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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez; Did Trump Give Away Too Much to Kim Jong-un?; Ivanka Trump Still Making Millions While Working in White House; President Trump Praises North Korean Dictator. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 12, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:20]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Working to denuclearize North Korea, President Trump said that murderous Kim Jong-un is a smart, funny guy who loves his people.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The history, the hype, the handshake. What did the U.S. really get, if anything, from a truly unbelievable summit with Kim Jong-un? And can anything Kim says be trusted?

President Trump today taking some heat for making concessions to a killer after virtually flipping off Canada and other democratic allies. Just how upside down is the world right now?

Plus, conflict of interest watch. How did Ivanka President Trump make $82 million last year while she was simultaneously a top White House adviser?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the world lead and the stunning headlines Americans woke up to today, President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un shaking hands, sitting down and signing on to a joint agreement to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

It was undoubtedly history, but it is still unclear what exactly this deal means for the future. Critics on both sides of the political aisle say that President Trump gave away a key concession, suspending joint military exercises with South Korea in exchange for only a vague promise from Kim Jong-un, a promise that the rogue regime has broken many times before, including at least four nuclear agreements dating all the way back to 1985.

President Trump also publicly expressed again his desire to remove all U.S. troops from the peninsula, though it is not part of any agreement, yet, all while President Trump has without question elevated the brutal dictator, with North Korean flags standing on the same level as Old Glory.

President Trump even expressing that he trusts Kim Jong-un, praising him as -- quote -- very talented" and claiming that Kim, a man who leads a country that brutalizes and starves its own citizens -- quote -- "loves his people.'

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's smart, loves his people. He loves his country. He wants a lot of good things. And that is why he's doing this.

QUESTION: But he's starved them. He's been brutal to them. He still loves his people?

TRUMP: Look, he's doing what he's seen done, if you look at it. But I really have to go by today and by yesterday and by a couple of weeks ago, because that is really when this whole thing started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A stunning set of comments by the president of the United States, the leader of the free world testifying that Kim Jong-un loves the people that he imprisons and brutally oppresses and seemingly justifying that treatment as merely what Kim has seen done before by his father and grandfather.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us in Singapore.

Kaitlan, before the summit, Secretary of State Pompeo said that the goal was complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Was that goal met? If not, is there a path to it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, that language wasn't included in that agreement that President Trump signed his name to, alongside Kim Jong-un today. But, frankly, neither was a lot else that we haven't seen from former presidents during past agreements with the North Koreans.

Now, to be clear, this summit was flashy. It had a lot of pageantry, a lot of fanfare, but now this agreement is going to come down to the substance. And it is going to face its first test, as the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is getting on the road and he's going to have to sell this idea to key U.S. allies, explaining how what happened here in Singapore is now U.S. policy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump headed back to Washington tonight, followed by questions about whether he gave up more than he got in return for a historic summit in Singapore.

Trump sending his top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to iron out the details of his agreement with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un with key U.S. allies.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. It is fantastic.

COLLINS: Both leaders pledging to pursue denuclearization, signing a pact that was short on details, with no timetable, no means for verification and no language about ICBMs, leaving the success of the summit hanging in the balance.

TRUMP: I'm here one day. We're together for many hours intensively, but the process is now going to take place. And I would be surprised, Mike, if they haven't even started already. They have started. They blew up their sites.

COLLINS: The president revealing he made a massive concession to Kim Jong-un, putting an end to joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, a longstanding North Korea demand.

TRUMP: We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money.

[16:05:00]

COLLINS: Criticizing the lawful exercises that the U.S. has conducted for decades.

TRUMP: We will be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it is very provocative.

COLLINS: The announcement catching South Korean and U.S. military officials by surprise. Trump even floating the idea of withdrawing U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula.

The president touting the summit as a diplomatic success, but, on paper, Kim making no promises to abandon his nuclear arsenal any time soon. Right now, President Trump taking his word for it.

TRUMP: I do. I do. I think he wants to get it done. I really feel that very strongly.

COLLINS: The mood in Singapore was downright chummy, including joint appearances, handshakes and pats on the back, leaving the brutal dictator with lots to brag about. Trump showering Kim with praise.

TRUMP: He is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough.

I also will be inviting Chairman Kim, at the appropriate time, to the White House.

COLLINS: Asked what happens if he is wrong about Kim, Trump telling reporters:

TRUMP: I may be stand before you in six months and saying, hey, I was wrong. I don't know that I will ever admit that, but I will find -- I will find some kind of an excuse.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, the president is convinced that his personality and his deal-making skills have convinced the rogue regime to give up its nuclear arsenal, but the president is going back to a Washington that is deeply skeptical that he just flew halfway around the world and bet the farm on an unpredictable dictator.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins in Singapore for us, thanks so much.

Joining me from Capitol Hill is Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

You said today that President Trump achieved -- quote -- "very little." You said the summit was -- quote -- "a lot of sizzle, but not a lot of steak."

But what specifically would you have liked to see come out of this summit, given that this is just the first step in a process?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, look, Jake, this is the most anemic communique that has ever come out of a U.S.-North Korea engagement.

Very little substance on anything. But at least if there had been a definition of what denuclearization means, even if it was still to be worked out as to how it would be achieved, that would have been something successful, because, for us, denuclearization is far different than what it means for Kim Jong-un.

It means the irreversible, verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons, its infrastructure and its missile -- intercontinental missile development system, at a minimum.

And so not even that was included in the communique, so that we all understand that we are talking about the same thing. All we got here is a promise for more promises. And we have been down that road before.

TAPPER: Sure.

But, to play devil's advocate, we have had several decades now of presidents trying to achieve denuclearization in North Korea and several decades of failure. Now President Trump is forced to deal with this.

Is it not worth a Hail Mary pass? Is it not worth a gamble, given the fact that now we're talking about an endgame, now we're talking about North Korea with a nuclear ICBM, which is something that previous presidents, all of whom failed on this agenda, by the way, is now what is really being discussed?

MENENDEZ: Well, you know, most Hail Mary passes don't work out.

And so what we needed and what we still need is a methodical, strategic plan as to how we get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. And that strategy and that methodical approach is what I had hoped the administration would have evolved in before it created such a high-profile summit. Look, at the end of the day, Kim Jong-un had a good summit. He went

from international pariah, isolated in the world, to ultimately somebody who is now taking selfies and being talked about as if he was a statesman.

He went from someone who imprisons thousands of people in his country, systematically uses torture, has thousands of others hungry in his country, to being -- to being lauded by the president as someone who really loves his people and being -- and it being an honor to meet him.

These are big strategic gives, including the announcement that we will no longer have defensive military exercises, without telling, I think, the secretary of the defense, without telling South Korea, our ally, without telling Japan.

TAPPER: Right.

MENENDEZ: That is huge.

TAPPER: Well, Mattis said that he had been briefed on it, was not surprised, the secretary of defense, but obviously others were not completely in the loop.

But when you talk about this, Senator Mike Rounds, he has said that it is not a concern, it does not affect the ability of the U.S. to respond quickly.

[16:10:08]

Is it really that big of a concession, to hold off on what the president calls war games?

MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, he adopted the language of the North, that it is provocative and it's war games.

It is not war games. War games actually feeds into what Kim Jong-un has said to the world, that this is an attempt to prepare for war against North Korea.

This is a defensive posture. And if you have troops in the Korean Peninsula who never train with their counterparts, the South Korean army, how are you ever prepared for any defensive measures that you might have to invoke?

And what does it say to our allies in the region like Japan who have to wonder whether their interest as a longstanding ally who has stood up to North Korea, particularly in sanctions and in other ways, is going to be preserved?

TAPPER: Victor Cha, the former National Security Council director for Asia, wrote in a "New York Times" opinion piece -- quote -- "Despite the many warts in President Trump's unconventional diplomacy toward North Korea, we have to give him credit. Only five months ago, based on my conversations with this administration, I thought we were headed down an inexorable path toward a devastating war. Mr. Trump's concessions will raise some eyebrows, but despite its many flaws, the Singapore summit represents the start of a diplomatic process that takes us away from the brink of war."

Does President Trump deserve any credit at all here, sir?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, to the extent that these two individuals who were threatening each other with nuclear annihilation via Twitter are now exchanging compliments in a dialogue, that is obviously better.

But a dialogue that doesn't have any substance to it, that doesn't even create the foundation for how you move forward is a challenge. And you see one of the elements of our ability to get North Korea to change course is this maximum pressure campaign.

Well, already, as a result of what went on in the summit, China is calling for loosening, if not eliminating, the U.N. sanctions on North Korea. That is a dangerous proposition.

So I appreciate that the very heated rhetoric that the president himself created, where we were concerned about where he was headed, is now diminished. But, at the end of the day, the only way that we really take care of this threat is by North Korea dismantling its nuclear weapons, its intercontinental ballistic missiles, in a way that is verifiable and irreversible.

And when we know that that is the pathway that we are headed to, and when North Korea agrees that that is what they are going to do and ultimately we figure out how, then we're moving in a better direction.

TAPPER: The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, thanks so much for your time, sir. Good to see you.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

TAPPER: How far we have come from fire and fury, but are President Trump's glowing words about Kim Jong-un even more dangerous?

That's ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:17:09] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a great conversation. It's a very heartfelt conversation.

Really, he's got a great personality. He's a, you know, funny guy. He's a very smart guy. He's a great negotiator.

We had a terrific day and we learned a lot about each other and about our countries.

REPORTER: What did you learn about him, sir?

TRUMP: I learned he's a very talented man. I also learned that he loves his country very much.

He loves his people. He loves his country. He wants a lot of good things and that's why he's doing this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump speaking glowingly about the brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

My panel is here to discuss this historic U.S. summit with North Korea.

Scott Jennings, let me start with you. Obviously, President Trump is trying to convince Kim Jong-un to denuclearize and for that reason he's flattering him a lot. Did you find it excessive at all?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I find it -- this is the way Donald Trump does business. He flatters people that he's trying to get people to see things his way. We've seen him do it in Washington. We saw him do it before he entered politics and now, he's trying to apply that same kind of diplomacy.

Yes, it makes me uncomfortable. I mean, look, these North Koreans are liars, they murder people in crazy ways like with flame throwers and things. I mean, it's brutal what they do to people, including Americans.

But at the end of the day, the president's number one job is to protect the American people, especially from nuclear war. That's what he's trying to do here, so I'm willing to give the president a little bit of rope if this is what it takes to get a deal done on a problem that has vexed several administrations.

TAPPER: Bobby, what do you think?

BOBBY GHOSH, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, listen, American presidents have shaken hands with brutal murderous dictators before. Richard Nixon went to China and shook Mao Zedong's hands. More people died of Mao's hands than at Kim Jong-un's.

But Richard Nixon didn't feel it necessary then to pat Mao on the back and say he's a terrific guy. He's very talented. All of that extraneous stuff, it seems egregious and unnecessary.

You want flattery? The president of the United States traveling all the way to Singapore to shake your hand, to put your flag next to the Stars and Stripes, that is plenty flattery. Everything more than that is completely unnecessary.

TAPPER: Does it do anything negative for him to do that? Just to play devil's advocate, he wants a peace deal. It would be better for the world if Kim Jong-un didn't have nukes.

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely.

TAPPER: What's -- just devil's advocate here. WALSH: Devil's advocate.

TAPPER: What's the big deal if he says a few nice things?

WALSH: Well, it was like watching the episode of the "Bachelor" or something. You know, he walks away with the rose. I don't know what we're going to walk away with.

I have to say, I root for the president, I root for this process to work. But I don't think we saw anything to give us evidence that it's going to work. We've got nothing so far. The president is literally speaking the language of -- he's talented and he's handsome and --

GHOSH: His people love him.

WALSH: His people love him, and they have fervor -- I think he also said his people have a fervor for him. Does fervor involve terror? I don't know how he used the word "fervor".

So, I think -- I think we are giving up something by praising him when he's done absolutely nothing as well, by saying we're not going to play war games any more, again, as you said, using his formulation.

[16:20:09] TAPPER: Yes.

GHOSH: It matters because it sends a message to everybody else, the world is watching this. It's not just Kim Jong-un. What you say to Kim Jong-un in private is one thing. If you step away from that and announce to the cameras around the world, it's telling every tin pot dictator around the world that you have a chance of that. It's telling our allies that --

TAPPER: All you have to do is get nukes.

WALSH: Get some nukes, yes.

GHOSH: And all you have to do is get nukes and the president of the United States will not only shake your hand, he'll say wonderful things about you.

TAPPER: Scott, you know, when we cover the president, we like to play the game, there is a tweet for it. Now that the president expressing optimism that Kim Jong-un would adhere to this new framework, let's check back on what he thought last October.

Quote: The president and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made in massive amounts of money paid hasn't worked and agreements violated before the ink was dry making fools of U.S. negotiators, sorry, but only one thing will work.

Now, we don't know what the one thing was. When I read the tweet at the time, I thought it was -- maybe he was talking about military force. Maybe in retrospect he meant the genius of himself and the ability to negotiate a deal, I don't know.

But it does seem like even President Trump would be skeptical of this deal such as it is if he were not the one making it.

JENNINGS: I think at the time, the president was leaving open the possibility of a military option. I also think he was telling the North Koreans we're going to ratchet up these sanctions until you come to the table which clearly worked. And we were in that period of time when he sent that tweet, Jake, where he was trying to show them, I've got greater resolve than you face from previous administrations.

I think the president's resolve on sanctions and, you know, just the concept that he might be willing to launch militarily actually brought Kim to the table. I remember last summer, everybody was upset with the president about all of his harsh rhetoric towards North Korea. Now, everybody is upset about his dovish, flattering rhetoric.

There are some people in this country who cannot take yes for an answer. I think we've been banging our head against the wall for 50 years on this problem. Let's give the president a chance to give the world something better, which is a denuclearized North Korea.

TAPPER: That would be great if we --

WALSH: We don't have a yes. We don't have a yes yet. So, I root for him, Scott --

TAPPER: Right. It's a start of a process and hopefully ends with a yes.

I want to play some of the video that the president and the White House played for Kim Jong-un at the start of the Singapore summit. It really was portrayed like a movie trailer. Let's roll some of that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Two leaders, one destiny. A story about a special moment in time when a man is presented with one chance that may never be repeated. What will he choose? To show vision and leadership? Or not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Bobby, are the North Koreans naive enough that might work. I realize they live in a secluded kind of environment. But --

GHOSH: Listen, in a normal environment, if this meeting had come and this video had come after a long period of negotiation discussions, I would assume that the CIA had done some real intensive psych analysis of the president -- of the chairman of North Korea and had decided this is exactly the kind of thing that might appeal to his vanity.

Given how soon we've put all of these things together, I'm skeptical that that's the case. I'm really very skeptical.

TAPPER: What did you think when you saw that video?

WALSH: Was that Dennis Rodman? TAPPER: I think it was Michael Jordan, but I'm not sure. There is a

Sly Stallone cameo, though, if you look closely enough.

WALSH: I missed that. I thought it was bizarre. I thought it was incredibly shallow and bizarre. But, you know, we've seen worse things.

TAPPER: Scott, one of your fellow conservatives Erick Erickson tweeted: If Obama had done what Trump just did, Republicans would be demanding his impeachment.

Is that unfair?

JENNINGS: Well, I think the difference is Obama was never prepared I think to go all the way on sanctions or go all the way on the military option. That's the core difference here, is that Trump was willing to do more than previous administrations to punish these North Koreans into being better actors on the world stage. So, that's a -- he's welcome to his opinion. I just happen to think that it's the president's resolve and the deepness of the sanctions that no one else was willing to do that really got us to where we are.

Regarding that movie trailer, I actually think there's been more conversations behind the scenes for a longer period of time than we know about. I think it's possible the president and Kim may have spoken before. I think it's highly likely that they know that kind of thing would flatter him.

And, look, we elected a salesman as a president of the United States and he's putting a sales pitch on these people that could you be more like the rest of us, have peace and prosperity and wealth and the world will be a better place. That's what he is selling and we hope they're buying it.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

They have North Korea's massive arsenal of artillery pointed right at them all of the time.

[16:25:01] So, why didn't South Korea get the memo about President Trump ending the so-called war games?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Sticking with our world lead.

President Trump is pressing pause on the joint U.S.-South Korean military drills. It's seen as a major concession to North Korea by critics, drills the president today called provocative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And I did say is -- and I think it's very provocative. I have to tell you, Jennifer, it's a very provocative situation. When I see that and you have a country right next door --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The so-called war games as President Trump calls them have always been a sore point for North Korea, which pointed to war games as a reason to build their nuclear arsenal.

We have correspondents around the world covering the reactions to Trump's announcement today.