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Trump Interviews Top Supreme Court Candidates; Trump Warns NATO Allies to Increase Defense Spending; Mike Pompeo Heads to North Korea; Interview with Senator Bob Menendez; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 3, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:42] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill in today for Poppy Harlow. Four interviews down, two or three more to go the president says before he will announce his second nomination for the nation's highest court. We know that that announcement set to come on Monday, July 9th, six days from now.

This morning, though, immigration, the economy, Democrats, Iran, North Korea. All apparently on the president's radar as well, or at the very least we're seeing them on his Twitter feed. Zero mention of looming federal court deadline to reunite migrant families in government custody or new intelligence which suggests North Korea is building up its nuclear facilities.

Instead the president says Democrats are, quote, "weak on the border," something we've heard before, and he also says once again North Korea talks are, quote, "going well."

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House. Abby, let's start here with the scramble to fill that seat on the Supreme Court with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Erica. Just six more days for the president to deliberate over this choice of his next Supreme Court justice and he's hit the ground running. Just yesterday, interviewing four candidates, some of them included among the top candidates, according to our sources.

The president also is planning on continuing with those interviews this week. But one of the considerations that we have been told, he is looking very seriously at is the potential that he could appoint a conservative woman to the court. One of the candidates that he interviewed yesterday, Amy Coney Barrett, is being pushed by the president's allies both inside and out of the White House but the White House says the president will continue looking for others.

And I asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders this morning about whether or not the president was considering appointing a woman in an effort to get some moderate Republican women senators on board. This is what Sarah Sanders had to say.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The criteria the president has outlined is what I said yesterday and what we've said several times before. He's looking for somebody with tremendous intellect. He likes somebody with the right judicial temperament and he wants somebody who's going to be focused on upholding the Constitution.


PHILLIP: And notably Sarah did not deny that that was one of the considerations. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are two key senators in this. They have already made it clear that one of their considerations is going to be whether or not a justice is willing to overturn standing precedent, particularly on the issue of abortion -- Erica.

HILL: I mean, "The New York Times" also reporting this morning about these letters sent from the president to NATO all allies. Is the White House commenting at all?

PHILLIP: Well, this letter is extraordinary because of its timing. It's coming just -- this news is coming just a week before the president is expected to head to NATO. The president saying in this letter that the U.S. is willing to consider redistributing its resources, its military resources around the world if European allies don't increase their GDP spending on the military.

Now National Security spokesman said that the president continues to be strongly in support of the NATO alliance. But the president himself has been increasing his rhetoric around this issue. And clearly the tensions are high going into this NATO meeting.

He also plans to meet with Vladimir Putin, which has raised some concerns among our European allies. And these letters really just suggesting that the president is willing to re-evaluate a long history of the United States military commitment to Europe. So the administration trying to tamp down the concern that the president is really considering pulling back on that commitment all together -- Erica.

HILL: Abby Phillip with the latest for us this morning from the White House. Abby, thank you.

With us now to discuss further, criminal defense attorney Caroline Polisi.

So as we shift our focus back here to the Supreme Court, people are trying to gauge and figure out here, OK. So who on this list -- because we've had this list for some time. Who on this list will end up being the president's nominee? We know from Sarah Sanders that the president is not asking about specific decisions, we're told. What would be the most important question for the president as he is sitting down for these interviews?

CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think to your point that Sarah Sanders is saying that, you know, the president is not using sort of the litmus test, sort of the buzz word about the Roe v. Wade issue, that's really disingenuous on her part. As you've stated we've had this list, this master list which was used for the preparation of Neil Gorsuch, prepared by the Federalist Society, who is a group of deeply conservative lawyers and jurist who have embarked on a decades' long mission to dismantle Roe v. Wade.

[10:05:09] Their underlying core principle is that they believe in limited power of the federal government. And so only those powers that are enumerated in the Constitution are those which they believe the federal government should have. And guess what, Erica? Granting a woman's right to choose is not one of those enumerated powers in the Constitution. So I think it's disingenuous on her part.

We know from the campaign trail that Donald Trump said that he believed it would be an automatic reversal if he got his appointments on the court. So there really aren't that many questions to ask if you're working from that 25 list person prepared by the Federalist Society.

HILL: As we are narrowing down, as everybody is trying to figure out who really is on the short list here, Judge Amy Coney Barrett comes up time and time again. We've also heard that the president is perhaps keen to appoint a woman to get the first conservative woman there appointed.

POLISI: Right.

HILL: In 2013, when she was a Notre Dame law professor, she wrote, "I tend to agree with those that say a justice's duty is to the Constitution," to your point here, and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.

This is something Senator Collins brought up over the weekend as she wants someone who will respect established decisions. It does not sound like that's what we would see here.

POLISI: Well, that's why in the fact of what Senator Collins said, and that's a scary proposition, Erica. The fact is you can talk about stare decisis and maintaining precedent all you want. But that really has to do more with judges at a federal level where Judge Barrett is right now, in the Seventh Circuit. Once you're on the Supreme Court, guess what, the Supreme Court overturns itself and is evolving in its jurisprudence all the time.

If it takes up a case that specifically connotes that it could potentially reverse a decision. So I think all this, you know, code language that we're speaking in, again, is incredibly disingenuous. What we're really talking about is whether or not she's going to overturn Roe v. Wade, which I will make the point, Erica, that it may not be the case that just because there are five conservative justices on the court that they are going to whole cloth overturn that precedent. It could be death by a thousand cuts.

They could choose to uphold states' rights in such a way that it would impair a woman's right to receive the policies and procedures that she needs to really choose her own reproductive freedom. And that's a scary possibility.

HILL: It will all depend on what happens in the states. Right?

POLISI: Exactly.

HILL: And then ultimately what makes its way to the Supreme Court.

POLISI: Exactly.

HILL: A lot of big ifs here.


HILL: One thing we know for certain, though, we're going to get an announcement on Monday, July 9th. This is what the president says, possibly in prime time. So we'll be watching for that.

Good to see you. Thank you.

POLISI: Thank you.

HILL: Let's take a closer look now at those letters the president sent to NATO allies. Joining us is CNN military analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby.

I want to pick up specifically on the letter that went to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "The New York Times" presenting an excerpt which said there's growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised. "Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments because others see you as a role model."

Strong words there. Can the president win this battle by going after allies in this way?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Erica, look, he is not wrong. There does need to be more defense spending by our NATO allies. The United States does contribute far greater percentage than others do. But he needs to be really careful because he is not very popular in Europe, particularly in Germany. And the more he badgers our European leaders over there, the more -- the harder it's going to get for them to go to their public and to their legislatures, and try to get more defense spending. So he's not -- he has to be really careful here that he doesn't actually undermine his own effort.

HILL: There are also reports that the president has been considering and that he brought this up, withdrawing a number of U.S. troops from overseas, specifically talking about Germany, because he is so unhappy with the way everything is going.

Just set the scene for us. Why are those troops there? What purpose do they serve?

KIRBY: Well, we have had troops deployed permanently and semi permanently on the European continent now since the end of World War II. They helped, A, provide for greater continental security and improving the capability and the competence of our European allies. B, they help provide security for us here at home by being able to address threats on the European continent and beyond.

Remember, NATO does a lot of out-of-area missions like Afghanistan. So Europe is a great staging area and has been for our -- the wars that we've been fighting in the Middle East both in terms of logistics and medical care. So there's a large swath of missions that they perform all to the betterment of the American people. He would not be the first president to look at trying to change the posture on the continent. Don Rumsfeld and President Bush tried to do that.

But I think any wholesale movement that would really talk about an extrication in large numbers that would be detrimental to our U.S. national security.

HILL: There's a reason, obviously, these letters would be sent ahead of the NATO meetings. Is this the right way to go about it?

[10:10:04] KIRBY: I think he is definitely trying to drive the agenda for the summit. I think it's questionable whether this is the right way do it. You could argue, hey, he did it in private letter. They didn't leak them right away. So it wasn't a real public admonition. But I think he's trying to drive the burden sharing agenda item on to the summit.

And look, again, he's not wrong to want to discuss that. But my concern, Erica, is that they will -- it will get overshadowed by so many other major security issues, which need to be discussed at the summit including the continued transformation of the alliance, counterterrorism, Russia's involvement in Ukraine and their election meddling in Western democracies, all those need to be front and center. And the last thing that really worries me about this is, two days later he's going to go meet Putin. And what better gift to give Putin than for Trump to come off a NATO summit that was just rife with dissention and inter conflict.

HILL: It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out. And so important that we continue to follow it.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, appreciate your insight. Thank you.

KIRBY: You bet. Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, the president sharing optimism about negotiations with North Korea, despite new reports from the intelligence community raising red flags about denuclearization talks.

Plus a race against time to save a soccer team that is trapped in a cave. How will these 12 boys and their coach get out?

And a former EPA official speaking with CNN accusing the agency's chief, Scott Pruitt, of keeping secret schedules to hide controversial meetings from the public.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:15:37] HILL: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading back to North Korea this week to nail down a denuclearization deal with Kim Jong-un which of course comes as President Trump is touting his relationship with the regime.

Many good conversations with North Korea, he tweets. It is going well. In the meantime, no rocket launches or nuclear testing in eight months. If not for me, we would be at war with North Korea.

Let's go to senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski who joins us from Washington.

Michelle, there is a lot of pressure here on Secretary Pompeo to get a real commitment from North Korea to denuclearize.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right. Although everything is not riding on this one meeting, but it's definitely gotten to be the time with the world looking at this, looking at what came out of this summit, this historic meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Not much came out of that. So those who care about the situation are certainly going to want to see something more concrete than what we had before.

And look at the timing of this. It comes, yes, after a meeting has happened. Yes, the president is right, tensions are low. There's been a lot of talking on all sides in the region and with the United States. There hasn't been testing that we know about. But there's also information coming out of the U.S. intelligence component that shows there's not a strong belief that North Korea has any intention -- any intention of fully denuclearizing.

That is the belief among some in U.S. intelligence. There's also new satellite imagery, new analysis that shows that North Korea is also making improvements to its nuclear reactor. So if you're North Korea and you're talking about being willing to denuclearize, these are not exactly the signs you want to show to try to prove that you are serious about this, that you want this to be real, and that you want it to be denuclearization, at least in the sense that the U.S. wants it to be.

So what the administration wants to do on this trip is present North Korea with a way forward. They want it to be possibly a year-long plan of denuclearization. Sort of a checklist of things they can do to show that they really are going to denuclearize and this wasn't just a big show -- Erica.

HILL: We will be watching for more on that. Secretary Pompeo heading there of course on Thursday.

Michelle, thank you.

Joining me now, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Sir, good to have you with us today.


HILL: You were critical of that summit. In fact you called the resulting agreement anemic. Could Secretary Pompeo, though, in this next visit, could he shift the balance back to give the U.S. a little bit more leverage at this point, especially when we talk about these satellite images we've all seen?

MENENDEZ: Well, I certainly hope he can because the summit produced a document that is anemic of all the agreements that have ever been entered into with North Korea. And basically was a document that said, we promise to make promises in the future. It didn't even define denuclearization, which is for us the verifiable elimination and dismantling of all nuclear weapons and the infrastructure that create them as well as the missile technology.

So when you see North Korea actually improving its overall abilities, both on its missile development site as well as on its reactors, you have to question, why does someone do that if they fully intend to denuclearize? So I hope he can actually get both a clear definition that is agreed to as to what denuclearization for us is as well as for the North Koreans. And secondly a plan forward.

HILL: White House National Security adviser John Bolton has said, listen, let's not have a rush to judgment here. There are steps in this process. It doesn't happen in one meeting. It doesn't happen overnight but that he is confident that once there is an agreement, that within a year they will be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of what North Korea has there in terms of -- do you agree with that time frame?

MENENDEZ: Well, listen, that's aspirational. The reality is getting an agreement with North Korea has never been difficult. We've had three presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, all who achieved a degree of some agreement with North Korea. North Korea never follows through. So, you know, this is a question where you must verify before you even trust because at the end of the day, North Korea goes back on its word.

And its actions even now belie what the intentions of the summit. What Kim Jong-un ultimately received was a great benefit.

[10:20:04] He went from international pariah to being look like a statesman. He actually -- we ended our military exercises with South Korea and didn't tell our allies, South Korea and Japan, which is unsettling to them. And thirdly, China is already advocating at the U.N. to end sanctions against North Korea, which is the only reason they're having conversations with us. So that's why I've introduced legislation, bipartisan legislation, to have oversight over this process from the Senate, because we think it's critically important in terms of national security.

HILL: You believe you have the support for that bipartisan legislation?

MENENDEZ: Well, Senator Gardner, a Republican, has joined with me. And I think those who had the same view about the Iran agreement should have the same view about any nuclear agreement with North Korea.

HILL: I want to get your take on a couple of topics. Actually fairly busy news week on a holiday week here. Of course, there is the looming nominee, the president's pick, who he will nominate to the Supreme Court. Obviously this is a tough road for Democrats. There is not a lot that you can do. I don't think there's a single person on that list who gets Democrats very excited understandably. What's your plan here?

MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, we need someone who is actually going to follow the rule of law, not the rule of Trump. The president has made it very clear that he will only appoint judges from this list of 25. The Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society both who are extremely opposed to the question of reproductive rights for women, who have an enormous antipathy to the Affordable Care Act.

The president has said he's going to appoint pro-life judges. And so -- in that it will go back to the states. That would undermine a fundamental protection for reproductive health for women and at the same time for 130 million Americans who have pre-existing conditions, the end of protection against discrimination on that.

So we're going to do everything possible. They changed the rules on the filibuster. They only need a simple majority.

HILL: What is everything possible? Because we knew all of these things going in, right? To your point we've had this list for a long, long time since the campaign. So, I mean, are you talking about shutting down the government? What can you realistically do here?

MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, we're going to get the American people, hopefully, to be engaged in rising up and speaking up and saying, you know, we want our voices heard on a judge who will make a decision for the court, probably change the balance for over a generation on critical issues like health care and reproductive rights, on voting rights, on civil rights. And we have seen judges who've said, oh no, we're going to uphold the rule of law and observe precedent until they get on the court and then they change precedent.

HILL: We are hearing more and more people speak up when it comes to immigration. We've seen that. We've seen rallies at the border, obviously rallies over the weekend. There have also been chants of abolish ICE, which some of your fellow Democrats have picked up that chant. Is that helpful or is it harmful to you?

MENENDEZ: Well, what's harmful is the president's policy, that is both I think, as the courts have dictated, illegal and immoral. The America I know doesn't tear children apart from their mothers. The America that I know doesn't detain children in cages. The America I know doesn't talk about indefinite detention of families even who are asylum seekers to our country.

And so this administration has got to follow what the judge said. In two weeks from when the judge ruled, those 5 years and under have to be returned to their family and in 30 days, those 5 years and older. And it seems that the administration does not have a handle on this and how to do it. And that's alarming to us.

HILL: Well, that first deadline is a week out. I do want to get your take on this before we let you go. I have to ask you about this prank call that happened from this comedian John Melendez. We have that sound. I want to play a little bit of it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I haven't look -- I mean, I have a list of people. I have a big list of people, Bob. And we'll take a look at it. And we're going to make a decision. I will probably make it over the next couple of weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I promise you, you will have my vote. I will help you if you don't go too conservative. You know what I'm saying?

TRUMP: Yes. Well, we will talk to you about it.


HILL: "We will talk to you about it." I know you put out a statement on that. Realistically, there's the funny comedian part of it and then there's also this very real and troubling security breach that happened. How concerning is that to you?

MENENDEZ: Well, it's concerning to me that the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States, could have a shock jock comedian get through to him and speak to him, I mean, on Air Force One. The reality is, while it may have been a joke to him, the subject matter that he was talking about is very serious, the dividing of children from their parents, a Supreme Court nominee who will make a generational difference in the court against the interest of affordable health care, against the interest of reproductive rights.

And then lastly, the security breach that would allow someone like him to get to the president of the United States. And so I worry that someone else for different purposes might be able to get through. I hope that they dramatically change their protocol as to who gets to the president.

HILL: He thought he was speaking to you on that phone call, said, hey, we'll talk about it.

[10:25:02] Do you think this president is open to speaking with you about the Supreme Court picks?

MENENDEZ: Listen, I'd be happy to tell him that you cannot have a judge who is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, who is going to overturn voting rights, who ultimately is going to kill the opportunity for protection against pre-existing condition discrimination, and the health care of millions of Americans, I'd be happy to have that conversation.

HILL: Appreciate your time today, sir. Thank you.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

HILL: The world watching as 12 children and their coach remain trapped a half mile below ground in a series of caves. What rescuers in Thailand now say they may need to do to rescue those children and their coach.