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Paul Ryan Denies Trump Had Role in GOP Rep's Loss; Sen. Corker: "GOP Leadership Relationship with Trump "Cultish"; Federal Legal System a Check and Balance on Trump; Trump: Fake News Media Biggest U.S. Threat; What's Next with North Korea, 4 Possible Scenarios; Puerto Rico Releases New Data on Deaths Since Hurricane Maria. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: -- support or opposition to the president of the United States played in these Republican primaries?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the evidence is, as David said it is, it played quite a bit of a role. And these races are won on the margins. And all things being equal, people seem to want a person who was an ally of President Trump, who endorsed or somehow associated himself or herself with President Trump instead of the opposite. On paper, Mark Sanford would look like the perfect candidate. Paul Ryan was alluding to these are races specific to these areas, the voters in the state and the district. But he would be, on paper, if he looked at his profile and the way he's voted, Mark Sanford is tailor made for Republicans in that district. He's a fiscal conservative. He's a member of the Freedom Caucus. He was a member of the class of 1994, the Republican revolution. You would think they would want someone like that. And it does seem to be his remarks about President Trump and his willingness to put distance between himself and the president made a big difference there.

BLITZER: If the president, David, keeps supporting and Republican voters keep electing far-right candidates, like Corey Stewart, who is going to be the Republican candidate for Senate in Virginia? Roy Moore, we remember what happened to him in Alabama. Rick Saccone, we remember what happened to him in Pennsylvania. They all lost. Both of those guys lost. Is this all good news potentially for Democrats?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and there's already a lot of momentum for Democrats in their direction. A lot of energy in the Democratic base. The fact that the president himself is unpopular at such a level that it creates a lot of weight for him. But I do think -- there's a couple of points about these special elections. Like off-year elections, these are more enthusiastic people that vote, people that are more committed as opposed to the broader electorate. And, two, I think that association with a particular party is not the winning way to go here on the Republican side. It is much more cultish. It's much more about personality, the Trump personality. It can be about fear. It can be about particular issues that the president has just driven over and over again. He likes to talk about immigration being a winning issue. So I think that's what it is. And this idea of loyalty. You look at Corey Stewart, who is so repugnant to so many, including Republicans in the establishment in Virginia, that standing up for monuments is a proxy for rejecting political correctness in a lot of people's eyes. So those are the kinds of things the president stands for and is providing fertilizer for these candidacies.

BLITZER: Bob Corker is not running for re-election, the Republican Senator from Tennessee. He unloaded today, speaking about a cult-like relationship developing between some Republicans and the president. But listen to what he said yesterday.


SEN. BOB CORKER, (R), TENNESSEE: We might poke the bear! The president might get upset with us, as United States Senators, if we vote on the Corker Amendment. Well, we'll do what we can do. But, my gosh, if the president gets upset with us, then we might not be in the majority!


BLITZER: How scared are Republicans of poking the bear?

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: I mean, I think it's a real thing, it's a real fear, and it's the reason you don't see more Republicans stepping up to come behind Bob Corker in the tariff challenge that he has. Everyone understands, in the Republican and Democratic Party, that could be damaging for them, because their constituents could be badly affected by that, people in foreign states and other areas. But what we saw last night was the cautionary tale of what people are worried about. It's not just that they're worried the president will get mad at them, but their constituent will get mad at them, because they're not seen as a close enough alley of the president. What's difficult for Republicans who are facing reelection challenges or running this year is that Trump's popularity is not necessarily transferrable to them. But in many of these places, if you are seen as somehow disloyal to him or, as David said, if you're seen as not aligned with his values, and too much aligned with the establishment and the people who are in Congress, you're going to have a hard time with those voters. They won't to see a change.

GREGORY: I wonder if the Republican Party, Trump's Republican Party is going to be a free-trade party, unless maybe it is, all of a sudden. A lot of people who support Trump say, yes, we don't understand trade exactly. A lot of people -- I look at some of the trade issues and I don't understand everything. A lot of people feel that way. And they say, yes, he's standing up for America. Why isn't that a good thing? Maybe if he shifts, he'll say, yes, but we worked it out and now we have better trade deals than we would have had, and it's a success and we should be free traders. And people would go along with that. The real point is, there's no Republican, who is not retiring, who is willing to take the president on. Even Corker, who is taking him on, what has he done to stand in front of the Trump agenda? That's the question for Jeff Flake. The party has to decide, party leaders like Paul Ryan -- now Paul Ryan is standing up against Trump now that he's decided he's not going to run again? There's really not a lot of courage here in the Republican Party. That's all you need to know. They don't want to cross any lines with him for fear he's potent enough on the trail. That's all you need to know.

[13:35:03] BLITZER: Including the leadership of the Republican Party --


BLITZER: -- in the House and Senate.

Stick around, guys. There's more we need to discuss.

Since many Republicans are scared to speak out against President Trump, is the legal system the only reality check against the president? We'll discuss that.

And the president says the country's biggest enemy right now isn't Kim Jong-Un, isn't Russia. It's what he calls the fake news media. We'll be right back.


[13:39:51] BLITZER: All right, this just coming in to CNN. We're told that Larry Kudlow, President Trump's chief economic adviser, has been released from the hospital after experiencing what the White House called a very mild heart attack just days after returning from that contentious G-7 summit in Canada. Doctors say Kudlow is doing well. The White House staff expect him to be back at work soon. We wish him, of course, a speedy recovery and only the best.

Meanwhile, a Republican Senator admits his party is scared to check the president out of fear of, quote, "poking the bear." The bear being President Trump. So who and what is serving as a check and a balance? It appears that job has been left right now here in Washington to the legal system, federal legal system, specifically.

Take a look at what happened yesterday. A federal judge in Washington, ruling that AT&T can buy Time Warner, CNN's parent company, with no conditions. In his ruling, the judge pointed a finger at the president implying that President Trump influenced the Department of Justice to try to block the merger.

This isn't the first time a federal judge has ruled against the president. Take what happened earlier this year. A judge ruled against President Trump's move to end DACA, the program that allows DREAMers to stay in the United States. Another instance last year, a federal judge halting President Trump's latest travel ban. The U.S. Supreme Court is going to make a decision on that, the constitutionality of the travel ban in the coming days.

Let's bring back our panel. Joining us now is Julie and David.

Julie, is the legal system the only real check or challenge facing the president, since the majority of the Republicans don't want to do much?

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: They don't want to do much. You see some efforts on the margins. There's talk now that the Senate might try to block the ZTE deal that the administration, that the president is trying to engineer here with China. But kike you say, as we were discussing earlier, there doesn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for that among Republican lawmakers. We have seen the courts come back pretty strongly, and either halt or just sort of block the president's efforts to carry out his agenda, and also allow things to go forward, like the AT&T merger that he would rather be blocked.

You also see a real determination on the part of the president and the administration to use the courts to carry out parts of his agenda he can't accomplish in Congress. We heard last week, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to try to get the court to upend DACA and overturn it once and for all. And that is a fight that will go to the Supreme Court is fairly certain. And he also moved earlier this week to change the rules by which asylum claims are processed so domestic violence is no longer grounds for asylum. I think it works both ways. The courts are a check, but they're trying to use them to accomplish a lot.

BLITZER: David, another issue, this is what the president tweeted this morning. I'll put the tweet on the screen. "So funny to watch the fake news, especially NBC and CNN. They are fighting hard to downplay the deal with North Korea. Five hundred days ago, they would have begged for this deal. Looked like war would break out. Our country's biggest enemy is the fake news, so easily promulgated by foots."

Pretty outrageous tweet.

GREGORY: It is outrageous. It's not worth a lot of comment. It's obviously ridiculous. This president spends more time-consuming news and information that he calls fake, and what he really wants is to be seen as legitimate by these news sources, especially those that he attacks the most. So this is just using the media again as a foil to try to whip up his supporters, to rally around his side. You know, we live in an age where there's a lot of information, not necessarily a lot of wisdom. And the news environment is so fractured, and turned against itself, that it's very hard to see what you should see, which is a lot of people scrutinizing what happened in this summit, looking at the positives, looking at the negatives, looking at the challenges and the unanswered questions, and letting it play out, which is certainly what we've been doing at CNN.

BLITZER: Julie, you tweeted this morning, "Let's see if I have this straight, North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, the president says Kim Jong-Un is trustworthy, and our country's biggest enemy is journalists."

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: I mean, it sort of up ends everything that we are used to hearing from a president, where you would think there would be skepticism and adversarial talk about somebody like Kim Jong-Un and North Korea, even as they're at the table trying to make a diplomatic deal. But he tweeted on the way back from his trip that the nuclear threat is now gone, which is clearly not the case if you look at what happened, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. I think, as David said, what you're seeing in the coverage is a lot of scrutiny of what actually happened. He would rather just attack the media for daring to do our jobs, which is to evaluate things.

GREGORY: It's so unoriginal, too. There's no president or political figure that likes the media. And so he's trying to outdo Nixon --


BLITZER: It's one thing not to like the media. We've all worked in this news business for a long time. Everybody is always criticizing us, and not happy with our coverage, whether it was President Clinton or President Bush or -- they're all criticized. But it's another thing to say it's not North Korea, it's not Iran, it's not Russia, it's not China, it's journalists --


[13:45:16] BLITZER: -- like us, who are the enemy of the American people.

GREGORY: One of the things that bothers me the most about the president is I don't take what he says seriously. He's just so casual about throwing out language. That -- you really undermine the presidency when you do that, because there will be a time after Donald Trump, believe it or not, and he is doing damage to this notion of do we believe what the president says? We live in an environment where social media allows so much hype hyperbole. But now the president engages in it and it becomes kind of the bloodstream of our public discourse, where you could say something that over the top. And it'll be the president of the United States who says it. And I don't take it seriously, which is a problem, too, because he's not really being serious when he says it. It's a shame.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: But a lot of people do take it seriously.


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: And it's having an impact.

BLITZER: A lot of his supporters believe that we are the enemy of the American people, and that is really an awful situation. We are not the enemy of the American people. We love the American people.

All right, guys, thank you very much.

President Trump says North Korea is no longer a threat and will denuclearize. But he has offed no details on how that will happen. We're exploring four possible scenarios of what's next. That, when we come back.


[13:50:52] BLITZER: The summit between the United States and North Korea is now over but the work has just begun. Shortly after he returned to Washington early this morning, the president tweeted that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, yet the details of how denuclearization will be achieved are still vague. For more on all of this and what happened, I'm joined now by Frank

Aum, a senior North Korea expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace, a former senior adviser on North Korea over at the U.S. Defense Department.

Frank, what's the best-case scenario right now?

FRANK AUM, SENIOR NORTH KOREA EXPERT, U.S. INSTITUTE FOR PEACE & FORMER SENIOR NORTH KOREA ADVISOR, U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: The best- case scenario is that North Korea agrees to first freeze and ultimately give up its nuclear and ballistic missile program and, hopefully, in a relatively short period of time, within two to three years. We can't verify that North Korea is 100 percent denuclearized but it could be the case where the U.S. says close enough and declares victory.

BLITZER: What signs are you specifically looking for, signs that it's working, this process, and signs it's not working?

AUM: The signs that is working is that the U.S. and North Korea are starting negotiations fairly quickly and they're following through on their commitments. The converse is that it takes a long time to get to negotiations and both sides are falling through on their commitments.

BLITZER: And what's the worst-case scenario?

AUM: The worst-case scenario is war. We don't want to get to that point. It would be a situation where negotiations have broken down, both sides are trading barbs and sharp rhetoric back and forth, maybe hawks in the administration determine that because diplomacy has failed and maybe there's a trigger, a North Korean cyberattack or a sunk vessel, and they use that to launch limited strikes against North Korea. That escalates to a full-on war and then we have lots of casualties.

BLITZER: You're an expert on North Korea. You spent a career studying North Korea. What's your assessment right now? Upbeat, down beat, good news, bad news? How do you see it unfolding?

AUM: It depends on your expectations. If you took it to heart President Trump's message that this first meeting was a get-to-know- you meeting-plus, you have to be happy that we're now on a diplomatic process, that North Korea has committed to denuclearization and the U.S. had pledged security guarantees. But if you came in watching Michael Pompeo's three meetings with North Korean officials, Ambassador Sun Kim (ph), as the DMZ having his meetings, the inter- Korea meetings throughout the past several months, then you have to be pretty disappointed about what came out of the summit and the lack of details and the lack of concrete steps.

BLITZER: All of us are hoping for the best that this does work out and the nuclear threat from North Korea goes away and there's a peaceful Korean peninsula.

Frank, thanks so much for coming in. AUM: You're welcome.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. Michael Cohen, the president's long-time lawyer and fixer, switching legal teams, all of a sudden. Does this signal that the president's fixer may be cooperating? We'll discuss when we come back.


[13:57:54] BLITZER: After a legal battle with the Puerto Rican government, CNN was finally given access to a database of information on all deaths after Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico's official death toll from Maria stands at 64, but a Harvard University study estimated that more than 4,000 deaths occurred in the months after the storm.

Covering the storm for us from the very beginning, our correspondent, Leyla Santiago. She joins us live from San Juan.

Leyla, what happens next?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, now we dig. We have database of nearly 12,000 death certificates. We expect to get a total of about 24,000 over the coming days. I want to be clear that doesn't mean that the death toll is 12,000 or 24,000. That just means we have the opportunity to see exactly who died when, and how, and try to get to the bottom of what sort of conditions led to those deaths. Could they be tied to Hurricane Maria?

As you mentioned, we had to sue the government Puerto Rico to get access to this. We joined a lawsuit with the Center of Investigative Journalism here in Puerto Rico. The government said they wanted an extension. They wanted more time to redact Social Security numbers from those death certificates, but the judge sided with us, saying they needed to give us those death certificates for journalistic purposed.

Now we have talked to some of the families that we have featured in our past reporting. Pepe Sanchez is one that I reached out to. When I told his wife that we now had access to these, she said she had goose bumps because she was so happy that we were going to get an opportunity to try to get to the bottom of what has really been a controversial death toll. She suspects that there will be more cases just like Pepe's. As I mentioned off the top now, Wolf, we dig.

BLITZER: Thank you so much, Leyla, for your excellent, excellent and very important reporting from Puerto Rico. We'll, of course, check back with you.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next.

For our viewers in North America, "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

[14:00:10:] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much.

Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN.

Let's get you straight to the --