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U.K. Couple Poisoned by Same Agent Used on Ex-Russian Spy; Pompeo to Meet with North Korean Leader on Reality of Denuclearization Plans; Trump Finalizing Supreme Court Pick. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired July 5, 2018 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two people have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.

[05:59:16] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He couldn't speak to me. He was making funny noises. Hallucinating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The forensic trail goes back to Moscow. How much more of this stuff is around Britain?


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe Chairman Kim Jong-un understands the urgency of completing denuclearization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Korea never follows through. You must verify before you even trust.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, July 5, 6 a.m. here in New York. John Avlon here, as well, hanging onto the Fourth of July as long as he possibly can.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Out of my cold, dead hands.

BERMAN: It's like Ramadan. It's a month long.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Holding the flag. You like it.

BERMAN: All right. We do begin with an international mystery surrounded by possible espionage, accusations and fear. Counterterror investigators say a couple in England has been exposed to the same military-grade nerve agent that was used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter in March. The Russians were accused of plotting that first attack, but what about this one?

Here, the man and woman were reportedly found frothing at the mouth, hallucinating and incoherent. Officials do not know if they were exposed to the same batch of nerve agent that was somehow left over or if this was a new stand-alone deliberate attack.

What we do know is that the rhetoric between the U.K. and Russia is rising and rising fast this morning.

Also this morning, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he departed for North Korea. He will meet with Kim Jong-un to try to figure out if North Korea really does plan to denuclearize. It's an open question. Despite the president's claim that the nuclear threat has disappeared, photos have revealed that North Korea could be trying to advance their nuclear capacity.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, President Trump is still deciding who the next Supreme Court nominee will be. The president is expected to finalize his choice today or tomorrow. So will he make his pick based on judicial records or a candidate's biography or his personal chemistry with them?

And a new twist in the nation's immigration criss. A federal official tells CNN that DNA testing is now being done on the children and the parents separated at the border as part of the process of trying to reunite them. This comes as the U.S. government still refuses to tell us how many children they have in custody and when and how they will return them to their parents.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Nic Robertson. He's live from Amesbury, England, the site of the attack. What's the latest, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Alisyn, what we know is that two people were taken from the premises behind me on Saturday afternoon. First, a woman named locally by residents here and in local media as Dawn Sturgess, 44 years old, was taken away by an ambulance on Saturday.

A few hours later, the man who had been with her and had originally been involved in calling the ambulance for her, Charlie Rowley, 45 years old, was also taken away in an ambulance. Described to be not in a lucid state, in a zombie like state.

They've been taken to a hospital in Salisbury, about eight miles away, to the same hospital that the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were taken to in March for treatment with a nerve agent, Novichok.

What the police are saying is that their condition in the hospital remains critical. They're also saying that they're not ruling out the possibility that these two incidents could be linked. The police are not saying, because they don't know yet, whether or not this is a new batch of Novichok nerve agent that this latest couple have been exposed to or whether it is remnants of the previous nerve agent usage here.

The concern, of course, among the local population is that some residual amounts may -- of that previous nerve agent attack may have been left lying around, that it wasn't properly cleaned up. Police are giving residents here a similar warning that they gave him last time following the attack, and that is if your clothes -- if you have been in the area of the five different places that are right now being cordoned and searched, in you were in those areas, then you should wash your clothes, you should clean your phone, clean your bags, clean your glasses. And if you have clothes that require dry cleaning, they should be put in a bag and sealed.

So of course, this kind of information is of concern here. Police are saying there isn't zero risk. A little risk is how they're describing it.

BERMAN: All right. Nic Robertson for us in England.

Want to bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell; CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.

Josh, I want to start with you. I think people are waking thinking, "Why are we talking about this? Why so much alarm over this attack?" And I think the reason is because Novichok doesn't just happen. This is a very specific nerve agent, Josh, that comes from a very specific place and points in a very specific direction. Explain to us what we're talking about here.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right, John. We're talking about a very deadly nerve agent, if you think about some of the more familiar types of nerve agents, you know, VX and the like. I mean, this is many times more deadly than that. So the fact that this is even out there is obviously of great concern.

But secondly, this is the type of agent that can only come from one place. I mean, this is the Russian calling card.

I was talking yesterday with a weapons of mass destruction scientist who said that, you know, this is so sensitive, you wouldn't go on the record and talk about. But one thing that's interesting is that you don't have to have a top-secret clearance to know about this agent, because so much about it is now in the public space. It was actually a Russian scientist, Vil Myrzayanov, who actually wrote a book about it. He was one of the founders and described this as an agent that exists purely for mass slaughter of civilians.

[06:05:06] So it's a very deadly agent, and the fact that we're now seeing it again, obviously, very serious for authorities over in the U.K.

CAMEROTA: Phil, it's so chilling. The details that we know, these -- this couple, or these two people, who don't seem to have any Russian connections whatsoever. They were foaming at the mouth. They were found in a zombie-like state, delusional.

I mean, what if this is just -- the idea that this is just residual stuff lurking out there at, you know, different -- on different doorknobs or at different fairs, is terrifying.

AVLON: That's right.

CAMEROTA: So as an investigator, Phil, where do you start? PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The first place you start is back in March. You're trying to recreate, obviously, the pattern of life of the individuals, the Skripals, the father and his daughter, who were almost killed by this agent.

The problem you're looking at in this case is you can't recreate the steps of the assassins who were carrying the material. I'm going to guess, at this point, that if this was residual, that this is not a new attack, but if you're living in that village or around that village, you've got to say, "When does this end?"

The recklessness of this attack, when the president is going in for a meeting with -- with Vladimir Putin, for a Russian agent to walk into a NATO ally and conduct an operation like this that could put at risk the lives or hundreds of thousands of people. Remarkable when the president's going to go into a meeting with Vladimir Putin next week and say, "Hey, how do we move forward on our relationship?"

BERMAN: And John, we just got a statement from Dmitry Peskov, the Russian foreign minister, talking to the BBC. He says that Moscow categorically denies any involvement here. They say that Moscow is alarmed by this poisoning and says, quote, "We are worried by the repeated use of such substances in Europe, although on the other hand, we have no information about what substance was used."

AVLON: Well, I mean, look, the Russians, as usual, are you know, not going to take responsibility. What we do know is that this particular agent is associated with the USSR. It is a proprietary nerve agent, in effect.

What I think is questionable is why Russia, which has a record of performing sort of chemical agent assassinations, usually on former Soviet or Russian spy assets. The polonium attack against Litvinenko. The Skripals, who were attacked and apparently targeted in this same area a few months ago. These two individuals don't seem, at this point, to have any of the usual calling cards associated with folks that Russia would typically target. And it's happening, of course, during the World Cup, ahead of a NATO meeting and the Putin-Trump summit.

But they can't simply wash their hands of this agent, because it is characteristic and developed by the USSR and carried forward by Russia.

CAMEROTA: Josh, it's just so scary. This -- where this latest poisoning was is a 20-minute drive from where the first two were poisoned. And so what does that mean? It's just traveling in the air? It's traveling on somebody's clothing?

I mean, the idea that what Nic Robertson just told us, of what the people in Amesbury have to do: to seal your dry cleaning, go watch your glasses, wash your phone? That is cold comfort, I think, for people who don't know where this nerve agent is.

CAMPBELL: No, you're absolutely right. Yes, and obviously, law enforcement, security services are having to do a bit of a balancing act. So there's an ongoing investigation that still is continuing from the Skripal investigation. That is ongoing, but at some point, there's also a public safety issue, where there's a lot they want to keep to the vest, as they try to track down who did it, to include even the method. You know, whether it was a powder or, you know, some type of liquid.

But obviously, now with the public very concerned and they're trying to get, you know, a warning out that "We want to ensure that you're safe," they have to be a little more forthcoming.

What's interesting with this particular investigation now is that we can assume that these are now going to be fused. The focus for law enforcement and for the security services is now to build out what they know about this couple.

You know, when the exposure first happened, June 30, there was this question, of course, maybe this was some type of drug overdose. A lot of the symptoms are the same, where you have respiratory and cardiac distress. Now obviously, they can rule that out in short order, and now it looks like some type of agent.

But now, you know, as Phil was mentioning, they have to focus on what do these people mean? What is their life story? And really dig into them and their pattern of life, to ensure that, A, they weren't targeted. I tend to believe that they probably weren't. This would be, you know, so brazen. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're in the woods. Because if you do have this residual nerve agent that is right around town, as you mentioned, you know, within a 20-kilometer area, it's very concerning for everyone in that vicinity.

BERMAN: And Phil, even if they weren't targeted -- and I don't think that makes it any easier for the U.K. to accept here. Now you have four victims of this nerve agent attack that they flat-out accuse Russia of perpetrating back in April. So U.K., to an extent, this is going to be diplomatically complicated. They're going to have to hold Russia responsible for this, as well.

MUDD: Complicated? I mean, let's play this scenario out for just a second, John. We have a highly controversial meeting by the president of the United States to the U.K. next week. The press overnight in the U.K. is asking Theresa May, the prime minister, what the heck are you getting out of your relationship with Donald Trump?

The president is going to walk in a few weeks after being at a very controversial and difficult G-7 meeting in Canada, where he suggested that they re-invite -- that is the G-7 -- Russia back into it to make it the G-8.

[06:10:08] Theresa May -- let's cut to the chase -- has got to look him in the eye and say, "What's up with this? You're going to Moscow to deal with Vladimir Putin, who supports Assad using chemicals against his own people, who's brought in assassins to my country, and you want to invite him into the G-8 -- G-7? What's up with this?"

That's going to be a tough meeting, John. AVLON: And I won't discount what John was talking about before. I

think it's a great point. The England soccer team is in Russia right now for the World Cup. You essentially have the most high-profile delegation you could possibly imagine of British citizens right now in Russia, which I can only imagine complicates the whole situation.

Josh, Phil, thanks so much. A lot more to talk about there.

Plus, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, he's on his way to North Korea as we speak. This has been described by some experts as a make- or-break meeting. By Monday, we could know if North Korea really does intend to carry through with any of the promises it made to President Trump.


CAMEROTA: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way to North Korea, his third trip in three months. America's top diplomat will meet with Kim Jong-un as there is growing scrutiny about whether North Korea will really dismantle their nuclear programs.

[06:15:08] So joining us now is CNN's Will Ripley, who has been to North Korea 18 times; and Gordon Chang, columnist for "The Daily Beast" and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

Gordon, I want to start with you. There have been some troubling signs since the summit that President Trump and Kim Jong-un had that the North may not be serious about whatever they promised to President Trump.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": Certainly, there has been these reports about increased production of fissile material, the completion of a construction on a facility that North Korea makes its ballistic missiles, all sorts of things.

And then, the most troubling sign of all is that you have President Trump at the end of last month in Fargo saying that negotiations with North Korea are like slow cooking a turkey. It's better when it takes a long time. Now from our perspective, time is on Kim's side, not ours. And so when I hear the president saying, "Well, this is a long process," this really bothers me, because we have given the North Koreans a lot of incentive to sort of drag out this process.

AVLON: And John, he's headed there in the midst of mixed messages from different parts of the administration.

AVLON: Oh, there's apparently -- the bad blood between John Bolton, national security advisor, and Secretary of State Pompeo seems to have continued. The secretary of state's spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, really criticizing, dissing implicitly John Bolton and his statement about a broader time line. We've got sound on that if you want to take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We have developed a program. I'm sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future, about really, how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year.

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I know some individuals have given timelines. We're not going to provide a timeline for that. A lot of work is left to be done, certainly. We go into this eyes wide open. Very clear -- with a very clear view of these conversations.


BERMAN: Dissing implicitly. That's displicitly.

AVLON: Displicitly, yes. That's very cold from the State Department podium there.

But it really is. I mean, you've got these two big figures, both jockeying for their own influence over the president, but Pompeo making that return trip. The problem is, as the world has seen, the president coming out of the summit with really rosy projections about denuclearization, and North Korea apparently doing the exact opposite.

CAMEROTA: Well, how is it playing from your side of the world?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, look, they have it written into their constitution that they're a nuclear power. Kim Jong-un has built up much of his legitimacy for more than six years because he had built a nuclear arsenal. They're not just going to give that up within a few months. That 12-month time line is just not realistic. It's going to be probably at the tail end of the denuclearization process, if the North Koreans have their way.

But look, I've chatted with North Korean officials about this, and they say that Kim is serious about denuclearization. He sees the long-term benefits for his country and his people if they can do this. But above any economic incentives, they always prioritize their security of their government and keeping Kim Jong-un in power.

So until they build more trust with the United States, build more rapport and get some security guarantees, they're not giving up those nukes.

BERMAN: So Gordon, I don't want to reveal our private conversations, but 25 minutes ago, we were two men in makeup, basically. And you said to me that by Monday we could know if the United States has suffered one of its biggest diplomatic collapses ever, in terms of what has been going on with North Korea. Explain to me.

CHANG: Well, President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have said, look, the -- Kim Jong-un has made this strategic decision to give up his nukes. And what we have done, then, is we have given the North Koreans a lot of concessions. First of all, we are allowing them to hollow out the sanctions. We're

not designating their new front companies. They change front companies all the time.

Also the other thing, and this is even more important, we have suspended the joint military exercises with South Korea.

You know, over time, we hollow out our readiness and our alliance with the South. The North Koreans have not made a reciprocal promise. Their summer training cycle is going to continue, and our freedom guardian exercises, which are at the same time, are not. And that gives the North Koreans sort of preparedness to go to war. We won't be prepared to defend. So this is a problem for us.

Now if Kim has made this decision, no problem for us. This is OK diplomacy. We've given Kim the one opportunity to make an historic decision. But if Kim hasn't made that historic decision, we're putting our forces at risk. We could still win a war on the Korean Peninsula, but at much greater casualties, not only for us but also for the South Koreans.

CAMEROTA: So Gordon, what are you looking for with Secretary of State Pompeo? What are you hoping he comes back with? What would codify -- you know, what would make all of this -- make you feel better?

CHANG: It would be a statement, signed by Kim Jong-un, pledging to give up all nukes, pledging to give up ballistic missiles, to dismantle the infrastructure for his weapons, and also to permit the strictest inspections regime on earth.

CAMEROTA: But a statement. You would be satisfied with a statement signed by Kim?

[06:20:02] CHANG: Yes, of course. I mean, at this early stage, that is going to be important. We didn't get that in Singapore on June 12. We just got this vague joint statement which said that Kim is on the path to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is his mind means the U.S. giving up their nukes, as well.

So, you know, this is a very important distinction about complete denuclearization of the peninsula, and I'm willing to give up my weapons soon.

BERMAN: Will, Gordon actually planted a question with me for you. Which is that there have been signs over the last month that Kim and the North Korean military might not actually be walking hand in hand. He replaced some top generals, executed another one here. If he doesn't have complete control over the military, how does that complicate the negotiations?

RIPLEY: Well, you know, North Korea is one of the few countries where a leader can march the country in one direction and say, "We're going to build nukes. We're going to build nukes" then snap his fingers and the next day say, "All right, we're not going to do the nukes any more. We're going to get rid of them." Kim Jong-un does have that power internally. And anybody who dissents is gone, as we've seen play it.

But I do think it's going to be a challenge getting the North Koreans to be transparent about their highly-secretive nuclear program. America has been North Korea's enemy for more than six decades. To think that, in the course of, you know, a day on the ground in Pyongyang, Secretary Pompeo is going to get a commitment to allow American or international inspectors to some of the most secretive sights and share their national security secrets, that seems like a long shot to me.

CAMEROTA: OK. Will Ripley, Gordon Chang, thank you very much for your expertise on all of this. Obviously, we will need you on standby.

Meanwhile, the country is waiting to hear who President Trump will pick to be his Supreme Court nominee. And what the -- what the secret sauce is? Is it their qualifications? Is it his personal chemistry? We know he's met with some of them. So we'll dive into that next.

BERMAN: Spiced mayonnaise is always the secret.


[06:26:10] BERMAN: CNN has learned that President Trump is expected to finalize his Supreme Court pick today or tomorrow before the big announcement Monday night. This comes as the president embarks on three major international trips.

Our Abby Phillip live at the White House with the latest -- Abby.


We are down to the wire for the president's Supreme Court pick, and as you noted, the president's aides are hoping that he will make a decision by today or tomorrow. That's because they want to have the weekend to do some of the ground work to prepare for what will be a primetime rollout on Monday night of this pick.

It's possible that the president could have two or three names that get sent around to aides so they can start this process of vetting the nominee thoroughly, preparing all the documents and materials for the rollout.

But in the meantime, the president has been working the phones here at the White House. He went to his golf course in Virginia yesterday on the Fourth of July. And on the way there, while he was there making calls to lawmakers and to conservatives.

And what he's been getting back are some comments about some of the top nominees that we've been hearing a lot about. One of them, Brett Kavanaugh, a circuit court judge who is very popular both inside and outside of the White House, but also has some conservatives worried, because some feel that maybe he's not conservative enough. They have been offering some criticisms of some recent opinions on the Affordable Care Act and some other matters. But Kavanaugh still in favorite, in part because he has a long paper trail, over 300 opinions to his name.

Other candidates, including a woman candidate, whom we reported earlier this week the president is seeking potentially to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court. Amy Coney Barrett also another popular name, she has gained a lot of popularity among conservatives. Because she was perceived as being attacked by Democrats for her religion.

But there are also some conservatives worried that she's simply not experienced enough. She doesn't have nearly the long list -- laundry list of decisions to her name.

In the meantime, the president, we know, has already talked to seven candidates this week in in-person meetings and on the phone. These conversations will continue. Vice President Mike Pence is also phoning or having meetings with some of these potential nominees.

So we are leading up to Monday night when the president there announce this. He has to do it then because he is leaving for a long swing in Europe, heading to Brussels for a NATO meeting. Then on to London, and then on to Scotland and Helsinki, where that critical meeting with Vladimir Putin is going to be happening.

So there is a lot on the president's docket. And the White House and the president really wants to get this off his plate. He needs to have a clear slate before what could be several contentious meetings with foreign leaders in the next week or so -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for all of that background.

So who will the president pick for his Supreme Court nominee? There are some hints, and we'll share those next.