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Interview with Senator Jeanne Shaheen; Trump Says U.S. to Stop War Games with South Korea; Jeff Sessions Raises Bar for Asylum Seekers. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 12, 2018 - 10:30   ET



[10:34:16] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And there's no question that the president did what his predecessors have not done, by sitting down for this summit with Kim Jong-un. But a big question remains this morning, and is it will this really lead to an agreement that makes the world safer?

With me now is Democratic senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. She sits on the Foreign Relations and the Armed Services Committee.

An important morning to have you. Thank you for being here, Senator.


HARLOW: Your read, is this a deal that net-net is advantageous to the United States as we sit here now?

SHAHEEN: Well, we don't know what the deal is yet. The fact is I think it's very important that the president did the sit-down and that we're talking about diplomacy rather than nuclear war. All Americans should want this effort to succeed.

[10:35:03] Several things concern me, though, about what we're hearing happened at this meeting, one that there aren't any details about how we progress next and what is actually going to be done to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Second, that the president seems like he's already made a concession in saying we're not going to do military exercises with South Korea, and it was troubling because it seems that he didn't share that with South Korea in advance and I'm sure our other allies in the region, Japan, are also concerned about that.

And, third, there was no discussion about Kim Jong-un's human rights abuses, the labor camps that they're still operating in North Korea.

HARLOW: So, Senator, let's talk about that. Because this is what the president said when he was asked twice about human rights abuses and if it came up. He said, yes, it came up, and then said this.


TRUMP: We'll be doing something on it, it's rough. It's rough in a lot of places, by the way. Not just there. But it's rough. And we will continue that and I think ultimately we'll agree to something, but it was discussed at length, outside of -- outside of the nuclear situation, one of the primary topics.


HARLOW: Here are just some of the human rights abuses on your screen so people can take through them.

Look, his critics, Senator, say, you know, he was equivocating a bit, sort of putting North Korea on par with others in human rights abuses, and, yes, there are other nations that carry out atrocious human rights abuses. But what do you need to see from this administration that will convince you that, yes, it takes the human rights atrocities seriously enough and will get Kim Jong-un to make concessions on that front as part of any deal?

SHAHEEN: Well, I'd like to see some public discussion about it. This is a brutal dictator, and for the president to talk to -- talk about him in terms that are more glowing than he talks about our neighbor to the north, Prime Minister Trudeau, is very disconcerting. So we need to see some action on this front. Kim Jong-un is a brutal dictator.

HARLOW: Senator Rubio says it is flattery, his words, the president is buttering up Kim Jong-un to get a deal. Do you agree?

SHAHEEN: I don't know what his motivation is. But I do know that in order to get a deal that denuclearizes the peninsula of Korea, that we need to see details. And the president has set a very high bar in his criticism of the Iran deal. So are we going to see verification anywhere, anytime, inspectors who can go into North Korea? Are we going to see a list of all of their sites? Are we going to see them dismantle their other missile and military efforts? Are we going to see them stop their cyberattacks and other efforts to interfere in the region? So I think these are all questions that we don't have answers to, and we really need to see the details.

HARLOW: The president stopping what he called this morning war games and that is these joint military exercises with South Korea. At least temporarily. It's a huge concession, it's a huge give to Kim Jong-un, a huge give to China as you well know, sitting on the Armed Services Committee.

Are you supportive of it at least in the near term if it gets the U.S. closer to a deal of what Secretary of State Pompeo has promised would be complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the peninsula?

SHAHEEN: Well, I'm concerned about making this kind of a concession before we see what we're going to get in exchange for that. And I don't think we know that yet. So I'm very troubled. I have heard from some of our military and former military leaders that they're very concerned about this kind of a concession. So I think the president acted too soon. We don't know what North Korea is going to do, and I think we really need to see some details, we need to hear plans.

HARLOW: Concerned, why? Can you elaborate on why you and some of your fellow senators -- and I'm wondering, are any of them Republican senators that have spoken to you this morning that are concerned? I mean, what is it that you think will be advantageous to North Korea? What do you worry about playing out in the near term with a halt at least of these joint military exercises?

SHAHEEN: Well, one big concern is anything that separates us from our allies, South Korea, from Japan, from our other allies in the region is a big concern. Because that gives China an advantage. And we're already worried about China's aggressive actions in the South China Seas and other places in Southeast Asia so I think that's one big reason to be concerned about it. Another is that we don't know what North Korea is going to give us in return. What we know is that these exercises have been a concern for North Korea for a very long time.

[10:40:02] They've been agitating because it means that they have to also provide military exercises and spend their dollars on that to show that they have an equal force. So that's a concern. Why are we giving this up until we know what we're going to get for it?

HARLOW: The president did say, look, I was agreed to after we signed this document that North Korea would dismantle this missile test site so we'll see what happens there.

Just quickly before you go, any Republican senators, any of your Republican counterparts who also came to you and expressed concern over this halt of joint military exercises?

SHAHEEN: I haven't had a chance to talk to -- to talk to any of my Republican colleagues this morning.

HARLOW: OK. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, I appreciate you being with us on an important morning. Thank you very much.

President Trump vowing to stop as we just discussed what he calls these war games in the Korean peninsula. South Korea, news to them, South Korea wants more details. That's ahead.


[10:45:04] COOPER: Well, as you know, President Trump says he'll end war games on the Korean m peninsula. War games is the term he used while he works out a deal with North Korea. Now South Korea wants to know what exactly the president means by that.

Joining me now is CNN's Nic Robertson who is in Seoul.

It seems like South Korea was caught by surprise.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It really does, Anderson. You know, we got a statement from the Blue House, the president's office, a little earlier on this evening. And they said, look, we need to understand the precise meaning, the accurate meaning and intent of what President Trump is saying.

They did go on to say that they're willing to make compromises to improve that relationship, between the United States and North Korea, and that this was important that that relationship building and there were things they'd be willing to do for that.

But what's really fascinating here is the readout that we had just in the past couple of hours or so from a phone call between President Trump and President Moon Jae-in, that President Trump called him, the South Korean president, when he was on the way home, on Air Force One. There is no mention on these joint military exercises in this statement. There is some congratulations going back both ways.

Perhaps the key phrase to take out of it here is what President Moon said to President Trump is they'd like to improve and have closer cooperation through this process, and I think that kind of gets this idea in South Korea, they want all this to happen, but they kind of feel that they're left out of the mix and this whole issue, hugely important for South Korea, joint military exercises, that's really the sort of biggest surprise that they've had, an indication of just -- it's not terribly joined up for them at the moment, Anderson.

COOPER: It may also be a big concern for Japan, obviously. There is a U.S. -- big U.S. military presence there and joint exercises there. But Japan has very real security concerns about North Korea as well.

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. I mean, they're concerned and Prime Minister Abe has been sort of almost tracking President Trump down. He's had seven meetings with him now, face to face, and most recent couple have been to find out what the United States, what President Trump was planning to do. The concern there is what would the -- what would any kind of a deal look like, would it leave Japan vulnerable?

So Prime Minister Abe today has got to be wondering precisely what's going on when he hears about the end of the joint military exercises with South Korea and President Trump also saying that, you know, indicating that maybe further down the road he could reduce the number of U.S. troops in the region.

This will be definitely something that the Japanese prime minister is going to be worried about. We don't know the outcome, the readout from his phone call with President Trump. There was a phone call expected between them this evening. So we don't know what Japan's precise thoughts are about everything that they have heard so far.

COOPER: Yes, Nic Robertson in Seoul. Nic, thanks so much. We'll continue to check in with you. We're waiting to see Kim Jong-un departing from Singapore. His entourage, his motorcade is on the way to the airport. We'll be right back.


[10:52:40] HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And a significant change to tell you about to the Trump administration's policy for asylum seekers looking to gain entry into the United States.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered immigration judges to set a pretty high bar for victims of crime, including domestic violence victims, to try to seek asylum in this country.

Ed Lavandera, our correspondent, is in McAllen, Texas, right near the U.S.-Mexico border.

And Ed, let's begin with that. I mean, these are two major policy changes from the administration and one of them includes victims of domestic violence. What is different now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's different is this really is kind of focused on the number of undocumented immigrants we're seeing coming from Central American countries, like Guatemala, and El Salvador and Honduras, where because of gang violence many people have been fleeing, fearing for their safety. Many of them have spent over the last few years requesting asylum here.

These changes that Jeff Sessions announced makes it -- raises that bar for being able to qualify for asylum. They can still arrive here and try to request asylum, but getting that asylum paperwork granted has become -- will become much more difficult. I think the effects of this will take several months to see. The asylum process already takes a great deal of time. So setting that bar high and the real effects of all of this, just how many of these applications get denied here in the future will take some time to see kind of play out.

HARLOW: Well, and it's important to note these courts work differently, right? The immigration courts are at the authority of the Department of Justice and, of course, Jeff Sessions sits at the helm of the Department of Justice. So they've got a lot of authority here on this change.

You're down there reporting also on the separation of families at the border, undocumented people coming over the border illegally and the separation we're seeing increasingly of parents from children when the parents are put into the justice system.

What are you seeing in terms of the numbers being separated there when it comes to these families?

LAVANDERA: Well, this is a separate issue altogether. So not only what Jeff Sessions announced yesterday in terms of the asylum process, but about a month ago, the administration also pushed what they call a zero tolerance policy for anyone crossing the border illegally, that they would be taken into federal custody and charged with the misdemeanor charge of crossing the border illegally. That's illegal entry.

And this is how we're seeing this play out here, Poppy. These buses you see here are now bringing over several hundred people into this one courthouse here in McAllen, Texas.

[10:55:08] Yesterday alone, there were about 170 people brought in. They're filling up the courtrooms inside the federal courthouse here in McAllen. We spoke with a federal prosecutor or a federal public defender who says that in the last month they have seen more than 500 families separated because these immigrants being brought into this system, before they're put into the immigration system. So quite dramatic changes we're seeing here.

HARLOW: All right. Ed Lavandera, appreciate the reporting down there, thank you so much on both fronts.

Also, take a look at these live pictures. This is Kim Jong-un's motorcade, arriving from his hotel to the airport in Singapore after this historic summit with President Trump. Both leaders headed to their respective homes. What lies ahead? We will see. Much more after the break.