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Preparations Continue for Meeting on June 12th between President Trump and Kim Jong-un; President Trump Tweets Prediction that Mueller Investigation will Meddle in U.S. Midterm Elections. Interview with Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California; Two Journalists Killed While Covering Alberto Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flooding is a concern. We're expecting a lot of water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a freak of nature. I have never seen an event like this before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're keeping up hope. It is tough to just sit here and wait knowing you can't do anything about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota on John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: How does it sound the third time you've heard it?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It never gets old. It never gets old.

CAMEROTA: There is something great about the James Earl Jones baritone saying your name with his particular flourish.

BERMAN: I think it's a base. I love the way he says my name. I feel a lot like Luke Skywalker this morning because James Earl Jones is talking right to me. He did it again. He is my father.

CAMEROTA: He's listening, obviously.

BERMAN: Obviously.

CAMEROTA: Two hours down, you're doing a fantastic job.

BERMAN: Thank you very much. They haven't changed the locks.

CAMEROTA: They haven't. I think this is going to work.

BERMAN: I think it's going to be OK.

CAMEROTA: It's so great to have you here on NEW DAY. Welcome officially.

BERMAN: Thank you. Great to be here.

CAMEROTA: All right, meanwhile, let's get to the news. There's a lot of it.

President Trump confirming this morning that North Korea's former top spy is on his way to the United States for talks. This is the latest development in a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at saving the President Trump, Kim Jong-un summit that is supposed to still take place two weeks from today.

BERMAN: President Trump hawking a new conspiracy theory this morning claiming, in ridiculous terms, that Robert Mueller's investigators are meddling or will meddle in the upcoming midterm election. The president insists, though, despite the fact that he's tweeted repeatedly about Russia, he's got to get back to work. He wants to focus on North Korea and the economy despite 12 tweets on Russia the last few days. Let's begin with CNN's Kaitlan Collins live this morning at the White House. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, once again the president expressing optimism about the potential for this summit going forward, confirming on Twitter that North Korea has dispatched one of its top aides who is their way to New York to engage in more discussions about that potential summit in Singapore even though the entire summit hasn't been formerly reinstated yet.


COLLINS: President Trump confirming that high ranking North Korean official Kim Yong-Chol is heading to New York for talks about the on again, off again summit with Kim Jong-un. Officials say the president is pushing his advisers to move ahead with the talks as scheduled despite concerns there's not enough time to prepare.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people are working on it. It's moving along very nicely. So we're looking at June 12th in Singapore. That hasn't changed.

COLLINGS: A close aide to Kim Jong-un arrived in Singapore late Monday to discuss logistics with U.S. officials, meetings North Korea never showed up to two weeks ago. Meanwhile a top White House official is leading a delegation in North Korea, those talks happening in the demilitarized zone. Officials trying to determine whether North Korea will agree to complete denuclearization and what Kim Jong- un will demand from the United States in return.

Sources say that some Trump aides, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, have told the president that even a cursory meeting with Kim would be a diplomatic victory and could lead to more serious talks. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that the White House was preparing to announce new sanctions against North Korea but decided to halt those plans as they try to salvage the summit. President Trump agreeing to meet with Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe before the expected summit during a phone call on Monday.

The president taking time to honor the nation's fallen service members on Memorial Day, laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

TRUMP: Today our whole country thanks you, embraces you, and pledges to you, we will never forget our heroes.

COLLINS: But his comments were overshadowed by what critics say was a tone deaf tweet, touting his administration's accomplishments and insisting the fallen would be very happy and proud of the economy. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, responding, this day of all days of the year should not be about any one of us. And the veterans group Vote Vets calling the president's self-promotion appalling, adding, it's the most inappropriate Memorial Day comment ever made by a president. The group also accusing the Republican Party of trying to profit off the holiday by offering a 25 percent discount on Trump campaign merchandise with the code "remember."


COLLINS: John and Alisyn, the president has been very active again on Twitter this morning, and it's his last tweet that is getting a lot of attention. He says "Sorry, I've got to start focusing my energy on North Korea nuclear, bad trade deals, veterans affairs choice, the economy, rebuilding the military, and so much more, and not on the rigged Russia witch hunt that should be investigating Hillary Clinton, Russia, the FBI, the Department of Justice, former President Barack Obama, former FBI director James Comey, and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch."

[08:05:13] That tweet comes from the president who has tweeted 12 times about the Russia investigation since Saturday, and it raises the question of if the president has not started focusing his energy on North Korea yet.

BERMAN: It's almost as if there was something hypocritical about the way he just said that.

Joining us now to discuss -- Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much -- joining us now to discuss, CNN political analyst John Avlon and A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics and host of "No Labels Radio" on Sirius XM. And John, there's something very real, and that's what's going on with North Korea happening, and something very unreal, or fake, we should say, and that's what the president is writing right now about the Mueller investigation. Let's start with North Korea because what's happening now is just this flurry of activity all around the world with a key U.S. official in Singapore, another key U.S. official in North Korea as we speak, and a North Korean official, the former intelligence chief, on his way to New York to be here as early as tomorrow. It really does seem as if everything is moving towards this summit as soon as two weeks from today.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly right. Look, everything has accelerated. As Alisyn pointed out earlier, there is a sense that previous presidents haven't been able to get action, but the president's determination to force the issue seems to have really spurred the North Koreans into action. So the on again/off again/on again summit does definitely seem to be on again by the movements of senior officials in all places.

And there's also the president discussing a meeting with Prime Minister Abe of Japan ahead of the North Korean summit. That itself is a sign. So all systems seem to be go despite all the confusion the last several days.

CAMEROTA: A.B., do you see it as the president's letter that canceled the summit having been a successful tactic in getting Kim Jong-un's attention and then putting these things into overdrive to make this summit happen?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, there's a few things going on here, a couple dozen. I do think his demonstrating his willingness to walk away is essential to maintaining some leverage here. A lot of the leverage is dissipating because the Chinese are playing their own game. The South Korean president Moon is swooning over a peace treaty with North Korea and denuclearization and hopeful that all the pledges from Kim Jong-un have been authentic and are genuine with good intent.

And so you have a lot of the pressure going away, and I think the fact the President Trump was willing to walk away and cancel it does help his position. That said, there's no reason to do this on June 12th. The banquet room on the Marriott is not going to be booked. There's no problem here. The idea that it goes into overdrive to make it happen and to sort of launch the summit plans again, obviously, I think we can all agree is a good thing. But the idea that you rush into it without all these sort of working group, working level, lower level agreements being put into place, it increases the chances for chaos and a potential embarrassment at the summit.

And I just don't see the reason for June 12th. It's two weeks from today. Kim Jong-un has obviously spent his whole -- the goal of his regime is to maintain -- be a nuclear power. No one beliefs he's ready to denuclearize even though keeps saying it. So the idea of rushing to a summit table where President Trump could be embarrassed is a risk, and that's why I think it's worth taking more time before we get to the summit.

But I do see the rhetoric switching, and I think Kim has had played a role in this, which is to get the summit to become the goal itself. Even though it is for him, get people around President Trump and himself saying, just being there and talking is a great thing.

BERMAN: I think that's totally right. As far as the Marriott being booked, Lipschitz Bar Mitzvah and the Life Insurance of America both have dibs on it for the week after that. So they do have to get it in. But I think, John, in all seriousness, A.B.'s last point is dead on right. If the end goal is just to meet then, then that may be achievable. Is that enough? Doesn't that count for something? Final question on that, isn't that exactly what Kim Jong-un wants? All he wants is a picture of shaking hands.

AVLON: That's right. Kim's whole goal is to be seen at the same table on an equal level as the United States president. That's his game. The president has set out of goal of denuclearization, a very high goal, difficult to achieve given questions about Kim's actual interest in doing that, what leverage does he give away if he gives up his nukes, what kind of protections does he need to be given to do it?

What I think you're seeing is an inversion of the typical script around this type of a negotiation where the meeting of the heads of state is first and the details come later because it ain't going to all get done in the next two weeks.

[08:10:01] BERMAN: Maybe nothing will get done.

AVLON: That's entirely possible.

CAMEROTA: Analysts, let's talk about conspiracy theories.

AVLON: Let's.

CAMEROTA: A.B., we had Maggie Haberman on earlier who has an article about this, about the president peddling conspiracy theories, and this morning we have exhibit A, and this one is a whopper. When the tweets come out it's our job to parse presidential statements for what they mean. So he sent out a tweet this morning that is, I think he's played his hand with this one, because he's peddling a conspiracy theory that hasn't happened yet. He's predicting a conspiracy theory will happen in the future and that Mueller's team will meddle in the upcoming election. The president knows that "election meddling" is one of those catch phrases, much like "spy-gate," much like -- I don't know, there's others recently -- that get peoples' attention.

BERMAN: Witch hunt.

CAMEROTA: Witch hunt, all of these. And we also know from recent reporting, A.B., that he sort of test drives these. Deep state -- he wasn't crazy about deep state then he thought it was actually catching on with right wing media. So election meddling is one of those. And I'm just curious about your thoughts on whether or not these things actually take root in a real and effective way so that he's now planting the seed that the upcoming election will be somehow invalidated.

STODDARD: Absolutely. It's proven effective and he is without limits in terms of his willingness to launch conspiracy theories that are not based in truth and really triple down on them. So remember, the election hadn't happened in 2016 before he told us it was going to be rigged. Then he won it. It is one of the last days in May, I promise you before November 6th he will say that if the Democrats take the House back that somebody meddled in those results as well at the ballot box. There's nothing he won't say because he's proven that in the past. So the idea of him saying that Mueller is timing releases of indictments and everything to help the Democrats is in keeping with the narrative he's building all along, that he has a team of conflicted people working for him and that it's all a rigged investigation.

AVLON: But there's something really specifically important about his use of the phrase "election meddling" because this is also another classic Trump play. He's trying to take the term back. Russians meddled with our elections. We know that to be true because of several intelligence reports and the overall unanimity that this was an effort, bipartisan Senate Intel Committee and everything else. He's intentionally muddying the waters the waters around the integrity of that term. So it's not just conspiracy theory trial balloons as the president is wont to do. It's not just him playing Carnac the magician to predict future conspiracy theories. He's trying to actually muddy the power of that actual term and the threat to national security it has represented in our recent past.

AVLON: He is the president of the United States, he is undermining the legitimacy of the American electoral process, and he's doing it for his own perhaps legal benefit. We just read it. It's happening. John Avlon, A.B. Stoddard, thanks so much.

STODDARD: Thanks. Welcome, John.

BERMAN: Thank you very much, A.B.

Moderate Republicans leading a charge that could force a vote on Dreamers. Will they get the five Republicans signatures they need? We're going to ask a Republican congressman pushing that effort next.


[08:17:06] BERMAN: The lawmakers returning from the Memorial Day break have a big task ahead of them. They're just five signatures away from forcing a vote on immigration through a little known House rule. The sticking point: whether there should be a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California. He is spearheading this effort of force a vote on immigration.

Congressman, I'm sure your ears were burning. Your former colleague Charlie Dent just talking about what you're trying to do, five votes away.

Any quick update this morning on whether or not you've got new signatures on that paper imminent?

REP. JEFF DENHAM (R), CALIFORNIA: We've got enough signatures. We'll have more members signing on as soon as we get back. We've had every Democrat all but three right now and we only need two more signatures.

BERMAN: Two more Republicans, do you have two more Republicans?

DENHAM: We do, yes. But our goal here has always been to see legislation that we can find bipartisan that will move to the Senate and actually get signed into law. So, we are still working with the speaker, House leadership to come up with that bill -- hopefully, a compromised bill -- and if not move forward on a full debate in front of the American public.

BERMAN: So, you're taking it from both sides, now, Congressman. I read this op-ed in the national review over the weekend by Mark Krikorian, who is, you know, anti-immigration advocate. He says what you're trying to do with the USA Act, which is the act that you've signed on to, the one you most want to see passed, he says that bill would pair an amnesty even more expansive than the 1.8 million illegal aliens that the president has agreed to with unremarkable border security window dressing that would do nothing to contain the fallout of that amnesty. OK.

So, that's coming in from the right saying you want big amnesty. Your response.

DENHAM: It's just not true. This would be an earned pathway. It would be a long 12 year process, five years and then another five years, just in a visa type system that would allow you to stay here, work here, go to school here, serve in the military.

Actually, the military would be the quickest pathway to citizenship. My Enlist Act that I introduced six years ago.

Ultimately, we got to find a solution here. That includes border security. We again want something that the president will sign into law. He's been very clear that he needs border security as part of this and we're working on a bipartisan fashion to get that done.

BRIGGS: So, you've got incoming from the right, but you've also got incoming from left here. One of the people running for Congress in your district, Josh Harder, notes, for years, Mr. Denham has played lip service to immigration in the Valley while doing nothing in Washington to solve the problem. He'll cosponsor and support bills up until they have real chance of being passed. Furthermore, he's remained silent while this administration has broken up families and deported law-abiding immigrants who own businesses and create jobs.

He's suggesting that a tough reelection battle maybe what is driving you here. Is he right?

DENHAM: I'm not sure I'm going to have a tough re-election battle especially running from somebody from San Francisco. That doesn't play well in my district.

[08:20:00] But nevertheless, this is something that should have been done last year. It should have been last decade.

Heck, the Democrats have control of both houses with much bigger majorities and the presidency did not make this a priority. This has to get done.


BERMAN: You've been in Congress since 2010. What did you do in 2010, 2011, 2012 personally to try to get something like this through?

DENHAM: Personally, well I introduced the Enlist Act which didn't have support from either party until now. Now it's part of each one of the Dreamer bills. I'm a coauthor on several of these bills. I was a signer on the Gang of Eight bill.

This is something that's a very personal issue to me. There will some that will play partisan politics with this issue. Again, yes, I will get hit from the left and the right on this, but it's the right thing to do and that's why I'm focusing on it.

BERMAN: The administration policies which had been in effect for several weeks now charging people, all people who cross the border as criminals which effectively separates children from their parents. Are you speaking out against the administration's policies here?

DENHAM: I'm speaking on a solution, trying to find a solution to this overall broken immigration system. Our catch and release policy, our detentions of unaccompanied miners say system that's going to get fix. We should never lose any child. We need to make sure that this human trafficking issue across our southern border is something that is stopped and we put an end to it immediately.

BERMAN: Is the administration doing enough?

DENHAM: I think Congress has to do more. Congress has to do its job. Rather than seeing more executive orders like we saw under the previous president, Congress needs to do its job and we need to pass this not only this reform but we need to address overall immigration reform.

And we also need to look at the safety of all of these immigrants as they move from country to country. If you're seeking asylum, you ought to go to the next safest country. But we are seeing many immigrants that want to come to the U.S. because we're a great country.

BERMAN: The chief-of-staff suggests that separating children from their parents could serve as a deterrent on coming to the United States. Is that a humane policy for a country?

DENHAM: We need to be focused on the children. What is the safest way to handle children and make sure that they are reconnected with a safe home or with their family?

BERMAN: Is the administration --


BERMAN: Is the administration focused on the children as you put it?

DENHAM: I think that Congress needs to make a fix to this. There's more that we can do but extending policies from the previous administration on this same issue on immigration needs to be solved.

BERMAN: Congressman, can I ask you a question based on something the president wrote this morning? Do you think Robert Mueller and his investigators are trying to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections?

DENHAM: I don't know that I can give any credence to that.

BERMAN: That's not a trick question. I mean, it's not a trick question. I mean, is there any evidence on planet earth or beyond that Robert Mueller and his investigators are trying to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections?

DENHAM: I'm not seeing anything on that, but this isn't -- when we talk about immigration, it is a big issue that affects everybody in my district, the left and the right. There's just not a lot of people in my district talking about Russia or this investigation. They want immigration resolved.

BERMAN: I appreciate that and I know I guess your districts 40 percent Hispanic. Immigration is very important there. You, sir, are absolutely involved in this discussion. You put yourself right in the middle of it, but that doesn't mean that other things are not happening. I mean, there can still be right and wrong when it comes to other issues right now.

And what I'm trying to get to is when the president suggests that the special counsel is meddling in the 2018 election, is there any basis in truth, is there any connection to reality?

DENHAM: I'm not seeing anything on it.

BERMAN: I'm not seeing anything on it.

Congressman Denham, thank you very much for being with us. Your ears should have been burning. Congressman Charlie Dent, your former colleague as of a few weeks ago, sends his best.

DENHAM: A good friend who's signed on to the discharge as well. Welcome to the new show.

BERMAN: Thank you very much. Charlie Dent's signature still counts which I didn't realize, forever.

DENHAM: Yes, it does.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Congressman. Appreciate it.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Meanwhile to this story, two journalists have been killed as Alberto walloped the Southeast. We have a live report for you, next.


[08:28:14] CAMEROTA: All right. We are following two severe weather stories for you.

Flooding fears remain in the Southeast U.S. as the first named storm of the season, Alberto, is expected to dump more rain. The storm is blamed already for two deaths of two journalists in North Carolina.

And while over in Maryland, a national guardsman is still missing as the people in that flood ravaged city slowly begin the recovery process.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Panama City, Florida, with more. What's happening there at this, hour, Nick?


Good morning, Alisyn. The rain has stopped, the wind is still a factor and hurricane season for 2018 -- well, it started about a week early. The first named storm, Alberto, making landfall here in Florida yesterday and it since moved on from Panama City Beach.

But as it makes is way inland, there is a strong potential for more flash flooding.


VALENCIA (voice-over): The Southeast bracing for potentially life threatening flash flooding. Alberto walloping the Gulf Coast on Monday, bringing heavy rains and strong winds. The storm's fury captured on video as this bridge in Cuba was destroyed by a rising river. Alberto claiming the lives of two journalists covering the storm in North Carolina, news anchor Mike McCormick for CNN affiliate WYFF, and photo journalist Aaron Smelter, were killed Monday when a tree fell on their SUV.

GEOFFREY TENNANT, TRYON FIRE CHIEF: It is a freak of nature. It's one of those things that you -- you know it's going to happen or you can predict that it may happen. You don't know when.

VALENCIA: Governor Roy Cooper warning that North Carolina residents need to take the storm seriously as the governor's in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi issue states of emergency.

(on camera): It's a first severe storm of the season here.

JIM SEDLCOK, PANAMA CITY RESIDENT: Yes, it's kind of early. It makes me leery of what's ahead.

VALENCIA (voice-over): This as residents of Ellicott City, Maryland, begin another daunting cleaning effort, after a different storm system caused historic flash flooding for the second time in two years. Police releasing this new drone video showing the level of destruction across the city.