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North Korea's Former Spy Chief heading to U.S.; ABC Silent Roseanne's Racist & Offensive Tweet Rant. Trump Seems to Admit He's Obsessed with Mueller Probe. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 2:00 a.m. Wednesday in Pyongyang. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

A new twist in a nuclear stand up, Kim jong-un's former top spy the one suspected of masterminding the Sony hack, is coming to America as talks over President Trump's summit clearly heat up right now. The President meanwhile, floating another conspiracy theory without evidence, without explanation. Why he says Robert Mueller is meddling in the midterm elections. Is the president's strategy working?

And Ivanka Trump firing back at new ethics questions over China's granting her business as new trademarks despite the economic standoff between the two countries. All that coming up, but let's begin with President Trump's latest conspiracy theory designed to undermine the Russia investigation.

This morning President Trump tweeted this, "The 13 angry Democrats plus people who worked eight years for Obama working on the rigged Russia witch hunt will be meddling with the midterm elections especially now that Republicans stay tough are taking the lead in polls. There is no collusion except by the Democrats".

That was part of the President's Twitter tirade aimed at Robert Mueller's investigators. President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani admits the strategy is to discredit the investigation in an effort to sway public opinion here in United States.

Our White House reporter Jeremy Diamond is standing by live. Jeremy, did the administration provide any information to support or explain the claim that Mueller's team will meddle in the midterm elections in November?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The short answer is no Wolf. Neither the President nor White House officials have provided any evidence to back up that claim. But we do know that the President has previously tried to discredit the Mueller investigation and has suggested that Mueller will be meddling in the upcoming midterms by the very existence of his investigations.

Suggesting that, that ongoing investigation will hurt Republicans' chances of holding on to Congress in 2018. But we also know, of course, that Bob Mueller has been seeking an interview with the President to wrap up his investigation, something that the President and his attorney had so far resisted. But while there's no evidence for that claim, there's also no evidence for a series of other claims that the President has made recently.

Most recently of course his claimed that a spy was planted inside his campaign for political purposes by the Obama administration. There is of course as you know Wolf, no evidence for that claim either. But it is a part of the President's overall efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation.

And so far, with regards to Republicans, he has had some success in undermining the credibility of that investigation, but the President this morning also tweeting that he plans to now focus more on North Korea and other pressing issues and less on the Mueller investigation.

We know that this week, Kim Yong-chol, one of the most high ranking North Korean official will be in New York this week to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as they prepare for that upcoming potential summit that now appears to be back on track.

But Wolf, even moments after that tweet, saying he plans to focus away from the Mueller's investigation. He was once again going on the attack this time attacking the news media saying that they were orchestrating a campaign against him, of course there's no evidence for that either, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, thank you, Jeremy Diamond over at the White House. And as the White House scrambles to salvage the summit with Kim Jong-un, the North Korea's former spy chief once again as Jeremy just reported is heading to the United States. Supposed to be in New York City fairly soon.

Kim Yong-chol will be the highest ranking North Korean official to visit the United States in almost 20 years. He's considered Kim Jung- un's right hand man. He's accused by the South Koreans of sinking one of its navy ships and it was allegedly behind the 2014 hack of Sony pictures out in Hollywood.

Let's bring in our panel to discuss this. We have two experts, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall is the former White House Coordinator for Defense Policy and Weapons of Mass Destruction during the Obama administration and Governor Bill Richardson is a former U.S. ambassador to United Nations. He was also a Special Envoy North Korea, help secure the release of U.S. hostages there have been to North Korea on several occasions.

Governor, let's talk a little bit about this high level North Korean official now about to land in New York City. He'll meet with Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, the former CIA chief who himself went to Pyongyang twice over the past couple of months to set the stage for this June 12 summit. What do you know about this individual who clearly is the point man right now in these negotiations?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY TO NORTH KOREA: Well, despite the roller coaster zigzag diplomacy, this is a good step. He does individual, Kim Yong-chol, is a very trusted aide of Kim Jung-un.

[13:05:07] He's a spy chief. He is involved in recognizance. He is always at the side of Kim Jung-un. That is a good sign that he's going to New York.

Interestingly, North Korean diplomats, if they go to Washington, they have to get a special waiver. So, I think it's good that the secretary of state is meeting him.

Another good sign is that the senior people from the North Korean foreign minister, Mrs. Choe for instance that you met when you covered my trip years ago, is involved in the negotiations there with some of our people on the substance of the negotiations.

So, I think they're good signs. Both leaders want this summit badly, President Trump and Kim Jung-un. And it looks like it's going to happen. The issue is going to be will it be June 12. I hope they don't rush things despite these positive movements.

And the big issue is going to be, will it be successful in terms of the denuclearization issue. I still have my doubts whether the North Koreans are going to move forward on full denuclearization. Maybe face step by step, we'll see.

BLITZER: Have you actually met the sat down for a meeting with Kim Yong-chol, the former North Korean spy chief who is on his way to New York right now?

RICHARDSON: Well, I've never met Kim Jong-un, but I'm fairly certain, I met the spy chief in 2007 when I negotiated the remains of our soldiers, seven came back. I'm pretty sure he was in the meeting. He was then an associate of Kim Jong-un's father.

He was close to him. But now he has major power. And the fact that he is coming in possibly meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo is a good sign that the North Koreans are serious about negotiating. Whether they go the full denuclearization, I still have my doubts.

BLITZER: Well let's get Liz's assessment. What do you think? All of a sudden there is a lot of activity going on now in New York, in Singapore clearly along the demilitarized zone, in Pyongyang. All good, bad, what do you think?

ELIZABETH SHERWOOD-RANDALL, FOMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF ENERGY: So I agree with Governor Richardson that what's good is that a process has begun, whether or not a summit takes place in two weeks time is less important than we begin to set the terms for what would be the denuclearization of North Korea.

BLITZER: But we know what denuclearization means from the U.S. perspective. The U.S. doesn't want North Korea to have any nuclear weapons capabilities at all. But the North Koreans have their own definition of denuclearization. What do they mean?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: They mean denuclearization of the entire peninsula which would include the United States withdrawing its guarantee of extended deterrence to our allies South Korea. And so that's --

BLITZER: Would it prevent the U.S. from deploying B-52 bombers, which clearly have nuclear capability or warships or submarines form deploying in South Korea?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Well, clearly the interest of the North Koreans and indeed the Chinese is to reduce the American military presence in this region. It's not in our interests to do so. We have multiple reasons to have capabilities included the extended deterrent, which comes from the United States and can bring nuclear weapons to this region and submarines, which are under water and patrolling constantly.

So what we want to do is pursue the denuclearization of the North without committing to any reduction in our capabilities in the broader Asia Pacific region.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Governor Richardson, what do you think governor? Is that doable to denuclearize North Korea but still maintain that U.S. nuclear capability in South Korea?

RICHARDSON: Yes, I believe that will be a major sticking point for us that we keep that. Because Japan, South Korea, especially Japan that has been left out, they kind of feel slighted. And the fact that we have major security treaty interests with South Korea, that there will be some compromise on the American military presence in South Korea, maybe on the military exercises.

But I think Kim Jong-un has kind of hinted that he is ready to keep the United States and South Korea with the current military capability. I think the big sticking point is going to be on denuclearization. And I agree totally with Secretary Randall, that is this, what the administration has kind of said they're ready to see is a phased denuclearization. The President himself said it.

In other words, the North Koreans take certain steps on denuclearization, on missile activity, and then they get in return some kind of peace treaty or sanctions relief. In other words, the administration has budged a little bit in a positive way from saying, they have that fully denuclearize immediately and then we will do something. Or the other option that was, I think that hurt these talks which was the Libya model.

[13:10:06] So, I think we're moving now in the right direction. But I think Secretary Randall has talked about the importance of this treaty that we have with South Korea and Japan. And I don't think that, that nuclear issue taking our ships off, our nuclear capabilities is going to be something the U.S. gives up because South Korea and Japan are definitely not going to want that to happen.

BLITZER: You're actually right on that point. South Korea and Japan, but China as you point out Liz would like to see the U.S. reduce its military footprint in South Korea. The U.S. still has about 30,000 troops along the DMZ, elsewhere in South Korea right now.

And President Trump has suggested for a long time get those troops out of there, get U.S. troops out of Japan, get those U.S. troops out of Germany, why do we need those troops there all this time. Certainly China would like to see that unfold. And this whole Chinese connection to what's going on with Kim Jong-un in North Korea right now is still a bit confusing. Where do the Chinese stand?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: The Chinese are playing a complex game. So they have a reason to be very concerned about instability on the peninsula. They don't want the American presence to grow. They observed our reactions to the threats that the North Koreans were presenting to the South Koreans and we decided to deploy additional capabilities in the Obama administration to support our allies.

And let me just note, our alliances in Asia and in Europe are not about charity. They're about the national interest of the United States. So when we have forces that are forward deployed, it's not only to defend allies, it's to defend the interests of the United States in these regions.

Therefore as we think to the future of our region in which we might pursue a denuclearization process, we have to put it in the broader context of what role we will play post denuclearization.

And in the meantime, we need to focus on the two important dimensions of this denuclearization. One is an end to his nuclear program that is to the development of additional nuclear weapons and ultimately to the dismantlement and destruction of the nuclear weapons that he has. And two, is that we need to destroy the infrastructure that enables Kim to have those nuclear weapons.

The missile (ph) material production capabilities, the plants and sites, that have made these nuclear weapons. Absent that, he can regenerate the program so it's not enough to just say we're going to get rid of the nuclear weapons. It's a long complex process, we'll need to be --

BLITZER: It certainly is, and the question is, what will the U.S. give North Korea in exchange for all those concessions, on their part. That's why all these negotiations are going on right now, we'll see what happens. Liz, thank you very much.


BLITZER: Governor, thank you to you as well. We'll stay on top of this story. There's another story that sparking a lot of outrage today. I want to get to that. ABC now remaining silent, remaining silent, after the star of Roseanne went on a rather racist and very offensive Twitter rant earlier today.

Roseanne Barr tweeted this, quote, Muslim brotherhood and "Planet of the Apes" had a baby equals V.J., close quote. V.J. as in Valerie Jarrett, former top Obama advisor. Roseanne Barr is also promoting a debunked conspiracy theory on the billionaire industry George Soros saying his "A Nazi who turned in his fellow Jews to be murdered in German concentration camps".

All while falsely suggesting Chelsea Clinton is married to Soros' nephew. Roseanne Barr later apologized for the Valerie Jarrett tweet. I want to go to our Senior Media correspondent Brian Stelter is joining us now live.

Brian, first of all, ABC has been silent thunderously silent, but we do expect them to be issuing a statement fairly soon. Are they going to fire her?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I am standing via for a statement from ABC, Wolf. I don't know what it will contain. I expect it will be some sort of condemnation, but it will be hard to imagine ABC parting ways with Roseanne Barr because her sitcom, "The Revival of Roseanne" was one of the biggest shows of the year. It debuted to more than 20 million viewers. It leveled out around 10 million, which is a huge number for broadcast television these days.

That means, she makes millions and millions for ABC and the network, I hate to say it, they kind of knew what they were getting when they hire her. She's been an outspoken promoter of conspiracy theories on her Twitter account for a long time.

But these particular tweets do seem to gone even further than she had gone before by promoting these ideas that are racist and anti-Semitic. She has caused a widespread outcry including within ABC. So I do expect the statement shortly from the network.

The big picture here Wolf, is we're seeing conspiracy theory thinking from a huge a-list celebrity. She reads a bunch of B.S. on fringe websites about how Democrats are evil about George Soros and President Obama and Valerie Jarrett, Rosie get her (ph). And then she promotes it to her millions of fans. It's hardly disappointing because on screen, she can be a great comedian, she's very entertaining. But off air, she's promoting dangerous ideas. By the way, Jarrett taking the high road today, declining to comment.

[13:15:08] BLITZER: She did, Roseanne Barr, did issue an apology on Twitter after saying she -- I am now leaving Twitter, I apologize. She said this she said I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I'm truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me. My joke was in bad taste.

But as you point out, ABC knew what it was getting in Roseanne Barr. We did some checking back on December 22, 2013, she had a very similar tweet about Susan Rice, the President Obama's National Security Adviser.

I've not even going to read it, it's an awful tweet. Once again making comparison to an ape. So its -- this is something she's been doing for a long time, but ABC decided to go ahead and hire her any way, right?

STELTER: Yes, that's right because this show, it was time for a reboot. Tens of millions of Americans wanted to see it brought back. She of course plays the pro-Trump character which calls the President to embrace the show on week one. And throughout the first season, it was a big hit. Season two production is now under way.

However, today just a few minutes ago, one of the producers Wanda Sykes said she's quitting. Wanda Sykes is the consulting producer on the show, a key voice in the writer's room said she will not return for season two.

This seems to be a reaction to Roseanne's tweets although Sykes is not saying that directly. It does make you wonder if there could be further fallout for the network, Wanda Sykes being one name there says she will not take part in season two.

But the show is scheduled to return this fall. And on the air like I said, very entertaining show. But off the air, ABC up until now has just held its nose, just looked to the other way when it comes to Barr's tweets. I had an executive a couple months ago acknowledged me, her tweets are ugly, but, you know, that's Roseanne being Roseanne. What can we do? I think they're actually is a lot they could do Wolf and we'll see what the network decides today.

BLITZER: All right, as soon as you get that statement from ABC, let us know and will share it with our viewers. So Brian, thank you very much.

Other news, has the president floats a new conspiracy there he isn't strategy against Robert Mueller actually working politically? We'll discuss that.

And the current White House atmosphere being compared to the Game of Thrones as President Trump by takes the lead on his communications strategy. There is new reporting, we'll share it with you when we come back.


[13:21:34] BLITZER: President Trump's latest Twitter tirade includes a new and unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. Now the President is tweeting that Robert Mueller's Russia investigators will be meddling in the midterm elections coming up in November. It's part of the stepped up effort by the President to discredit Mueller and his entire Russia probe. But is it working?

Let's bring in former assistant U.S. attorney Kim Wehle, CNN Political Analyst Ryan Lizza, and our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. Is it working?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is with the President's base, it certainly is. When you look at our most recent CNN polling, Bob Mueller's approval rating among Republicans is 1 percent.

Now, it was never high. It was 29 percent in the poll we took before that I believe. He is still above water when it comes to the public at large in terms of his approval.

But obviously the President is playing his base because if something happens to him, to his family, or Mueller issues a very tough report, he wants to be able to say they have no credibility or if he decides not to go and testify before Mueller, why would I sit down with these people who are out to get me.

So, this is part of a strategy and it's something we've seen Trump do over and over again.

BLITZER: Yes and with that base, it seems to be resonating.


RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he has an incredible hold on his supporters because of the way the media is so fractured and because of the sort of direct line he has to his own supporters. He has an incredible ability to shape the narrative of this investigation in a way that benefits him.

And he and Giuliani and some of the other people in the conservative media that support him have been slowly and steadily chipping away at the credibility of the prosecutors of the investigation. And using alarm over the tactics that the prosecutors have used to turn it some -- to investigation that is somehow not justified, right.

Going after the FISA warrant and saying that, that process was corrupted, going after this confidential informant that was used to find out information about some of the members of the Trump team joining the election and saying, calling that a spy, right. So, they've certainly chipped away.

In the meantime, I think what's happening is the White House has very slowly been trying to exercise more and more control over Rosenstein and the justice department, right?

Started with firing Comey, but little by little, they have sort of pushed the line a bit that separates the White House and Justice Department traditionally and this is another step in that process.

BLITZER: From a legal standpoint Kim, could the President's falsehoods be used against him down the road?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, to the extent to which there is an obstruction of justice charge. Arguably, this could go to an intent to interfere with the investigation. But I agree this is more of a P.R. campaign. That is, this is someone who doesn't seem to have moral integrity really caring about whether what he's saying is accurate or not.

He's also created sound bites and branding. So we start Crooked Hillary, we see witch hunt, we see Spygate. All of that is a distortion, it's not accurate, it's not true, but it gets picked up upcoming out the White House and the media, you know. People have these conversations and somehow it gets imbued with some level of truth in it.

And the fall guy here is really the integrity of the Justice Department and our system of justice, which Robert Mueller essentially represents. He's not one person. He is this notion of accountability for any elected official for anyone in this country.

[13:25:07] Nobody is above the rule of law and that's what's being attacked with, frankly with lies and distortion.

BORGER: And you know, you could make the case easily that one of the reasons this is dragging on is because the President's legal team has been in this long negotiation over whether the President will or won't testify. And that kind of drags things out a little bit here. And, you know, because we reported, I believe it was last week that there was an offer on the table on January 27th, which never happened so he could have --

WEHLE: I was in the Whitewater investigation, that took seven years and it was small potatoes compared to what's happening here. My guess is, the amount of information that the Mueller investigation has to go through the number of witnesses. They've done us so much right, we've already had what 19 indictments, five guilty pleas.

But I do agree that this kind of dance, this public dance around testifying is probably more a tactic on the President's part to push the envelope down the field here because he really doesn't have any strong defense on the merits to refuse to testify.

BLITZER: You know, Ryan, there has been a debate, do you call the President's false statements falsehoods or false statements or outright lies.


BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Maggie Haberman on the New York Times, the CNN Contributor said earlier tonight, listen to this.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: To me the label is much more of a semantics game. And I understand that there is a lot of anger out there and I understand that there's a feeling that was President is not being held accountable.

He says so many things that are not you true that you would literally be using the word lie probably 20 times a day if you were just going on a day that he gave speeches or if you're going through the tweets. To me that loses power.

And also we are dealing with someone and, you know, this very well who tries to create his own narrative and his own facts, that which is what we're talking about with the conspiracy theories in the first place.


BLITZER: What's your reaction?

LIZZA: You know, I have a lot of thoughts about this, because I've thought about this quite a bit. And if you watch the documentary about the New York Times that just was released on Showtime, Dean Baquet, the editor-in-chief of the New York Times actually has a lot of interesting things to say about this. His argument is similar to Maggie's is that the times doesn't use it -- as that they've had used it in headlines reporting on Trump, which was a major break with tradition there.

But he argued that they didn't use it as -- that they didn't want to use it so often because it lost his its power was such a powerful word. Now, factually, saying a politician lies means that you know their mental state right? That they were intentionally trying to deceived. I think Donald Trump does that quite a bit and I think we all should be very -- we shouldn't hesitate to call out lies when they are obvious.

I think in some ways what Trump does is almost worse in that what he says is situational and so frequently untethered from reality. And he literally just says whatever he thinks is necessary in that moment. And that sense, it's even worse than a politician who lies just on occasion very consciously in that he's just constantly spreading a stream of B.S. at any given moment. And it is even worse --

BLITZER: Because he'd also tweeted this, this morning, I'll get your reaction.


BLITZER: He said, sorry, I've got to start focusing my energy on North Korea, nuclear, bad trade deals, V.A. 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. He is spending a lot of time on Russia so called from his perspective --

BORGER: Well, and that tweet says everything you need to know which is that even he understands that he is focusing on the Russia story to the exclusion of other things which he needs to start focusing on. And by the way, if this is now that he's only focusing on North Korea, I think it's kind of a little shocking to be honest.

And one thing on the lying question, this is a President who accuses everybody else of lying 50 times a day, including the fake news media. And so, I think that we ought to call it out when we see it. What we don't know is for example what he knows when he tweets sometimes. We don't know that he knew that there was a background briefing from his own staff when he called it fake news, you know, so --

LIZZA: So is he lying there?

BORGER: -- its sometimes hard to know or was he uninformed.

BLITZER: Right, that's a good point.

All right guys, thank you very, very much. Lot's more news coming up. A new report that describing how President Trump is now stepping in to the role hope hicks vacated in calling all the communication shots over at the White House. Why some White House staffers are now comparing the atmosphere over there to the Game of Thrones.

And the complicated in controversial journey of Rudy Giuliani, the President's lawyer once known as America's mayor, getting booed, yes, booed at one of his favorite places in the world. We'll discuss. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)