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AT THIS HOUR

CNN: Trump Expected To Pick Nominee Today Or Tomorrow; U.K. Couple Poisoned By Same Nerve Agent As Ex-Spy; Pompeo Returns To North Korea Seeking To Assure Denuclearization; CNN: Trump Asked Aides About Possibility Of Invading Venezuela. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 5, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Both those Victorias is such an inspiration.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Bravo. Sports are awesome.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Great stories. Way better than hotdogs. Thank you so much. Nice to see you. Thanks for joining us today. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me. It is one of President Trump's favorite things, building up suspense and, of course, a big reveal. He is trying to do that once again with the -- with one of the biggest decisions any president can make, who to nominate to the Supreme Court.

A decision that not only can define his legacy, but also change the shape of American life for decades. The president could make that decision today. CNN has learned his list is down to just two or three contenders.

Let's figure this all out. Jeff Zeleny is live at the White House for us to start us off today. So, Jeff, where is the smart money right now?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. The president as we know has completed with his interviews. A White House official saying earlier this morning that the president has talked to all of the potential contenders that he wants to speak with.

So, the smart money is that the president is nearing a decision, if hasn't already made it. Now, he is not, of course, going to reveal that exact decision, because he wants to keep suspension for this building, and also leave open the possibility that something could come out.

The vetting for Supreme Court justice at this point is very much taking a place in the public eye as well. So, the reality here is you see the six potential contenders. The ones on the left of your screen, Brett Kavanaugh, a long-time federal appeals court judge here in Washington, and Amy Coney Barrett, who is on the bench on the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, those two are among the leading contenders.

But we do not know if they're the only finalists. In fact, we're not even calling them finalists. They have been described to us as leading contenders. Raymond Kethledge is in the mix as well there.

But we know the president is narrowing this decision by talking to a variety of people. I'm told he will spend time on the phone this morning here at the White House. He will fly to Montana this afternoon for a campaign rally there.

So, also, that's a lot of phone time for him before flying to New Jersey tonight. So, he has a lot of time alone with his advisers, with all the information about these potential contenders.

So, he is close to making up his mind, but, Kate, we're not going to find out the answer to that until Monday evening.

BOLDUAN: We say that now until a Saturday tweet. Just kidding. Jeff, the president --

ZELENY: Thanks for ruining my weekend.

BOLDUAN: I would never want to do that to you, but it's going to happen. The president makes the final call, of course. It sure sounds like everyone and anyone is trying to have a say in this.

ZELENY: Well, that is definitely true. I mean, the president essentially has an open-door policy with senators and other activists. By that I mean, he loves to take phone calls. He takes phone calls from a variety of people, perhaps the person driving the truck behind me here.

He really is hearing from a lot of conservative activists, from some senators and the lobbying campaign is really hitting a fever pitch now because they know that they are trying to get his attention. It's also taking place on the media.

We know he watches cable television. We know he reads conservative media. There is a slew of people endorsing some contenders, sort of dismissing others. So, it's unclear how much this outside campaign is affecting the inside one.

But if you have an opinion on the Supreme Court justice and you want to make that case known to the president, today is the day to make that known. I'm told he actually is getting phone calls from donors, from activists and from members of Congress as well -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And truck drivers. Jeff, it's great to see you. Thanks, man.

ZELENY: Thank you. BOLDUAN: From one mystery now to another, a very different one, though. A couple in Southern England poisoned and now fighting for their lives. Investigators say they were exposed to the same military grade nerve agent that nearly killed a former Russian spy and his daughter back in March.

That attack in March happened just ten miles away from where this couple was found. Police are searching for a connection. The British government is pointing the finger at Russia once again. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAJID JAVID, BRITISH INTERIOR MINISTER: It's the actions of the Russian government that this -- that continue to undermine our security and that of the international community. It is completely unacceptable for our people to be either deliberate or accidental targets or for our streets, parks, towns to be dumping grounds for poison.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: CNN's Nic Robertson is on the scene for us. Nic, what is the latest that you are hearing about this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the idea at the moment seems to be focusing on -- the investigation seems to be focusing that these were accidental victims of the attack on the -- the former Russian military secret agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter back in March.

[11:05:05] So, the connection is there. It's the same agent. Not perhaps the same batch. British officials called it's the same batch because they have the same precise chemical signature.

But the two locations, here in Amesbury where this couple were picked up by ambulance on Saturday, just 8 miles away from Salisbury where that attack took place in March. Right now, there are five different locations that are being secured and searched by police.

Three here in Amesbury and two in Salisbury because the couple were in Salisbury, the couple who are now in critical condition in hospital were in Salisbury on Friday evening. So right now, you have the British government saying that Russia needs to provide more information.

Russia saying it wasn't involved in the attack in March and not involve in this attack either. The two people in critical condition. According to the British government, not intended targets.

So, the focus seems to be at the moment at least, until we get more information, on a possibility of some piece of discarded nerve agent, discarded back in March, that wasn't picked up, that was found by this couple over the weekend, somehow contaminated them and landed them desperately ill in hospital -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's amazing. All right. Nic, so many questions here. I really appreciate it.

Joining me now to try to figure this out, Phil Ingram, a former British military intelligence and security officer, an expert on chemical and biological weapons. Phil, thanks so much for coming in.

PHILIP INGRAM, FORMER SENIOR BRITISH INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY OFFICER: Not a problem. Good morning, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So, your first thought in hearing this, are these people, of course, connected? Are these people connected to the former Russian spy? As Nic is laying out, right now the going theory is that they are accidental victims. They don't see any connection. How could they come in contact with this poison then?

INGRAM: Well, I don't see there being any connection. I do think it is -- Nic is right, it's an accidental contamination. What they have clearly come across is somewhere where there would-be assassinations of Sergei and Yulia Skripal have discarded either the container that they used to carry the agent down to Salisbury in or some of the protective clothing or they spilled something on a piece of equipment that they inadvertently touched.

BOLDUAN: A professional assassin using a nerve agent to try and kill somebody, then throwing it out or spilling it on a bench or discarding their clothing, does that seem sloppy to you? Does that seem logical?

INGRAM: Well, it does, because I don't think they were actually trying to kill Sergei and Yulia Skripal. I think that was a byproduct of it. I think the main reason for the attack was sending a clear message.

Remember, it happened exactly 14 days before the presidential elections in Russia. President Putin was very concerned that he wasn't going to get the same majority or bigger majority than he had beforehand.

There was a lot of dissenters in the international community. This was a very clear message to them and a very clear message domestically that he is not willing to suffer anyone who will go against him.

So, if we take that as the motive, the assassins that went on there weren't concerned that it wouldn't point back to Russia. I think the reason why the Skripals were chosen is because they were based in Salisbury. They had that traitor connection to Russia, so that's a legitimate target in Putin's eyes.

But the connection to Salisbury with the U.K.'s defense scientific and technical laboratory at (inaudible) looking at Contrin (ph) Chemical and Biological Warfare, one of the world's leading laboratories in this, gave them plausible deniability.

The Russians have tactic called (inaudible), which is masking, which is putting out false information and false news.

BOLDUAN: So, Philip, again, so much is not known about this most recent poisoning. If it's the same nerve agent but not the same batch, what does that mean?

INGRAM: Well, the British Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, today in Parliament said he couldn't confirm that it was the same batch. It might not be chemically possible to do that. Therefore, he hasn't said it's not same batch.

The chances of there being two different nerve (inaudible) agents in a small English city, which is, you know, quintessentially beautiful within three months of each other is highly, highly unlikely.

I think there's a greater chance that we will win the U.S. national lottery, the U.K. national lottery, and Australian national lottery all this weekend. Therefore, you know, the fact that they are both (inaudible) agents is a good enough link to link the two together.

BOLDUAN: Got you. Could this nerve agent just be laying around in a discarded piece of clothing or something like that for four months with no one knowing about it until now and still be this powerful?

INGRAM: It could. The thing is that it's designed to do two things. It's a very persistent agent. It doesn't degrade under normal conditions. It's designed to be around for months. Militarily, there is an area denial weapon, a chemical minefield.

[11:10:02] The second thing that there is -- designed the chemical mind field. The second thing that there is with it is it only requires small amounts. So, it will not degrade. It will stay in the ground. It's designed to be persistent and designed to affect people long after it's been laid.

BOLDUAN: Yes, bringing no comfort to these poor people now in critical condition in hospital right now. Philip Ingram, thanks so much for coming in. I appreciate it.

INGRAM: OK, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Terrifying.

Coming up, overseas and under pressure, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he is en route right now to meet Kim Jong-un. Any real signs of progress from getting rid of North Korea's nukes? We'll check in.

Plus, the federal government is still not providing any updates on the children separated from their parents at the border. How many are detained or how many have been reunited. They are now using DNA testing, they say, to bring families back together. Why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:06]

BOLDUAN: Almost a month after President Trump declared North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way there to try and make that a reality. Amid growing doubts, the regime has any intention of following through to dismantle its nuclear program. CNN Global Affairs Correspondent, Elise Labott, is joining me now with much more on this. Elise, this is Pompeo's first meeting over there since the Singapore summit. It seems like at some point the rubber has to meet the road. Is that this meeting?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that's what the secretary hopes, Kate. I mean, U.S. and North Korean officials have met since the summit. My understanding is that the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, envoy, kind of delivered a letter from President Trump to Kim Jong-un.

We don't think there is much substance in that letter, but they are trying to get this process going with North Korea in terms of getting them to declare their nuclear sites, talk about a timetable for denuclearization.

I spoke with the secretary last week. He was saying, he is not going to put a time line on it as long as he sees some progress. He is not going to cut off the negotiations by a certain point.

But I think even the secretary knows that he is really under the gun to start delivering the kind of results that President Trump is touting from the summit. There's a lot of question, you know, we are not hearing tough rhetoric from the U.S. about moving forward, they are being very patient with the North Koreans.

There's some questions about whether the U.S. is softening its approach. Secretary just left this morning for North Korea. His spokesman, Heather Nauert, is telling reporters, nothing could be further from the truth and the secretary will try to advance this agreement and start a process of North Korea dismantling its nuclear program.

BOLDUAN: All right. Let's see what comes from it. Great to see you, Elise. Thank you so much.

So, could U.S. relations with Latin America be further in jeopardy right now? CNN has learned that President Trump floated the idea of invading Venezuela during private talks with top advisers last summer and discussed the possibility with other Latin American leaders. Venezuela's president is displeased to say the least.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining me now with this reporting. So, Jeremy, what exactly was the president's thought process here?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, senior administration official told me that the president essentially floated this idea during a meeting with some of his top national security advisers as they were discussing the idea of additional sanctions against Venezuela.

The president appeared to have asked, well, what about the possibility of invading the country? That was something that the president was asking if it could be a po potentially viral route in dealing with Venezuela. The senior administration official who told me about this stressed there was no plan -- concrete plan at any point for any kind of actual military action against Venezuela and compared this to the president simply thinking out loud.

But what is clear is that the president was thinking about this notion not just in that meeting but in subsequent days and even in the subsequent month. Just the next day after this meeting, he was at Bedminster with some of his top foreign policy advisers and this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm not going to rule out a military option. We have troops all over the world, in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not far away. The people are suffering and they're dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: So, you hear him there the day after that meeting talking about a possible military option against Venezuela. The president subsequently continued to raise that possibility in meetings with Latin American leaders, all of whom were very adamant with the president that they did not want this, the president's own national security advisers also warned him such an option could backfire.

But it does kind of emphasize the nature in which the president has talked about these kinds of military options and the way that some of his foreign policy aides have really had to try to dissuade him not only with Venezuela but with North Korea as well.

We reported that back in January, the president sought to evacuate military families from there, something that the president's advisers were worried could signal some kind of a war-time footing from the U.S. and could put the U.S. and North Korea on the brink of war -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Jeremy, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

Joining me right now, Jeffrey Prescott, former senior director of President Obama's National Security Council. Jeffrey, thanks for coming in.

JEFFREY PRESCOTT, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SPECIAL ASSISTANT, NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So, first, I want to ask you about North Korea. We have to talk about this. So, to this point, there hasn't been any concrete progress towards denuclearization that has been made public. The only thing we have seen in public is the contrary actually. So, in your view, what does Mike Pompeo need to get out of these meetings right now?

PRESCOTT: Well, you are absolutely right, he does have a very tall agenda. The agenda is long because of the gap between President Trump's rhetoric and the actions of the North Korean leader. We have not seen any concrete steps toward dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.

We have seen reports that the North Koreans may be expanding their facilities.

The gap between President Trump's rhetoric and the actions of the North Korean leader. We have not seen any concrete steps toward dismantling North Korea's nuclear program. We have seen reports that the North Koreans may be expanding their facilities.

[11:20:09] There may even be secret facilities we don't know about. We are seeing reports that they are starting to come to life. So, I think there is a lot of work here that Pompeo needs to tackle to really bridge the gap if it's possible between Trump's rhetoric about this being solved and what we are seeing on the ground in North Korea.

BOLDUAN: If the measure of a good deal to the Trump administration is getting one that is better than the Iran deal, which, of course, the president pulled out of, what does that deal need to look like?

PRESCOTT: Well, I think at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves the question, does North Korea still have nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them to the United States. That's the bottom line security concern that we should have.

Now, there are a lot of steps we need to take to get from here to there. First one could be getting North Koreans to declare and list all of the facilities, all of the sites, stockpile that they have.

It doesn't seem like Pompeo has been able to get that out of his two prior trips to North Korea so far. So, I think we need to look for concrete actions on the North Korean side before we declare mission accomplished here.

BOLDUAN: John Bolton over the weekend said that they have a plan to denuclearize North Korea in a year. Does that seem feasible to you?

PRESCOTT: Well, I think that's a very tall order. First of all, we have to see some evidence of intent on the North Korean side to go down that road.

BOLDUAN: I'm definitely putting the cart before the horse on this but regardless.

PRESCOTT: It's a very complicated matter. North Korea may have up to 60 nuclear weapons. They have the ability to produce six more a year at least. There are a number of facilities we don't know about. A lot of their infrastructure is underground and hidden away even with our incredible intelligence community.

It's probably likely that we don't have complete visibility into the entire program. So, first you have to know what's there. Then you have to begin a painstaking process of beginning to account for it and dismantle it. Again, we have seen very little indication that North Korea is willing to go there.

It's useful to contract the Iran nuclear deal. There Iran had to ship out 97 percent of its enriched uranium material before they got any sanctions relief. They had to have international inspectors crawling all over the country.

They had to have essentially lock down their program, so that they could not if they wanted to create a single nuclear weapon. North Korea is obviously a much more complicated problem given the stockpile that they already have.

BOLDUAN: On Venezuela, did President Obama ever think out loud about potentially invading the country?

PRESCOTT: Well, it's -- certainly not. It's one thing to think out loud. It's another thing for that to spill into public or talk about it in public as you just were demonstrating through the clip of President Trump essentially voicing these thoughts.

And frankly, I think there's little better gift you could give to the Maduro regime than to turn the focus on the United States as the external threat to them rather than on the dysfunctional politics and the poor leadership that Maduro has brought to the country.

So, this is an example where the region wants to see a change and put pressure on Venezuela. It's hard for them to do that when the United States seems like it's the outside aggressor.

BOLDUAN: I need to take on something the president has been pushing out, that part of the -- as part of the Iran deal, the Obama administration agreed to, was also to agree to granting citizenship to some 2,500 Iranians. I know that you have had a few things to say about that. Is there any truth to it?

PRESCOTT: No, there's not. It's an absurd tweet. What's interesting about it is President Trump was essentially tweeting out the thoughts of an anti-U.S.-Iranian hardline cleric that Fox News had picked up in an online story.

So, I don't know what the decision-making process is from reading that kind of story, looking at that source that's completely unsubstantiated and then putting out the tweet. It seems to fit a pattern where the president is focused on short-term point scoring and closing sight of our broader strategic interest. That's certainly true when it comes to Iran.

BOLDUAN: Jeffrey, I talked to allies of the president and their response to me on this is, well, no one has proven the negative so.

PRESCOTT: Well, it's very easy to go on the Department of Homeland Security website. You can look at the numbers of Iranians that were granted legal permanent residence or were naturalized as U.S. citizens through the Bush administration and the Obama administration.

The numbers are basically -- they go up and down a little bit each year, but they're essentially consistent over two administrations. So, the idea that there's some outlier here is absurd.

BOLDUAN: Absurd. Jeffrey Prescott, thanks for coming in. Really appreciate it.

PRESCOTT: Thank you.

[11:25:00] BOLDUAN: Still ahead, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan facing reporters, answering questions and defiant as ever, denying he turned a blind eye years ago to sex abuse and never reporting it when he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State. We will have an update on that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the crisis at the border right now. No, we still have no update on the number of children still in detention or the number of children who have been reunited with their families because still the federal government says they will not be providing any more updates.

Now we do know one thing, the federal government is using DNA testing now, they say, to speed up the process of reuniting families.

CNN's Nick Valencia is here to help break the story. He is joining me now. He is outside the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas. Nick, what are you learning about this?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we were first made aware that this was happening from an immigration attorney named Sophia Greg. She has clients inside the Port Isabel Detention Center. That's where we are standing in front of.