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Report: Trump Calls Off North Korea Talks Over Lack of Progress; Trump Organization CFO Granted Immunity in Mueller Probe; Senator McCain Discontinues Treatment for Brain Cancer. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: We begin with breaking news on this Friday. Just 70 some days since the president's meeting with the North Korean dictator and he is conceding that things are not going as he had hoped. He just tweeted this, quote, "I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea at this time because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Additionally, because of our much tougher trading stance with China, I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were despite the UN sanctions which are in place. Secretary Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future. Most likely after our trading relationship with China is resolved. In the meantime, I would like to send my warmest regards and respects to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon."

Remember right after the summit with Kim Jung-Un, Trump praised himself saying that there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Joining us now, CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr and Julian Barnes, national security reporter for the "New York Times" who covers intelligence agencies

Elise, let me start with you. This trip, this upcoming trip for Pompeo, was just announced yesterday and now a flip. Why the about- face?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Secretary Pompeo announced that he was going to North Korea as he was rolling out the announcement of his new envoy, Steve Biegun, a former adviser under George W. Bush to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others, no necessarily North Korean experience, but a lot of experience in Asia. He said he was going to North Korea. But curiously the State Department said he had no expectations of meeting with Kim Jung-Un.

So, there was obviously a lot of consternation why the Secretary of State would be making another trip he was just there about a month ago, Kim Jung-Un did not meet with him, and there is a lot of concern in the meantime about North Korea continuing to develop its nuclear weapons program. Barbara can go into that in more detail. But most recently the IAEA just this week came out with a report saying that it had very grave concerns that North Korea's nuclear development was going unabated. So obviously the president called in Secretary Pompeo just moments ago, he was with Andrew Kim, the director of the CIA that deals with North Korea, one of Secretary Pompeo's closest advisers on North Korea. Obviously, the assessment was made that now is not a good time for Secretary Pompeo to go there. I love how at the end though President Trump gives his warmest wishes to the North Korean leader. And says he is looking forward to meeting him. But obviously this is a real slap to the North Koreans who were expecting him.

CABRERA: Julian, this is the president admitting it is not going well and all signs had been pointing to a lack of progress, but the president in the past has continued to sort of put on a happy face about all of this. So, his change in tone is also noteworthy.

JULIAN BARNES, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": It is. I mean, what is noteworthy about this is Trump's change of tone. You know, North Korea experts have been predicting something like this. You know, there has been a big difference between the North Korean actions. They have continued to make ICBMs, they continue to work on nuclear fuel. There has not been a real change in posture there. But nor did they agree to that after the Singapore summit. So there has been a lot of signs that we were headed toward a setback like this.

CABRERA: Barbara, more can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CHIEF PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. military and intelligence officials looking at it have been very sober minded the entire time. I don't think anybody expected Mike Pompeo to go to Pyongyang and get a clean win out of this. Perhaps the way Mr. Trump wanted. What we do know is the UN international nuclear, the IAEA, issued a report, grave concern about North Korea's weapons program, detailing site by site in their weapons program what was going on. Their continued work on reactors, on nuclear fuel, no indication that they were giving up any of that. And they have not promised to at this point with any kind of specificity. Commercial satellite imagery just coming out showing that some minimal dismantlement activity at a launch station had apparently been halted.

And things were just very status quo there, no further dismantlement. It was this kind of thing that was beginning to cause some concern and beginning to make people ask the critical question, has Kim Jung-Un made the strategic decision in his own mind to give up his nuclear weapons in the irreversible verifiable way that President Trump has said he must do.

[14:05:00] And there is no indication that he has. Nothing has really been signed that would lead to that. For that to happen, Kim has to make a lot of decisions and foremost, he lets international inspectors in, he lets them look at everything, unannounced, they can just show up. He makes honest declarations about what his inventory is. The U.S. thinks he is likely working on nuclear tipped missiles. So, would he agree to all of this. We're miles away from that ever happening and a lot of concern that right now this is, you know, a big detour on the road to that.

CABRERA: All right. Thank you all.

On top of this, the week is ending with what the president will likely view as another bombshell betrayal from his inner circle. The week started with his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleading guilty to eight criminal counts implicating Trump in some of them. Now a source says federal prosecutors granted immunity to Allen Weisselberg in the case against Cohen. Weisselberg is the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization and he becomes the third known high level Trump ally to work with federal investigators. He joins Cohen and David Pecker the head of the company that publishes the "National Enquirer" who reportedly was granted immunity as well. Pecker and Weisselberg were both mentioned in that secret recording Cohen made as he talked to Trump weeks before the 2016 election. They were discussing setting up an account to pay off on a Playboy model who alleged an affair with Trump. The hush money was one of the campaign finance crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to Tuesday.


MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S FORMER LAWYER: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that I'm going to do that right away. I've actually -- I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding -- yes. And it is all the stuff. Because you never know where that company --


COHEN: Correct.


CABRERA: Let me turn now to CNN's Kara, what do we know about what Weisselberg has told prosecutors? Sources tell myself and Evan Perez that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan which has been investigating Michael Cohen granted Allen Weisselberg immunity and that Weisselberg went in and spoke with investigators several weeks ago, that during that interview, they asked him questions about Michael Cohen and payments that the Trump Organization made to Cohen. Of course, one of those was to reimburse Cohen for the payments he made to Stormy Daniels. And we're also told that Weisselberg has not been called back, which suggests that perhaps this is very limited and does not expand into a greater investigation into the Trump Organization. But Weisselberg is one of the most senior people in the Trump Organization, he's worked there for decades. He was very close when Trump became president. He was one of the people aside from his sons that was put in charge of the company. And we spoke to a former employee of the Trump Organization who described Weisselberg as critical in the money trial. He said that Allen knows where the financial bodies are buried, Allen knows every deal, he knows every dealership, he knows every sale, anything and everything that has been done, he knows every membership, anything that you can think of.

So, he is just like you said a very critical long-time ally of Donald Trump's. He is yet another person to cooperate with the U.S. attorney's office investigating Michael Cohen and it is another new revelation this week in a week of a lot of revelations.

CABRERA: No doubt about it. Thank you for that reporting. It was just yesterday that the president made this comment on cooperating witnesses. Flippers, as he called them.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People make up stories. This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping for the 30, 40 years I've been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get ten years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is. Or as high as you can go. It almost should be outlawed, it is not fair.


CABRERA: Joining us for more perspective, Tristan Snell, former assistant attorney general of New York State, and former Trump organization executive, Barbara Res, who worked for Trump for nearly 18 years. She wrote the book, "All Alone on the 68th Floor -- How One Woman Changed the Face of Construction."

Welcome to you both. Barbara, because of your personal knowledge of this family and this organization, I'll start with you. What can you tell us about Weisselberg and his involvement, his depth of knowledge of the Trump Organization?

[14:10:00] BARBARA RES, WORKED FOR TRUMP FOR NEARLY 18 YEARS: You know, it is a very interesting question because Weisselberg served in several roles. And when I was there, he actually was in charge of accounting and financing for the Brooklyn development which was a whole bunch of apartment buildings. I left Trump and when I came back, I think it was when I came back that he was installed as executive vice president in Trump's office in Manhattan, Trump Tower. Andy had a staff there. And again, he was doing all the accounting functions, paying bills, things like that.

At the time I did not think, although he was an executive vice president like myself, I didn't think that he was so much in the inner circle with Donald. I think he was more, you know, an every day pay the bill, see the payroll, that kind of thing. Over time it is very possible that he may have changed his position. When I heard that he was being granted immunity, my knee jerk was immunity for what? I didn't think that Allen would necessarily have committed a crime that he could be charged with. But now I realize that as scary as Trump is, Mueller is scarier. And I think that Allen probably said I will talk, or his lawyers probably advised him, but you have to grant me immunity just in case there is something that you think I may have done wrong that you can charge me with. That would be my gut on it.

CABRERA: And what do you think Trump is thinking right now?

RES: About Allen? He may have known it since it happened a while ago. But as far as what he is thinking about these people turning on him, I think he is probably extremely angry, very, very angry and maybe a little surprised, although I don't think he should be surprised.

CABRERA: Right. Because as you point out, this has been building as part of not only the Mueller probe, but as we've learned more and more about Cohen being under investigation in the Southern District of New York. So, Tristan, let me ask you, when we talk about this individual being granted immunity and now we know his specific involvement in the Trump organization and directly tied to the financial side of the organization, what information would be useful to investigators?

TRISTAN SNELL, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW YORK STATE: THE thing is that Weisselberg did in fact know where every nickel came in, he knows where every nickel went out. He was actually involved with making business decisions regarding different wings of the Trump organization. Anything that they were doing, he would know exactly where those payments were made. So you know, I think with regard to the Stormy Daniels affair and those items, if he was in fact the one who set up the payments to those folks as Michael Cohen's tape suggested he did, you know, obviously he may be able to have information or corroborate additional evidence or corroborate the evidence that the prosecutors already have on that front. I think the real question is what could he know potentially regarding the Trump campaign? Was he involved with any payments that might have gone through the Trump organization and then either gone to Trump's personal bank account or to the presidential campaign. And I mean that is where this really starts to turn into an even bigger question.

CABRERA: And so, I wonder, because our reporting is that he was offered immunity specifically for the campaign investigation. But given -- immunity is pretty big. Would prosecutors have offered that just to prosecute Michael Cohen?

SNELL: Offering immunity in any case like this means that the witness was not only willing to be cooperative, but that the witness also actually had information that the prosecutors thought was worthy of the immunity. So, we don't know exactly what it is that he said that he would be willing to work on with prosecutors, but it is possible that we could think that maybe there is something larger here than just the issues surrounding Michael Cohen and the Stormy Daniels payment. But even then, you know, I think one thing that is also sort of key here is that those payments right before the election are in themselves -- I think we almost minimize or -- we really treat those with less gravity than they ought to be treated. If the Russia probe with Mueller didn't exist, this would itself be something that we would be thinking is very legally and politically important.

[014:15:00] If Bill Clinton had done these things back in the '90s, if he had been accused of giving hush money to women with whom he had affairs on the eve of the election, he would have -- I mean, he would have been impeached over that, he would have been convicted over that he might have resigned over that. It would have dwarfed what actually ended up happening. Because of the Russia probe, this almost looks like a side show, but it itself, I mean this actually could have arguably influenced the 2016 election if those affairs had come out in October of 2016, there is an excellent chance that Trump wouldn't have been elected. So, there is a lot of gravity just around the Cohen investigation even if you put the whole Mueller thing a side.

CABRERA: Barbara, you point on out that Weisselberg has been with the Trump Organization for a very long time. We know how much President Trump then candidate Trump and private Trump at the top of the organization, how much he prizes loyalty.

RES: Absolutely.

CABRERA: So that speaks to Weisselberg I suppose, the fact that he has been with him so lodge. But is this proof that loyalty only runs so deep?

RES: I think loyalty is something we should all think about what it means. You are loyal to a person for many reasons. But not for reasons that have to do with worker or anything that is illegal or even immoral, unethical. I don't think that anybody has the right to demand loyalty for that kind of thing. Certainly, loyalty in terms of working together, doing the right thing, keeping secrets when needed to be kept, running the business properly, those are the kinds of things I think loyal I did should ty should be about, not turning in someone that did something wrong. But again, in this case, I don't think that Allen necessarily is in that role. I think it is more that he knows where money went and where it came from, and also, he may know something about whether or not there is Russian money involved in any of this and that may be of interest to the investigation.

CABRERA: We did know the Trump organization was subpoenaed for some specific documents and we had reported back in March that it had to do specific with Russian business contacts. Thank you both for joining us. Appreciate it. One by one, friends and former aides of Republican political operative Roger Stone have offered their testimony to Robert Mueller, special counsel, all except one. Meet the pot farming house painting Roger Stone aide who is resisting Mueller. That is coming up.

Also, he is an icon of the Senate, John McCain making the difficult decision today to discontinue medical treatment for brain cancer a year after his diagnosis. More on his condition and reaction from lawmakers, his friends and his family next.


CABRERA: Senator John McCain who is battling brain cancer has decided to stop his medical treatments. His family released a statement saying in part, since his diagnosis last year, john has surpassed expectations for his survival, but the progress of disease and the in- exorable advance of age render their verdict. With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment. His wife tweeting, "I love my husband with all of my heart. God bless everyone who has care for my husband along this journey."

And joining us now, CNN political commentator, Doug Heye, we have seen an outpouring of support for Senator McCain, he has made a tremendous mark on politics and our country.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and if you look at the statement the family put out, talk about exceeding expectations, everything John McCain has done has really exceeded expectations and his story is so well-known to us that we sometimes forget the extraordinariness of this. It wasn't just that he was a POW in Vietnam for five years, he was told repeatedly you can leave now and somebody else will take your place and he said no, I'm not skipping the line. You talk about duty and honor, exemplifies that in a way that most Americans can't comprehend behind. I certainly can't.

CABRERA: And when you think about what he has experienced in his life. And the way that he has fought. Fought for his convictions, fought for his country. You mentioned he was a prisoner of war for five year. The list of awards he has been given, it speaks to his character. Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross. And then you look at some of his brave political moves. Even just most recently his health care vote, speaking out about Gina Haspel against much of his party. This is a person who again speaks from the heart. What do you think his biggest contribution is?

HEYE: Two things. One obviously what he's done in the Vietnam War can never be discounted because it is so extraordinary what he went through in a way that so many people again can't comprehend.

[14:25:00] But then the fighting spirit that he brought to the Senate. Having worked in the senate, quite often you thought John McCain is such a pain in the neck. And there is a reason for that because he fought tooth and nail on everything. And if you are a Republican, time and time again he was willing to stand up to his own party and say no and it could be frustrating. But you knew it was because he was fighting for his state, for the country and doing what ultimately, he thought was right.

CABRERA: Any lessons learned that other politicians should know?

HEYE: I think there is a big lesson learned, what wire seeing in the Arizona Senate right now, where a lot of people on the Republican side won't even talk about John McCain. Certainly, with this announcement that may change things. You but I think it is a sign of how poisoned or politics have become. People will tell you what good and honorable people they were, what great parents they were. And that is what we need to get back to. And if we look at why things are so functional today, maybe not having John McCain on the stage when we need him to be is one of those reasons.

CABRERA: Doug, thank you so much. Back to the breaking news, yet another long-time confidant of Donald Trump making a deal with the feds for immunity. Are some of the president's most loyal insiders now turning on him? A Trump biographer joins us next. And President Trump tee parting the White House with Melania Trump by his side, Trump who has had plenty to say on Twitter about former lawyer Michael Cohen's deal with prosecutors choosing to ignore questions with his wife by his side, what must have been going through Melania's mind this week. We'll discuss.

Back to our breaking news. Another long time Trump loyal has accepted an immunity deal and agreed to talk with federal prosecutors.