Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Third American Detained in North Korea; Defense Secretary Mattis Visits Afghanistan; Obama Back in Spotlight with Speech; Isaiah Thomas Shines Amid Adversary; Russell Westbrook Defense Thunder Teammates. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 24, 2017 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- seeing on your screen as a bargaining chip and can the United States get him back?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says the U.S. is not looking to start a fight with North Korea but insists the U.S. needs to keep the pressure on amid these escalating tensions.

BERMAN: Yes. And she made those statements just this morning, and this comes as the North Korean regime has detained a U.S. citizen.

You're looking at a picture of him right there. Tony Kim had been teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was taken into custody as he was getting ready to leave the country. He's now the third American being held by North Korea.

The timing this time very important.

[10:35:02] Want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson live from Seoul in South Korea.

Did the regime give any reason for why they're detaining this man?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. So far we haven't heard any confirmation from the government in Pyongyang. And most of the information is coming from the Swedish embassy there because the U.S. and North Korea don't have diplomatic relations. They don't have embassies in each other's countries, and the Swedes are helping with U.S. interests there.

So this was a university professor, Tony Kim. He had been teaching for weeks at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was headed out of the country from the airport when the North Korean authorities took him. And if past track record, past history is any indication, he is in a very serious situation now because there've probably been about a half dozen Americans who have been snatched, some off the plane right before it was about to take off, and most of them, it takes weeks, if not months, for them to be released.

In fact, there are two other Americans currently in detention, a UVA student named Otto Warmbier, and a businessman named Kim Dong-chul. They've faced 15 and 10-year hard labor sentences. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she talked about this this morning on morning news programs, and she says the North Koreans are using this new detainee as a bargaining chip. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I think it's absolutely a bargaining chip. I think that's what their intentions are. Whether that's the case or not is something totally different. What we're dealing with is a leader who is flailing right now, and I think what he's trying to do is show his citizens that he has muscle, whether it's through his rhetoric or whether it's through his actions. That's what he's trying to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: And of course, John and Poppy, this comes as the U.S. is in this stalemate with Pyongyang, which insists that it still has the right to carry out nuclear weapons tests and launch ballistic missiles, all of which are banned by the U.N. Security Council -- John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. Ivan Watson for us in Seoul. Ivan, thanks so much.

A lot of foreign policy questions facing this White House right now and the Defense secretary, Jim Mattis, just touched down in Afghanistan just a short time ago. His focus there, he's trying to build and enhance the strategy of the Trump administration. He held a news conference last hour and warned Afghan Security Forces should expect another tough year.

All this comes as the Afghan Defense minister stepped down following a deadly attack at an Afghan Army base.

Want to bring in CNN senior correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. Nick is actually in Iraq right now, yet another hotspot for this administration.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, a remarkable time for Jim Mattis to touch down in Afghanistan. We understand, actually, he's just on his way out at the moment. But that attack you referred to seems to have led to the loss of life of 140 Afghan soldiers. You heard me right there. Apparently, Taliban disguised themselves as military, sneaking into a base near the northern city of Mazari Sharif, inflicting what is probably the largest single loss of life on the Afghan Military that led to the resignation of the Afghan Defense minister and the army chief of staff.

That was happening in the hours before Jim Mattis touched down. He met Afghan president Ashraf Ghani but was quite clear, had a strong message, frankly, of no bending towards talks with the Taliban. Here's what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: If the Taliban wished to join the political process and work honestly for a positive future for the Afghan people who have suffered long and hard, they need only to renounce violence and reject terrorism. It's a pretty low standard to join the political process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALSH: That's just never going to happen, really. I mean, they've already attempted diplomatic pressures with the Taliban. They're winning, though, on the battlefield now, so the Taliban talking is pretty unlikely, and they have key al Qaeda-affiliated militants in their command structure, so renouncing terrorism is a tough ask as well. So the question is, what is potentially on the table for a new Trump administration policy in Afghanistan? The U.S. in 15 to 16 years has tried the troop surge, they've tried talks, they've tried sending in more trainers to boost the Afghan military. That could be the one option they'll try more of, but very few real choices for Donald Trump -- John.

HARLOW: Nick Paton Walsh for us reporting. Thank you very much, Nick.

Coming up next, out of the South Pacific.

BERMAN: That's right.

HARLOW: The vacation is over for former President Obama. Just a few hours from now, he will return to the public arena with his first post White House public event. What does it have in store? We'll discuss next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:44:03] BERMAN: All right, we have an extremely highly anticipated political re-emergence just hours from now. The former president of the United States, Barack Obama, he will make a return to the spotlight with a speech in Chicago.

HARLOW: Mm-hmm. He is off the yacht.

BERMAN: Off the --

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: That's right.

HARLOW: It's a nice vacationing. They're vacationing. The big question is, is he going to talk directly about President Trump? And if he does, how far is going to go?

Our MJ Lee has all the details. She's been digging, digging, digging. Your reporting kept me up late last night, reading what you're hearing. What do you think we're going to see? MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Hey, John and Poppy. Well,

this is a big moment for President Obama since he left the White House about three months ago, we really have not seen much of him. We know that he has been playing some golf, vacationing in the Caribbean, as you mentioned, Poppy, and we know that Obama and Michelle Obama, the former first lady, they are busy working on their memoirs. But for the most part, they have steered clear of the public spotlight. So when we see President Obama speak behind me in just about an hour or so, he is going to be speaking with young leaders at the University of Chicago, and this will mark the first time that he is speaking out in public in his post presidency.

[10:45:11] We know that he wants to talk about the issue of community organizing, civic engagement, and of course, this is a moment of returning to his roots in some ways for Obama, because this is where Obama got started as a community organizer himself before he got into politics.

Now the question of whether he is going to go after Trump today, I spoke with an Obama adviser last night, and the adviser tells me that that is not Obama's intention today, that he doesn't want to regain the spotlight, get back into the politics of things and that he's really not ready at this moment in time to be a leader among Democrats and that that time may come soon, but that time is not right now.

I also just want to leave you with this final thought. You remember when Obama was close to leaving office, he made it clear that he wants to offer President Trump as much counsel and advice as President Trump is willing to accept.

Well, I asked Obama's adviser last night, have the two men spoken since inauguration day, and the answer is no. Back to you guys.

HARLOW: No phone calls, no get-togethers, no golfing together. All right, MJ Lee, thank you.

BERMAN: Maybe Snapchat. Maybe they Snapchat. Can't rule that out.

HARLOW: I'm having a vision of that.

BERMAN: All right.

HARLOW: President Obama's big speech today in Chicago, it comes just before President Trump's 100th day. Let's talk about this. Larry Sabato is here. He's the director at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Mark Preston joins us, our senior political analyst. Thank you both for being here.

So, Mark, to you, I mean, where does the president stand right now in terms of the importance of -- you know, being a voice for the future of the Democratic Party?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's certainly a void right now because we haven't seen anyone really step into that role at this point. And you know, we do see this at a time when political parties are out of the White House. And certainly now that the congressional majorities are minorities right now for Democrats as well. You know, in many ways, I think that Barack Obama is going to play a very big role at this point. We haven't really seen Elizabeth Warren step up to the point where we thought she would. I know she has a book out and she's doing a tour, but she's also very careful in what she says.

HARLOW: Yes.

PRESTON: Bernie Sanders, I'm surprised, has actually kept the fire lit, in many ways, has kept the energy in the Democratic Party.

BERMAN: Of course, problematic that Bernie Sanders refuses to say he's a Democrat.

PRESTON: Right. Of course.

BERMAN: You know, Bernie Sanders says --

PRESTON: Well, there is that.

HARLOW: Just a minor detail.

BERMAN: The most popular Democrat not a Democrat, Professor Sabato. And when you get to President Obama, you know, Alyssa Mastromonaco, who was a close adviser to President Obama, says, quote, "I think Barack Obama is probably still the leader of the Democratic Party." How much of a problem is that for the Democratic Party?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR FOR THE CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Well, look, the problem is not that Obama is the leader. I think if Democrats had their druthers, President Obama would be out there every day leading the charge against the Trump administration. The problem for Democrats is that that's not what former President Obama wants to do. He wants to have the same kind of life that former presidents before him have had.

HARLOW: Yes.

SABATO: The memoirs, building the library, doing speaking gigs around the world, and all the rest of it. I'm sure he will step up at various times, but Obama knows better than anybody else just how mean and tough Donald Trump can be. I don't think he wants to get in those sights this early. It's too soon.

HARLOW: What does it say, Mark Preston, that the most popular, active politician right now across the board is Bernie Sanders? 57 percent say that, according to "The Hill's" polling. What does that -- someone who does not identify with the party.

PRESTON: Well, he doesn't identify with the party, but in some ways, he's more Democrat than some Democrats are. You know, he certainly plays to a certain segment of the party, a very powerful segment of the party, which is the liberal spectrum of the party. And I think that Bernie Sanders could have just packed his lunch and walked away after losing the nomination but decided to move on in many ways has been a pretty loyal Democrat, even though as John says and, Poppy, you say, he doesn't identify himself with the Democratic Party per se.

Look, it is interesting that you see somebody in his 70s right now being really the most popular, and in some ways, the leader of the Democratic Party.

HARLOW: And someone who's been in politics for a long, long time.

BERMAN: Right. 70's the new 35 or 40.

PRESTON: Right.

BERMAN: Or one of those things.

HARLOW: So I'm 12.

BERMAN: You know, Professor, MJ Lee's reporting on what President Obama is going to talk about and not going to talk about today, including this line, this sort of disclaimer that I do want to read. "President Obama does plan on being forthcoming. If asked about where he stands on specific policy matters, including areas where he and Trump clearly disagree, he may mix it up today."

I mean, do you rule out the possibility that he may stake out some ground, say hey, I don't like these things the current president is doing?

SABATO: No, I'd be surprised if he did do that, given the opportunity, but there's a big difference between giving a speech attacking your successor and responding to questions about your policies and your legacy.

[10:50:06] And again, it's kind of a one-shot deal. What was most interesting to me in MJ Lee's report there was that President Obama and President Trump have not spoken since inauguration day. On the one hand, that's not very surprising, given the tweets that President Obama -- President Trump has sent out about President Obama.

On the other hand, it would have been interesting had they had some exchange about some of these key problems and issues that after all the carry-overs from the Obama administration. So it's just a matter of time, I think, before Obama is more forthright about what Trump is doing.

HARLOW: You know, I wonder, though, Mark Preston, will we see the former President Obama make an appeal to saving some of the key parts of Obamacare, just as he did in that meeting they had in the White House that lasted an hour and a half. And President Trump came out and said during the transition, you know, those were key things that stood with him. Will we hear an appeal from the president -- former President Obama on that today?

PRESTON: I don't think we'll see that today because I don't think that this is necessarily the forum for that, and I don't think he's going to say Donald Trump's name or call him out by name, as Larry noted, because I do think that's right. But I do think -- and he said this when he was leaving office, I'm going to stand up for those who I think need to be represented. And look it, Barack Obama's a very young man right now. He's got a lot of years ahead of him. And right now in some ways the Democratic Party kind of needs Barack Obama.

BERMAN: Mark Preston, Larry Sabato, great to have you guys with us. Appreciate it, gentlemen.

All right, 5'9" but a giant in so many ways. Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas speaks for the first time since just the awful tragic death of his sister. You're going to hear his candid thoughts about that loss. Also how he played through it. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:56:54] BERMAN: All right, Celtics star Isaiah Thomas says his teammates have been instrumental in helping him deal with the tragic death of his sister.

HARLOW: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Good morning, John.

It was just over a week ago that Isaiah Thomas lost his sister, who died in a car crash, and last night he spoke to reporters for the first time since his family's tragedy and he admits that his mind isn't fully focused on the game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISAIAH THOMAS, CELTICS GUARD: Mentally and emotionally I'm not here, so I just feed off what the guys give me. They give me -- they give me a lot of confidence, so I can't do it without those guys. They believe in me. And being here is what makes me, I guess, sane, and makes me feel somewhat normal, I mean, through this tough time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: Incredible, unfathomable, just some of the words that Isaiah Thomas' coach has used to describe his performances, just despite these circumstances. He scored a team-high 33 points last night as the Celtics beat the Bulls, 104-95, tying up that series at two games apiece.

MVP candidate Russell Westbrook doing everything he can to get his Thunder into the second round of the playoffs, but those Rockets, well, they have them on the brink of elimination. Houston won again last night. And after the game, Russell Westbrook got heated when a reporter asked his teammate a question. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, THUNDER GUARD: I don't want nobody to try to split us up. We are one team. If I go to the bench and Steven's on the floor, if I'm on the floor, we're in this together. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm not trying to split you up, but twice in

three games, you guys have not played well at all when you've got to the bench.

WESTBROOK: That's fine. We --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And I'm trying to figure out what's going on.

WESTBROOK: Say Russell, you ain't well at all.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I asked Steven a question, and it's legitimate --

WESTBROOK: This is not between me and you. Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It's a legitimate question.

WESTBROOK: Next question. Next question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: I love how Steven Adams didn't want any part of that conversation. The Thunder need to win three games in a row if they want to advance. Houston is up three games to one.

Feel-good for you this morning. Atlanta Falcons' Mohamed Sanu is inspiring kids off the field without even knowing it. He Sanu received a handwritten note from a family after he got off of a plane and he tweeted a picture of it. The mother wrote, in part, "Our son sat behind you on this flight and watched you. He saw you studying your plays, make healthy choices with your snacks. You were polite to everyone. You're an inspiration to children, and for that, you should be proud. Thank you," signed, "The family that sat behind you."

Their son is just 10 years old, guys, and he had just made an elite hockey team and they were traveling to Connecticut for his training when he got that inspiration.

BERMAN: Always be good. That's fantastic. Quickly, the biggest injury in the NBA Playoffs to a coach, Steve Kerr?

HARLOW: Yes.

WIRE: Yes, that's right. So the Oreos play Portland tonight and Steve Kerr will not be on the sidelines, could be out for the rest of the playoffs. He's having some complications from a back surgery he had nearly two years ago, guys. Remember he missed the first half of last season dealing with the pain and Kerr says he will not try to return until it's gone. He's dealing with headaches, nausea. Tough times for him.

HARLOW: Wishing him all the best. Coy Wire, my friend, thank you.

WIRE: You're welcome.

HARLOW: And thank you all for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" starts

right now.