is the person, the individual that is worth talking to, to try to hammer out some common ground if it exists.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So lots of meetings, lots of officials on both sides involved in all of this. On the US side, it certainly does appear Secretary of State Mike Pompeo still very much taking the leading role. And remember, Pompeo the former CIA Director, this may be turning into the summit of the spies. Jake?

TAPPER: And Barbara, just curiosity, Kim Yong-chol, he's been sanctioned by the United States. How is he allowed to travel into New York?

STARR: That's right. He is a sanctioned North Korean. The State Department would need to give him a waiver to travel. Today they indicated they are trying to get all the paperwork in order. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much. A downpour not slowing down, the river lava in Hawaii and now the combination of the water and the lava is sparking a new and dangerous threat. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Our "NATIONAL LEAD" now. You're looking at live pictures from Hawaii. Rain is not slowing down the river of lava from the Kilauea volcano and the danger is now spreading across the ocean. Fast-moving lava is gushing across Hawaii's Big Island with lava fountains and fissures forcing residents from their homes into volcanic haze threatening Hawaii and other nearby islands. CNN's Scott McLean took a boat into the waters off the Big Island to see how the eruption is changing Hawaii's coastlines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can see from this vantage point just how much lava Kilauea has pumped down into the ocean. All of this black rock along the coastline, that is brand new lava created just over the past couple of weeks. And you can see the lava continues to ooze down into the ocean. Geologists say that the rate has actually slowed over the past couple of days but it is still coming down at a decent rate where we are. And you can see these white plumes that are going up, that is something called lava haze or laze. It is a potentially deadly mixture of gases, hydrochloric acid, tiny bits of glass, and of course the steam that's created as the lava hits the ocean. And look what's direction the wind is going back onshore creating potentially more air quality issues for the people in this area.

Now, because the danger of this laze, there are marine restrictions in this area. We have to stay about a hundred yards offshore, other boats have to stay much further than that. But the real story is actually beyond our vantage point in the Leilani Estates neighborhood and the area is surrounding it where old fissures have reactivated sending new lava into the sky at some points shooting 200 feet up into the air and sending lava on to parts of streets that simply have not seen it before. There have been more than 80 structures destroyed by Kilauea already. About half of those are homes and the people who live here simply do not know when this will end. Scott McLean, CNN off the coast of Hawaii.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And our thanks to Scott McLean for that broadcast. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. You can also pick up my new novel the Hellfire Club at Amazon.com or at your local bookstore. That's it for THE LEAD today. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching. See you tomorrow

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, off the air. ABC immediately canceled its sitcom Roseanne after star Roseanne Barr goes on a shocking racist Twitter rant. President Trump was a fan of the show, really bring it up on a rally this evening.