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Letter Delivered to Trump; Chol Meets with Trump; Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 1, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 12:00 noon in Mexico City, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Berlin. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

If it wasn't clear before, one longtime Trump adviser who's preparing for a possible Mueller indictment, says the president's pardon spree sends a clear signal to witness like him.

Plus, the president saying Samantha Bee should be fired after the TV star called Ivanka Trump a vulgar slur, but he still hasn't condemned Roseanne's racist tweet storm.

And, global backlash erupting as the president starts trade wars with major U.S. allies. And now those countries clearly are preparing to fight back.

All that coming up.

But let's begin with the breaking news on North Korea.

The country's former top spy hand-delivering a letter to President Trump from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The extraordinary event is playing out right now over at the White House. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the West Wing of the White House. Kim Yong Chol is the most senior North Korean official to visit the United States since 2000.

Here you see him leaving his hotel in New York City earlier this morning. He's been meeting with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in New York. Pompeo calls this a pivotal moment in relations between the United States and North Korea. And all this comes just 11 days before an expected possible summit between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea in Singapore.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now live.

Jim, first of all, what do we know about the letter Kim Yong Chol is delivering to President Trump and what's the latest on the planned summit?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let me walk you through some of the movements we're going to be seeing here in the next few moments. This is happening right now here on the South Lawn of the White House. The North Korean negotiator, Kim Yong Chol, is expected to arrive at any moment. You're looking at live pictures there.

He is expected -- and all of this is very fluid, so we'll see if this all plays out as exactly as we're hearing it right now -- he's expected to be greeted by the national security adviser, John Bolton, the chief of staff over here at the White House as well, John Kelly, and then they will then head over to the Oval Office where Kim Yong Chol will meet with President Trump and then hand-deliver a letter from Kim Jong-un.

That letter, obviously, is very critical right now. Talking to sources this morning, Wolf, they're still not totally clear exactly what's in that letter. They're familiar with the contents at this point, according to our sources, and that they continue to give optimism to officials here over here at the White House that there will be some kind of summit on June 12th in Singapore. That's what everybody over here at the White House has been planning on. The president has been talking about. They're not saying it's a done deal. But that's where this train appears to be headed.

And, of course, at this point, I think a lot of this is riding on exactly what is in that letter. And from what understanding from talking to various sources at this moment, Wolf. And, of course, this letter is supposed to be sealed according to officials over there. But people who are familiar with the contents are saying that it expresses an interest from Kim Jong-un to go ahead and have this summit with President Trump. But as you've been hearing from President Trump over the last couple of days, and he spoke about some of this yesterday, it may take one, two, even three different summits between the president and Kim Jong-un before they actually hammer out any kind of denuclearization agreement.

And so it seems as though there are a couple of things happening at the same time. They seem to be moving in the direction of having a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Perhaps they can get back to issuing those coins again. But at the same time, it doesn't appear, from all appearances at this point, that there will be a hard agreement made by both countries at that summit to totally denuclearize North Korea. It seems as though what they're talking about at this point, Wolf, is just moving in the direction of talks that will eventually, potentially lead in that direction.

But these dramatic pictures about to unfold on the South Lawn of the White House right now. That's what you're looking at. You're looking at the entrance to the White House from cameras positioned on the South Lawn. And you can see a couple of people starting to make their way out -- outside now. We expect Kim Yong Chol, who is the lead negotiator for Kim Jong-un, to meet with the chief of staff, the national security adviser, before all of those men then head over to -- to the Oval Office, where the president and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who apparently arrived here in the last half an hour or so, we saw that arrival in the last half an hour or so. And, of course, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and Kim Yong Chol, they both met in New York yesterday. All of the -- all of the wheels appear to be in motion, continuing in motion, Wolf, for this very dramatic, very historic encounter between the president and the senior most North Korean official to visit the White House since the Clinton administration.

[13:05:05] But, of course, when we're talking to officials over here, they're still treating this with an abundance of caution, as they probably should, that nothing is a done deal yet. But all signs point to optimism that something will happen on June 12th in Singapore, Wolf.

BLITZER: And so just to alert our viewers, the live pictures we're seeing from this driveway on the South Lawn of the White House, the South Lawn entrance to the White House, we expect the North Korean visitor, Kim Yong Chol, to be arriving there and then walking into the White House from that entrance, as opposed to the West Wing entrance, is that right?

ACOSTA: Well, I -- there -- we are getting some guidance from the pool reporters. We're not in the pool today, Wolf. There are other folks in the pool, the White House pool today. We're getting some guidance that they may actually walk down the colonnade from the South Lawn. As you know, Wolf, even though all of this looks really big on television, this is not a very long or taxing walk over to the Oval Office from this entrance into the White House from the South Lawn. It take -- it might take a couple of minutes just to walk from that position that people are looking at right now in this live footage, all the way over to the Oval Office. So essentially it will take, you know, 30 or 40 yards for them to walk from that position over to the Oval Office.

I don't believe they will go inside the building and then walk to the Oval Office from there. It appears they'll go down the colonnade, which, of course, will make for a very interesting and dramatic picture. As I was saying just a few moments ago, as we've all been focusing on, we've not seen a North Korean official at this level visit a U.S. administration since the Clinton years when Bill Clinton tried to craft an agreement that would lead to, you know, some kind of lowering of tensions with North Korea at that time.

Obviously what President Trump is aiming for at this point is a very big game and a very big, historic deal. And that would be to totally denuclearize North Korea. But as we've been hearing over the last several days, Wolf, it sounds as though they are trying to tamp down those expectations that they'll totally denuclearize North Korea, or have an agreement to do that on June 12th in Singapore.

What it sounds as though is that they're at least going to try to get to the bargaining table, try to get to the negotiating table, and try to have other summits down the road, much like we saw during the Cold War of the late 1980s early -- late 1980s, I should say.

And so you're seeing some vehicles arriving now. We've got multiple cameras staged around the White House, as you know, Wolf. This appears to be the motorcade for the North Korean officials. There you see that -- that camera position is positioned on Seventh Street near what we call the South West Gate of the White House. Those vehicles, presumably if they're carrying the North Korean

negotiator, Kim Yong Chol, they will make their way inside the south section of the White House, the southern section of the White House, on to the South Lawn. And you'll see Kim Yong Chol get out of those vehicles and then be greeted by administration officials at that point. So we may be a few moments away -- a few minutes away, Wolf, from seeing this unfold.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to watch it unfold live.

Stick around. Don't go too far away.

I also want to bring in our national security analyst Samantha Vinograd, CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian, and chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, we've covered the White House. It's a pretty nice reception they're giving Kim Yong Chol based on everything we've seen so far.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's -- look, this president, if nothing else, has the flare for drama. I mean, remember, this is kind of where he came from. This is what he's all about. And just put the diplomacy aside for just one second, this is something that, you know, he can and will and is taking great pleasure in. That the North Koreans coming to the White House to deliver a diplomatic letter.

This can be done without cameras. This can be done without anybody knowing it. In order to have this kind of reception, in order to have this kind of live coverage, this has to be blessed and encouraged by the president of the United States. So that's sort of the optics and the -- and the -- the visuals of this. And then, of course, as you said, it's a -- it's a big deal diplomatically for the North Koreans to be invited onto the White House grounds for anything. Even though, in this particular case, it is about, they hope, the precursor to an actual summit. This is a historic moment.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Eighteen years since a senior North Korean official has been allowed, a, into Washington, but, b, especially into the White House. And that was during the Bill Clinton administration.

We saw John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, walk out and walk back in. Presumably he's going to be there to receive the visiting North Korean official.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Which, in itself, is a sign of, you know, respect. I mean the only way you can go higher than that really is to have the president himself be waiting there for the North Korean official to come out, and that's not exactly a match of rank. And especially when you're talking about the country that you're talking about making this diplomatic visit, it's -- you don't want to reward them quite that much that soon.

[13:10:11] But the fact that John Kelly is going to be there to greet them means that they're taking it very seriously. Clearly the White House has a lot invested in actually having this come off in 11 days. And it's kind of anybody's guess what happens after that. They may be able to control the next week and a half, but then depending on what is said, what transpires or where -- what little transpires, really, they have to decide if it's, you know, behooves them to keep pressing on with this because the more time -- the more air time the North Koreans get with the leaders of the free world, the better off it is for them (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Yes, this is what the North Koreans, Samantha, want. They want respect.


BLITZER: They want to be seen as a global power. And they're certainly getting some of the symbolism today over at the White House.

VINOGRAD: Exactly. I think we should call this what it is. This is theater. There is no reason why a spy master needs to hand carry a letter to the White House, to give to the president. This isn't the dark ages. There's so many other means to deliver a credible message -- I mean we don't know if it's credible -- to the president of the United States. This is a win for North Korea. A man who was sanctioned by the United States, and by South Korea, for things including his involvement in the WMD program, is walking into the White House.

So this is theatre to me. It's a made for TV moment. And Kim Jong-un does get a PR win out of having his guy walk into the White House.

BLITZER: But if it does -- but if it does lead to a summit between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea, and that leads in turn over a period of time to a de-escalation of the military tensions on the Korean peninsula, that would be excellent, right?

VINOGRAD: But we already have a de-escalation. Yes. Certainly. We already have a de-escalation. And I've said it and I'll say it again, we are in a much better position today than we were six months ago. Missiles aren't flying. We don't have nuclear and missile tests that's positive. And if this sets a tone for a further denuclearization, that's great, but we have to be clear that this is a carrot for Kim Jong-un.

BLITZER: Looks like the vehicle has arrived with Kim Yong Chol, the North Korean official, who's been delegated, spent the last couple days in New York City meeting with Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who himself has been to Pyongyang twice over the past few months. There you see John Kelly, the White House chief of staff. He just -- escorting -- there he is, Kim Yong Chol, walking into the White House. This is an historic meeting -- an historic moment, indeed. First time in 18 years that a North Korean official has been invited --

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: A, to Washington, as I said, and, b, to the White House.

BASH: Yes, and obviously we all agree this is theater, but this is also a very clear diplomatic move, to give the North Koreans what they want, to try to give -- to get them to come back to the table to start these real negotiations because, you know, there are definitely differences of opinion inside the White House, but the opinions that matter most, the president of the United States, want this and wants this bad.

So this is a diplomatic card that they're playing. This is a diplomatic dance. And one that the president is hoping will get him on better footing, on good footing, maybe even have more leverage with the North Koreans when and if this summit happens.

DEMIRJIAN: I mean the trick of this is that there's a lot of ifs, right?


DEMIRJIAN: There's a lot of, OK, well, if this works, I mean that's great. If you can get the North Koreans to play ball on denuclearization with a little theater, fantastic. That doesn't take that much. You're not talking about, you know, rolling back sanctions yet. But I don't think anybody's 100 percent clear on exactly what the North Koreans want. And if what we're asking of them is a bridge too far, are they going to be happy with just having been let back into the fold of, you know, the biggest countries in the planet and how they're willing to deal with North Korea as -- I mean as an equal in this moment right now, even if that doesn't persist. And so those are questions you can't answer.

So, you're right, basically everybody is saying we're in a better position now than we were, why not take that chance? But the question is, how many of those can you stack up and how many of those will you be required to stack up in order for this to actually get to the goal that we want, which may not be the goal the North Koreans want.

BLITZER: The goal that the president of the United States, Samantha, has set out is the denuclearization -- and there we see them walking the colonnade --

BASH I mean look at that image.


BLITZER: Right near the Rose Garden, right outside the Rose Garden --

BASH: Right near the Oval Office.

BLITZER: Toward the Oval Office right now. Kim Yong Chol, the North Korean official, and led by John Kelly, the White House chief of staff.

Let's see if they go in. They're going into that side door over there. But then presumably they'll be walking over -- maybe they'll have a separate meeting first. Eventually, the president of the United States, we're told, will have what officials are saying a brief meeting with this visiting North Korean official.

Samantha, this is a big deal. VINOGRAD: It definitely is. And what we've heard less about, to my

knowledge, is what kind of progress is being made in the DMZ between the negotiators. Now, ostensibly, this meeting between Secretary Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol may have set the kind of macro advisory (ph) on what denuclearization means for the U.S. side and for the North Korean side. This might bless the negotiators getting into the details in the DMZ.

[13:15:03] But what we do know is that there's still a lot of gaps behind what this definition is. So my question coming out of this meeting today with Kim Yong Chol and this briefer meeting with the president is whether they bless some kind of strategic definition of denuclearization that really empowers negotiators on both sides to dig into the details.

Elise, you're -- Elise Labott is with us as well.

You've been doing a lot of reporting on the stage that has been set for this meeting between the president of the United States, and there we see, once again, moments ago, walking down the colonnade, Kim Yong Chol and John Kelly, and their respective aides and interpreters walking into the West Wing of the White House. And eventually I'm sure they'll be going into the Oval Office to meet the president.

How significant were the meetings that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, had with Kim Yong Chol in New York City over the past two days.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think those meetings were very significant. And what was it about. It was about putting everyone's cards on the table. What does denuclearization mean to the U.S.? What does it mean to North Korea? And you could see Secretary Pompeo say that there was progress. But what was there progress on? It was about laying out what both sides expect.

He didn't -- when Secretary Pompeo said there was progress, he did not say there was progress on narrowing the gaps. He kind of said that everybody understood each other better. And my understanding is what you -- when you mentioned what's going on in the DMZ, they're drafting a communique for this summit. And it's going very slowly because it doesn't seem like they have that commitment from North Korea that they need.

This meeting with President Trump is an effort to put on the hard sell. You've got the first step of that in New York. Kim Yong Chol rolling up in a Cadillac, having steak for dinner, seeing the New York skyline. You hear Mike Pompeo talk about all the good things that could come from North Korea getting this economic investment, being open to the whole wide world. Kim Jong-un is going to show bold leadership. They're putting on the hard sell.

And for Kim Yong Chol, he wants to deliver this meeting -- this letter and kind of get -- size up President Trump so that he can report back. On the U.S. side, they want to put the hard sell to the North Koreans that this is an opportunity that can't be missed. This is a deal he can't refuse. BLITZER: Yes, I was going to say, they still haven't said 100 percent

the meeting will take place on June 12th in Singapore, as earlier announced, but maybe we'll get word today following this meeting.

LABOTT: We could. The one person that thinks that the meeting going on, on June 12th, my understanding, is President Trump. He's the only person that matters. But I do know that there were other people in the administration, particularly John Bolton and others, that think more groundwork needs to be done.

And, look, to get a communique of this nature is very painstaking. Usually, as you know, this is done for weeks and months at the bottom up, and then the leaders show up and they shake hands and they sign on the dotted line. This is coming from the bottom down. Any communique is going to have to be very basic.

And you heard President Trump yesterday say, well, maybe it's going to take two meetings, maybe it's going to take three meetings. You can see President Trump and Secretary Pompeo walk back a little from that firm stance that they laid out.

BLITZER: And, Dana, I just want to point out the -- what we're showing our viewers, that window, that's the window into the Oval Office --

BASH: That's right.

BLITZER: Where the president sits. And we're -- very often -- and that's a shot, the camera's in the Rose Garden. You can get that shot through the window. Let's see if we see some movement.

But, go ahead.

BASH: Yes. No, I mean, obviously, we're watching that.

But what Elise just reported is so important, that what was -- what the result of the meeting in New York with the secretary of state and the North Koreans was -- it sounds really basic to anybody who's looking at this. Like, really, that's as far as they got just laying that their cards on the table.

But you mentioned this earlier, that that has been a big part of the rub. What do they even want? What do the North Korean even -- if they could have everything in the world, what would they actually really want in reality? And the same goes for the U.S., even though the U.S. has been, for many administrations, saying that the policy is denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

LABOTT: And the North wants to be a nuclear power.

BASH: Right. So the fact that as you -- you know, you're reporting from your sources that they got that far into laying those cards on the table is a really big deal. Now, we don't know what those cards are, but that is the way that diplomacy is supposed to work.

VINOGRAD: And we should raise another really important point, which is Kim Yong Chol is going to be face to face with the president. So, to an extent, that's an intelligence-gathering opportunity on the North Korean side.

BASH: Exactly.

DEMIRJIAN: Definitely.

VINOGRAD: We spent a lot of time saying we don't know if Kim Jong-un is serious. This is not Kim Yong Chol's first rodeo. He has served during the tenures of three North Korean leaders, which means he's seen a whole lot of U.S. presidents say a lot of things, enter into various negotiations. So this might be an opportunity for him as well to size up Donald Trump and to be able to go back home and tell Kim Jong-un what his impressions are.

[13:20:07] LABOTT: Well, and you heard -- you've heard, over these last few weeks, that the North Koreans are reaching out to anyone that they know to try and get a sense of who President Trump is. I think this meeting is just as important for that in terms of looking the president in the eye.

And, look, his advisers know that, Wolf. They know that he's so --

BLITZER: And there's a reciprocity here.

LABOTT: He's going to be so charming there and he's --

BLITZER: There's a reciprocity, which is very significant. The North Korean leader decided --

LABOTT: He's returning (ph) the letter.

BLITZER: He received Mike Pompeo, who was then the CIA director.

LABOTT: Right. That's right.

BLITZER: The second time he received him as secretary of state. Now the U.S. is reciprocating by the president of the United States receiving this North Korean.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, and that is part of the proper diplomatic dance that has to happen at this point. But, I mean, you know, it's -- we don't necessarily know if that's -- I keep coming back to this point. We don't know if this is necessarily enough, right? I mean we are -- this -- everybody is taking a gamble each time they say or do anything. And the North Koreans are definitely doing their homework. You know, they -- based on your reporting, based on our reporting, they are not taking this very lightly. The president is more impulsive and the North Koreans are being as a general rule.

BASH: That's right.

DEMIRJIAN: And so if the president commits himself to any little thing that then he can't deliver on, including a date, which seems like so much nothing, right, but it's not because every little piece of this, because it takes so much to get progress on any little shred of it matters for credibility. And credibility may be actually what counts at the end of the day. BASH: And that's --

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BASH: No, I was just going to say, and that's an important point on the president because I'm sure you are all hearing this, as I am, that there is nobody who wants this more than the president, and that means that there is concern among his aides who understand the nuances that he's going to be too quick to agree to -- not an actual agreement, but even this --

DEMIRJIAN: Terms, yes.

BASH: Even agree to the terms of the summit. Especially when he's one on one and he is historically been known to tell people in the room what they want to hear. The stakes are pretty high for that kind of approach.

BLITZER: Kim Yong Chol, the North Korean official, is now in the White House meeting with White House officials, and we anticipate momentarily he'll also be meeting with the president of the United States.

We're going to take a quick break. We're following all the breaking news right now. Historic moments unfolding here in Washington right over in the Oval Office at the White House. You're looking inside the window into the Oval Office.

We'll be right back.


[13:26:32] BLITZER: North Korean leader -- Norther Korean official Kim Yong Chol walking into the White House with John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, just moments ago, walking through the colonnade over there near the Rose Garden, walking into the West Wing of the White House. He's got a letter from Kim Jong-un, a letter from the North Korean leader, to President Trump that he wants to hand-deliver. The president of the United States deciding to receive this North Korean official.

This is an historic moment that's unfolding. We anticipate perhaps we'll be hearing from the president of the United States following this meeting. We'll see what the president says, but things are moving quickly.

And, Samantha, you know, as we watch this unfold, the North Koreans have had an international diplomatic bonanza lately. The North Korean leader, who hadn't met with many over the past few years, all of a sudden he's met twice with the South Korean president, met twice with the Chinese president, yesterday met with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, setting the stage for a meeting with Putin down the road, has met twice with Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and now his official, his emissary, is about to meet with the president of the United States, to try to set the stage for a June 12th summit in Singapore. VINOGRAD: Exactly. And we even have the prime minister of Japan saying

that he meets -- wants to meet with Kim Jong-un after the summit. So all around, Kim Jong-un is in demand. And this is what he's wanted for a long time. He's wanted to be on equal footing with other world leaders. When the fact of the matter is, as we know, he's not. He's had a multitude of other illegal programs in addition to nuclear weapons, like chemical weapons, biological weapons. He's a human rights abuser. And the man that is probably walking into the Oval Office, not any other room in the White House where this meeting could have happened, has been sanctioned by the United States, he's been sanctioned by South Korea, and he's guilty of a lot of really bad things.

BLITZER: But he has been given permission, not only to come to the United States, Elise, and you cover the State Department for us, but also been given permission not to emerge outside that 25-mile radius of the United Nations, where North Korea officials and others who are not received by the U.S., who don't have diplomatic relations with the U.S., they have to stay within a 25-mile radius of the U.N., and that has now been waived. He's in Washington.

LABOTT: Well, that was originally why the meeting was in New York in the first place because he's not allowed to travel outside. Secretary Pompeo went to him. But now that he -- President Trump wants to welcome him to the Oval Office, they had to provide this waiver.

But Sam makes a good point, the North Koreans, Kim Jong-un, and now Kim Yong Chol, are getting this international legitimacy. It's going to be really hard to put that genie back in the bottle, Wolf. And you already heard Foreign Minister Lavrov say that any denuclearization of North Korea has to happen in steps, action for action. The North Koreans are -- you know, we know that they're masters of brinkmanship. They're playing this brilliantly. And, you know, they're playing President Trump exactly the way he likes to be played.

DEMIRJIAN: It's not just a matter of flattery, though. I think it's just a reminder, seeing this -- you know, that the various meeting that Kim Jong-un has had and Kim -- and all of his deputies as well, of how many other pieces of this puzzle there actually are. We're putting so much stock on focusing on this June 12th meeting.

LABOTT: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: President Trump/Kim Jong-un. If you don't have China on board, if you don't have Russia on board, if you don't have Japan and South Korea at least backing up the United States in a way it chooses to do --

LABOTT: Or splitting apart.

DEMIRJIAN: Or splitting -- right, you don't have anything at that point.

LABOTT: Isn't it amazing, though.

DEMIRJIAN: And, yes. [13:29:57] LABOTT: Sorry, isn't it amazing -- sorry about that. Isn't it amazing? This is the Kim Jong-un that everyone hoped in 2011 that they would get, this kind of reformer, a modernizer that was going to bring North Korea out of the cold.