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Trump Responds to Roseanne Barr Controversy; Murdered Russian Journalist Turns Up Alive; Trump Wishes He Never Hired Sessions; Final Preparations for Trump/Kim Summit. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: She's apologizing to her fans, telling them not to boycott ABC, blaming her late-night racist rant on Ambien, criticizing her co-stars for speaking out against her, promoting more debunked conspiracy theories, and even suggesting all this backlash is because she's conservative and a Trump supporter.

By the way, the makers of Ambien just put out a statement saying, quote, "Racism is not a known side effect of the sleeping drug."

Joining us now to discuss is CNN political analyst, April Ryan, and CNN political commentator, former Congressman Charlie Dent.

April, what is your reaction to the president breaking his silence after almost 24 hours on the whole Roseanne uproar?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, he broke his silence, but it was about him. We still don't know exactly what the president or the White House feels about this. You know, Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be having her briefing very soon this afternoon. And we're going to find out a little bit more. This is someone the president once supported. You though, when she came back for her reboot, that first show he was talking about her ratings. Roseanne is a supporter of this president, and he had a core base that watched her. But at issue is what does the president think? And some are cringing to see what his thoughts are with this, because it could ramp up this divide or calm it. I think back to Bill Clinton. You know, this is one of those teachable moments. Valerie Jarrett talked about that yesterday. But this is one of those teachable moments on race. How will the president handle it, will he rise to the occasion or fall?

BLITZER: Let me play a clip, Charlie Dent. This is Valerie Jarrett, attacked by Roseanne, basically compared to being an ape. Listen to how she responded.


VALARIE JARRETT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I'm fine. I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense, the person who is walking down the street, minding their own business and they see somebody cling to their purse or walk across the street. Those ordinary examples of racism that happen every single day.


BLITZER: She says the tone starts at the top. That seemed to be a suggestion that the president made at least partially be responsible for some of this. What's your reaction?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that Valerie Jarrett responded with class, and with dignity. It's really unfortunate. The president had an opportunity here to make a statement, and maybe partially redeem himself for the botched response to Charlottesville. I think this sun fortunate. But the good news is, the way the corporate community has stood up, not just on this issue, ABC and the maker of Ambien, but look at Starbucks after the incident in Philadelphia.

North Carolina companies after the bathroom law, and all that occurred there. A lot of the companies are standing up with inclusive messages, while Washington remains very tribal and divided, appealing to bases. So I think this is a lost opportunity for the president.

BLITZER: She also tweeted, April, that she feels bad for the president because she says, "He goes through this all the time," what she's going through.

RYAN: Well, the president gets a lot of heat for the things that he says. Sometimes are unfounded. Sometimes just out of the box. But then, you know, other people get it. You know, as journalists, FOX News put out something about me that was not true. I had people calling me gorilla or planet of the apes. This is what happens.

And Roseanne Barr said things, I don't know what happened to her. We don't know why she did this, but she put herself in a position sitting in that lofty perch to make those kinds of statements to someone who did not provoke it. Why? I'm wondering if she was trying to do a direct message on Twitter to someone and she made a mistake. It just boggles my mind. She said it before about Susan Rice and she grabbed her crotch before. She is unhinged.

BLITZER: Charlie Dent, I'm sure it's not going to happen, but if you had your way, what would you like to see the president do about all this?

DENT: I think the president ought to stand up and condemn it for what it is. This is a racist comment, and he should just simply call it out as such. The same way he should have done, the same thing on Charlottesville. That's really the simple response. We should just condemn this type of thing, when we see it. Roseanne Barr she's kind of bizarre. Remember, she had given that -- she did that rendition of the national anthem years ago.

It was awful. And she did other things, too. She's a bizarre person, and she makes these statements. The president just needs to condemn it. I remember at the time of Charlottesville, the CEO of Merck, a friend of mine, stood up -- an African-American by the way -- stood up and withdrew from the president's advisory council on manufacturing in protest. So I think the president needs to stand up and try to unite the American people and not play to these divisions. [13:35:17] BLITZER: Charlie Dent, April Ryan, good discussion.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

There's other important news we're following, including a stunning twist. A Russian journalist faking, yes, faking his own death as part of a sting operation to catch suspected assassins. It's an incredible story. We'll share it with you. That's coming up.


[13:39:57] BLITZER: His friends, his family, even his wife, thought he was dead.




BLITZER: But today, a shocking turn of events. A Russian journalist, Arkady Babchenko, turned up alive on Ukrainian TV. The media reported Babchenko, a critic of Vladimir Putin, was shot and killed in his home in Kiev on Tuesday. As it turns out, his fake death was a special operation to take down a team of Russian assassins.

Our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is covering the story for us.

Fred, sort of sounds like a spy movie. But tell us the very latest.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPODNENT: Yes, certainly felt like a spy movie as we.. It seemed to involve all echelons of the Ukrainian government and security services. They not only said that he was dead, but you had Ukrainian politicians, including the prime minister, lashing out at Russia, blaming Russia for allegedly killing Arkady Babchenko. Then it turned out today that he wasn't dead after all. They said they had gotten wind of a plot to kill Babchenko and that they foiled it by staging his death.

As you noted before, Wolf, even his wife apparently wasn't informed that he was actually still alive. He came out earlier today and he apologized to his wife and others for putting them through the pain of thinking he was dead. Let's listen in.


ARKADY BABCHENKO, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST (through translation): Firstly, I would like to apologize for what you all had to go through, because I buried friends and colleagues many times. And I know it's a sickening, vomiting feeling when you have to bury your colleagues. But in another way, it was impossible. Also, I would like to apologize to my wife for the hell she has been through. I'm sorry, but there were no other options.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PLEITGEN: The Ukrainians say, Wolf, some $40,000 were offered up for the killings. They claim that all of this was steered by Russia and say one man is now in custody because of this operation.

The Ukrainian president, Wolf, has come out and called it a brilliant operation by the Ukrainian security services.

As you can imagine, Wolf, the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the Russians are absolutely fuming right now. They say that the Ukrainians have lost all international credibility because of this -- Wolf?

BLITZER: A lot more, I'm sure, coming up on the story.

Fred Pleitgen, reporting from Moscow. Thank you.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, he's one of the president's favorite targets. He's been called everything from weak to Mr. Magoo, and now the president wishes he had never hired him. We'll examine all of the insults. Stay with us.


[13:47:03] BLITZER: President Trump is finally weighing in on the Roseanne controversy, but it's not to denounce her racist comments. It's to talk about his experience with ABC.

Our politics reporter, Chris Cillizza, is joining us.

It's not the first time we've seen the president spin his attention back to him.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITCS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: No. Donald Trump sees his life and the world through one lens, which is him.

Let's go to the tweet he had, Wolf, on Memorial Day, of all maces. I believe we have it. We may not. There it is. It's on the screen. "Happy Memorial Day. Those who died for our great country." But look what he turns to very quickly, " Lowest unemployment number for blacks and Hispanics, rebuilding our military and so much more. Nice."

Not exactly your traditional Memorial Day tweet. A lot more about Donald Trump in there than about the soldiers.

BLITZER: Basically, he did the same thing with Roseanne uproar. He turned it towards himself.

CILLIZZA: This is about me, right? Bob Iger called Valerie Jarrett to apologize, he never called me for all the nasty things that ABC said about me.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the president's rocky relationship with the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. It's been bad, but it's now taken an even worse turn. CILLIZZA: Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, it does.

Donald Trump quoting Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Congressman, on television, essentially saying, well, maybe if Donald Trump knew what he knew now then he wouldn't have hired Jeff Sessions. He said, I wish I had picked someone else.

So let's start -- as you noted Wolf, this is not new. Let's start with what it all began it for Donald Trump, which is Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, recusing himself in the Russia investigation. Let's play that sound.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign. I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.


CILLIZZA: OK, so you see there, that's March 2. By July, we begin to see public explanations, Donald Trump's not happy. There's a "New York Times" quote, this is an interview with the "New York Times:" "Jeff Sessions takes the job, recuses himself, which I think is very unfair to the president." A reference back to it's all about Donald Trump. Then he takes to Twitter less than a week later. I believe it's July 24th. Attorney general -- remember, this is his attorney general: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position. Our beleaguered attorney general."

He's back at it on Twitter in February of this year, with, "Another disgraceful" -- this is about why is Jeff Sessions not covering and looking into the alleged abuses of Hillary Clinton and her e-mail scandal. Then we hear, via the "Washington Post," Trump takes what I thought was as far as he could, which is he's comparing Jeff Sessions in private to -- that's Mr. Magoo, the comic -- I was going to say hero -- the comic figure known for being a bumbler, never doing anything right.

And yet, that's not the worst thing. I do think, Wolf, what Trump did this morning went further, essentially saying, "I shouldn't and I wouldn't have ever hired Jeff Sessions, my top cop, the head of law enforcement in this country, if I knew then what I know now." A remarkable thing. Session, so far, by the way, worth noting, silent.

[13:50:46] BLITZER: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I don't know what you would say --


BLITZER: I always wonder, how much public humiliation from the president of the U.S. can the attorney general take before he says enough is enough. We'll see if that happens.

Good analysis, Chris. Thank you very much.

The White House briefing only moments away. We'll see how Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, responds to the president's comments on Roseanne and Jeff Sessions.

Plus, why one Republican congresswoman now says pornography is one of the root causes of school shootings.


[13:55:27] BLITZER: Time to prepare is running out. We're less there and two weeks away from the summit involving the North Korean leader, and the president of the United States.

CNN's military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, has a closer look at the uphill battle.


REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST (voice-over): After weeks of whipsawing and mutual threats to cancelling, administration officials are now in the final stages of turning President Trump's surprise decision to meet North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Un, into a reality. It's no small feat preparing for one of the most consequential summits since the end of the Cold War, especially now, with little time left to go, a nervous China, an unpredictable leader in Pyongyang, and a president who tends to veer off script.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump thinks he's the only one that has the negotiation kills, the toughness, the audacity to reach an agreement with North Korea.

KIRBY: Since the announcement, the president near completely turned over his national security team, changing up the secretary of state, the CIA director and national security adviser all in a matter of weeks.

In normal circumstances, lower-level staffers from both countries would spend months negotiating, hammering out all the details before the leaders meet. In this case, the president is working backwards, agreeing to a summit first with the topics and logistics to come later. It makes the hastily planned meeting even more challenging to pull together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From a logistical standpoint, we'll need to move in a motorcade, a communications set, all kinds of things to create an atmosphere that allows the president to continue governing from a security standpoint. We'll need to have our Secret Service prepare for every contingency imaginable. And from a substance standpoint, the goal is to shrink the margin of error about less ambiguity about what will happen when the two leaders meet.

KIRBY: President Trump has before him an historic opportunity to do what no other president has done before, convince the North Koreans to give up its nuclear weapons program. While Kim Jong-Un has signaled that he's willing to commit to a full

denuclearization of the peninsula, it's not at all clear what that means to Kim Jong-Un or what he wants in return.

MADELIENE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think he means complete denuclearization. I think he's looking at something phased, certainly that has a payoff, a one for one, and also what the verification aspects are going to be. The president has to be prepared to push them on what the definitions of issues are and not just say, great, you're going to get rid of your nukes. That's not what is going to happen.

KIRBY (on camera): But experts argue Kim may already have what he wants, recognition by the United States and a meeting with the president, while giving up what he would have stopped up anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim Jong-Un has to fund three things simultaneously. The nuclear missile program, his security services and also the elite who keep him in power and prop him up. If the financial spigot gets tightened enough, he won't have enough money to fund all three simultaneously, and he'll have to make choices. And that hard choice could be to suspend nuclear missile testing because it's very expensive.

KIRBY (voice-over): Kim is maximizing leverage ahead of the summit, making trips to China, launching a charm offensive on South Korea, and releasing three American detainees back to the United States. President Trump can rightly claim some credit to getting us to this point, but it's the perceived lack of preparation by the U.S. and the president's tendency to improvise that has experts worried.

ALBRIGHT: The North Koreans are smart and well prepared. Certainly, when I was there, Kim Jong-Il, the father, was very well briefed on things. I think it would be very dangerous to improvise with them. I think it's very important to be disciplined.

KIRBY: John Kirby, CNN, Washington, D.C.


BLITZER: Thanks, John, for that report.

We're standing by. Kim Yong Chol, the former North Korean spy chief, he is going to be meeting with this secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director, in New York. That's the next stage in the development of this possible summit, still scheduled for June 12th in Singapore. It would be the highest-ranking meeting between a president of the United States and the leader of North Korea. A really historic moment if in fact it still takes place. Clearly, both of these leaders want it to take place. We'll see if it does. The meeting's in New York between the North Korean spy chief and Mike Pompeo. Certainly will set the scene.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. The news continues right now.