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North Korea's Former Spy Chief Heading to the U.S.; GOP Leaders Face Revolution Over DACA Legislation; Trump Tweets New Conspiracy Theories About Mueller Team; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:01:23] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and thanks for joining us. I'm Brianna Keilar.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. This morning the North Korean point man for nuclear negotiations is on his way to New York. The president calls the visit by Kim Yong Chol, who is also a former North Korean spy chief and current vice chair of the ruling party there, a solid response, in the president's words, to his letter of last week cancelling that summit with Kim Jong-un.

KEILAR: It's also a solid indication along with meetings under way in the DMZ and the summit host nation of Singapore as well that a Trump- Kim meeting is back on track, potentially as soon as June 12th, which is two weeks from today.

And our Kaitlan Collins is following all of the developments at the White House -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, this is just one more thing that goes to show just how each side is racing to get that canceled meeting back on track. That meeting that was canceled just five days ago with President Trump confirming that North Korea dispatched a top aide to come to the United States to engage in more discussions in hopes of setting that meeting back up on June 12th in Singapore, though I should note that nothing has been officially reinstated and the White House has not formally announced that this meeting is back on, though they are certainly acting as if it is.

Several things going on including this top aide coming to the United States. We also know that several national security aides inside the White House are worried that there is not enough time to get this meeting back on track for June 12th, but President Trump is not concerned about that. Instead pressing his aides to get that meeting set up again for June 12th in Singapore.

We also know that what the White House is looking to get out of that meeting seems to have shifted some. Before there was talk about what the North Koreans were willing to sit down and talk about, what kind of agreement they were willing to come to and now we are told that people inside the White House like National Security adviser John Bolton are advising the president that just sitting down with Kim Jong-un and being face-to-face with him in Singapore for a cursory talk is enough of a diplomatic achievement that could later lead to more serious talks down the road. So that is what they are looking at now, the president seems to be

gung ho on getting this meeting back on track, having it happen in just two weeks from now. He's been tweeting several times this morning, once his latest saying he's going to focus his energy on North Korea and several other issues here at the White House. Trade being one of those. Instead of focusing on what he says as the rigged Russia witch hunt that the president believes should be investigating Hillary Clinton, Russia, the FBI, the Justice Department, President Barack Obama, former FBI director James Comey and former attorney general Loretta Lynch.

But I should note that just two hours after the president said he was going to start focusing on North Korea, he tweeted again, saying that he believes the media is on a disinformation campaign -- Poppy and Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins. Thank you so much.

HARLOW: A lot of questions about who this former spy chief is, what does it mean that he's coming to New York to have these talks.

Let's go to Matt Rivers in Seoul, South Korea. Tell us more about him.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a very high ranking North Korean official with a bit of a notorious past. Let's give you a little bit more detail here. As you guys mentioned off the top, he's the former spy master in North Korea, and he's widely considered to be Kim Jong-un's right-hand man, a top nuclear negotiator. But here in South Korea, he is not well liked.

He's accused of being the mastermind behind the sinking of a South Korean naval ship, called the Cheonan, killed 46 sailors when that ship went down. He's also behind something Americans will be familiar with, the 2014 Sony hack over the movie "The Interview" which of course our viewers will remember featured a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un. But yet, this is the man, despite his past, that the Americans will have to deal with.

[10:05:04] This is the person the North Koreans are sending moving forward. But this is just part of an overall diplomatic push here with multiple parties involved. You got the Chinese talking to the North Koreans, making sure their interests are in play and then we're also hearing from the White House that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be meeting with President Trump before this summit happens, perhaps during next week's G-7 meetings in Canada, perhaps in Washington, D.C. after that.

But clearly there are lots of countries with strategic interests in this part of the world who want to a seat at this table or at least have their interests represented if and when this summit goes forward.

HARLOW: All right, Matt Rivers.

KEILAR: All right, Matt Rivers --

HARLOW: We both say thank you to Matt Rivers. Right, Bri?


KEILAR: Thank you, Matt.

HARLOW: Thank you. Thanks so much.

KEILAR: So many thanks, Matt, from both of us.


KEILAR: And joining us now to discuss this, we have Tony Blinken, CNN global affairs analyst and former deputy secretary of State, and we also have retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, and a former State Department spokesman, former Pentagon spokesman as well.

So, to you, Admiral, the South Korean news agency is reporting at this point in time that a high ranking North Korean official is coming to the U.S. as early as tomorrow after a stop in Beijing. What does that tell you about the summit and any expectations that we should have for it?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Tells me three things, Brianna, first that the summit is certainly more likely to happen now than not. I mean, they're sending Kim Yong Chol here, that means because he's so close to Kim that tells me they're taking this very, very seriously.

Number two, it tells me that they're going to be prepared. They're going to be ready. I've been talking to Korea experts over the last couple of weeks to get myself to better understand all this. And to a one, they tell me that the North Koreans will be ready. They understand the nuance, they understand the details, they know how complicated arms control tech negotiations are, they will be studied and in fact Kim Yong Chol being here tells you just how seriously they're taking this and how ready they want to be.

Thirdly, it tells me how much China wants to have at least a figurative seat at the table. They won't be in the summit but they want their interests represented and that's why they've got him coming to Beijing. They met with Kim Jong-un twice there. The only thing that the Chinese like less than a nuclear armed North Korea is the specter of a Korean peninsula that's completely aligned and united with the West and with the United States. And so they want to make sure that their interests get represented.

HARLOW: Tony, to you, I mean, this is the art of the deal president. He's the one who said he can make deals that past administrations have not been able to make, namely peace on the Korean peninsula would be a huge one. But you say, look, the Kim family in totality has become masterful at the art of the steal. What do you mean?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: There is a long track record of negotiations with North Korea that ended in failure. And North Koreans have been very, very good at doing three things. Stringing out negotiations, wringing out economic concessions, and then ultimately walking away from any hard commitments they make. So we have to be very, very cautious heading into this that we're not heading for a repeat of exactly that kind of process and dynamic. And by the way, that's exactly what President Obama tried to get out of, to break that pattern.

All of that said, the bottom line here is that both of these leaders want this meeting. Kim Jong-un wants it and needs it because it gives to him what his predecessors, his father and grandfather, could never get which was recognition and legitimacy from the meeting with the president of the United States. President Trump needs it because he's so hyped his ability to do what his predecessors couldn't do that not having this meeting would be huge embarrassment and failure up front.

The critical thing, though, is that at best this is the start of a process, not the end of one and it's going to take a long time to do this right, meticulous preparation, meticulous negotiation, and we got a long road ahead of us. But it's a better place to be than where we were, you know, just a few weeks before the Olympics when it looked like we were heading to conflict.

KEILAR: Tony, I wonder if you agree with some of what the top aides to the president are telling him, like, John Bolton, they're saying if you just have this cursory meeting with Kim Jong-un, it's going to be a diplomatic victory. Do you agree with that?

BLINKEN: Yes, I think there's something to that, and that it's a rare thing for me to be in agreement with John Bolton, but I think he's right in the sense that the worst thing that could happen is for the president to go there, try to make some big deal, which you can't -- you simply can't do in one meeting and declare victory that turns out to be hollow and actually gives North Korea things that it needs without getting anything for us in return.

So I think if they see this as the start, an initial meeting and then handoff whatever they're able to agree to, to negotiators, look, it took almost two years to negotiate the agreement with Iran that President Trump, of course, has thrown out. He set an incredibly high standard for himself with that by throwing out that agreement. He said that agreement he has to reach with North Korea has to be even better, even stronger. It's impossible to get that done in one meeting. And by the way it may be impossible to get that done period.

Are the North Koreans actually going to dismantle the vast bulk of their nuclear program up front as they did in -- as Iran did in the Iran deal? Are we going to get the most intrusive inspections regime in history in North Korea as we did with Iran?

[10:10:06] That's a really high bar. But I think they're right to approach this and saying, look, the meeting itself will be a step forward, it can set the conditions and the atmosphere for talks going forward. Let's take our time, let's do this right, let's not rush into a bad deal.

HARLOW: Admiral, what about the folks that the president has at the highest levels doing all of this work ahead of the summit, if it happens? I mean, Tony Blinken has said this is really the A-team, if you look at the ambassador to the Philippines, et cetera. The people surrounding the president doing the leg work, right now, what do you make of them?

KIRBY: I think it definitely connotes how seriously this administration is taking this issue and trying to solve this problem and work it through diplomatically. I've said from the very beginning that of all of the national security problems this administration has handled, they have done the best with North Korea. Has it been perfect? No, And the policy has been a little bit wavering at times. But they have worked together, even with the previous team, when Tillerson was there, to solve this problem. So I give them high marks for that, for taking it as seriously as they are, for laying all this groundwork, for Secretary Pompeo's direct involvement.

All that gives me a sense of optimism that the summit will happen, and it also tells me that -- we may not be able to get denuclearization as a result of the summit itself, but that we'll maybe come out of it with a framework for negotiations moving forward. As Tony rightly says, it will be the beginning of a long process, but I think that's a good thing.

HARLOW: Admiral John Kirby, Tony Blinken, appreciate your time, guys, thank you very, very much.

Ahead, quite a claim from the president this morning, meddling in the midterms, the president pushing this new conspiracy theory about Bob Mueller's team.

Also, the coffee giant Starbucks closing 8,000 stores today for anti- bias training. This after two black men were arrested simply for walking into a Philadelphia Starbucks and not buying anything.

KEILAR: And he's a national hero, a migrant in France, scales a building to save a small child. Now he's speaking with CNN.


[10:16:03] KEILAR: This morning, the Trump administration is pushing back on reports that the Department of Health and Human Services has lost nearly 1500 migrant children. They're saying that the kids who were placed with vetted sponsors aren't missing, but that the sponsors simply won't respond to follow-up calls. In the meantime, this is all happening while a Republican revolt in the House is happening over immigration. That is intensifying there.

And joining me now is former Republican congressman Charlie Dent to talk with us about this.

So there is a number of data points here when it comes to this immigration story. But let's talk about this one, Congressman, about the 1500 almost unaccompanied minors who came into the U.S., so they came in without parents. I just don't want to confuse this with the parental separation issue. They came in without parents, they were matched up with sponsors. The federal government doesn't know where they are. And the Trump administration has been taking a lot of heat for this.

I was speaking with one source who said that this may be a situation where many of these sponsors, who may be undocumented themselves, are actually hiding in a way, right? They're hiding from the federal government. This is a political climate that they may be fearful of. Because of that, do you think that this is something that the Trump administration should be held accountable for?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Brianna, I think both the Trump administration and Congress should be held accountable for this. I dealt with this issue when I was in Congress. In fact two of these Office of Refugee Resettlement areas or programs were in my district. And I visited both of them. These children who came across the border unaccompanied are placed in these HHS facilities. And then they get their vaccinations and they're cared for there for a period of time and then they are distributed out to sponsors, oftentimes family members, throughout the country so there could be a young person who is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and then they're distributed out to who knows where, Kansas.

So I'm not surprised that we have trouble tracking some of these folks. I suspect some of the reasons why we can't find them is some people maybe don't want to be found, sometimes people move. I am not -- I suspect that HHS needs to get a much stronger handle on this issue in terms of tracking these young people. We have always had a problem with interior enforcement. I think this is just more evidence of it.

KEILAR: Then on the issue of family separation, right, it used to be that there was more of an emphasis on if someone came into the U.S. undocumented, if they came in with a child, that there was an effort to keep that relationship intact in detention facilities. Now there is this increase that you're seeing of kids being separated from parents. This is part of an emphasis of the Trump administration, in some cases we're talking about small kids, really young kids.

Is this something -- do you worry that this is going to back fire for Republicans politically?

DENT: Well, to the greatest extent possible, I would like to see these children remain with their parents. Now oftentimes young people were coming across the border unaccompanied. That is, they don't have a parent with them. There might be another sibling or older sibling, but I think the best practice is to try to keep the families together.

Of course, you cannot place these children in adult detention facilities. Ordinarily if you're an adult who is detained, you're in some kind of an ICE -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility through Homeland Security, but children are handled by HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. So we -- to a certain extent we have to keep children separate from the adult population, but you do want to keep the families together to the greatest extent possible.

KEILAR: There are some moderate Republicans in Congress who are just overall worried about this issue, specifically when it comes to Dreamers. I want to read an op-ed from John Kasich in "USA Today" about DACA, about the Dream Act. "If members fail to agree on a DACA solution, with or without using a discharge position," that's something that some Republicans are signing on to, and Democrats, "I fear Congress will never have the confidence to tackle far more complex immigration issues.

[10:20:05] "In fact, inaction on DACA suggests to me that our current Congress given today's hyper-partisan atmosphere may be totally incapable of solving any complex problem at all."

What do you think about that?

DENT: Well, Governor Kasich is precisely right in this case. This DACA issue should not be very difficult to resolve. This is a 90 percent issue, it seems, or close to 90 percent issue among the electorate. We simply have to marry up some enhanced border security, with an accommodation for the Dreamer population, pathway to citizenship over a period of time. We can easily do this. And I saw that you had on the show earlier today on "NEW DAY" you had Jeff Denim, my former colleague.

I too signed on to that discharge petition before I left Congress and my name is still on that petition, and they will have the requisite number and then they will force a queen of the hill strategy, meaning that the bill that passes with the most votes in over 218 will be sent to the Senate. The bill that I think will likely -- the bill that will likely be the one that will be getting the most votes will be what's called the Hurd-Aguilar position, that says these two things.

It provides a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers and it provides for enhanced border security measures, I call it a virtual wall, so to speak. That's the one that I think has the real shot. So we have to take care of this issue. These -- I'm proud of my colleagues, Denim, Curbelo and Hurd, for standing up forcing this issue. Leadership -- House leadership for whatever reason doesn't want to bring this bill to the floor because I think they like to see a majority, the majority voting for an immigration bill. And --

KEILAR: But you -- you said you think it has a real shot. But in the Senate, the majority leader has made it clear it certainly doesn't. And it seems very unlikely this is any real shot getting to the president's desk then.

DENT: Well, we'll see. And look, it's very important, though, that a lot of my colleagues particularly in those marginal and swing districts have an opportunity to vote on a Dreamer bill. They have been wanting to vote on this for some time. They just -- they're forcing the issue. I say send the bill to the Senate and then let the Senate take a vote on it and we'll see what happens. And if they get it through the Senate because of the president, then make the president decide.

The president has his position seems to have shifted from time to time on this DACA issue. He had talked about some bills favorably then he seemed to evolve. So the point is, send the bill to the president, make him choose, but for political reasons alone, I think it's very helpful to a lot of Republican members and swing districts just to be able to go on the record to express their position.

KEILAR: Charlie Dent, former congressman, we really appreciate you being with us, thank you.

DENT: Hey, thank you, Brianna. Great to be with you.

KEILAR: "Game of Thrones" and the White House? A new report that finds a connection.


[10:27:12] HARLOW: A stunning accusation from the president this morning. In a series of tweets, he claims that Democrats and Special Counsel Bob Mueller's team are actually planning to meddle in the midterm elections.

KEILAR: It seemed like a very purposeful use of that word, Poppy.


KEILAR: Because he said the 13 angry Democrats plus people who worked eight years for Obama worked or working on the rigged Russia witch hunt will be meddling, all caps, with the midterm elections, especially now the Republicans, stay tough, are taking the lead in polls. There was no collusion except by the Democrats.

And joining us now, we have CNN political analyst Matt Viser and political commentator Matt Lewis with us as well.

Let's start with this tweet, Matt Lewis. You see him use this word, this is no coincidence, right? Meddling is what Russia is accused of doing in the presidential election. And here he's using it to talk about the special counsel investigation. What do you -- what do you make of that?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, I would say this is what Donald Trump is great at, is taking something and turning it around. Remember the term fake news was originally about, you know, people in other countries, like in Macedonia, who had spread fake news on Facebook that actually probably helped Donald Trump. And he co- opted the term, turned it around on the mainstream media and has basically gotten away with that.

And I think this is another example of using these terms, these words and weaponizing them, so to speak, against his enemies. The problem is, of course, I think talking about Russia benefits Republicans. Democrats right now, I think, are poised to win the midterms, at least to take the House of Representatives. They had been leading in the generic ballot, consistently until recently.

But the one thing that could help Republicans turn out their voters to stop this blue wave would be if they were afraid that Democrats would take the House and try to impeach their president. So this is very politically astute of Donald Trump. I don't think it's true, but it's smart politics. HARLOW: Matt Viser, to you, I mean, isn't this essentially, in this

tweet, this message from the president this morning, essentially him equating the Mueller team with Russia and saying the Mueller team is no better than the Russians that tried to up end our democracy?

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I mean, it is -- I agree with Matt that it is a play to his base. But it's kind of in a dark way, you know, sort of playing on the fears and, you know, using something that is not true. You know, and as demonstrated, demonstrably not true in a way that continues his assault on Mueller and the investigation and try to muddle, not meddle, but muddle this whole situation with what they may find out, which could be quite damaging to President Trump.