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North Korea's Former Spy Chief Heading to the U.S.; Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Much like that. No, it's wonderful to be here. Thank you so much for treating me sort of nicely on the first day.



BERMAN: I know it's over.

CAMEROTA: It is great to have you and these three hours flew, so I'm really looking forward to the rest of our lives.

BERMAN: Let's do it again tomorrow. Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Brianna Keilar.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington. New this morning the strongest signal yet that President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un might meet face-to-face after all just two short weeks from today.

The president himself is confirming media reports that Kim's right hand man and former intel chief is on route to New York while U.S. and North Korean advance teams meet in Singapore, the summit host nation, and on the northern side of the Korean DMZ.

HARLOW: Kim Yong Chol, the vice chair of North Korea's ruling party, will be the highest ranking North Korean official to set foot in the United States in almost two decades. So this is a very significant moment and the fact that any North Koreans showed up in Singapore is progress since you'll remember that North Korean delegation was a no- show at that scheduled meeting with Americans just two weeks ago.

Let's begin our coverage at the White House this morning where we find Kaitlan Collins.

Good morning, Kaitlan. And I asked you yesterday, I'll ask you this morning, any official word from the White House on whether this summit is back on?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No official word, Poppy. This summit has not been formerly reinstated, though the White House is sure acting like it has. The president confirming on Twitter this morning that North Korea has dispatched one of its top aides to come to the United States to engage in more talks ahead of that potential summit which we can clearly see the president is pressing his aides to get back on track. Despite the fact that he just canceled it five days ago.

The president tweeting there that Kim Yong Chol is on his way to New York. It's unclear which officials he'll be meeting with. But that certainly is a strong signal that they are racing to resurrect this meeting.

Now the president's aides have been voicing some skepticism about this summit actually happening in just two weeks from today in Singapore but the president is pressing them to get this thing back on track. To have this meeting reinstated. And we know that even some of the outcome of this meeting is what's in the air, what's the question, what is Kim Jong-un willing to commit to but even the top staffers in this White House including the National Security adviser John Bolton have told the president that even just meeting and sitting down with Kim Jong-un face-to-face in Singapore would be a diplomatic victory in itself that could lend to more serious talks happening later on in the future.

So that seems to be where this is progressing so far. This comes as "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the United States has decided to hold off on putting more sanctions on North Korea as these talks are progressing, as they're trying to figure out if they're actually going to meet in Singapore. And all this comes as the president on Twitter this morning tweeting several times about the Russia investigation, but then in his latest tweet saying that instead of focusing on that, he needs to start focusing his energy on North Korea.

This comes as these preparations to have that summit in Singapore on June 12th right now seem to be in overdrive -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, appreciate the reporting. Thank you so much. Bri.

KEILAR: CNN's Matt Rivers is in Seoul for us with more on who this ex-spy chief is -- Matt.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kim Yong Chol is one of the highest ranking North Korean officials. This is someone who the South Koreans are extremely familiar with but in terms of his background, he's the former spy chief in North Korea, he's often called the top nuclear negotiator. He's at present at all of these high ranking meetings that Kim Jong-Un has. He's called Kim Jong-un's right hand man.

He's also got a bit of a notorious background. He's blamed here in South Korea for the sinking of a naval ship called the Cheonan back a couple of years ago that killed 46 members here -- of the Navy here in South Korea and he's also responsible for that incident hacking -- the infamous hacking incident allegedly when Sony was hacked over that movie "The Interview" which featured a plot to assassinate Kim Jong- un.

So despite that past, though, the summit is in the future and if the Americans decide that they want to work with the North Koreans on making the summit a reality, it appears that this is the North Korean that they're going to have to work with -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And of course other folks want a seat at the table here, Japan's Shinzo Abe included. The president is going to meet with him?

RIVERS: Yes. It appears that way either at the G7 in Quebec next week or potentially in Washington ahead of this summit. But you're seeing Japan, a long time ally of the United States that has significance strategic interest in this issue, really flexed its muscles here to say look, we want a seat at this table.

When North Korea fires missile sometimes they fly over our northern islands and so just like you see the Chinese engaging with the North Koreas making sure that their interests are represented at an upcoming summit, you're seeing the Japanese do the exact same thing with President Trump.

KEILAR: All right. Matt Rivers, thank you so much for your report -- Poppy.

[09:05:01] HARLOW: All right. Let's discuss all of it. With us, Sam Vinograd, CNN national security analyst and former senior adviser to President Obama's national security advisory board, and Jung Pak, Korean Studies chair at Brookings, also a former CIA analyst.

Nice to have you both here and Jung, let's begin with you on just the significance that someone so high up, someone so integral to nuclear, you know, debates and negotiations is going to set foot in the United States this week, changing something that hasn't happened here for two decades.

JUNG PAK, KOREAN STUDIES CHAIR, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Yes. We also talk about how Kim Yong Chol, he's proven over the years that he's completely loyal to Kim Jong-un. As you're correspondent mentioned, Kim Yong Chol was responsible for the interview, the cyber attack in 2014, and he was probably responsible for the Cheonan sinking in 2010. And those were attributed to Kim Jong-un and it means that Kim Yong Chol is his can do it man. That he can get things done.

KEILAR: And Sam, you have aides close to President Trump including John Bolton and they're saying to the president, look, even if this is just a cursory meeting, this is a diplomatic victory for you. Do you think that that is definite?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it definitely looks like the meeting is going to happen, but I think we have to be careful about calling a face-to-face meeting a diplomatic breakthrough unto itself. We have to remember that a face-to-face meeting is a win for Kim Jong-un. It puts him on the same footing as a world leader like Donald Trump, so I think it's a win for Kim Jong-un and it all comes down to what we get out of it. But the fact that we have a high-ranking North Korean official coming

to the United States who's empowered by Kim Jong-un is a positive sign and it is part of normal summit planning standard operating procedure. You send logistics teams to work in Singapore, you send experts to negotiate on the substance. We send Secretary Pompeo to Pyongyang to talk to Kim Jong-un and now we have the reciprocal visit by the North Korean official to potentially deliver a message directly from Kim Jong-un.

HARLOW: Jung, to you, you think, though, that the president canceling this summit -- because some have argued that that strengthened his hand and got some more conciliatory responses from the North Koreans, and the changing tone from them, you think the president actually canceling the summit then indicating in every way that it's back on most likely actually strengthened Kim Jong-un's hand, why?

PAK: Yes. I think -- you know, I think the president pulling out of the summit was an effort to try to teach the North Koreans a lesson that they can't talk to the president in such a way or the vice president for that matter in such harsh tones. So I think that was a good thing to show the North Koreans that we're not going to stand for their shenanigans. But I think the letter itself and what followed was poor implementation of that resolve from the U.S., for example, the president in his letter called Kim "His Excellency" which just legitimate Kim in the eyes of the world.

He also -- President Trump also said that -- expressed a desire to meet at some point which indicates the that the president was still wanting to meet with Kim. So for all those reasons it seemed as if Kim has scored a win on this side.

KEILAR: And Jung, it also seems, according to the "Wall Street Journal" that he scored a win when he came to the relief of sanctions, right?


KEILAR: According to this report, the White House was going to slap sanctions that would have severely affected North Korea and they decided to hold off on that. Was that the right move?

PAK: Right. I think you have to think about what kinds of the lessons Kim is learning from all of this. One it shows that that President Trump really wants the summit really badly, and that he's willing to constrain himself or constrain the government, for example, by not releasing sanctions at this point to get this summit. And the fact that the president was so warm and welcoming and excited frankly about the meeting being on in his Twitter account that it shows Kim that he can play a few games here and there, and that the U.S. president will buckle to a certain extent.

HARLOW: Sam, let's talk about what denuclearization would actually look like because that's the sticking point. That's a demand on the U.S. part is we're not even coming to the table unless you Kim Jong-un agree to this denuclearization. It is anything but simple in terms of defining it or looking at the timeline. You've got expert analysis out of Stanford yesterday that said actual denuclearization of the peninsula would be something like a decade out.

VINOGRAD: Exactly, Poppy. And I think we have to remember that complete and verifiable denuclearization should be the goal of discussions with the North Koreans but at this point we have massive intelligence gaps when it comes to something as basic as an inventory of North Korea's WMD program.

[09:10:03] So actually figuring out what North Korea has and where is going to be a time intensive process and then, of course, figuring out what complete and verifiable denuclearization means, for example, how often are weapons inspectors going to come in, what does their reporting structure look like? That's going to take time and so I think the best case scenario for June 12th is to come to some kind of agreement as to what next steps are toward that goal, a complete and verifiable denuclearization. So this is a bit of expectation setting in my book.

KEILAR: And Jung, it seems like the hang up may be the word irreversible whether denuclearization is irreversible.


KEILAR: You have South Korea saying yet again that North Korea's committed to a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but this will be a different definition to these two parties.

PAK: Right. North Korea thinks of denuclearization and irreversible in terms of maximalist conditions that the U.S. and the world frankly has to meet before they give up their nuclear weapons. They peg denuclearization and irreversibility of that denuclearization to a security guarantee from the United States and that includes removal of the U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula and whatever hostile policies that the North Koreans say that the U.S. is practicing against the North.

So these are conditions that the North Koreans alone decide and it's not something that we get to decide. So the U.S., when we talk about denuclearization and irreversibility we're talking about complete dismantlement of all of those nuclear weapons. And I think this is going to be an ongoing gap and I suspect that we'll have additional stumbles along the way in the lead up to June 12th or whatever date.

KEILAR: You can guarantee that, I think. All right. Jung Pak, thank you so much. Sam Vinograd, really appreciate it.

The president unleashing on the Russia investigators now claiming that the Mueller team will meddle in the midterms. We're following the latest headlines.

HARLOW: It's a pretty stunning allegation.

Also 8,000 Starbucks will close this afternoon. 175,000 of their employees will take part in anti--bias training after the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks sparked nationwide backlash. The chairman, founder, Harold Schultz will be here. And emptying your wallet to fill the gas tank? Will the pain you're

feeling at the pump follow you to the voting booth? Democrats hope so.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: President Trump lashing out this morning, claiming Democrats and special counsel Robert Mueller's team will try to meddle in the midterm elections.

In several tweets, he once again blasted what he called the rigged Russian witch-hunt and said Hillary Clinton is the one they should be investigating. Then he said, he needed to focus on North Korea, trade and other issues, while Mueller's team should be investigating the FBI and Justice Department.

Joining me now, we have CNN political analyst and "New York Times" politics editor Patrick Healy. Susan Page with us as well, the Washington bureau chief for "USA Today".

Let's start with this tweet this morning, Susan. It's significant, the language that he's using where he's saying that the special counsel is - that this will be meddling in the midterm elections. Obviously, a take-off of Russia meddling in the presidential election. Does this signify anything to you?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, I think there is some concern by Republicans that it is possible this investigation could affect the midterm elections and not in a good way for them.

I mean, there is some pressure by the White House to try to encourage the special counsel to wrap things up in pretty short order in order to get out of the way, at least on the aspects that deal with President Trump particularly, to get it out of the way before the midterms.

Not at all clear that that's going to happen.

KEILAR: Patrick, do you see this rhetoric as the president - the idea of meddling, obviously, that's the Russia meddling in the presidential election. Do you see President Trump here essentially saying that what the special counsel is doing will be doing is no better than what Russia did?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, it's a very conscious choice of the word meddling. I mean, this word has been with us now for a good year-and-a-half with regard to the 2016 elections.

So, President Trump knows exactly what he's doing and what he's implying here. And what's interesting about it is that, so far, the president and the White House hasn't had a really clear strategy for the midterm elections.

We know that he's going to be campaigning in some safe Republican states or races or campaigning for Republican incumbents or challengers against Democrats who are in trouble, but there hasn't been a really concerted messaging strategy for the midterms.

So, what's interesting about this is that it seems like an attempt by the president and the White House to really put Mueller and the investigation into the sort of their center of their midterm strategy to kind of suggest that somehow the Democrats and Robert Mueller are now the meddlers.

And running against Robert Mueller and the investigation, it is a possible strategy. I don't know if it's one that's going to work, especially when Democrats - many Democrats like the idea of keeping the onus on President Trump under investigation.

KEILAR: Susan, I want to turn to this controversy over - they're unaccompanied minors who come into the US and about 1,500 of them are now unaccounted for by the federal government.

The Department of Health and Human Services says, look, we reached out to sponsors and they did not get back to us. That's really what's happening here. As we understand it, that is certainly the case.

However, I did speak to a source who's involved in this process. And they said, well, of course sponsors aren't getting back to the federal government. Many of these sponsors are undocumented themselves. And with the way the political climate is right now, they don't want to be in the system. They would prefer to be in the shadows. They don't feel safe.

Is the president's rhetoric contributing to this problem?

[09:20:01] PAGE: I think so. and I think also the change in policy announced just this month to separate children from their parents if they come illegally across the border is fueling concern about what will happen to these kids.

Now, the kids that are missing or that are unaccounted for are not in that group. They're kids who came over the border without an adult with them.

But their numbers, the number of kids who need to be placed in foster care, in some kind of setting is going to explode if this policy persists. And I think - that's one reason the story about these children who are unaccounted for, we don't know, maybe they are still with their sponsors, maybe they're not, has struck such a chord.

KEILAR: Because there is an increased effort to separate children from parents, even small children in some cases, right?

PAGE: That's right. And this was announced and it was announced in a way by administration officials to be a deterrent, to make it less likely that parents will bring their kids illegally to this country because of the fear that they're going to be separated and their whereabouts might be unknown to them for some time.

KEILAR: And, Patrick, the president has tried to blame Democrats for this. Yet as Susan just clearly delineated, this is a policy of the Trump administration. He, obviously, can't accurately blame Democrats for this, but is that something that could be effective?

HEALY: No, it's false. And to the extent to which the media and fact checkers and the American people can understand that what President Trump is saying here is wrong and false, whether he actually knows that or not is a scary point, Brianna, if he sort of understands his own policy.

I mean, to Susan's point, Jeff Sessions was very clear, this was a zero tolerance policy. And Jeff Sessions said that, basically, if parents didn't want to be separated from their children, they should not be bringing them into the country illegally. Those were basically his words.

I mean, it was very clear that the administration was making and forcing this policy as part of its zero tolerance view on undocumented immigrants coming into the country.

So, to the extent to which President Trump is sending out a tweet blaming Democrats, I mean, it is false. We need to call it that. And whether it's effective, it just depends on whether the American people are willing to sort of look hard at the details and try to understand the policy.

KEILAR: All right. Patrick Healy, thank you so much. Susan Page, really appreciate you being with us as well.

And next, your local Starbucks very well may be closed later today as the company shuts down 8,000 stores for the afternoon to train workers on racial bias. Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz is here with us.

And we're also just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Christine Romans joining us now with a preview of that. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, "CNN MONEY" CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brianna. A lot going on this morning.

First of all, there's some political upheaval in Italy and that's spooking European stock markets that's spilled into the US. So, we're expecting the Dow to open lower here in part because of lower oil prices, which will probably weigh on energy stocks and what you're seeing in Europe.

And then, just a moment ago, this breaking news, Brianna. The White House out with a statement that indeed it will be setting $50 billion in tariffs to be decided by the end of the month against China, specifically on high technology kinds of exports. We're going to dig into what that means about the US trade policy as part of the opening bell right after the break.

[09:28:13] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And this afternoon, 8,000 Starbucks stores across the country will close to train employees on racial bias. This all stems from an incident last month that sparked nationwide uproar. Two black men, Donte Robinson, Rashon Nelson, were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks. The store manager called the police after the men said they were in the store just two minutes without placing an order. They were there to meet a friend.

The backlash was swift. It sparked many to talk of a Starbucks boycott. Starbucks apologized, condemned the actions of the store manager. And, this morning, Starbucks has taken out a full page ad in "The New York Times", "USA Today", Philadelphia newspapers from the chairman, Howard Schultz, calling what happened to these two men reprehensible, vowing this will be a new chapter in the company's history.

And Howard Schultz is with me. Thank you for being here.


HARLOW: Howard, you said when this happened, you were personally ashamed, embarrassed and you said we were wrong in every way. Can you say definitively these two men were arrested and the police were called because they were black?

SCHULTZ: I can absolutely say that of all the incidents and situations in the almost 50 years of history at Starbucks, this situation was not only reprehensible, but we were ashamed, horrified and I think totally inconsistent with the values and guiding principles and the humanity of the company.

That's why we've taken such a swift action. Immediately going to Philadelphia, meeting with the two young men, apologizing and then asking ourselves, in view of what took place, we have a responsibility, a moral obligation to look at this and realize we need to advance the training about the issues that the country is facing and what is happening in our stores.

HARLOW: So, that will happen today. Eight thousand Starbucks stores across the country are going to be closed all afternoon. You're going to train 175,000 workers on antibias training.