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Mccabe Turned Over Memo On Comey's Firing To Mueller; Trump Falsely Claims He Did Not Fire Comey Because Of Russia; Secretary Mike Pompeo and North Korean Spy Chief Meet in New York. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Brianna Keilar and what's happening right now in a Manhattan high rise could mean the success or failure of a summit between the president and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, or even whether a summit takes place at all.

HARLOW: That's right. As we speak, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is starting what's expected to be a half-day meeting with the North Korean point man on nuclear negotiations. The former top spy in North Korea, a man by the name of Kim Yong Chol. These are two ex-spy chiefs coming together for a critical negotiation.

Our Alex Marquardt is outside of the building. Very close to where I am.

So they've arrived, they're just getting this under way. Is that right?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They haven't quite arrived. In fact, Poppy, we're hearing some sirens. You probably hear them as well. A motorcade coming down the block. We believe that is Kim Yong Chol arriving here at the Corinthian Condominiums which is normally the residents of the deputy U.S. representatives to the United Nations. Earlier there was another motorcade that showed up. We assume that that was Mike Pompeo.

So these meetings due to get started very shortly. They're expected to last around four and a half hours and really the goal today between these two top representatives of these two respective countries is to bridge this massive divide, to bridge the understanding so that a possible summit can take place right now. It is scheduled for June 12th, but the U.S. is calling it a potential summit. We just saw a tweet just moments ago from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He wrote, "The potential summit between POTUS," the president, "and Chairman Kim presents DPRK," North Korea, "with a great opportunity to achieve security and economic prosperity. The people of North Korea can have a brighter future and the world can be more peaceful."

Now, Poppy, in order to set up this day of meetings after Kim arrived yesterday here in New York, there was what they called a working dinner. The State Department releasing pictures of Mike Pompeo showing Kim the skyline of New York including the Freedom Tower, the U.N. headquarters. We know that they dined on steak, corn, cheese and vanilla ice cream, so a warm dinner to start off these very intense talks which as I mentioned are expected to last around four and a half hours after which Secretary Pompeo is due to give a press conference. So hopefully we'll get some details about what transpires in these incredibly important meetings.



HARLOW: Look, and we know the State Department spokesperson just saying last night went well but there's a lot of work to do as you laid out. Let's see what comes out of it, Alex. Appreciate the reporting. Thank you -- Bri.

KEILAR: Did you say steak, corn, cheese and vanilla ice cream, I think, Poppy. I want to bring --

HARLOW: Ice cream solves all world problems, apparently.


KEILAR: It says vanilla ice cream. I don't know, maybe chocolate.


KEILAR: All right. Let's bring in Elise Labott. She's a CNN global affairs correspondent. What's Trump team looking for here?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're looking to, as Alex, said to kind of bridge the gap of what the North Koreans are willing to give at this summit versus what the U.S. wants to get from the North Koreans. The U.S. is looking for a very concrete sign that the North Koreans are looking to denuclearize, and what does that big buzz phrase we keep talking about, give up their nuclear weapons program and that's a very tall order for the North Koreans.

For years the North Koreans have thought the one thing they need is regime survival. Kim Jong-un, his father, his grandfather, that's all they wanted is for the regime to survive and they thought the nuclear weapons were the way to do that.

Now the U.S. is trying to convince them that those weapons are not keeping them safe and the way to do that is through these security guarantees that President Trump is teasing out, also economic prosperity. You see with that steak and that skyline and everything, you know, Kim Yong Chol --

KEILAR: These are good (INAUDIBLE), right?

LABOTT: He just showed up in a Cadillac and, you know, showing him what North Korea could get in return. And, you know, it's a very tall order for the North Koreans so you have all these concentric circles of meetings going on. You have one in Singapore on logistics. You have one in North Korea. A team there led by Ambassador Sung Kim about content and then these two leaders, the point people, Secretary Pompeo for President Trump and Kim Yong Chol for Kim Jong-un to try and see if there's enough common ground to have this summit.

KEILAR: All right, Elise Labott. Thank you so much. Poppy.

HARLOW: This morning the president is claiming he did not fire former FBI director James Comey over Russia. Here's the problem with that assertion. He previously said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


[09:05:07] HARLOW: All right. You're looking at live pictures right now of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting with the chief nuclear negotiator of North Korea, Kim Yong Chol. Both the former top spy chiefs of the respective nations, they're at this condominium in midtown Manhattan just a few blocks from where I am right now sitting down for an extraordinary meeting.

This is one of three meetings the two are having. We heard earlier they dined last night and we're told by a State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, that that was a, quote, "great dinner, but there is, quote, "a lot of work to do." So now they sit down for what will be a half day meeting and they'll do a lot of work.

These two men just below President Trump and Kim Jong-un, they are setting the table for what will be or likely will be the June 12th summit in -- the June 12th summit in Singapore.

And Brianna, let me bring you in here with this. This is pretty extraordinary, these images we're seeing.

KEILAR: Yes. This is fascinating. Right. So you don't normally get all of this access where you're looking into a meeting and I think it just goes to show --

HARLOW: Right.

KEILAR: -- how important this is to this administration to show that there is some -- that there is some obviously work being done on the affront end here, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Let's bring in our foreign policy guests as well to talk about this as we look at those pictures and try to re-rack here so people can see what's going on.

Joining us -- do we have our guests, guys? All right. Thank you both for being here very, very much. We appreciate it.

And Jung, let me just begin with you. We're told by the State Department that this went well, the dinner last night, but there's a lot of work still to do and you have sort of warned against underestimating Kim Jong-un here, so set the table for what you think is happening at that table right now in midtown Manhattan.

JUNG PAK, CHAIR IN KOREA STUDIES, BROOKINGS: All right. So I think that it's great that they're establishing rapport but I think steak is not going to get Kim Yong Chol to give away the store. As others have mentioned the North Koreans consider the nuclear weapons program as a guarantee of regime security, so the next four hours is a hard task for our Secretary Pompeo.

I see that State Department and CIA are represented at that table, so we've got some season --

HARLOW: All right.

KEILAR: Jung, I'm so sorry to interrupt you. We'll be right back to you. I want to listen to President Trump speaking on the tarmac.

TRUMP: And we're going to Dallas, we're going to Houston, and we're going to have a little fun today. Thank you very much. I don't know. I don't know. If you know Steve, let me know. I think you would be very proud. I think (INAUDIBLE) -- the meetings have been very positive.

We'll see what happens. It's a process. It's all a process. We'll see and hopefully we'll have a meeting on the 12th that's going along very well but I want it to be meaningful. It doesn't mean it gets all done at one meeting. Maybe you have to have a second or a third, and maybe we'll have none, but it's in good hands. That I can tell you. You know that, actually. Thank you.

KEILAR: All right. President Trump there just moments ago in that tape we were just able to turn around as he's leaving for a fundraising tour. Heading to Texas, Poppy, it's just --


KEILAR: It's stunning, right, how you watch this. You see that video that we just saw coming in from where you are in New York.


KEILAR: And it's all being so stage managed, right? This is made for television negotiations.

HARLOW: I mean, it is, right? I mean, he -- you know, was -- you know, "The Apprentice," reality television and this is diplomacy playing out in real life on television in front of our eyes, and we'll go back to you, Jung. It is remarkable as Brianna points out, the fact that we saw those pictures just moments ago of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol sitting down and we have the president saying just there, yes, it looks like we're maybe going to have the summit. Maybe we can get this done in one meeting. Maybe it'll take two or three meetings, you know, but it's all in good hands.

What do you make of the fact that so much of this is playing out in real time in front of the world?

PAK: If anybody knows how to play real time and optics it's the North Koreans. Their regime is built on propaganda and making sure that the people see what they want to see. I think the North Koreans have been pretty clear and consistent that they're not going to give up their nuclear weapons, but I think Kim Yong Chol is going to dangle just enough in front of Secretary Pompeo so that Pompeo can return to Trump and say that everything's fine and that the summit can go ahead.

KEILAR: And Shawn, you heard the president speaking there, right?

[09:10:02] He said -- a lot of it was kind of just platitudes. Right? He said it's very positive. The meetings have been positive. Hopefully still going to have the June 12th summit going on. Maybe there will be a second or third meeting. That was sort of curious, did he mean a second or third meeting between him and Kim Jong-un?

HARLOW: Right.

KEILAR: I mean, so he's opening the door to that but then he also said maybe there will be no meeting, so all possibilities here on the table.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. And I think we have to recognize this for what it is. Over the past couple of weeks there has been this effort to kind of manage expectations with regard to this meeting if it should happen. You know, this is interesting because the administration has gone from a very clear and matter of fact decision to want clear, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of the nuclear program to maybe there will be a second meeting, maybe this is a process, maybe this will take place over time, which is a bit of a shift on the part of the administrations.

So really I found it very interesting what the president said there. I also think it's really interesting that you've got two former heads of intelligence agencies that have been adversaries for a long time sitting down across the table from each other.


TURNER: And these two men are -- you know, this is not for them. It's not just about getting the summit back on track. It's about getting a sense for what the other side is thinking and figuring out how much wiggle room there is and whether or not there's even a reason to go forward with the summit. I think that for right now, we are still fairly far apart with regard to what North Korea's willing to give and what the United States absolutely wants.

HARLOW: And Jung, Russia is now a larger part of the picture here, right, because you have the Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov sitting down with Kim Jong-un this morning and two notable things that came out of that meeting. We all know where sort of Russia stands in terms of being more an ally with North Korea than with the United States on this, but he said that sanctions must be lifted against North Korea until denuclearization can happen, one. And he also warned against, quote, "sudden moves in these negotiations."

Jung, what do you think Russia is trying to do here?

PAK: So Russia has been sidelined in most of this process, and I think that the Russians, like the Chinese, want denuclearization, but the Russians and then Chinese do agree that there has to be some sort of phased approach that North Korea has to have some incentives to move forward on denuclearization. So what the North Koreans have been successful in doing is to rally the Chinese and the Russians on their side so that they can have a stronger position going into the summit with President Trump.

KEILAR: And, Shawn, can you imagine -- we just heard Elise Labott reporting about how there is this sticking point over denuclearization. So it seems like there's just one but this is huge. Right? This is a gulf between how North Korea is going to define this.


KEILAR: What they're going to accept, what the U.S. wants to see. Clearly the president wants to shut it all down but it's very difficult to see how Kim Jong-un would be on board with anything really close to that.

TURNER: Yes. As this summit goes forward, we know what the United States wants and Kim Jong-un actually goes into this meeting with somewhat of an advantage because what we're really trying to figure out here is what he's willing to give. There's no ambiguity about what the United States wants. It's about what he's willing to give. So I think at this point as we move forward, if the president stays at the table, knowing that he's not going to get the grand deal, then that is somewhat of a victory for Kim and for North Korea.

Depending on what he does when he stays at the table that will tell us whether or not the president is actually going to be able to get something that his predecessors have not been able to get. But at this point, you're right. We still got a vast gulf here between what the United States wants and what North Korea is willing to give.

KEILAR: That's what he wants, Poppy. The grand deal. It's hard to imagine the president wanting something different, right?

HARLOW: Yes. Very hard to imagine.

Guys, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

KEILAR: And the president falsely claiming he did not fire Jim Comey, the FBI director, because of the Russia investigation even though he's on tape saying the exact opposite. We're digging more into that.

HARLOW: Exactly. Also President Trump not calling out Roseanne for those racist tweets. He did have some choice words, though, for someone else, the CEO of Disney. Ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right. A new report this morning from "The New York Times" talks about former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe being so concerned about the motive behind Trump's firing of James Comey that he wrote a contemporaneous memo at the time and shared it now with Mueller's team, the special prosecutor.

KEILAR: Yes. We're just learning about this. And CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House to tell us more about it. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, thanks. Reporting that come both from Laura Jarrett of CNN as well as "The New York Times".

And it is, as you said, about a memo that was written by the former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe relating to his impressions of a meeting he had in turn with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and some information apparently in this memo about whether Rosenstein had, in fact, provided cover, if you will, for the president when he fired the FBI Director James Comey.

It also raises some questions, if you will, about whether that very same situation would have been enough reason for Rod Rosenstein to recuse himself from the investigation because, in fact, he had become at that point part of it.

So, new questions, questions about Rod Rosenstein, questions about whether he can actually be perceived as not having any type of a conflict of interest.

[09:20:00] And interesting point in this investigation, of course, because it gives us a little more of a view about the state of mind of the players right after the FBI Director James Comey was fired.

Back to you.

KEILAR: All right. Joe Johns, thank you so much, from the White House, with that update.

And joining us now, we have CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates. We're also joined by political commentator Mary Katherine Ham and political analyst Josh Dawsey with us.

So, in the middle of all of this, just moments ago, the president tweets, you guys. He says, "Not that it matters, but I never fired James Comey because of Russia. The corrupt mainstream media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true."

Also pushing that narrative, though, we should point out, the president himself. Let's listen to what he said in May of last year to Lester Holt.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.


KEILAR: All right. Mary Katherine, there it is. His words.

MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, surprise, Trump contradicts himself. And he will continue to do so. He'll probably say 79 different reasons that he fired Comey, but he'll always come back to this one. I do think it's the thing that rests most heavily on him.

The other part of this about the reporting on McCabe, I think we should remember is that McCabe was - he's now sort of implicating Rosenstein with this memo. He also was let go for reason according to the inspector general and that reason is that he made false statements. So, that is a thing that we should keep in mind when we're talking about McCabe's assertion on this as well.

HARLOW: I think, Mary Katherine, that's a really important point. And, Josh, to you, just looking at that, I mean, "The New York Times" reporting certainly complicates things or there's a potential to complicate things for the president, in that he, according to "The Times", directed Rosenstein to include Russia in some manner in the explanation of the firing of Comey. Rosenstein didn't do that. But McCabe found it important enough to document at that time, turn it over to Mueller's team.

But to Mary Katherine's point - I mean, that would point to obstruction potentially. But to Mary Katherine's point, how believable is this stuff from McCabe given the reason for his firing?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. But the president himself came out right at the time and said I've been told several times I wasn't under investigation. You saw the Lester Holt interview there. He also told the Russians in the Oval Office that great pressure had been taken off of him because he fired the "nut job" James Comey.

So, the president was making his intentions pretty clear at the time. He was channeling it in public comments, in private comments, saying he wasn't under investigation.

I'm not sure what the McCabe - the significance of that will end up being because the justification he gave was that Comey was basically too harsh on Hillary Clinton, that he mishandled that investigation, that he should not have been so public with his findings.

That was a long scathing letter that he wrote about Comey's performance. I'm not sure exactly how that would have changed if he were to be given a different justification.

KEILAR: And, Laura, I mean, from a legal perspective here, because it appears at least according to sourcing in this article that what the president wanted mentioned aside from Comey had done a bad job when it came to Hillary Clinton was that he wanted this exoneration to be coming right in this memo, basically Rosenstein saying, hey, the president hasn't done anything wrong as it pertains to this Russia probe.

That did not end up in there, according to this McCabe memo. Rosenstein pulled that. From a legal perspective that he wrote this at the time, is that believable? And also, what impact will that have?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's interesting for that note. Think about just because somebody has been dishonest in other areas of their life, as Mary Katherine points out, they can still corroborate details and the president has actually, by putting it out there with Lester Holt, now you have the opportunity for Andrew McCabe to corroborate and also bolster their credibility in a way that he didn't anticipate.

But the larger issue here is what Rosenstein chose not to include in the actual paper is when he chose not to do so, it did demonstrate some autonomy and independence and a refusal to simply bow down and placate the president on an area that he did not feel justifiably so.

And what that tells you, of course, too is the chronology is important here. That was written on May 7th, I believe. The president had the interview with Lester Holt on May 9th.

And it was after that point in time that Rod Rosenstein decided to have a special counsel appointed, largely because I'm sure he realized that based on his particular input in that memo about Comey, he anticipated there being a discussion about his conflict of interest.

He has contemplated it, he has handled it. It always been an issue. And I think it's right now a very promising concept that we know about this and he took action proactively.

HARLOW: But, Laura, could it be seen as - the counter of that, could it be seen as Rosenstein trying to protect the president legally or at least politically by not including Russia in the memo, by knowing that's going to look so problematic if I say he fired Comey because of Russia, so I'm not going to include that and just going to talk about Hillary Clinton.

[09:25:13] COATES: Well, that would be very generous. And I think one that would follow the president's wishes to have a loyalist in the Department of Justice, looking out for his best interest.

That may be the case, but I think, realistically, it's because he is well aware, Rod Rosenstein, being one of the longest serving US attorneys, bipartisanly supported in every aspect, that he is aware that the reason why he personally was writing a memo about it is because of what was universally panned about James Comey usurpation of Loretta Lynch's role as attorney general.

So, I think he felt comfortable at that and that was his perhaps self- serving motivation as opposed to one trying to protect the president of the United States. But if that is, in fact, the case, it again undermines the narrative the president has tried to put out there that he has nobody who's objective or even on his side in the DOJ.

KEILAR: Guys, as we see the president tweeting this morning about Russia, let's take a little walk down memory lane to two days ago.

I think we have his tweet where he's talking about how he's too busy, right? I've got to start focusing my energy on North Korean nuclear, bad trade deals, not on the rigged Russia witch hunt that should be investigating Clinton/Russia/FBI/Justice/Obama /Comey/Lynch, et cetera.

Mary Katherine, it seems as if he's had a change of heart here.

HAM: Yes. Twitter physician, heal thyself. It would be good advice if he would take it, but he's not interested in taking his own good advice or mine or many other people who might have his interest at heart at many times.

And he'll continue to tweet and he will continue to contradict himself on this and so many other points.

KEILAR: Indeed. All right. Stick around with us, if you will, Mary Katherine and Josh Dawsey. Laura Coates, thank you so much for your legal expertise.

HARLOW: All right. We've got coming up, the president is still not criticizing Roseanne at all after her racist tweets. You know who he is going after? The CEO of Disney, demanding an apology from Bob Iger. We're going to dig into that next.