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Trump Declares North Korea No Longer a Nuclear Threat; Mike Pompeo in South Korea After Trump Halts War Games; North Korea State Media Plays Up Trump Concession on War Games; House To Vote On Two Immigration Bill Next Week; Democrat Who Admits Domestic Violence 45 Years Ago Wins SC Primary; Trump Critic Mark Sanford Falls In SC GOP Primary. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York, and President Trump is back home on U.S. soil this morning and making a big and bold promise writing that we can all sleep well tonight and also asserting, quote, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."

That is what the president declared shortly after Air Force One touched down at Joint Base Andrews, and now he says North Korea's no longer, quote, "our biggest and most dangerous problem."

Quite a bold statement. All of that assumes and hopes that the pledged laid out in that joint statement saying that Pyongyang will work towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula succeeds where all past agreements with the North Korean regime have failed.

In the meantime, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scrambling to bring his South Korean counterparts up to speed especially on the president's snap decisions to halt what he calls provocative war games also known as joint military exercises with South Korea's military.

Let's go to Joe Johns who joins us this morning at the White House.

Quite a statement from the president this morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Several statements I would say, also, Poppy. Look, the White House message machine right now a little disjointed trying to sell what the president wants, the president's aspirations even though the president on Twitter sends to sound like he already got it and an example of just a little while ago, presidential counselor, Kellyanne Conway, was giving one of those walking, talking gaggles that you see sometimes out here on the White House driveway.

I asked Kellyanne Conway whether, you know, in her view the president might have jumped the gun by declaring that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat and she responded by essentially telling me what the president wants, that he wants North Korea to denuclearize, that he wants it to be verifiable. And there's also a bit of disjointed messaging on the issue of military exercises on the Korean peninsula.

Now the president made his announcement that he was going to cancel war games. He also tweeted about it. Here's the tweet, essentially the president saying, "We save a fortune by not doing war games as long as we are negotiating in good faith which both sides are." The problem with that is the term war games is a term that is used by North Korea because the North Korean leaders see the military exercises involving the United States and allies as, if you will, a precursor to war.

Big question, of course, is if the president's canceling that, what happens. We are told by some military analysts that that could mean no more live fire exercises but the White House has not clarified that at least so far.

Back to you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Joe Johns, appreciate the reporting this morning. Thank you.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo likely facing some tough questions from his South Korean counterparts about what the president said and did putting those joint exercises with the South Korean military on hold.

Let's go straight to Nic Robertson. He joins us from Seoul.

We know that this was a shock to South Korea, and now, you know, the cleanup game is on with Mike Pompeo there.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure and a lot of people could argue that the cleanup game is normally the pregame game because that's what you do before you get into a big summit and make announcements that you've worked out with all your allies, what your position, what your posture, what your plans, what your strategy is going to be.

So Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arriving here just a few hours ago has now got all that ahead of him, so the hard work begins. He did when he arrived at the air force base here in South Korea did meet with General Vincent Brooks, the commander of U.S. forces here in Korea, so perhaps he's given him a fill on some of the implications, ideas around the now decision not to have these joint military exercises with the South Korean forces which of course are important for South Korea because they keep their forces and the U.S. forces here ready for the ready-to-fight-tonight scenario should an immediate threat appear from North Korea.

What we are hearing here is that the -- the officials here want to understand better what President Trump meant, what were his implications, what was his idea. So tomorrow morning here, a little over about 12 hours from now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with the South Korean president, President Moon. He will meet with South Korea's foreign minister and Japan's foreign minister to brief them. There will be comments to the press so perhaps a chance for us to try

to clarify some of those issues as well but key for the South Koreans just to get a grip on what President Trump is planning, what he's saying here. Although they do say as well, Poppy, and we have to be clear about this, South Korea does want to do whatever it thinks it can do.

HARLOW: Right.

ROBERTSON: To help the United States really strengthen this relationship with North Korea.

[09:05:04] HARLOW: Absolutely. Nic Robertson, keep us posted. Appreciate the reporting from Seoul.

And right now on the other side of the border, North Korea, the North Korean people are seeing some extraordinary things when it comes to how the state media there is covering the historic summit, what is left in and what is left out.

Our Will Ripley has more.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, the images of the Trump-Kim summit here in Singapore were beamed instantly around the world except for the one place where arguable it matters most where in North Korea the 25 million citizens there had to wait almost 24 hours before they saw these pictures that everybody else saw right away of their Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump standing side by side, smiling and shaking hands, patting each other on the back, in front of a row of American and North Korean flags.

These were surreal images for the world and certainly extraordinary images for the people of North Korea who had never in their lives seen anything like this and it was all over the state's leading newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, it was all over the television as well with their lead news reader, Ri Chun Hee, triumphantly broadcasting really what the North Koreans consider a win.

They didn't talk much about denuclearization. That was downplayed, not surprisingly, but what they did talk about are the concessions made by President Trump. His vow to eventually stop the war games or at least suspend the war games between the United States and South Korea and even his consideration that he might pull troops entirely off the Korean peninsula. American forces, 28,000 of them, stationed there, certainly surprising his counterparts in South Korea.

We know Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting with them. But in North Korea it's all celebration about a new era of peace and even here on the ground in Singapore we're seeing a noticeable change even outside the hotel where we're broadcasting from. For the first time we're seeing an American flag flying side by side with a North Korean flag.

Extraordinary images from a extraordinary day here in Singapore -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Will Ripley, it is indeed. Appreciate the reporting.

I'm joined now by CNN national security commentator and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers.

Nice to have you here, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for being here.


HARLOW: I wonder if you agree with the president's assessment this morning that North Korea in his words is no longer a nuclear threat. I mean, does he risk a former President George W. Bush mission accomplished moment with a statement like that?

ROGERS: Very much so. We are a long way from North Korea not being a nuclear threat. Now there was some good things that happened. I mean, I think the fact that we have dialogue -- remember, six months ago, we couldn't even pick up the phone and talk to anybody. We had no way to de-escalate any activity with North Korea. So all of that has been overcome. Now we have that. We have some access into North Korea, all of that is good.

I do think the president needs to be extremely cautious about his sense of exuberance over this one meeting.

HARLOW: Right.

ROGERS: We have seen this movie before and they tend not to follow through, so we've got a lot of work to do yet.

HARLOW: So talk about the work then that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is doing in Seoul right now, will do in Beijing when he goes there later this week to meet with President Xi Jinping? I mean, how does he clean up what was at the least a surprise to the South Koreans that there would be no more joint military exercises?

ROGERS: And by the way, this is their worst fear.

HARLOW: Right.

ROGERS: So last fall I was in South Korea, I talked to a lot of their national security leadership and the one thing that they kept saying over and over is they didn't want what they call Korea passing and Korea passing is they believe is the United States, China or other nations or other NATO nations making a decision on what happens with North Korea without including them.

So you can imagine -- I can only imagine what's going on in those meetings today when they find out by opening up the newspaper or reading a Twitter account that the military exercises that have been going on for decades in preparation of a North Korean invasion are no longer on the table. I am sure as they would say, he's got some explaining to do.

HARLOW: Couple that with the fact that -- and not surprisingly but as Will Ripley just reported, North Korean state media is completely downplaying the denuclearization part of these talks. I mean, that's clearly the message that the Kim regime wants out there, but if the hope is ultimately for the world to get these two men, President Trump and Chairman Kim, on the same page in some sort of agreement, what does it tell us that the message in North Korea now is nothing like the message in the United States?

ROGERS: Again, we have seen this movie before, so what they like to do is promise a lot and deliver very little. If you recall Condoleezza Rice did a deal there and promised I think 60 tons of food or something like that because they were starving. They said they would reform themselves and be good actors. None of that happened. Same under Obama and now we're seeing the same thing.

Now the only difference here is that we have this dialogue that we've never had before.

HARLOW: Right.

ROGERS: With North Korea. So I would say let's be cautiously optimistic about that piece.

HARLOW: Right.

ROGERS: But let's be -- let's push back on the president saying, hey, this is a done deal and we should be excited about it. We should be nowhere near excited.

[09:10:04] HARLOW: But, you know -- you know, frequent Trump critic, former DNI James Clapper applauded the president somewhat on this last night telling Anderson we're in a much better place than we were six or eight months ago.

I wonder how much you believe it is necessary for the president's team to get on the same page and by that I mean, John Bolton, Secretary Mattis and also Secretary Pompeo? Because we know that they come at this from very different perspectives, especially Pompeo and Bolton.

ROGERS: Well, and I think this has been one of the weaknesses of the president and their foreign policy is there has been so many different messages coming out of the White House. Even the vice president went up on Capitol Hill and said, no, no, we'll still have some training and then White House --

HARLOW: Right. But not war games. Right.

ROGERS: Exactly. Well, and let me tell you, as a former military guy, these training exercises are critically important. They're not games. They're not meant to be provocative. But if you're going to have two military forces joining together to accomplish any mission, it is really, really difficult to do and so that's why they do these training things. This is why they exercise those muscles to make sure that's still there and it demonstrates to North Korea, hey, we still have this capability to surge troops into the peninsula any time we want and work with our South Korean allies.

So, you know, and by the way we do this in NATO as well to push back on the Russians. We want to make sure they understand that we have these commitments. So that provocative language I think needs to change a little bit on the president and all of them need to be on the same page.

If we're going to have success in any negotiations with North Korea, we all have to be saying the same thing.

HARLOW: Quick yes or no answer. Is America safer today than it was on Monday?

ROGERS: I think yes, absolutely. I think there's no way you could say that we're not.

HARLOW: All right.

ROGERS: We're in dialogue, we have a -- somebody will answer our call to kind of de-escalate things. That in and of itself was a big step.

HARLOW: Chairman Rogers, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for being here.

ROGERS: Yes. Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. A lot of ahead for us this hour. The ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, what he has to say about the president's declaration with Kim Jong-un. Also stunning loss, Trump critic Mark Sanford falls in the South Carolina primary after Trump slams him on Twitter. A warning to other Republicans heading into the midterms?

And a federal judge halts the government's push to try to stop the AT&T and Time Warner merger. A ruling that has major implications across the media landscape. All of that ahead.


HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. President Trump is back at the White House this morning and declaring that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

Joining me now is Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. He's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Thank you for being here this morning

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Good to be with you, Poppy.

HARLOW: So, the president writes, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." Do you agree?

MENENDEZ: No. The reality is North Korea still has all of the warheads it had before, the nuclear warheads it had before, it has the nuclear process to create fissile material, to create bombs. It continues to have its missile systems unfettered. And so, at the end of the day, the same exact threat that we had before the summit exists now. HARLOW: However - and you said - look, just yesterday you said, this

is just a promise from more promises and we've been down that road before. I hear you.

But even frequent critic of the president, James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, last night on this network to Anderson said, we're in a much better place. We're on a diplomatic path as opposed to where we were six or eight months ago.

Does the president deserve some credit for getting us there, senator?

MENENDEZ: Well, I think you have to take a step back to analyze that statement. Number one is, it's the president's heated rhetoric where he was exchanging with Kim Jong-un the threats of nuclear annihilation through Twitter. And so, the president ratcheted this up dramatically as well.

So, to give him credit for bringing it down several decibels is something that he created of his own doing. And so, look, I think it's better that these two ultimately have a process to talk versus threaten nuclear annihilation, but at the same time it didn't h to be at a presidential level.

HARLOW: Right.

MENENDEZ: It could have been with a lot of thorough work that produced in the past much more substantive agreements with a pathway forward than this communique.

HARLOW: Sure. Maybe more substantive agreed frameworks like '94, but that fizzled, right? That failed.

And you made the point yesterday to Jake, my colleague, that you wanted to at least, out of this summit, see a definition of denuclearization because it is defined so differently by this administration than the Kim regime. We didn't get that.

However, this is the first of a number of meetings to come, we're told. As we sit here today, do you believe that the United States is safer than it was on Monday with respect to North Korea?

MENENDEZ: To the extent that the rhetoric that President Trump used that heightened the potential risk of a miscalculation on either side, yes. But to the extent that all of the substantive threats that North Korea poses to us in the Korean Peninsula, throughout the region, those are all still there.

And what worries me is we have taken Kim from international pariah to a respected state leader, that we have actually ceased our military exercises and the president adopts the provocative language of the North, saying it is provocative and war games, and that we don't tell our allies that are critical to us to succeed in our efforts with North Korea at the end of the day.

HARLOW: As you know, the vice president went up to the Hill yesterday and tried to sort of clean that up by saying, look, we're still going to have some joint exercises, but not these "war games." But I take your point.

Quickly before I move on to immigration, the president did say that a White House invitation for Kim Jong-un could be in the cards "at the appropriate time" according to the president.

[09:20:02] What would be the appropriate time for the North Korean dictator to come to the United States, meaning what would you have to see to make you comfortable with that invitation?

We'd have to see - that should be towards the end of a process. We say trust, but verify. There's nothing here to verify except a promise to make more promises. We've been down this road.

So, we'd have to actually see Kim Jong-un in the process of destroying and dismantling his nuclear weapons, his nuclear infrastructure, his intercontinental ballistic missile infrastructure.

If he's down that process and it's verifiably so and we can determine that we're on a path to irreversibility, then that would be maybe be the possibility. I would hope the president would raise the enormous human rights violations that exist in North Korea.

He says that Kim Jong-un is honorable and loves his people, but tens of thousands are in North Korean prisons, tens of thousands more are starving. I don't want that type of love from my leader.

HARLOW: He did say that human rights came up briefly in his conversation with Kim.

On immigration, what we know now is that Republican leadership is going to potentially take up these two immigration bills that would deal with DACA.

One of them is still being written at this point in time. What would - and the concern here is that nothing's going to get passed because no - one of the reasons being that no Democrats are expected to get on board with this.

I wonder for you, someone who has been so outspoken about the need for immigration reform, so outspoken about protecting DREAMers and DACA legislation, what would those bills need to include, senator, to get you on board, to get a yes vote from you?

MENENDEZ: Well, there would have to be a clear pathway for DREAMers to legalize their status in the United States.

In the first instance, give them a pathway where they already, to be a DREAMer, under existing regulations, they have to be a law-abiding citizen, they have to be either gainfully employed or in school, pay taxes, if they're actually employed and pass a criminal background check and then you give them a pathway towards permanent residency and later US citizen. And you look at their immediate mother or father as part of a package.

That would be a pathway towards something. What the administration would require for that has been overwhelmingly unacceptable. They want to change legal immigration, as we know it, in this country, even though President Trump benefited from legal immigration by virtue of his grandfather coming to the United States, claimed under the fifth preference category.

They want to change the nature of what is asylum in this country. I think that's a problem. I mean, they want to change immigration as we know it and have benefited from it for over a century.

HARLOW: Senator, before you go, very quickly, in the primaries overnight, in South Carolina, the Democratic candidate Archie Parnell won his primary fight in the 5th district. This came a month after he admitted to assaulting and battering his ex-wife 45 years ago. She said she feared for her life, she had to obtain a restraining order.

My question to you is broad. And it is, should domestic abuse ever, even 45 years ago, be disqualifying for someone to hold public office?

MENENDEZ: In my view, it probably should be. Of course, the electorate always decides what is and is not disqualifying.

But in my view, even if it's that long period of time, it should be.

HARLOW: Sen. Bob Menendez, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

MENENDEZ: Take care.

HARLOW: Coming up, a busy primary night last night. A big lesson for Republicans. Challenge the president at your own peril. Just ask a certain congressman in South Carolina.


[09:28:08] HARLOW: A Republican Trump critic falls in South Carolina overnight. Congressman Mark Sanford losing his primary fight hours after the president attacked him on Twitter.

The president saying Sanford was unhelpful, nothing but trouble. He even brought up the affair the congressman had years ago. But does Sanford's loss signal something bigger for the party come November?

Let's talk about it with our contributor Bianna Golodryga and also A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for "RealClearPolitics".

So, A.B., look, I mean, Mark Sanford said, it may cost me my seat how critical I've been of President Trump, but I stand by everything I have said. Is it a clear warning to other Republicans, though, heading into the midterms?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Oh, yes. Poppy it's remarkable that Mark Sanford was the one who called this cult of personality, I think, a year ago.

And what last night proves and, also last week, Congresswoman Martha Roby was forced into a runoff in Alabama. She had to abandon President Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape and then came around to supporting him, but that wasn't good for her, the primary voters in her district who love President Trump.

And so, it is no longer a litmus test on any policy in the party. It's whether or not you've been critical of the president.

And I think that Mark Sanford - he is someone I always bring up when I'm asked about this new phenomenon. You look back at Jeff Flake, Mike Pence and Mark Sanford. I covered them when they were in the House a long time ago.

They were the original Freedom Caucus. They were the rebels whose vote you couldn't get. They were such deficit hawks. It was hard to get them on to sign on to budgets.

And now, Jeff Flake and Mark Sanford are continued RINOs because they're not real conservatives in the new conservatism that is Trumpism because they're not loyal to President Trump.

HARLOW: When you look at the approval rating, Bianna, for the president among Republicans at the 500-day mark, it's something like 87 percent. So, you just wonder, that's so critical going into the primaries and you look at what happened to Martha Roby and you look at what happened to Mark Sanford and you wonder if those who, six weeks ago, would have been much more outspoken against the president are thinking twice.